Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.
After four brutal killings of secular bloggers over the last six months in Bangladesh, authorities finally have identified multiple suspects in their cases. Three men, all said to be affiliated with the religious hardliner group Ansarullah Bangla Team, were arrested on August 18 as suspects in the assassinations of Avijit Roy and Anant Bijoy Das, both of whom were hacked to death in public. Earlier in the week, two others were arrested in connection with the murder of Niloy Neel, who was killed in his apartment on August 7, 2105, and the attempted murder of Asif Mohiuddin, a blogger who survived a brutal attack during 2013 mass protests in Dhaka, the nation’s capital.
In 2013, a group of conservative Muslim clerics submitted to a special government committee a list of 84 people accused of “atheism” and writing against Islam. Since then, 11 individuals on the list, including the four bloggers, have been murdered. Left shell-shocked by increasingly common attacks, some of the country's most active bloggers now fear they may face jail or will die at the hands of the assailants. Others have left the country or stopped writing.
Read more of our special coverage: Bloggers Under Fire: The Fatal Consequences of Free Thinking in Bangladesh
In response to Niloy’s killing, the Committee to Protect Journalists published a statement asking “How many more bloggers must be murdered before the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina acts decisively to stem the violence and impunity?”
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has condemned the attacks, but high-ranking police officials have made public statements warning bloggers not to cross the line, saying that while the killers of the bloggers will be brought under the law, “those who illogically write against religion in blogs are also extremists.”
Bots inflate popularity of Venezuelan prez
Nicolas Maduro is the third most-retweeted public figure in the world, just after Pope Francis and the king of Saudi Arabia. But a deeper look into the actual accounts responsible for his popularity reveals that the sources behind many of these tweets may not be what they seem: Researchers recently identified classic “bot” characteristics among hundreds of accounts re-tweeting government posts and sending messages with pro-government hashtags. Automated platforms also appear to play a key role, including an app allowing people (or bots) to automatically retweet every message Maduro posts. While Maduro surely has plenty of real-life followers, the findings help to explain the seemingly inflated online reputation of the president, whose public approval ratings lie below 30 percent.
Mexican mobile operators mess with net neutrality
Network operators in Mexico have begun providing a tiered pricing structure for mobile Internet services, wherein some websites are free to access, while others require an additional fee. According to a new report by the Network in Defense of Digital Rights, Telcel, Movistar, Iusacell, and Nextel are all engaging in these practices, known among experts as “zero-rating” and distorting the market, with detrimental effects on net neutrality and freedom of expression in Mexico. The Federal Telecommunications Institute plans to open a public consultation to define the country’s provisions on net neutrality and management of Internet traffic in August, and it will release its results in September.
Counter-terror efforts trigger censorship in Tunisia
A Tunisian mathematics teacher was arrested for alleging on Facebook that an attack by a gunman in June was part of a conspiracy. The teacher, Abdelfattah Saied, is accused of “complicity in terrorism” under an anti-terrorism law, which could lead to a five-year jail sentence. While conspiracy theories are nothing new in the Arab region, his arrest has left many Tunisians divided between those who welcome his prosecution and those who see it as a violation of free speech, says Global Voices’ Afef Abrougui.
In Turkey, the heat is on (and so are the censors)
Turkish Internet users have seen a wave of Web blocking this summer, coinciding with an inconclusive election and the country’s involvement in the conflict in Iraq and Syria. Among blocked websites are those of major news outlets known for being critical of the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party.
China’s cyber police are building their own stations
The Chinese government will be launching “cybersecurity police stations” to be located at major tech firms and websites, state media announced. The stations will be responsible for “inspecting the operation of websites and enforcing laws governing online activities,” according to Public Security Vice Minister Chen Zimin. While “cyber police” have long operated in China, this suggests a future with even more policing of online content in China.
New Facebook patent violates financial information privacy
A new patent issued to Facebook will improve the company’s ability to track users online. The patent also may allow lenders to query the average creditworthiness of all of your Facebook friends when deciding whether or not to offer you a loan. One analyst claimed that the new patent is “nothing to lose sleep over for people with decent credit history, but it could potentially affect those who are borderline to begin with.” Some have pointed out that at least in the United States, there are federal laws that regulate what kinds of sources creditors can refer to when determining an applicant’s creditworthiness. It remains to be seen how this patent will actually be implemented and interpreted by law, but it has privacy advocates in the US and EU deeply concerned.
Germany puts food porn under copyright lock-and-key
Germany’s Federal Court of Justice extended copyright protections to include Instagrammed food porn, finding that “elaborately arranged food” falls under the “artistic property of the creator.” While no chefs have filed a complaint as yet, Eater.com says the new rules could result in hefty fines or court proceedings for foodies.
Is South Africa trying to become the world’s strictest jurisdiction for copyright?
Revisions to South Africa’s copyright laws could mean dramatic expansions to copyright protections, granting the government copyright over the public domain, orphaned works (which remain in copyright though the creator of the work cannot be located), and extending copyright protections in perpetuity. Though the country might also adopt Fair Use, the proposal contains a number of carve-outs that make it difficult to claim in practice. Consultation on the law is open through August 27.
A new era for Internet names and numbers?
A international group of experts submitted its proposal for the transition of the management of Internet names and addresses out of the stewardship of the US Commerce Department. Under the proposal, a new separate subsidiary group would operate the technical functions of managing the Internet’s name and address system, and would hold a contract with ICANN. The subsidiary group would have its own performance evaluation process, while the role currently played by the US government would be replaced by ICANN itself and an oversight committee. Those responsible for reviewing would be made up of a group of interested parties, none of which are governments or inter-governmental organizations, according to the Guardian. The proposal will undergo public comment through September 8.