Ellery Roberts Biddle, Lisa Ferguson, Alex Laverty, Mohamed ElGohary, Ephraim Percy Kenyanito, 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. This week’s report begins in Kenya, where a new proposed national security law would leverage stiff criminal penalties for media workers who publish information that authorities deem undermining to “investigations or security operations relating to terrorism” and for Internet users who “post updates that praise, advocate or incite acts of terrorism.” Local experts say that broadly speaking, the policy shift would further limit the degree to which law enforcement and military agencies can be held accountable before the public.
The bill would also allow national security agencies to “intercept communication for the purpose of detecting, deterring and disrupting terrorism and related activities,” but it does not specify what procedures would be used in order to authorize and ensure accountability for interception procedures. This comes after a June 2014 announcement that the government had contracted with Safaricom, the country’s largest mobile phone service provider, to implement a new telecommunication and street-level surveillance system nationwide.
The bill is being fast-tracked due to time constraints and will undergo just one day’s worth of deliberation, rather than the standard 14 days.
Breaking the silence on UN Human Rights Day
On December 10, to mark UN Human Rights Day, activists from the Arab region are asking allies to raise their voices in support of digital activists who are behind bars because of their commitment to defending human rights and upholding rule of law in their countries. Visit our campaign page to sign a letter of support and learn other ways to help.
GitHub takes hit in Russia
Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor blocked the developer website GitHub after it discovered the site hosted content related to suicide. The agency also blocked GitHub briefly in October of this year. In response, GitHub instituted localized blocks on the relevant content in Russia so that its other services would remain accessible there. It also established a page where takedown notices such as the one it received from Roskomnadzor may be posted publicly for users to see.
Vodaphone blocks historic hacker association site in Britain
British mobile operator Vodafone is blocking the website of Chaos Computer Club, a global hacker association. CCC representatives believe their site has fallen victim to the new ISP-level filtering mechanisms in the UK, created by government mandate in 2013. CCC spokesman Dirk Engling said the block was “proof that censorship infrastructure—no matter for which reasons it was set up, and no matter which country you are in—will always be abused for political reasons.”
Vietnamese bloggers arrested over “bad content”
Vietnamese police detained bloggers Hong Le Tho and Nguyen Quang Lap for “posting online articles with bad content and false information” that allegedly “discredits” the state, according to the Ministry of Public Security. Both bloggers were known for writing critically about government activities.
Iran’s new smart filters could bring more precise censorship (and better surveillance)
Iranian Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mahmoud Vaezi recently alluded to plans to institute a smart filtering system. According to Vaezi, “the system will determine which parts of a website are criminal. So just those parts will be blocked and the rest will be accessible.” The system also will reportedly allow authorities to more precisely track the IP addresses of users as they browse the Internet.
NSA’s data-slurping PRISM program is okay by us, says U.K. tribunal
The Investigative Powers Tribunal, a court overseeing British intelligence agencies, ruled that mass electronic communications surveillance programs such as PRISM are legal. The ruling comes after a complaint from privacy and human rights advocates, who plan to appeal the decision before the European Court of Human Rights. “Today’s decision by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal that this is business as usual is a worrying sign for us all,” said Eric King, a deputy director at Privacy International.
Ethiopian bloggers face limits of international law
The case of the Zone9 bloggers, who were arrested in Ethiopia in April, were held for months without a formal charge, and were denied the ability to communicate with the outside world, illustrates the limits of the international legal system, writes Global Voices’ Ivan Sigal. “The implementation of international commitments seems to rest primarily upon a negotiated process of politics, not a functioning and enforceable system of law,” he writes. “Considering the ease with which national law is employed or ignored for political ends, it is a grim irony that only political pressure can hope to resolve the case in their favor.”
On Dec. 4, China’s Constitution Day, the country’s most censored word on Weibo was—you guessed it—“constitution.”
- “Data and Civil Rights: Why ‘Big Data’ Is a Civil Rights Issue”—Data & Society Research Institute
- “Freedom on the Net 2014”—Freedom House