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 Turkey, where government officials, techies, Internet companies, and human rights advocates are gathered for the 2014 Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Istanbul this week. Sponsored and sanctioned by the United Nations, the annual confab features a dizzying variety of panels and open discussions on issues ranging from network neutrality to online gender discrimination to security and surveillance in the digital age.
In the months approaching the meeting, and ever more so this week, human rights advocates have made the point that recent human rights violations around protests, and the government’s increasing propensity for censoring major web platforms like Twitter, make Turkey a peculiar location for a meeting that largely focuses on the relationship between global Internet policy and human rights. In a recent piece, Reporters Without Borders noted that Turkey was ranked 154 on RSF’s 2013 World Press Freedom Index. This is nothing new for the IGF, they point out — last year’s meeting took place in Bali, Indonesia, which ranked 132, and IGF 2012 took place in Baku, Azerbaijan, which ranked 160 on the Index.
Activists were also buzzing the Internet Ungovernance Forum, a first-time grassroots conference-style event taking place in parallel with the IGF. The event site explains that it will bring together people who “demand that fundamental freedoms, openness, unity and net neutrality remain the building blocks of the Internet.” Organized partly in response to criticism that the IGF has become an insider event in which government and corporate actors wield too much power, both informally and as agenda-setters, the event seeks to create “a space in which we can discuss the problems and solutions of the Internet openly, with courage, and without shying away from conflict.”
Free Expression: Flooding and censorship for Serbian media
When Serbia experienced catastrophic flooding last May, the national government sought to quell public unrest by censoring both traditional and citizen media outlets. Several months later, the threat of censorship and media intimidation persists. Journalists and social media activists have faced threats of imprisonment and physical harm in response to their writings and requests for public information. In response, a group of independent bloggers and communications professionals drafted a Declaration of Internet Freedom that has garnered support from many civil society groups.
A controversial draft National Broadcasting Policy could create an independent commission dedicated to monitoring Bangladeshi television and radio programs in what the Bangladesh Nationalist Party has called an attempt “to gag the media”. A draft policy for online media that would function in tandem with the broadcast policy, would require online media to pay expensive licensing fees, prohibit reports that mock or demean military and law enforcement agencies, and ban reporting incidents involving politically-motivated rebellion.
Thuggery: Leading Bahraini activist detained, denied citizenship
Bahraini activist Maryam Al-Khawaja was detained on August 30, charged with “insulting the King” and “assaulting the police”, and reportedly was stripped of her citizenship. The 27-year-old co-director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, who resides in Denmark, was denied entry to her country on August 30 while trying to visit her father, renowned human rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who is in prison and on his second hunger strike since he was jailed in 2011. The prosecution ordered her detention for seven days pending investigation on the charges.
Vietnamese activist and blogger Bui Thi Minh Hang was sentenced to three years in prison after visiting a lawyer who is a former political prisoner in the country. An anti-China activist and critic of the government’s policies on land, religion, and human rights, she was among 21 people arrested in February on the same accusation. She was convicted of posing a “serious obstruction to traffic”.
Surveillance: Massive leak shows how Pakistani government FinFished for citizen data
A hack into the servers of surveillance software maker FinFisher revealed 40GB of data including the FinFisher support portal, all the software the company sells, and associated documentation. Leaked tech support communications confirm that the Pakistani government has used FinFisher to infect Microsoft Office products and covertly steal files from targeted computers. It also shows that the Pakistani government has used FinSpy surveillance software to hack into hotel, airport and wifi networks to record traffic and passwords and a software product to infect USB devices.
The Intercept reported the US National Security Agency is providing data to nearly two dozen US government agencies including the DEA, FBI, and CIA among others via a search engine similar to Google. The engine, called ICREACH, reportedly includes over 850 billion records about phone conversations, Internet chats, emails and cell phone locations. According to the Intercept, this is the first definitive indication that the NSA has made its information directly accessible to domestic law enforcement agencies.
Copyright: No more bootleg movies down under?
In Australia, telecom companies may consider blocking access to foreign websites that host pirated movies and music. Internet service providers are willing to negotiate the introduction of a “three strikes” system, while a film production company suggested that ISPs should slow down Internet speeds of users who ignore warnings. The country’s Attorney General recently described Australia as the “world’s worst offender” for illegal downloads and called for appropriate action. A proposal from the government would allow rights holders to seek a court order that would require ISPs to block access to sites such as The Pirate Bay.
Industry: Ukraine asks Facebook to disarm Kremlin bots
Ukrainian activists appealed directly to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg over the recent blocking of their pages on the social networking site, alleging that an organized group of pro-Putin Facebook users have succeeded in getting pages blocked, such as that of Ukrainian blogger Sergii Ivanov, by registering complaints with Facebook administrators. The group asserts that their pages did not violate Facebook’s rules, and that they believe the Facebook administrator for Ukraine is not a Ukrainian citizen, but rather a Russian.
Netizen Activism: Advocates petition for the release of Egyptian blogger on hunger strike
Egyptian activist Alaa Abd El Fattah began a hunger strike on Aug. 18, planning to continue until he is released from prison. Abd El Fattah was convicted of violating a controversial protest law prohibiting unauthorized demonstrations and sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison. In response to the strike, the Media Legal Defence Initiative and Electronic Frontier Foundation are petitioning the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to intervene on his behalf.
- Social Media and the ‘Spiral of Silence’ — Pew Research Internet Project