The Netizen Report originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, Ellery Biddle, Juan Arellano, Bojan Perkov, Richard Teverson, Katherine MacNamara, 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 report begins in Iran, where Cryptocat, a user-friendly browser-based chat encryption tool envisioned as “cryptography for the masses,” was blocked last week. A blog post about the blocking reminded users that Cryptocat is “experimental software” that is “not guaranteed to protect you from excessively serious situations, such as government targeting, physical spying, or computer backdoors.” Heed that, kitty cats.
Surveillance: Wire-tap law leaves Nigerian activists wary.
In Nigeria, a proposed Internet and telephone surveillance law passed its second reading in both chambers of the country’s National Assembly. Baba Jibrin Adamu, senior information and communications technology adviser to the president, says the administration is “hell-bent on curtailing the activities of criminals who have found a safe haven in ICT.” Though much of the law intends to address online financial fraud and phishing scams, it incorporates broad surveillance provisions, allowing police to engage in warrantless wiretapping of both telephone and Internet communications. Critics fear the bill will stifle online expression.
In a hearing on mass surveillance in the European Parliament, Nils Torvalds, father of Linux architect Linus Torvalds, revealed that the National Security Agency asked GNU/Linux to build covert backdoors into the open source operating system.
Tunisia will soon have a new telecommunications agency dedicated to investigating “ICT-related” crimes. But some have suggested that the agency lacks a sufficiently robust oversight mechanism. Activists fearing the agency will usher in a new era of censorship and surveillance have started a “Stop #A2T” campaign.
Chinese authorities are expanding their surveillance capabilities to monitor online communications in ethnic minority languages. The South China Morning Post reports that a new system will allow Han officials in areas like Tibet and Xinjiang (a Uyghur region) to track and translate Internet voice calls, text, and messages embedded in images.
The United Nations is expected to pass a resolution that will extend the right to privacy to online communications. But U.S. diplomats have been working behind the scenes to block a provision that would make the interception of personal information and communication a violation of human rights. Evidently keen to protect international surveillance capabilities, they are pushing to shift the resolution’s focus to illegal surveillance, rather than simply “extraterritorial surveillance.”
Thuggery: UAE activist jailed for tweets.
Waleed al-Shehhi, an activist in the United Arab Emirates, was sentenced to two years in prison and fined about $137,000 for tweeting his misgivings about the "UAE 94" trial, which has been condemned as "manifestly unfair" by the International Commission of Jurists. He is the second person to be tried under the Cybercrimes Decree since its passage last November.
Free Expression: Russia blocks Pussy Riot, Mein Kampf under child porn law.
Index on Censorship tracked websites blocked by the Russian government under a law intended to combat child pornography. Among the materials banned: anti-Putin articles, Mein Kampf, content related to drug use, gambling, and suicide, and—of course—an icon of jailed band Pussy Riot.
Technologists working with GreatFire.org have found ways around China’s Great Firewall. Blocked sites are mirrored and served through the Web servers of large companies such as Amazon. “Authorities [should] be unable to block [the mirror sites] without severely disrupting other, government-sanctioned Internet traffic,” said GreatFire.org co-founder Charlie Smith.
Copyright: “Abuse the DMCA and we will sue you,” says WordPress.
Blogging platform WordPress is joining three bloggers in lawsuits against multiple individuals who falsely issued Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notices to bloggers using the platform.
Industry: Yahoo finally embraces SSL.
Following the revelation that it was the largest single source for data collected by the NSA, Yahoo announced plans to protect user information with secure socket layer (SSL) encryption. This will cover all information traveling between data centers and will include encryption across all Yahoo websites. The company plans to enable SSL by early next year.
Responding to complaints from Europe v. Facebook, an activist group, Luxembourg’s National Commission for Data Protection decided that local Microsoft and Skype subsidiaries did not break EU privacy regulations when they transferred the data of their European users to the United States. The commission argued that the data transfers were legal under a safe harbor agreement that enables American companies to certify their compliance with EU privacy standards.
Internet Insecurity: Cyber hacking is “nothing short of terrorism.”
A Draft Convention on the Establishment of a Credible Legal Framework for Cyber Security in Africa issued by the African Union has sparked opposition from civil society groups in several African countries. The current draft is peppered with vague language and gives “investigative judges” carte blanche to issue search and seizure warrants “where it is useful for the revelation of truth.” Critics have urged the African Union to first consider urging nations to sign the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, which, while imperfect, is the leading international treaty on the issue, open to signatures from any country. A petition to block the convention can be found here.
A massive series of man-in-the-middle attacks diverted chunks of Internet traffic belonging to financial institutions, government agencies, and Internet service providers to routers at Belarusian and Icelandic service providers. According to network monitoring firm Renesys, the nature of the attack suggests the data may have been monitored or modified by an unknown source.
Singapore’s minister for law and foreign affairs said this week that if cyber hacking endangers lives, it is “nothing short of terrorism.”
Publications and Studies
- India: Digital freedom under threat? - Index on Censorship
- Encrypt the Web Report: Who’s Doing What - Electronic Frontier Foundation
- The Rise of Digital Repression - PEN American Center
- Iranian Internet Infrastructure and Policy Report - Small Media
- Systematic Government Access to Personal Data: A Comparative Analysis - Center for Democracy & Technology
- Lions go digital: The Internet’s transformative potential in Africa - McKinsey Global Institute