Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week we begin in Iran, where president-elect Hassan Rouhani gave a nod this week to liberalizing Internet policies and upholding free expression in the country.
Iran's incoming president Hassan Rouhani expressed support for civil liberties, women's rights, and Internet openness in an interview with Chelcheragh, an Iranian magazine geared towards young readers. Remarking on the country's history of Internet restriction, Rouhani said, “The freedom and rights of people have been ignored but those of the rulers have been emphasised….Restricting [people's right] to criticise will only stifle and lead to inefficiency.” Whether or not these statements will result in actual policy reforms remains to be seen.
Myanmar has awarded contracts to Norway’s Telenor and Qatar’s Ooredoo to build and operate a national wireless network. Given limited protections for citizens under existing telecommunications law, Human Rights Watch has called on the companies to explain how they will protect users from surveillance and censorship, and to pledge that they will uphold human rights and transparency. The government's decision to contract with a company based in Qatar, a predominantly Muslim country, has inflamed existing tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar.
Tibetan blogger and poet Tsering Woeser was placed under house arrest in Beijing during a government-sponsored tour of Tibet for foreign journalists. Woeser had met with two reporters and a diplomat prior to their participation in the tour. The Tibetan Review quoted Woeser saying that, “[Chinese] authorities seem concerned that my views will contradict the rosy picture that they want to present via an approved itinerary and scripted encounters meant to project an image of happy Tibetans living happy lives.”
A Saudi Arabian court has sentenced seven men to between five and ten years’ imprisonment for “allegedly inciting protests and harming public order, largely by using Facebook,” according to Human Rights Watch.
The Turkish government has taken further steps toward asserting greater controls over social media this week, but has been snubbed by technology companies in its efforts. Twitter rejected the government's suggestion that it set up an office in-country, a move that could increase Turkey's legal ability to obtain user data. After Communications Minister Binali Yildrim asserted that Facebook has been “cooperating” with Turkish authorities for a long time (Facebook has offices in Turkey), the social networking giant posted at notice stating that Facebook “reject[s] all government data requests from Turkish authorities and push them to formal legal channels unless it appears that there is an immediate threat to life or a child.”
The Zambian Watchdog, a citizen media site known for its critical reporting on government activities, was blocked in Zambia on June 24. Soon thereafter, Vice President Guy Scott told parliament that he would “celebrate” if the website were to shut down. Website staff suspect the government is responsible for the block, though they are unsure as to whether the site is being blocked at the ISP or network level. The site, which is hosted outside of Zambia, has migrated to a secure server and is reportedly accessible again.
In a rare acknowledgement of government censorship, Iran’s Minister for Communications and Information Technology admitted to restricting Internet speeds in the days leading up to recent elections, in what he described as an effort to “preserve calm”.
The Monterey County Herald reported that the United States Army is blocking employee access to the website of The Guardian, which has been a major conduit for reporting and leaked documents concerning the US National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. Described as a “preventative network hygiene” measure to limit disclosure of classified information, the military similarly blocked access to the New York Times and other sites following the 2010 disclosure of classified material by WikiLeaks.
In China, a lawyer is petitioning the Chinese Ministry of Public Security to disclose methods they use to surveil Chinese citizens. The lawyer cited revelations about NSA surveillance programs as a chief reason for the petition.
Germany’s Der Spiegel reported that US government agents spied on European Union offices in the US, prompting the head of the European Parliament to demand “full clarification” on the matter from the US government. Der Spiegel reported that in addition to installing bugs in EU offices in Washington, DC, computer networks were infiltrated, enabling authorities to access emails and internal documents.
Media and telco industry experts in China are suggesting that Cisco Systems be placed under tighter government scrutiny in the wake of the revelation of US surveillance programs, despite Cisco asserting it did not participate in the programs. Bloomberg notes Chinese company Huawei Technologies would benefit from clients seeking alternatives to Cisco products.
Sovereigns of Cyberspace
Reacting to less than desirable results when searching for his own name, a Spanish citizen was recently denied the controversial “right to be forgotten” – first by Google, and then by European Court of Justice advocate general Niilo Jääskinen. According to the Guardian, Jääskinen stated that “Google is not obliged to delete personal information from its search results, even when that information [could damage] an individual's reputation.”
Researchers at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society published a short analysis of Twitter use by protesters in Brazil.
Google is seeking to speed up Web traffic via its new networking protocol, QUIC, which will reduce the number of round trips data have to make in order to speed browser loading times.
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