Netizen Report: Rafael Correa’s Crusade Against Critical Media, Online and Off

Rafael Correa at a 2013 parade in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Photo by Cancilleria Ecuador via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Rafael Correa at a 2013 parade in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Photo by Cancilleria Ecuador via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Mahsa Alimardani, Juan Arellano, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Lisa Ferguson, Bojan Perkov, Sonia Roubini and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

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 Ecuador, where an online video titled “What Correa Doesn’t Want You to See” (referring to President Rafael Correa) was removed from YouTube on Sept. 29. The video intersperses excerpts from a public speech in which Correa spoke about law enforcement with footage of police abuses of demonstrators at a Sept. 18 protest in the capital city of Quito. The company removed the video in response to a request from the office of Ecuador’s secretary of communication, which claimed the video violated copyright. The video, which was also removed from Facebook, was reinstated on YouTube on Oct. 2.

The incident highlights yet another facet of the Ecuadorian government’s increasingly restrictive policies and practices toward media of all kinds. Correa, who the Committee to Protect Journalists recently described as the country’s “media-critic-in-chief,” promulgated a far-reaching Communications Law that has had devastating consequences for media outlets and workers at every level. Since its passage in 2013, multiple print and online news sources have closed their doors, alongside many online outlets. In a high-profile case, cartoonist Xavier Bonilla was ordered to erase a cartoon depicting government officials and redraw them in a more flattering light.

U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression Frank La Rue characterized the law as being “clearly directed at limiting the liberty of reporters to report on current events, public policies, and government officials.”

Pro-Beijing Hackers Obliterate Independent Media Sites En Masse
Independent Hong Kong media and citizen-organizing sites including Passion Times, Post852, HKDash, and have undergone massive cyberattacks that have taken them offline for varying periods over the past 10 days. Fears about a full network blackout persist, though these appear to be just rumors for the moment. 

In response to the media frenzy surrounding FireChat, a Bluetooth-enabled app that allows users to communicate in public chatrooms, Global Voices worked with experts from, Citizen Lab, and the Tibet Action Institute to highlight security flaws in the app and prepared a list of tips for users to better secure their communications during a protest.

Smartphone spyware purporting to be “for the coordination of Occupy Central” is circulating among Hong Kong protesters who are using the WhatsApp messaging app. When a link included in a WhatsApp message is activated, the app reveals the user’s geolocation, SMS, address book, and emails, among other data.

Bahrain arrests yet another human rights leader
Leading Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab was arrested on charges of “insulting a public institution” after sending a tweet insinuating that Bahrain’s security apparatus serves as an “incubator” for ISIS fighters. The tweet read:

Rajab was released from prison in May 2014 after serving two years for taking part in protests against a brutal crackdown in Bahrain. He remained in police custody as of this report’s publication. On Tuesday, Oct. 7, supporters ran a tweet storm calling for his release, under the hashtag #FreeNabeel.

The increasingly watchful eyes of Egypt’s government
The Egyptian government is attempting to develop a mass surveillance system that would monitor the digital activity of all Internet users in the country. Egypt’s Ministry of Interior has called for a limited tender to provide and operate software that monitors Internet activities, including private conversations and messages sent through mobile applications like Viber and WhatsApp.

Who will want to visit Colombia’s one-stop shop for citizen data?
Colombian ICT Minister Diego Molano is pushing a policy initiative under which the government will bestow upon each citizen a “digital portfolio,” where all of one’s personal data held by the state, ranging from state identification and passport numbers to tax information and health data, would be stored together and come with a unique government-issued email address.

Although conceived as a pathway to greater efficiency in communication between government agencies and reduction of paper use, the policy has raised concern that it may leave citizens vulnerable to greater government surveillance or to malicious hacking.

Netizen Activism: #FreeSaeed campaign for jailed Iranian open source developer
Convicted of threatening the nation’s Islamic ideals and national security, Iranian Web and circumvention tool developer Saeed Malekpour has spent six years in prison for creating an open-source software program that others used to upload pornographic images to the Internet. On the anniversary of his arrest, activists and bloggers ran a tweet storm to support his release under the hashtag #freeSaeed.

New tool makes it easy for U.S. parents to spy on their children
U.S. police have been distributing spyware to parents seeking to monitor their children’s activity online. Researchers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation found that the software, known as ComputerCOP, includes a keystroke logger and the ability to search the computer for files and videos. They also found that the program sends some of this data to a server belonging to the company making the software, over an unencrypted connection.

Ironically, earlier this week federal authorities issued an indictment on wiretapping charges against the creator of a similar spyware program marketed to people seeking to track their spouses.

EU Commission set to investigate U.K. government spying
The European Union’s ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, called on the European Commission to release a set of documents related to mass Internet surveillance conducted by the U.K. intelligence agency GCHQ, arguing EU citizens have the right to be informed about such discussions. The Commission denied a German journalist access to the documents, which include letters between the U.K. government and the Commission as well as correspondence from citizens asking the commission to investigate. 

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