Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. We begin this report with a profile of Syria Untold, a new online project that is documenting creative and journalistic responses to the civil war in Syria.
Our aim was to frame information on Syria within its historical, political and social context; and to focus on Syrian civil society, and on the way it was coping with the increasing violence and militarization of the conflict by producing actions of creative resistance, civil disobedience.
Syria Untold brings you independent voices, stories from the ground, personal accounts of daily resistance. We put under the spotlight everything about Syrian civil society whose crucial importance has been lost in the polarization created by the “yes” or “no” debate.
With versions in both Arabic and English, the site highlights journalistic, artistic, and civic responses to the current conflict coming from Syrians both inside the country and abroad.
In an August meeting with national propaganda chiefs in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping demanded that ideological control become the Communist Party’s top priority, and ordered the party’s propaganda apparatus to be “combative instead of being passive” in its new, aggressive campaign against online “rumors”.
In tandem with this initiative, the Supreme People’s Court ruled that Chinese netizens posting “online rumors” can go to jail on charges of defamation for up to three years if their comments are retweeted more than 500 times or viewed by more than 5,000 people.
Activists report that nearly 500 arrests have taken place since the start of the anti-rumor campaign. Those targeted range from citizen journalists and activists to online social news promoters. The Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center reported that the public security bureau of the autonomous province of Inner Mongolia arrested 52 people in response to alleged protest activities in the city Ordos.
Chinese journalist and poet Shi Tao was released from prison on August 23, fifteen months before the end of his ten-year sentence. Tao was prosecuted and imprisoned after Yahoo! released his communications records to Chinese government authorities, who found that the journalist had sent leaked government files to a Chinese language newspaper based in New York City. Patrick Poon, the executive secretary of PEN International’s Hong Kong branch, Shi Tao and his mother are under pressure not to speak to the media. Tao's case triggered long-standing controversy over the off-shore business practices of Yahoo! other multinational tech companies.
A coalition of nine civic organizations in Macedonia, known as the Front for Freedom of Expression, demanded the withdrawal of two new media bills from the national parliament. They are concerned that new proposed laws on Media and the Audio and Audiovisual Media Services will place overly broad, rights-invasive regulations on both print and online media.
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Justice admitted that it has been monitoring lawyers’ tweets to ensure they don’t break the law when discussing cases. An official stated that punishment would depend on the “severity” of lawyers’ tweets, but could include loss of license in addition to more serious forms of reprimand.
Sovereigns of Cyberspace
Yahoo! followed Facebook’s lead last week and published its first Transparency Report on September 6. The report documents government user data requests Yahoo! received between January and June 2013, from the countries in which Yahoo has a “legal entity” — in other words, a corporation, partnership, or individual who has legal standing under local law. Yahoo General Counsel Ron Bell pointed out that “less than one one-hundredth of one percent” (<0.01%) of Yahoo! accounts were implicated by government requests. Government requests for Tumblr data were not included in the report. The company has pledged to issue a report on Tumblr user data requests in the near future.
In the US, Verizon is seeking to overturn the Federal Communications Commission's Internet neutrality rules so that broadband Internet service providers can start charging companies like Facebook and Google to reach customers. Internet rights advocates at Free Press explain that “Verizon wants to change [the current] structure by setting up tolls in both directions — blocking certain websites or charging them for priority access to Web users — and by serving as a self-appointed editor for all Internet content.” The move echoes a failed campaign by the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association to impose a traffic charging scheme on European-owned broadband networks at the ITU last December.
New leaks reveal that the US National Security Agency has made significant attempts to undermine encrypted communications online. Security expert Bruce Schneier has offered useful tips on how to keep your communications secure in the face of this new threat to privacy.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the US government released a series of documents detailing its internal policies and practices surrounding the collection of telephone and online communications data for millions of individuals worldwide. The EFF has made all of the documents available for public view.
A UK-based developer has created the website JustDelete.me to explain how to delete accounts from a wide range of online services. The site color codes sites by the difficulty of account removal – sites like Blogger, Netflix, WordPress, YouTube and Pinterest rank among those that make it nearly impossible to delete an account.
Publications and Studies
Internet and Freedom of Expression in Palestine: Special Report — Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA)
A Randomized Experimental Study of Censorship in China — Gary King, et al, Harvard University Department of Political Science
Anonymity, Privacy, and Security Online — Pew Research Center
For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.