The Netizen Report originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, Bojan Perkov, Weiping Li, Lakshmi Sarah, 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 Djibouti, where journalists at the newspaper and website La Voix de Djibouti have faced a series of threats in recent weeks. On Dec. 4, two journalists covering a police raid on market stallholders were physically beaten; on Dec. 7, another was arrested “for no obvious reason”; and on Dec. 12, another was arrested for covering a protest in a slum, and his mobile phone and other electronics were seized. In the last case, the slum in question had been demolished [link in French] by the government on Nov. 22, leaving 4,000 people homeless—a tragedy that was only made known thanks to La Voix, which used social media to spread the story. Unfortunately this is nothing new. In 2011, six journalists affiliated with La Voix spent more than four months in prison. Djibouti is ranked 167th of 179 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2013 World Press Freedom Index.
Thuggery: Dozens of Cubans detained on Human Rights Day.
Somewhere between a few dozen and a few hundred people—including punk rockers, intellectuals, dissidents, and a pair of Argentine tourists—were detained last week in Cuba. Twitter users reported that throughout Havana, opposition activists attempting to gather for international Human Rights Day were stopped and taken into temporary custody by state security officials. Conflicting accounts have made it difficult to confirm precisely how many people were detained.
Egyptian blogger and political activist Alaa Abd El Fattah, who was arrested two weeks ago in Cairo after helping to organize a demonstration, was charged under Egypt’s new “anti-protest” law, which prohibits public demonstration without prior authorization from government officials.
A story about self-censorship in Serbian media disappeared from the website of the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia when the site was hacked last week. Dunja Mijatovic, the representative on freedom of the media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, expressed concern about the incident, saying to reporters, “I trust the authorities will do their utmost to protect the culture of free Internet that exists in Serbia. A free Internet is a precondition for free media to thrive.”
Assaults on media workers, activists, and artists continue in Syria. Cartoonist Akram Raslan, who was arrested in October 2012 by the Assad regime, may have been killed following a show trial, though some have refuted these claims. Raslan won the Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning (issued by Cartoon Rights Network International) this year for his work. Nonviolent activist Razan Zaitouneh was kidnapped along with three others from Syria’s Violations Documentation Center on the outskirts of Damascus on Dec. 9. Prior to her kidnapping, Zaitouneh had received threats from both the regime and extremist groups. Syria’s Local Coordinators Committee demanded the release of the activists and has asked others to join their campaign.
Media workers at several prominent political radio stations and news sites in Syria are working with international press freedom groups to demand an end to media worker abuses in the country. Learn more about the Free Press for Syria campaign here.
Surveillance: New spy regimes for France and India?
Surveillance à la française: Article 13 of France’s defense law [link in French], passed on Dec. 11, vastly expands the scope of government surveillance, allowing more government entities to collect more types of information for more reasons. The law will allow intelligence agencies—as well as the Ministry for Economy and Finance—to monitor “electronic and digital communications” in real time without authorization from the National Commission for the Control of Security Intercepts, the body responsible for oversight up until now.
The government of India may soon seek to store all Internet data for Indian domain names within its borders. An internal note from the Subcommittee on International Cooperation on Cybersecurity read, “Mere location of root servers in India would not serve any purpose unless we were also allowed a role in their control and management. We should insist that data of all domain names originating from India … should be stored in India. Similarly, all traffic originating/landing in India should be stored in India.” Although NSA revelations were a significant trigger for this move, the government of India has long advocated for a changes in global Internet governance that would place the domain name system and the responsibilities of ICANN under a multilateral (rather than U.S.-centric) governance framework.
Free Expression: New laws limit speech in Spain, Kazakhstan, Romania.
This week, draft legislation in Spain that would restrict civil rights and limit activism met dramatic public opposition. The bill prohibits organizing and participating in demonstrations online and offline without giving prior notification to the government.
Several Internet users in Kazakhstan are currently being prosecuted for libel. Critics see this as a new approach to information control by the Kazakh government, which has a long history of online censorship. Kazakhstan consolidated control of the Internet with a 2009 law subjecting Internet content to stringent controls.
The Romanian Chamber of Deputies recriminalized offenses of libel and insult through what critics described as a murky legislative process. Local press freedom and human rights groups are pushing to prevent the law from going into force—President Traian Basescu still has time to veto the changes.
Privacy: European body says retention rules look risky.
The European Court of Justice ruled that data retention obligations for telecommunication companies and Internet providers can constitute “a serious interference” in the right to privacy. The EU Data Retention Directive (2006) requires telecoms and ISPs to store communications data of their users for six months to two years. The court also stated that the directive was incompatible with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Copyright: TPP pushes stiff penalties for “accidental” copyright violations.
The U.S. government is pushing full steam ahead on Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, but the agreement's copyright and intellectual property proposals continue to be met with resistance from activists in the Americas and Southeast Asia. According to leaked documents from recent TPP talks in Singapore, the current language under debate proposes making “unintentional infringements of copyright” a criminal offense.
Industry: No more FreeWeibo for China's Apple users.
Apple removed the anti-censorship application FreeWeibo from its China app store in compliance with a request from the Chinese government. Developed by Radio Netherlands Worldwide and Chinese cyber-activists, the software allows users to read censored postings on Chinese microblog Sina Weibo.
Internet Insecurity: Hacking the G20?
Since 2010, Chinese hackers have been using malware to spy on the foreign ministries of the Czech Republic, Portugal, Bulgaria, Latvia, and Hungary, according to a report by U.S. computer security company FireEye. The targeted “Ke3Chang” campaign allowed hackers to eavesdrop on foreign ministries in the lead-up to the September 2013 G20 summit.
Social networking tools have helped sustain the Euromaidan protests in the Ukraine, helping to protesters organize and inform the public about new developments.
The U.S.-made Web filtering software SmartFilter is apparently not so clever—the program has reportedly blocked Web pages belonging to a church, a jazz music institute, and an adult rehabilitation center, all in the United States, after wrongly identifying their content as porn. The filtering software has been deployed in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Publications and Studies
- “Information Economy Report 2013: The Cloud Economy and Developing Countries”—U.N. Conference on Trade and Development
- “2013 Internet Monitor Annual Report: Reflections on the Digital World”—Berkman Center for Internet and Society
- “Privacy and Data Protection: 2013 Year in Review”—McDermott, Will & Emory
- “Privacy and Cloud Computing in Public Schools”—Center on Law and Information Policy, Fordham Law School
- “Time to step up: The EU and freedom of expression”—Index on Censorship
- “Blasphemy: Information Sacrificed on Altar of Religion”—Reporters Without Borders