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 Mexico, where the Senate approved the “Secondary Law on Telecommunications”, which provides for surveillance of content, censorship of information that could endanger national security, and the right to block telecommunication services, among other things. Widely opposed by civil society members, the bill faced considerable deliberation before Congress — a vote on the bill was postponed in the wake of mass protests in Mexico City. The bill was brought to a vote once again last week, when much of the population was squarely focused on the World Cup. Although certain worrying portions of the original bill are not included in the final text, online rights advocates remain concerned about its implications for digital privacy and expression.
Free Expression: Facebook disappears in Myanmar (briefly)
The government of Myanmar blocked access to Facebook over short periods of several hours twice over the weekend, allegedly in an attempt to stop hate speech and unrest in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-biggest city. There have been violent clashes between Muslims and Buddhists in the city over rumors spread online that a Buddhist woman was raped by her Muslim employees. The limits on access to Facebook coincided with a government-imposed curfew between 9 pm and 5 am, but it is unclear which government agency is responsible for the ban.
London-based advocacy NGO Open Rights Group launched Blocked project, a free tool for users to assess whether or not websites are being blocked by local filters. Results thus far reveal that nearly 20% of legal sites in the UK are blocked by government filters, instituted under David Cameron’s “family-friendly” filtering policy.
Thuggery: Moroccan YouTube rapper faces four months in prison
Mouad Belghouat, also known as El Haqed (“The Indignant”), was sentenced to four months in prison in Morocco. The activist and rapper was also imprisoned in 2012 over a music video, distributed primarily on YouTube, that served as a rallying cry in Morocco’s 2011 protests. In May, Belghouat was arrested outside of a football game where multiples witnesses say police approached and aggressively searched the young man. Visit the campaign site advocating for his release.
Surveillance: UK geeks fear return of “Snooper’s charter”
Seven Internet service providers based in six countries filed a formal complaint against UK intelligence agency GCHQ for using malicious software to break into their networks. The claim is based on articles published by Der Spiegel alleging GCHQ used man-in-the-middle attacks to compromise secure communications, arguing GCHQ is in breach of the Computer Misuse Act 1990.
UK ministers are considering passing emergency laws providing the government expanded surveillance capabilities in response to apparent threats posed by British Muslims radicalized by the conflict in Syria. They appear to have gained support from the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats in Parliament, though with some caveats – the Liberal Democrats have insisted any new laws not become a reinstatement of the “snooper’s charter”, a communications data bill that failed in 2013, and Labour has argued any new legislation should have a “sunset clause” requiring review after a period of time.
A Washington Post investigation revealed new data indicating that information of “high intelligence value” was in fact slurped up by NSA spy programs. This included intelligence that led to the arrest of “Bali bomber” Umar Patek and others. But the data also illustrates significant breaches of privacy, exposing detailed, personal information about thousands of lives at the most pedestrian level: photos of infants, medical records, and selfies of the scanty-clad variety. The article details the loose data collection practices used by the program and notes that the NSA keeps this information despite it having little strategic value. Just as significantly, the release of these details suggests that the agency has been unable to safeguard these details as closely as they previously claimed.
Industry: Forget me now? Yes please, say EU Googlers
Google has encountered a new hurdle in its response to the “right to be forgotten” ruling – public outcry over what some are calling censorship. In response to claims they were “over-zealously” taking down links, Google has re-indexed approximately 1,000 links to articles that were in fact accurate. Among them are stories about a Scottish referee, who had lied about his reasons for giving a penalty during a football match. They now face a backlog of over 250,000 requests to remove content.
Following Netflix’s lead, YouTube has begun naming and shaming Internet service providers for degraded video playback quality by showing a message saying “Experiencing interruptions?” when the Internet speed slows. When users click through, they receive a report card showing streaming quality and video consumption data for their ISP.
Internet Governance: UN votes for rights online and off
The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted resolution A/HRC/26/L.24 on the “promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet, affirming that the same rights that people enjoyed offline had also to be protected online, in particular the freedom of expression.” Numerous civil society groups and 82 UN member states supported the move. The resolution was passed without a proposed amendment that would have created a censorship loophole in the name of combating terrorism, extremism, racism, and religious intolerance.
Publications and Studies
“Net Threats” – Pew Research Internet Project