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 Egypt, where leading pro-democracy blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah was sentenced to 15 years in prison today, along with 24 other activists facing similar charges. The 31-year-old digital activist, who played a pivotal role in the 2011 protests that brought down Hosni Mubarak, was arrested last November and accused of organizing a protest without obtaining prior permission, under a law that had been passed just days prior. The protest in question was organized by the No to Military Trials for Civilians group, a campaign initiated by Abd El Fattah’s sister Mona Seif, also a prominent activist. Abd El Fattah is not a member of the group. On Twitter today, Seif reported that along with two fellow defendants, her brother was prevented from entering the courtroom to hear the ruling. He was instead arrested outside of Tora Prison and taken immediately into police custody. The sentence also required the activist to pay a 100,000 EGP fine (approximately EUR 10,330).
Multiple sources reported that Abd El Fattah would face an automatic retrial due to the sentencing in absentia, but that the verdict will stand until then. Abd El Fattah was jailed under Hosni Mubarak's regime and again by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in 2011, when he remained in jail for almost two months. He also faced charges under Mohamed Morsi's government in 2013.
In an interview with independent local news site Mada Masr, Abd El Fattah’s lawyer commented: “I haven’t seen this kind of ruling before. It’s not legal and confirms the retaliatory nature of the case…There was clear collusion between the judiciary and the police with a sentence that was already prepared.”
Free Expression: Total ban on SMS in Central African Republic
Authorities in the Central African Republic banned text messaging on June 2 in response to violent ethnic and religious protests that have occurred in the country’s capital over the past year. Protests began when Muslim rebels seized power over the majority Christian country and put a new leader in power, who was later forced to resign. According to Yahoo!, CAR’s mobile operators received a request from the telecommunications ministry for the interim government to suspend their SMS service. Users now receive a message in French saying “SMS not allowed” when they try to send texts.
The Prime Minister of Malaysia Najib Razak filed a lawsuit against online newspaper Malaysiakini for libel because of critical comments about him and his party posted by the website’s users. Malaysiakini editor Steven Gan said that they will vigorously fight the lawsuit.
Turkey's highest court struck down the YouTube ban originally issued March 27, found it unconstitutional on May 29, ruling that it was a “heavy intervention into the freedom of expression of all users.” It finally became accessible on June 3, 2014.
Thuggery: Blogger fired after opposing China’s great firewall
The 26-year-old Chinese blogger Zhang Jialong was dismissed from his job as an editor at Tencent Finance allegedly due to his request to US Secretary of State John Kerry to help “tear down” the Great Firewall back in February. In a blog post [zh] [English translation here], Zhang explains that the next day, his supervisor warned him that “adjustments would be made to my job after Tencent discussed it with the propaganda authorities, including dismissal.”
Surveillance: Egypt uses social media to snoop on citizens
Egyptian newspaper Al-Watan published a document [ar] that reportedly came from the Interior Ministry asking tech companies including Twitter and Facebook for software that would enable them to search social media sites for evidence of criminal activity including “degrading and acerbic ridicule, slander, insult, and demonstrations, sit-ins, and illegal strikes.”
Copyright: Browsing the Internet is not a copyright violation
The European Court of Justice—the Google Spain verdict notwithstanding—ruled in favor of free expression on the web, finding that browsing the Internet was not an infringement of copyright law. Precisely put, the Court found that viewing copies of pages that web browsing generates is not illegal.
Industry: Companies caught between government demands and user preferences
A LinkedIn user studying at the Chinese University of Hong Kong became the first person to report censorship on the site in response to a video he posted about Tiananmen. The user received a notification saying “we want to clarify that your activity is and has been visible globally, with the exception of the People’s Republic of China. This is due to specific requirements within China to block certain content so that it does not appear on our network in the country.”
Vodafone published its first transparency report, in which it confessed that in “a small number of countries” it is legally required to give the government direct access to its network. This means that in those unnamed countries, Vodafone “will not receive any form of demand for lawful interception access as the relevant agencies and authorities already have permanent access to customer communications via their own direct link.”
Google, the company that pioneered transparency reporting, issued its 10th report, in which it introduced a new section called “Email encryption in transit,” in which it named (and sometimes shamed) companies that do and do not support encryption in transit in order to boost industry-wide support for the practice. Comcast, which had previously encrypted a whopping 0% of its customers’ e-mails, promptly announced that it would be encrypting all e-mails to and from Gmail “within a matter of weeks.” Other service providers that did not encrypt their e-mail traffic with Google included France’s Orange and India’s Rediff. Overall, 65% of outbound emails are encrypted, while 50% of inbound e-mails to Gmail users are encrypted.
Google also launched the alpha version of a new encryption tool for its Chrome browser that would, theoretically, make it impossible for even Google to read—or scan—e-mail content. The tool would function as a browser add-on, not by default, however.
Internet Insecurity: The Queen weighs in on cyberattacks
Queen Elizabeth II suggested in a speech that those who carry out “cyberattacks which result in loss of life, serious illness or injury or serious damage to national security, or a significant risk thereof” be given lifetime prison sentences.
Publications and Studies
Framing the Law & Policy Picture: A Snapshot of K-12 Cloud-Based Ed Tech & Student Privacy in Early 2014 – Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Who Gets a Press Pass? Media Credentialing Practices in the United States – Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Internet Society Global Internet Report 2014 – Internet Society