More Than 2 Million Workers Monitor Web Activity in China

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Oct. 9 2013 9:05 AM

The Netizen Report: More Than 2 Million Workers Monitor Web Activity in China

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Customers at an Internet bar in Beijing

Photo by LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images

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The Netizen Report originally appears on Global Voices Advocacy each week. Lisa Ferguson, Weiping Li, Renata Avila, Bojan Perkov, Ellery Roberts Biddle, and Sarah Myers 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 United States, where the National Security Agency has been attempting to track users of the Tor online anonymity network.

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Surveillance: NSA is targeting Tor?!?
The Guardian’s latest NSA leaks reveal that U.S. government efforts to track Tor users have had limited success. Among other things, the NSA bought ads at Tor’s entry and exit points using Google AdSense in an effort to track users. Tor was developed primarily to serve Internet users in countries with pervasive online surveillance practices by allowing them to browse the Web anonymously and communicate through protected channels. The network can also serve as a cloak for bad actors, as seen in the recent U.S. government seizure of Silk Road, an online marketplace for illicit goods (mainly narcotics) that operated primarily over Tor. News outlets have pointed out that while the NSA seeks to undermine online anonymity, other branches of the U.S. government, including the State Department, have long been leading funders of the project.

The Zimbabwean government approved new legislation that will establish a central database of information about all mobile telephone users in the country. The new statute will make SIM card registration mandatory and require telecommunications providers to tie each phone number to its owner’s name, address, nationality, passport, and national ID number.

In a rare stroke of transparency, Chinese state media officials said that more than 2 million people are employed on both state and commercial payrolls to monitor Web activity. The monitors, who are described as “internet opinion analysts,” “gather and analyze public opinions on microblog sites and compile reports for decision-makers” but do not delete postings, according to the Beijing News.

Russia’s FSB security service has plans to monitor phone and Internet communications in Sochi during the Winter Olympics next year. Detected by a team of Russian journalists and technologists, the new monitoring equipment will enable FSB to conduct surveillance of phone and Internet traffic in Sochi using Sorm, Russia’s communications interception system.

At the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners, a loose coalition of countries led by the German government voted to update the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to enshrine the right to privacy.

Thuggery: Global Voices author released on bail in Bahrain
Bahraini blogger and Global Voices author Mohammed Hassan, aka Safy, was released from prison on bail. Hassan was arrested on July 31, 2013, and reportedly endured torture while in prison. In an essay for Global Voices Advocacy, Kuwaiti blogger and community member Mona Kareem told Hassan's story and described the challenge of raising international awareness and concern about his case.

Free Expression: Saudi crusade against female drivers moves online
Oct26driving.com, a website supporting Saudi women’s right to drive, was blocked in Saudi Arabia. The site was launched as part of a campaign led by a group of Saudi citizens encouraging women to drive on Oct. 26. Head of the Saudi Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice Abduallateef al-Shaikh sparked controversy and stoked campaign efforts when he stated last month that he saw “no religious justification for banning women driving.”

In Pakistan, authorities proposed a three-month ban on mobile chat apps including WhatsApp and Skype in the province of Sindh, which includes the city of Karachi. Authorities claim that this effort will force terrorists to use national telecommunication networks to communicate with one another, thus making them easier to surveil. Pakistani NGO Bolo Bhi called the move a “violation of fundamental rights.”

China’s government has threatened to block several mobile news aggregation apps, including Zaker and Chouti, whose slogan is “publish all that should not be published.” According to Reuters, the apps in question enable subscribers in China to read news articles from foreign media that are not accessible in China, including the New York Times. According to China’s State Internet Information Office, some of the apps publish “pornography,” “obscene information,” and falsehoods.

In late September, news organizations in mainland China announced the impending establishment of "free trade zones" in Shanghai and Shenzhen that would create an alternative, liberalized regulatory environment in an effort to benefit multinational businesses. Many reports suggested that the zones would include access to the open Internet, but state officials have largely dispelled these assertions over the last 10 days. It remains unclear whether regulations in these zones will extend to the Internet in any way.

Privacy: Google on the hook for wiretapping?
A U.S. court has decided to hear a case against Google’s practice of scanning all emails that come through its servers. The judge ruled that the practice may violate the country’s wiretap law, stating that a “reasonable” Gmail user reading the site’s privacy policy would not be aware that Google collects the content of emails, both between Gmail users and between Gmail users and non-Gmail users, and that the interceptions “fall outside Google’s ordinary course of business.”

Netizen Activism: Ghanaians call for greater Internet access
A group of representatives from more than 30 Ghanaian civil society organizations called upon Ghana’s government to make Internet access a national priority. A mapping study conducted by the Media Foundation for West Africa found that Internet penetration in Ghana is still below 20 percent, leaving the vast majority of Ghanaians unable to get online.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

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