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 week’s report by looking at legislation targeting “annoying” and “insulting” online messages in India and Mozambique.
Most people don’t like bothersome emails, but does this mean they should be criminalized? We think not. Next week, India’s Supreme Court will hold a hearing on several petitions challenging the constitutionality of amendments made to the country’s Information Technology Act in 2008, including Article 66A, under which email and messages deemed “grossly offensive” or causing “annoyance or inconvenience” are illegal.
Meanwhile, Mozambican policymakers are proposing a law that would criminalize text messages, emails, and other online communications deemed “insulting” or “threatening to the security of the state.” The Council of Ministers approved the bill, which now needs to pass the parliament. Science and Technology Minister Louis Pelembe noted that SMS messages had created “a lot of turmoil” in Mozambique in recent years. Observers read this as a reference to the Bread Riots of 2010, in which mass demonstrations against rising costs of bread, water, and other utilities were organized largely via SMS messaging networks.
Surveillance: Slaying FinFisher in Pakistan?
In a case that has been pending for more than a year, Shahzad Ahmad, director of the Pakistani digital rights group Bytes for All, went before the Lahore High Court to challenge the alleged use of the FinFisher surveillance software by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority. Ahmad’s counsel, Yasser Latif Hamdani, asked the court to request an immediate stop to its use in the country. The case relies on extensive research conducted by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which has meticulously illustrated how FinFisher, which is also known as FinSpy and is typically installed by malicious means such as an email attachment or link, has been deployed in more than 30 countries. The spyware allows its user to access all stored information and monitor even encrypted communications on an infected device. Keystrokes can be logged, Skype conversations recorded, and cameras and microphones activated remotely.
The Republic of Kosovo may soon launch a mass surveillance program, as its Ministry of EU Integration prepares to take the first draft [sq] of a surveillance law before Parliament tomorrow. The draft law references various measures for retaining communications metadata but does not explain under what terms, if any, the relevant authorities may decide to collect and store the data of a given user. Digital activists and Twitter users are discussing and criticizing the bill using the #StopSurveillanceinKS hashtag.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) launched the NSA Documents Database, a collection of the National Security Agency documents released by Edward Snowden. The ACLU hopes the database, which is text and filter searchable, will serve as a tool for advocates to hold the U.S. government accountable for mass surveillance of innocent citizens around the world.
Free Expression: Zambian government seeks to curb online gossip
Zambian government officials announced plans to draft a law that will address “Internet abuse” and cybercrime, in addition to an alleged “gossip” problem among local media. Information Minister Joseph Katema charged that Zambians in some areas were being “starved” of credible information because certain online media and other publications spent their time “spreading falsehoods” at the expense of accurate, factual reporting. Independent media advocates fear the law will codify the many technical intimidation and censorship tactics that the ruling Patriotic Front party has used to go after independent, investigative media sites such as Zambia Reports and the Zambian Watchdog.
Following the re-election of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan last week, Turkey’s telecommunications regulatory agency restored access to Twitter. The nation’s Constitutional Court ruled that blocking the site was an illegal violation of freedom of expression. Meanwhile, the Gölbaşı Criminal Court, which imposed a block on YouTube in late March, determined that the block should be limited to 15 specific videos on the platform, but this was challenged by the local public prosecutor—for now, the site remains completely blocked.
Privacy: USAID’s “Cuban Spring” fantasy revealed, crushed
Associated Press reported on Thursday that the US Agency for International Development (USAID) created a feature phone SMS-based version of Twitter in Cuba that was deliberately intended to promote “democratic change” and push Cubans to instigate a social uprising in the country. Although the project was not “covert” under US terms, it was by no means transparent. The program’s operators obtained and bulk messaged roughly 500k mobile phone numbers without the consent or knowledge of their owners, and then proceeded to monitor and analyze the content of subscriber communications, a patent violation of international human rights doctrine.
USAID officials have defended the program in the face of harsh criticism from Internet rights advocates, the media, and multiple US senators who allege that USAID did not sufficiently inform them of the program’s clandestine nature.
Internet Governance: A win for net neutrality in the EU
The European Parliament adopted the Regulation on the Single Telecoms Market in a historic step to protect network neutrality in the European Union. Felix Treguer, a co-founder of French advocacy group La Quadrature du Net and proponent of key rights-protective amendments to the regulation, celebrated the decision but warned that advocates should “remain watchful … as the text now goes to the EU Council where many national governments will seek to undermine Net neutrality provisions so as to please their homegrown telecom oligopolies.”
ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé asserted that US government plans to relinquish oversight of ICANN will not enable countries like China and Russia to “hijack the Internet.” Rather, oversight of ICANN, which manages the Internet’s top-level domain naming and numbering system, will be transferred to a global multistakeholder mechanism, to be developed by the ICANN community. Members of the US House of Representatives, who appear to be unfamiliar with ICANN and the infrastructural nature of the Internet on the whole, are seeking to challenge the decision through newly proposed legislation.
The International Telecommunication Union launched the Global Cybersecurity Index, a ranking of various countries’ cybersecurity regulations. A conceptual framework document explains the methodology of the ranking.
Publications and Studies
Who Governs the Internet? Implications for Freedom and National Security – Sunil Abraham, Centre for Internet and Society
Government Surveillance and the Right to Privacy, submission to United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Center for Democracy and Technology
Freedom of Expression in East Africa – Article 19