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 the Twittersphere, where activists in Mexico, Venezuela, and Turkey have faced steep and sometimes fatal consequences for politically charged tweets over the last two weeks.
In Mexico, Maria del Rosario Fuentes Rubio was kidnapped and murdered in the northern border state of Tamaulipas in an apparent warning to citizen journalists reporting on drug-related violence. Photos of her corpse were posted on her Twitter account, which has since been suspended. Fuentes Rubio, who was a doctor, volunteered as a contributor to the citizen media platform Valor por Tamaulipas (Courage for Tamaulipas). An administrator of the platform later described her as “an angel who gave everything, her life, her future, her safety and peace … for the good of the people of the state.”
In Venezuela, several users were arrested for sending tweets that police allege link them to the assassination of Robert Serra, a 27-year-old Socialist Party deputy who was found stabbed to death in his home on Oct. 1. All of those detained have voiced criticism of the current government on Twitter. Inés Margarita González (@inesitaterrible), a prominent voice on political issues, was detained and charged with “inciting crime” after tweeting her opinion on Serra's killing. She is currently being held incommunicado.
The Turkish government briefly detained journalist Aytekin Gezici for tweets criticizing government officials and raided Gezici’s home, searching his computer, cell phone, camera and other electronics. Many believe this is the first use of Turkey’s new “reasonable doubt” rule, a pending amendment to the country's criminal code that will lower the threshold requirement for authorities to search and seize property in a criminal investigation. Now, rather than needing to show “strong suspicion based on concrete evidence”, authorities must simply prove that they have a reasonable doubt of the suspect's innocence in order to obtain a search warrant.
China’s anti-rumor campaign continues
Daqin, a news website run by Tencent in Shaanxi province, is the latest casualty in China’s crackdown on “online rumors.” The site will be closed for seven days for its “lack of control on contents,” according to the Shaanxi Internet Information Office.
UN says government surveillance undermines international law
A report by UN Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism Ben Emmerson found that mass surveillance of the Internet threatens to undermine international law and is “indiscriminately corrosive of online privacy.” Emmerson called for urgent revision of national laws regulating communications surveillance to ensure compliance with international human rights law.
Careful what you Whisper
The secret messaging app Whisper may not be so secret as people once thought. Although Whisper claims to be “the safest place on the Internet”, it apparently tracks its users, even after some opted out of geolocation services and shares user information with the US Department of Defense. It also closely tracks certain users deemed “potentially newsworthy”. The resulting controversy has illustrated the conflicts in Whisper’s business model, which combines content production – the site pitches itself to news sites – with promises of anonymity to its users.
Hacks, hackers, and Russia’s proposed Internet fast lane
Russia may implement its own Internet fast lane as its Federal Anti-Monopoly Service considers allowing Internet service providers to collect fees from websites to prioritize delivery of their content. Citing the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, the FAS claims the fees would enable ISPs to make much-needed investments in national telecom infrastructure. But media freedom advocates argue they will endanger for the country’s already-threatened independent media space.
Russian hackers were able to spy on several Western governments, NATO, and the Ukrainian government, among others, by exploiting vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows, according to a report by computer security firm iSight Partners. It is unclear what information might have been retrieved through the attacks, which started as early as 2009 and ramped up this summer, but they were often tied to escalations in the standoff in Ukraine.
“Rules” for journalists in Syria, by ISIS
In early October, the violent extremist group known as ISIS issued 11 “rules” for journalists in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province. These include requirements that journalists “swear allegiance to the Caliph [Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi,” thus acknowledging that they are subjects of the so-called Islamic State; work under the “exclusive supervision” of ISIS media offices; and refer to ISIS media offices before releasing any print or broadcast reportage of any kind. Citing accounts from local journalists who attended a meeting with the extremist group, Syria Deeply reported: “the meeting ended with a number of journalists agreeing to the new ISIS rules and signing circulars stating the terms of agreement. Those who didn’t agree to the terms fled the country.”
The Internet sleeps at night in many parts of the world, as home routers and Internet cafes get switched off in the evening, according to research from the University of Southern California. Of the four billion available IP addresses in the IPv4 address system, less than 800 million are being used at any given time, illustrating the diurnal rhythm of the global Internet.
Promotion and Protection of Human Rights While Countering Terrorism – Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson, UN General Assembly