Netizen Report: Rights at Risk Under Trans-Pacific Trade Deal

Anti-TPP cartoon via WikiLeaks.

Anti-TPP cartoon via WikiLeaks.

Ellery Roberts Biddle 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.

The controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement may soon become reality after years of high-level trade deliberations that have been held almost entirely behind closed doors. The partnership would align the US, Japan, Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, and Brunei under a broad set of trade regulations affecting intellectual property and access to information, along with environmental and public health issues.

All countries that sign on will be required to reform their domestic laws to match the agreement. But it’s hard to say, what this means, given that the negotiation process has taken place almost entirely in secret. Digital rights advocates from across the globe have spoken out against the agreement and have spent years working to engage with the process and secure a seat at the bargaining table, with little success. More recently, scores of technology companies voiced public opposition to the agreement.

Despite the opaque process behind the TPP, leaked drafts of the agreement suggest that its intellectual property components are even more restrictive than comparable laws in the US, which is considered by many to have the most conservative IP and copyright regime in the world. Leaks also revealed that policies on the misuse of trade secrets could be used to enact harsh criminal punishments against anyone who reveals or even accesses confidential information through a “computer system” — this could be read to include people like journalists or whistleblowers.

Advocacy groups in Japan, Mexico, Chile and the US are campaigning to open the process and push back against a bid by US Congress members to put the pact on a fast track voting process that would allow it to pass without congressional review. Visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website to learn more about the agreement and find ways to get involved.

Government action and more threats follow blogger killings in Bangladesh

Authorities in Bangladesh banned a radical religious group believed to have been involved in the violent killings of three secular political bloggers in the majority-Muslim country. This followed the publication of a plea for justice signed by over 150 writers worldwide, including Salman Rusdie and Amitav Ghosh. Meanwhile, another blogger has been threatened by an unknown entity likely similar to the first. In an interview with The Guardian, the 25-year-old Dhaka man said “Anyone who has a critical view about religion is exposed. I probably have reduced my frequency of writing but my nature of writing has not changed.”

China’s “Weibo Inquisition” starts with a landmark human rights case and a robot mix-up

Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang was formally indicted on charges of “inciting ethnic hatred” over messages he posted on the microblogging website Weibo. The messages commented on an attack reportedly organized by separatists from Xinjiang province, in which 31 people were killed and 141 injured. Chinese netizens believe Pu Zhiqiang’s case marks the beginning of a “Weibo inquisition”.

On a related and lighter note, Chinese netizens had a good laugh when pro-government bots latched onto an innocuous post on Weibo from a state information office congratulating local science scholars on their victory in an international mathematical modeling contest. The post included the names of the scholars, one of whom coincidentally was also named Pu Zhiqiang. During Pu's indictment, the post triggered an onslaught of negative comments from government-operated robot commenters who indeed had the wrong Pu.

Privacy advocates feel heat in Morocco

Morroco’s Interior Ministry filed a lawsuit against a civil society group over a report revealing evidence of government surveillance of journalists and rights activists. Although authorities made no further specification about the suit, observers assume that it refers to a 40-page report entitled Their Eyes on Me, published by the London-based NGO Privacy International and Morocco's Association for Digital Rights, led by former Advox director Hisham Almiraat.

Say salam to “Salam”, Iran’s new mobile messaging service

Iran’s Basij paramilitary organization (a subdivision of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard) is hoping to lure Iranian citizens away from messaging apps like Viber and WhatsApp through the launch of its own messaging service, Salam. The app conveniently allows both Basij and intelligence agents access to the conversations and data of its users, and is yet another measure seeking to replicate international Internet services with localized Iranian ones that enable easy monitoring by state officials.

When it comes to censorship, size doesn’t matter

The island nation of Nauru has instituted a temporary block on Facebook, which it plans to lift as soon as the “necessary protection mechanisms” are put in place to restrict “explicit, obscene or pornographic material”  online, according to a briefing paper from the Nauruan government. Located in Oceania, Nauru is the third smallest country by area in the world. Facebook has played an important role in facilitating communication and information-sharing between Nauruans in the face of increasing restrictions on political opposition and growing censorship of websites in the country.

No Freedom Act for US (at least not yet)

The US Senate rejected for the second time proposed legislation that would stop the NSA’s bulk collection of American phone records. After gaining broad support in the House of Representatives, the USA Freedom Act failed to reach the threshold necessary to advance in the Senate. The Senate is now adjourned until May 31, the day before Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, which authorizes bulk surveillance, is due to expire. In anticipation of the possibility there will be no legislative agreement, the Obama administration has begun the process of shutting the program down.

Pro-Kremlin think tank launches “demon” social media monitoring system

A pro-government think tank in Russia, the Center for Research in Legitimacy and Political Protest, announced it is launching a “predictive and monitoring system” called “Laplace’s Demon” that seeks to monitor protect actions and unsanctioned rallies on social networks. Despite the scary name, the software may not contribute much to the vast suite of monitoring tools already available to government agencies. According to editor of the Russian intelligence watchdog site Andrei Soldatov, think tank director Venediktov “is merely trying to find his way into this profitable market.”

Netizen Activism

In the latest post in a series on Ethiopia’s Zone 9 bloggers, Global Voices author Pernille Baerendtsen reminds blogger Mahlet Fantahun that she is not alone. “There is always something you can do”, she says. “Writing one singly blog post is not going to bring Mahlet and the other imprisoned bloggers out of prison. This is much rather about keeping the story alive. Of not staying silent.”

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