Netizen Report: From Egypt to the EU, Calls for Social Media Censorship in Name of National Security

Twitter account of @w_salahadden, which tweeted updates about actions of the violent extremist group known as ISIS. The account has been taken down by Twitter.

Twitter account of @w_salahadden, who tweeted updates about Al-Qaeda activity. The account has been taken down by Twitter.

Ellery Roberts Biddle, Lisa Ferguson, Weiping Li, Bojan Perkov, 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. We begin this week’s report in the world of social media, where major platforms are facing pressure to change their practices in order to mitigate threats to state power.

In Egypt, the Cairo Administrative Court is set to hear a case calling for a ban on Facebook and Twitter, allegedly out of concern for national security. Local lawyer Mohamed Hamed Selim claims that the sites are being used as tools in “intelligence plots against the state” and that they played a key role in the uprising that began in January 2011. The case also could pose a major threat to anonymity on social networks, as it calls for all social media users to register their accounts using “verifiable personal details” and for accounts created under fake identities to be banned. Selim proposes that if companies wish to maintain a presence in the country, they should obtain legal permission to operate in Egypt. Although the case has yet to be heard, it has raised particular concern among users who fear increased surveillance and content controls on social media in the country.

Meanwhile, European Commission officials are pressuring Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms to more proactively mitigate the presence of violent extremist groups online. Officials suggested that companies pre-screen content posted by users before it becomes publicly visible, or that they ban certain groups from their platforms altogether. Not surprisingly, companies are pushing back, explaining the technical challenges that this would pose and arguing that such practices could create a slippery slope toward much tighter content controls across their platforms.

Whether or not they are allowed to keep accounts on major social media sites, experience suggests violent extremist groups will likely maintain a strong presence on the Internet for as long as they seek to promote their political views and agendas to a global audience.

Journal from an Ethiopian prison

Global Voices’ Endalk Chala translated original testimony from blogger and human rights advocate Befeqadu Hailu, who has been in prison in Ethiopia since April of 2014. Hailu recounts his work as a blogger with the Zone9 collective and describes the brutal interrogation tactics, torture, and other human rights abuses that he and his fellow bloggers have experienced.

Advocates take FinFisher to task on Bahrain spy case

Advocacy groups Privacy International and Bhatt Murphy Solicitors are arguing that Gamma International, the Germany- and U.K.-based maker of FinFisher surveillance software, “ought to be prosecuted for aiding and abetting the commission of a serious crime” by selling the software to the Bahraini government. The groups stated their claim in a criminal complaint filed with the U.K.’s National Cyber Crime Unit, pointing to technical evidence that the Bahraini government had used the software to spy on human rights activists.

Koreans ditch Kakao Talk for secure alternatives

After South Korean President Park Geun-hye threatened to prosecute people spreading rumors about her on popular Korean messaging app Kakao Talk, many Koreans are switching to Telegram, a chat app that offers end-to-end encryption. The Germany-based app has reportedly received roughly 1.5 million new users from South Korea since the beginning of October. “Welcome to exile” has become the official greeting among users who ditched Kakao Talk for Telegram.

U.K. mobile providers are giving police mobile data — unsolicited

An investigation by the Guardian indicated that UK mobile carriers including EE, Vodafone, and Three are voluntarily giving British police automated access to customer metadata. U.K. data retention laws do not require them to do this.

Social media giants wrestle with European requests to forget

Google issued its first transparency report about the “right to be forgotten,” revealing that Europeans made 144,938 requests for links to be removed from its search results. The companied complied with 42 percent of the requests. According to the report, the French are responsible for the most removal requests at 29,010 referrals, followed by Germans with 25,078 and Britons with 18,304 requests.

WaPo’s suggests “wizardry” could solve online privacy challenges for law enforcement

Members of the cryptography community grimaced this week at a Washington Post editorial that proposed Apple and Google draw upon Harry Potter-style “wizardry” to develop a “secure golden key” that would be able to protect user privacy while being able to give law enforcement officials access in the event of a true emergency. Chris Coyne of Keybase, OkCupid and Sparknotes fame provides a useful explanation of why the back door the Post is proposing is so problematic.

Netizen Activism

The Electronic Frontier Foundation will present a Pioneer Award to visual artist Trevor Paglen for his work producing photographs of state surveillance operations in an effort to “make the invisible visible.” According to Paglen, state surveillance operations should have processes as transparent as those of public libraries in order to strengthen their relationships with citizens. 

Bahraini and Egyptian activists Maryam Al-Khawaja and Alaa Abd El Fattah, both recently released from prison (though not cleared of charges) appeared on GV Face last week to discuss their recent struggles and their ambitions for political change in their respective countries.

The pro-multistakeholder Internet governance network Best Bits issued an open letter to the International Telecommunication Union, urging the organization to be more transparent about its upcoming Plenipotentiary meeting in Busan, South Korea. The letter urged the ITU to open sessions to public interest groups and to create an online public contribution platform.

Cool Things

Carlos Pedro is going where Google’s Street View and the Brazilian Post Office have never gone before by creating detailed digital maps of Rocinha, Brazil’s largest favela. Since most homes in Brazilian favelas do not have legal addresses, their residents have a difficult time receiving letters. Pedro is working to create a functional mail delivery system for local residents.

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