Netizen Report: UK Companies Vow to Censor ‘Terrorist’ Websites

Ellery Roberts Biddle, Lisa Ferguson, Hae-in Lim 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 the UK, where leading Internet service providers including BT, TalkTalk, Virgin Media, and Sky have agreed to begin blocking “terrorist” and “extremist” websites on their networks. Providers will install a button that will allow any user to report material they feel is terrorist or extremist in nature.

United States Work Projects Administration Poster Collection (Library of Congress). Image released to public domain.

United States Work Projects Administration Poster Collection (Library of Congress). Image released to public domain.

It is unclear what criteria will be used to determine whether or not websites should be blocked. Reports will be assessed by the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit, a special division of the London Metropolitan Police that historically has concentrated on tracking and removing online images of child pornography and abuse. Several critics have noted that filtering “terrorist” content is an entirely different beast that will require deep contextual knowledge and linguistic precision that may fall well beyond the means of the unit.

In a press statement, London-based Open Rights Group director Jim Killock underlined the need for transparency and accountability in the proposed system: 

“We need transparency whenever political content is blocked, even when we are talking about websites that espouse extremist views. The government must be clear about what sites they think should be blocked, why they are blocking them and whether there will be redress for site owners who believe that their website has been blocked incorrectly.”

Across the English Channel, French parliamentarians took similar steps to combat the proliferation of terrorist messages online by adopting a law that allows the government to block websites that “condone terrorism.” The law explicitly criminalizes the transmission of messages inciting terrorism that are “susceptible [to] being seen or received by a minor.” 

It gets worse? Russian LGBT online outreach group prosecuted for “gay propaganda”
Russian communications agency Roskomnadzor ruled Children-404, an online effort to support LGBT youth in Russia, violates the government’s ban on “gay propaganda”. Children-404 spreads messages on social networking sites to support youths who feel lost and outcast, much like the U.S.-based “It Gets Better” campaign. Children-404 founder Lena Klimova says she plans to challenge the ruling in court.

Gambian blogger detained, then freed
Gambian blogger and women’s rights activist Sait Matty Jaw was detained on Nov. 5 and held without charge until his release on Nov. 13, in the face of online protests calling for his release. Under Gambian law it is illegal to detain anyone for more than 72 hours without charge.

India steps up porn blocking tactics
The Indian government announced plans to create a blacklist of pornography websites that Indian ISPs will be required to block. The blacklist would have hefty technological costs – according to the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team there are over 40 million porn websites around the world, most of which operate legally outside of India. In order to counteract the risk that large-scale filtering would slow down the Internet, ISPs will also be required to upgrade their infrastructure. Hosting and transmitting porn is illegal in India, though it is legal to view it in private. 

The U.S.-EU data privacy war is on
A number of large technology companies, including Apple, Microsoft and HP, called on the European Commission to speak out against U.S. law enforcement agencies’ seizure of customer data from European servers. A U.S. court ordered Microsoft to hand over the e-mails of a user accused of drug trafficking, which were stored on servers in Ireland. An appeals judge ruled that it didn’t matter where the data was physically located since the U.S.-based company had “control” over it.

Meanwhile in the U.S., Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond called for the government to extend protections under the U.S. Privacy Act to European citizens, which would allow them to challenge the misuse of their data by the U.S. government in U.S. courts. His call comes amid debate over an agreement to protect personal data transferred between the two governments for the investigation and prosecution of criminal cases. 

Court ruling protects country code domains for Syria, Iran, North Korea
A U.S. court ruled that country code top-level domains of Syria (.sy), Iran (.ir), and North Korea (.kp) could not be seized in a lawsuit against those governments. The plaintiffs in the case sought to seize the domains in order to enforce financial judgments against Iran that were unenforceable because the country did not have other seizable assets in the United States. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which oversees the assignment of country code domain names, argued they could not be seized because they are not property. While the judge did not opine on the issue of domain names as property, the ruling cuts against U.S.-based efforts to control key elements of Internet infrastructure.

IAB and WhatsApp get real about encryption
The uber-popular messaging tool WhatsApp has launched end-to-end encryption service for all users. A frequent vehicle for mobile phone surveillance and malware attacks, WhatsApp has integrated its systems with Textsecure, a secure open source messaging service developed by leading developer and crypto expert Moxie Marlinspike. Now that’s what’s app.

The Internet Architecture Board, a key standards-setting body for Internet protocols and architecture, called upon protocol designers to make “encryption the norm for Internet traffic”—by default and throughout the protocol stack.

Netizen Activism: Let’s play surveillance!
A group of security researchers launched the NSA Playset, a project that seeks to reverse engineer and release tools developed by the NSA for surveillance purposes. Using the NSA ANT catalog, which highlights the technologies available on order from the agency’s Advanced Network Technology division, the group seeks to engineer the tools using open-source hardware and software to make them easily accessible for the public.

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