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 Pakistan, where the Senate is deliberating on controversial legislation that would grant sweeping powers to Pakistani security forces in the name of combating terrorism and could have adverse effects for media workers and online speech. Digital Rights Foundation Pakistan, a local advocacy group, has led a nationwide campaign against the bill, with support from multiple political parties. Passed in the National Assembly on April 7, the bill has since met significant resistance from a range of political groups. Computer-specific language that appeared in the original draft of the bill has been removed, but advocates believe there is still ample work to be done to ensure that the law does not imperil online speech.
A number of other bills currently in progress would similarly limit online freedoms. Among them is the Fair Trial Act, which expands the right of security agencies to monitor electronic communications, and the Cyber Security Council Bill, which would establish a council of experts to monitor international surveillance and hacking.
In better news, the Senate Human Rights Committee passed a resolution on Monday, April 21, to lift the countrywide ban on YouTube, which has been blocked in Pakistan since controversy and violent conflict concerning the “Innocence of Muslims” video reached its peak in autumn of 2012. Digital rights group Bolo Bhi requested a public hearing on the ban, which may take place as soon as May 5.
Internet Governance: Brazil passes “Bill of Rights” at Internet World Cup kick-off
The Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance began on Wednesday, April 23, in São Paulo, Brazil. The World Wide Web Foundation’s Nnenna Nwakanma, an open Internet advocate from Nigeria, delivered an address on behalf of civil society in which she highlighted the importance of trust in the global Internet ecosystem. For more on the event, see special coverage by Global Voices authors participating in the NETmundial.
Hours before the meeting began, Brazil's Senate voted to pass the landmark Marco Civil da Internet, which was signed into law by President Dilma Rousseff. While there has been much celebration and praise for the law, some activists fear that human rights protections—particularly those concerning data privacy—may have become diluted in the current text.
Thuggery: Algerian activists face harassment, death threats on Facebook
Persecution and violence against political opposition groups has reached a peak in Algeria, where activists report that government authorities have created dozens of Facebook pages and groups where they post activists’ personal information, photos, and contact details. Some pages even include calls for the assassination of opposition leaders. Tensions have risen since ailing incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was re-elected in mid-April, the result of an amendment to the country's constitution allowing him to run for a fourth term. Bouteflika, known for his limited tolerance of political dissent, has been in power since 1999.
Two journalists in Thailand, Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian, were released on bail after being arrested for an online report connecting military personnel to human trafficking. The Royal Thai Navy filed criminal defamation and computer crimes charges against the journalists for the article, which was published on news website Phuketwan last July.
Charles Xue, a businessman and prominent personality on Chinese social media, appeared on Chinese state television endorsing the government’s campaign to control the Web. Once an outspoken critic of China’s information policies, Xue was arrested in Beijing last year for allegedly hiring prostitutes but then released without trial.
Free Expression: China’s bid for a porn-free Internet
Chinese authorities have launched a campaign to “sweep out porn” and “strike at rumors” [zh] this month. Aimed at removing forces the Chinese Communist Party deems amoral or depraved on the Internet, the campaign has already resulted in the closure or investigation of more than 20 websites [zh].
Industry: Censorship is bad for business, says Sina Weibo
After its initial public offering raised much less than expected, Sina Weibo Corp. has warned that censorship imposed by the Chinese government could be harming its business.
A delegation of Twitter executives arrived in Ankara this week to meet with Turkish officials. The platform was blocked nationwide in March. Government officials have allegedly demanded that Twitter reveal the identities of individuals posting leaks from an investigation into corruption, and that it open an office in Turkey.
Google recently amended its terms of service to clarify how it analyzes emails and other content that is sent, stored, and received through Google products for the purpose of customizing services such as search results and advertising. The move comes following a class action lawsuit filed against the company in the US last fall by non-Gmail users who discovered the content they sent to Gmail users was being scanned by Google.
Netizen Activism: Enrique Peña Nieto is anti-Internet, say protesters in Mexico
Following protests against the country’s proposed telecommunications law reforms in Mexico City earlier this month, Yo Soy Red TV released a video call to action on YouTube.com to rally protestors on April 22. Mexican youth, who are the majority of the movement, say the new law threatens freedom of expression.
Human Rights Watch delivered a joint civil society letter to the Freedom Online Coalition, a group of governments interested in supporting online rights, expressing outrage at the recent revelations by Edward Snowden that the NSA engaged in targeted surveillance against human rights groups. The letter states: “If Snowden’s assertion is accurate, such facts would not only point to fresh dimensions of the overreach of NSA surveillance, but also would constitute an outrageous breach of the US government’s stated commitment to human rights and freedom online. It also raises the very real possibility that these organizations’ communications with confidential sources have been intercepted. Sharing this information with other governments could put victims and human rights defenders the world over in imminent danger.” Groups from Argentina to Pakistan to Thailand, among them Global Voices Advocacy, signed the letter.
UK digital activists the Open Rights Group are crowdfunding a campaign to fight internet filtering in the United Kingdom. They hope to raise 12,000 pounds on their Indie GoGo page to produce a film highlighting the negative aspects of filtering.
Publications and Studies
Stakes are High: Essays on Brazil and the Future of the Global Internet — Center for Global Communications Studies, University of Pennsylvania
Getting Away With Murder: CPJ’s 2014 Global Impunity Index — Elisabeth Witchel, Committee to Protect Journalists
Beyond Data Breaches: Global Interconnections of Cyber Risk — Atlantic Council