Netizen Report: WikiLeaks, TPP and the Ethics of a Leak Economy

Locked door. Photo by Bradley Gordon via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Master lock. Photo by Bradley Gordon via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Controversy over the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement continue this week, with advocates for human rights, global public health, and the environment persisting in their opposition to the agreement alongside hundreds of technology startups. Leaked documents indicate the trade deal would impose new, sky-high intellectual property protection standards — covering everything from copyrights on music to patents on medicine — on the participating Pacific rim countries, which currently include Chile, Japan, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Australia, among others. The TPP carries stringent intellectual property regulations that would all but require Internet service providers to surveil the activities of their customers in an effort to curtail copyright violations taking place on their networks. Chilean legal scholar Rayen Campusano writes:

This form of cooperation between intellectual property owners and Internet service providers would break the principle of net neutrality and, of course, the presumption of innocence in judicial proceedings: as Internet users we are, unless proven otherwise, pirates, and subjects of monitoring and control. This is to say that these private companies…truly will become the police and censors of the Web.

It is still unclear what this would mean for a country like Chile, where net neutrality is explicitly protected under national law. Alongside many questions about national-level adoption of the treaty terms, there remains the simple fact that the current text of the treaty is only accessible to relevant government officials and certain private companies.

Blow a whistle, win $100k?

WikiLeaks is crowdsourcing funds in an effort to offer 100,000 US dollars to anyone who can provide a full, up-to-date text of the TPP agreement. While the offer sounds unorthodox for many, desperate times may in fact call for desperate measures. In an opinion article for the New York Times, media ethics scholar Kelly McBride wrote:

Given the TPP’s secrecy, WikiLeaks’ crowd-sourced leak-funding campaign….can be seen as a logical response to a process designed to thwart public debate, an investment in democracy even.


…WikiLeaks’ bounty would give millions of citizens in signatory countries the ability to debate a major piece of public policy. And without this information, how are they to guide their elected representatives who will ultimately enact or reject the policy?

Paraguayan netizens celebrate defeat of “pyrawebs” data regulation

Paraguay’s Congress voted down a data retention law last week following a flurry of online discussion and media coverage focused on problems that the bill presented for Internet user privacy. Local open Internet advocates opposed to the bill have nicknamed it “Pyrawebs” in a not-so-subtle reference to the late 20th century dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner, during which police surveillance was routine. The term “pyra” comes from “pyragüés” means “informant” in local indigenous language of Guaraní.

Macedonian digital activists wiretapped

Journalists and online democracy advocates in Macedonia have been under fire for months as authorities seek to stifle investigations of state corruption and abuse of power. This week, an unnamed source delivered a folder containing transcripts from wiretapped conversations of Bardhyl Jashari, the founder and director of open Internet group Metamorphosis. Jashari, who also serves as editor of Global Voices’ Albanian site, was shaken by the incident but said he was “not surprised” that his phone had been bugged.

On Tiananmen anniversary, Chinese find that money is not protected speech

June 4 is always a sensitive day in China, as it marks the anniversary of the deadly assault on protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Of course, around June 4, the nation’s behemoth Internet censorship regime ramps up, making it even more difficult than usual to search for sensitive terms like “Tiananmen” and “democracy” in China. But this year, even numbers became taboo. Multiple users of WeChat, a social media and e-commerce platform, reported that they were unable to transfer money if values contained the numbers 64 or 89—as in 6/4/89. These requests instead generated a message saying “Transaction error. Try again later.”

On the bright side, developers thought ahead about the anniversary, too. A few days prior to June 4, users got their first taste of a new app that allows Chinese smartphone users to access Twitter, which is blocked in mainland China. Named FireTweet, the app was developed by the creators of Lantern, a P2P circumvention tool.

‘Yemen Cyber Army’ hacks Saudi government database

The self-described “Yemen Cyber Army” released information obtained from hacking Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including visa applications and passport information foreigners who applied for visas to visit the country.

UK contemplates ‘Snoopers Charter’

A leaked report revealed the U.K. government is considering negotiating an international treaty to force U.S. Web companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Yahoo to share their customers’ personal data. Currently U.S. laws prevent these companies from sharing customers’ private data with British police and security services without prior approval from judicial authorities. In response, the U.K. has considered implementing a “Snoopers Charter” bill that would require communications service providers to retain information about their users and would allow the use of deep packet inspection probes to collect the data. After being killed off in 2013, the legislation was reintroduced in Parliament this May.

Iranian web developer spends another birthday in prison

Programmer Saeed Malekpour will soon celebrate his 40th birthday and his sixth year in prison. Jailed under Iran’s cyber crimes law for creating open source software that others used to upload pornographic images to the Internet, Saeed was initially condemned to death, but this has been reduced to an indefinite prison sentence. Saeed’s sister, Maryam Malekpour, is working with a group of activists to launch a campaign for him using the hashtags #FreeSaeedMalekpour and #HBDSaeed.

On another sobering note, eight months ahead of parliamentary elections, Iran’s police and the intelligence ministry are already making plans to ramp up Internet and social media surveillance. The effort will involve representatives from the police, Revolutionary Guards, army, and state radio and television.

Award-winning fiction writer, blogger behind bars in Ethiopia

Ethiopian writer Befeqadu Hailu, a member of the Zone9 blogging collective, has been imprisoned since April 2014 for his writing. He’s been charged with terrorism. In a recent story focused on Hailu’s literary work, Global Voices’ Nwachukwu Egbunike writes, “the real wrongdoers are his jailers: a repressive government that forbids critical dissent. That is indeed the great crime of Befeqadu and his colleagues. They refused to conform to the norm of silence…”

June 17: Day of action for jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi

Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi will have been in prison for three years this June 17. Despite multiple attempts to appeal his case, the 31-year-old faces a sentence 10 years in prison, 1000 lashes, and a fine of one million riyals (about USD $267,000), all due to his founding of the discussion platform Saudi Liberals. Amnesty International, PEN, and Global Voices Advocacy will participate in a day of action to mark this unfortunate anniversary next week. Learn more about his case and efforts to secure his release.

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 Ellery Roberts Biddle, Lisa Ferguson, Hae-in Lim, Bojan Perkov and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

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