Netizen Report: The Manning Verdict

Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Lisa Ferguson, Hae-in Lim, Yuqi Chen, Alex Laverty, Ellery Roberts Biddle, and Sarah Myers.

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 the US, where military officer and whistleblower Bradley Manning has been convicted of multiple charges of espionage. We then move to the MENA region, where bloggers in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are facing new threats from government.

Freedom of Information

A US military court convicted military officer Bradley Manning of 20 out of 22 charges filed against him, including multiple charges under the Espionage Act of 1917.

Bradley Manning. Photo by US Army. Released to public domain.

Bradley Manning. Photo by US Army. Released to public domain.

Prosecuted by the US government for leaking over 700,000 classified documents and other media to transparency platform WikiLeaks, Manning has been imprisoned and held in solitary confinement since his arrest in 2010. Manning was found not guilty of “aiding the enemy,” the most controversial charge brought against him, but could still face a lifetime in prison. A sentencing hearing for Manning begins today.

In The Guardian, Dan Gillmor and Yochai Benkler commented on what the verdict means for national security journalism in the United. Benkler described the decision as setting a “chilling precedent” for future cases.

The Bradley Manning Support Network is publishing frequent updates on court proceedings and reactions to the news.

Thuggery

Blogger and Global Voices contributor Mohamed Hassan was arrested in Bahrain today in an early morning raid on his home. On Twitter, individuals reported police seized Hassan's computer and cell phone. Hassan, known in the blogosphere as Safy, stopped blogging in April of 2013. Supporters are communicating about his arrest using the hashtag #FreeSafy.

A Saudi court convicted activist and Free Saudi Liberals website founder Raif Badawi of violating the country's anti-cybercrime law. Badawi, who was found guilty of “insulting Islam”, was sentenced to 600 lashes and seven years in prison.

Syrian security forces arrested and jailed 62 year-old Syrian artist Youssef Abdelke last week after he signed a declaration demanding the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad and a UN-supervised transition to an interim government. His wife, a prominent filmmaker, launched a Facebook campaign calling for his release. Over 700 writers, artists, academics, and journalists from the region have signed the petition, including prominent artists Serwan Baran and Ayman Baalbaki.

In better news, Kuwait's Emir issued a pardon to dozens of individuals who had been arrested and prosecuted for insulting him on Twitter.

Free Expression

Numerous reports held that bulk SMS messages were being blocked in Zimbabwe ahead of general elections in the country, which take place today, July 31. Inquiries to Econet, a major mobile service provider in the country, revealed that the country's Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority requested that providers block bulk messages coming from outside the country “for political reasons.”

The UK government has mandated that all Internet Service Providers install filters that will target adult pornographic content for users who do not deliberately “opt out” of this service by January 1, 2014. UK NGO Open Rights Group has warned that these will “reach far beyond pornography,” leading to the de facto censorship of age-appropriate content.

British PM David Cameron is concurrently pursuing more aggressive methods for stopping the circulation of child pornography online. Observers have noted that Internet and online service providers already take great pains to eliminate child pornography, which is illegal in nearly every country in the world, from their networks.

The Chinese government is working to defend youth from “spiritual pollution” with a new anti-pornography campaign. Porn websites, online games, advertisements, blogs, and social networks can now be shut down for hosting pornographic content. Critics claim that targeted content will “run the gamut from porn to wayward politics.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists has urged Barack Obama to discuss on press and online freedom issues during his upcoming visit to Vietnam. The Vietnamese government has introduced various restrictive Internet policies in recent years; thirty-six bloggers are currently imprisoned in Vietnam.

Surveillance

Digital rights advocacy groups Electronic Frontier Foundation, Privacy International, and Access Now launched a set of principles for human rights-protective communications surveillance practices for governments worldwide. 118 NGOs have endorsed the principles, which are currently available in multiple languages including Spanish, Polish, and Russian.

Members of the US Congress voted on an amendment that would end Congressional funding for certain controversial surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency (NSA). A group of Internet activists set up the site DefundtheNSA.com in an effort to influence the vote. The measure was narrowly defeated 205 to 217.

A team of researchers at University of Toronto have developed IXmaps, an interactive tool (and video) that maps the path of data packets as they traverse the Internet. The map shows how nearly all of the United States’ Internet traffic passes through one or more of 18 US cities and explains that the NSA can perform comprehensive surveillance of American Internet users by setting up splitters at these exchange points.

Cybersecurity

New reports confirmed that intelligence and defense service providers in Australia, the US, the UK, Canada, and New Zealand have banned the use of Lenovo computers on “secret” or “top secret” networks since the mid-2000s. Government security agents feared that “malicious circuits” and insecure firmware in Lenovo computer chips could generate security threats. Lenovo, a Chinese company that is the world's largest manufacturer of personal computers, said it was unaware of the ban. The company continues to supply computers to Western governments for unclassified networks.

Cool Things

Data-visualisation designer Ruslan Enikeev has created an Internet map that contains 350,0000 different website planets Internet users across the globe that received the most clicks. The size and color of the “planet” is tied to traffic and country of origin, while all “planets” were mapped according to the relationships to others. Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Yahoo! are among the biggest planets on the map.

Publications and Studies

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For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.

 

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