Netizen Report: Surveillance Looms Large at IGF Bali

Global Voices members meet at IGF 2013 in Bali, Indonesia. Photo by Hisham Almiraat, used with permission.

Global Voices members meet at IGF 2013 in Bali, Indonesia. Photo by Hisham Almiraat, used with permission.

By Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, Bojan Perkov, 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 report begins in Bali, Indonesia, where government officials, techies, Internet companies, and human rights advocates gathered for the 2013 Internet Governance Forum last week. Although issues in discussion ranged from access and infrastructure to sexual harassment online, US government surveillance programs and Brazilian efforts to spearhead a new global Internet governance agenda held the spotlight.

Throughout the conference, US officials brushed off concerns about NSA  spying programs, arguing that “everyone does it”. Meanwhile, Brazilian officials met with civil society advocates to discuss the government’s recently announced plan to co-host a global Internet governance event with ICANN in Rio de Janeiro this coming spring. Advocates stressed the need for civil society to have equal footing in the planning process, and for the event to be fully open to the public.

Global Voices staff and community members participated in the event and held an impromptu installment of GV Face, Global Voices’ weekly video hangout series where they reported on various policy issues and political dynamics at the IGF.

Thuggery: Anti-leaking law creeps ahead in Japan

In Japan, the cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved a bill that provides special penalties for leakers of sensitive information that could harm national security. Public response to the Secret Information Protection Act has been mixed but generally negative — according to Global Voices’ Keiko Tanaka, of the 90,480 public comments submitted in a two-week span in early September, 69,579 were against the bill. The bill must be approved by Parliament before passing.

A young Saudi writer, detained on blasphemy charges in 2011, was released from prison. Hamza Kashgari was charged after tweeting an imaginary conversation between himself and the Prophet Mohammed. At the time of his arrest, Index on Censorship described the conversation as reflecting “admiration, reproach and confusion” regarding the religious figure. Prior to his arrest, Kashgari had used Twitter to comment on gender inequality and the lack of political rights in Saudi Arabia.

Moroccan journalist Ali Anouzla, who was arrested in mid-September after publishing an article about an Al-Qaeda video that criticized the Moroccan king, was granted provisional release from pre-trial detention last week. He is scheduled to appear in court on today (10/30) where he will face terrorism-related charges.

A US district court ruled that criminal suspects who self-identify as “hackers” can be subject to the search and seizure of their electronic devices without warning. The judge ruled that because “hackers” are able to wipe sensitive data from their machines, prior notice of search and seizure could result in suspects erasing or destroying information before seizure can take place.

Surveillance: Argentina’s surveillance regime goes sci-fi

The Argentine government is launching a biometric information database that will allow officials to identify individuals by their photographs, fingerprints, iris information and even the way they walk. In a recent Global Voices opinion post, human rights lawyer Ramiro Álvarez Ugarte warns that the country has a “chronic lack of control” over its intelligence agencies, and calls for these surveillance practices to change.

German officials expressed outrage last week after leaked documents indicated that the NSA had monitored Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone. The nature of the monitoring, and whether or not it extended to eavesdropping on phone calls, remains unclear. On October 25, Merkel and French President Francois Hollande announced a plan to propose new transatlantic rules on surveillance and intelligence-gathering practices.

Thousands of people gathered in front of the US capitol to demonstrate against the NSA and its mass surveillance programs. Protesters delivered a petition signed by more than 500,000 people from all over the United States, demanding reforms. A statement on behalf of whistleblower Edward Snowden was read during the event.

Copyright: Italian agency says ‘ciao’ to checks and balances

Italy’s Electronic Communications Authority drafted new regulations that would allow the agency to remove online content that it deems a violation of copyright law without the need for court approval. NGOs, ISPs and consumer groups have banded together in their criticism of the legislation, which is currently awaiting approval from the EU.

Industry: Experts question security of supposedly secure tools (made by Google)

At the Google Ideas summit the company unveiled two new services intended to aid users in bypassing online censorship. The first, uProxy, enables encrypted peer-to-peer sharing of Internet connections. While some net freedom activists praised it, others remain concerned about the security of the service. The second initiative, Project Shield, will aid news organizations and human rights groups by helping protect them from cyberattacks. Both services are currently running on a trial basis.

Netizen Activism

The use of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter by Iranian officials has led many to wonder if Internet policy will change under Iran’s new administration. While the digital presence of officials like President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif enables them to communicate more directly with those who use the services, many have questioned their use of tools that are inaccessible for Iranian citizens. In a recent Advox article, online filtering researcher Mahsa Alimardani calls on the government to lift blocks on social media services in Iran.

Hong Kong civil society groups, who have been targeted by hackers for years, are arming themselves to fight back. A collective civil disobedient action, Occupy Central, is planned for July 2014 to advocate for universal suffrage and an end to the manipulation of candidate nomination. Anticipating a wave of malicious hacking approaching July, media advocacy group Hong Kong In-Media held a forum to discuss building a tech activist team to support local civic groups and activists.

Cool Things

The New York Times updated its style guide to allow the verb to “tweet” to be published in the newspaper. But it remains skeptical of “to google.”

Google has launched a Digital Attack Map, which allows users to visualize DDoS attacks occurring worldwide in real time.

Publications and Studies


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