Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, where the government has responded to ongoing religious tensions by throttling Internet access, reportedly for the sake of keeping the peace.
The Indian government suspended mobile Internet access and reduced broadband speeds in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir as a “precautionary measure” following violent protests. The protests related to reports that Indian border security guards had desecrated a copy of the Quran. This latest restriction on Internet access follows a trend of curfews and censorship in the region, which government officials have claimed are necessary to stem the spread of rumors, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Internet censorship is on the rise in Southeast Asia, where political and economic realities, such as corruption, electoral irregularities, inflation, and widening inequality, have spawned widespread discord and disillusionment. Perpetrators include Vietnam (46 bloggers imprisoned just in 2013), Malaysia (imprisonment, censorship), Laos (activist Sombath Somphone remains missing), Cambodia (ban on Internet cafés within 500 meters of schools), Thailand (lèse majesté prosecutions quadrupled in 2012), and Singapore (restrictive licensing requirements for online news websites).
Nigeria’s Minister of Communication Technology Omobola Johnson inaugurated a Broadband Council that will oversee the implementation of the National Broadband Plan 2013–18, which will expand access to broadband Internet in the country. Its international partners including Google and Microsoft.
Bytes for All, a Pakistani human rights organization, has penned an open letter to the Global Network Initiative (GNI), requesting an investigation of Facebook's operations in Pakistan, including collusion—if any—with the government. Facebook joined GNI in May 2013. The director of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority told the High Court of Lahore on July 4 that it had entered into a covert working relationship with Facebook to censor online content in violation of what is being called Pakistan’s PATRIOT Act. Bytes for All contends that several Facebook pages were “blocked or removed…without any legal process or notice to content owners,” and calls on Facebook to publish the details of this alleged secret agreement with Pakistan or otherwise publicly deny it.
Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, CNN, the New York Times, and Yahoo! were inaccessible in Ethiopia for at least ten hours on July 18 and 19. Ethiopia, where the Internet reaches less than one percent of its 85 million citizens, already blocks websites and blogs that criticize the government and imprisons journalists who do so. Government-operated Ethio Telecom is the sole Internet service provider and has been criticized for its poor quality.
Malaysia’s Communication and Multimedia Minister welcomed the Sensible and Ethical Malaysians United Troopers (SEMUT), a vigilante group concerned with propriety and online decorum. So far, SEMUT has reported two Facebook users to the police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission for posting inappropriate comments about the Prophet Muhammad and Malaysia’s King, Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
In an interview with the BBC, UK Prime Minister David Cameron proposed that search engines should block certain terms in order to fight child pornography.
Sovereigns of Cyberspace
Google is exploring encryption techniques to better secure user files on Google Drive. Internet companies routinely encrypt sensitive information, but encrypting files stored on the cloud is rare because of the higher cost and technological complexity. A government agency seeking the content of user files will need more than a search warrant. It would have to convince a judge to “grant a wiretap order, forcing Google to intercept and divulge the user's login information the next time the user types it in” — a higher legal bar.
Jeff Jarvis argues in a TechCrunch article that following the announcement of the PRISM surveillance program, the US government can no longer be seen as a beneficent actor on the Internet, which could have significant downstream effects on Internet governance. Similar claims are made by Internews Senior Policy Advisor Mike Godwin in Forbes, who advocates for a stronger role for civil society in media policy.
A FOIA Machine—“like TurboTax for government records”—engineered by the Center for Investigative Reporting is on Kickstarter. With three weeks left to contribute, it has already surpassed its funding goal.
Publications and Studies
U.S. Government Foreign Telecommunications Providers Network Security Agreements – public intelligence
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