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 Turkey, where protesters have taken to the streets to reject a new law that could make government censorship and surveillance easier and more rampant than ever before. The law gives the Turkish government new powers to access and retain user data, and to block content deemed illegal in “emergency” situations, all without judicial oversight. The law would also require all Internet service providers to join a state-run association that would drive the implementation of content and data-related policies.
The bill was approved in Parliament last week after President Abdullah Gul defied expectations of a veto and signed it into law. Shortly after Gul announced the bill’s passage, he lost approximately 80,000 followers on Twitter, thanks in part to the #UnfollowAbdullahGul hashtag.
Free Expression: Venezuela hit by Web blocking, blackouts.
As protests continue, the Venezuelan government has intensified its crackdown on digital expression. This week the government published details [link in Spanish] on its new Strategic Center for Security and Protection of the Country, which has the unilateral ability to censor any information it deems threatening to national security.
Walkie-talkie app Zello, which has been used to organize protests in Venezuela, was blocked one day after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the government was using the app to monitor protesters. Similar to prior restrictions placed on Twitter images, the origins of the blockage were traced to state-run telecommunications company CANTV.
Other Internet companies have been working hard to keep lines of communication open in the face of the censorship. Zello developed and released a new Android version of the app in hopes that it would bypass any blocks. VPN TunnelBear has provided unlimited free service to Venezuelans for several days.
In Egypt, three Al Jazeera journalists—along with several bloggers and political activists—have been behind bars since late November 2013. On Friday, Feb. 27, Al Jazeera is organizing a global day of action on press freedom.
The Hanoi Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of blogger and human rights defender Le Quoc Quan to 30 months’ imprisonment on charges of “tax evasion” under Vietnam’s Criminal Code. Media Legal Defence Initiative attorney and Global Voices Advocacy contributor Nani Jansen, who is aiding in Quan’s defense, gave a summary of the case in a recent post.
Surveillance: This is not a new problem.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation published a historical piece overviewing government surveillance of African-American political leaders and activists in the United States. Communist Party members, activist groups such as the Black Panthers, and Martin Luther King Jr. were all targets.
New National Security Agency documents released by Glenn Greenwald demonstrate how the U.S. and U.K. government targeted Wikileaks, the Pirate Bay, and Anonymous with surveillance and international pressure.
Netizen Activism: Egyptians speak up for better bandwidth.
“Down, down with slow routers,” is the battle cry of a Facebook page titled “Internet Revolution Egypt” [link in Arabic], which has acted as a forum for Egyptian youth to speak out against “insufficient” Internet speeds. The group, which has Facebook administrators in four Egyptian cities, encourages campaigners to voice their complaints with local service providers.
Colombian digital rights collective RedPaTodos (Internet for All) has come out with an English translation of its entertaining, hand-illustrated video that explains digital surveillance for the average Internet user.
Copyright: Fair use down under?
The Australian government may introduce new copyright reforms that would include a fair use doctrine similar to that of the United States, EFF reports. Currently, the country has a list of specified acceptable uses under “fair dealing,” but the reforms could lead to a broader, more liberal regime.
Industry: Fearing Facebook, WhatsApp users migrate to Russian “Telegram.”
Telegram, a messaging app created by the founder of Russian Facebook competitor VKontakte that claims to feature end-to-end encryption, received 8 million downloads after it was announced that WhatsApp would be acquired by Facebook.
As Thailand’s anti-government protests continue, opposition to Thailand’s exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is beginning to manifest itself in Thailand’s telecommunications sector. AIS, Thailand’s largest telecom services provider, which was founded by Shinawatra, is buying newspaper ads and sending text messages pleading with its customers not to heed the opposition’s boycott and underlining the fact that the company is no longer connected to its founder.
AT&T published its first-ever transparency report on Feb. 18. Reception has been lukewarm due to the suspiciously low number of government-issued requests for customer data listed under the “national security demands” heading. This suggests that NSA metadata collection remains secret due to a loophole in the new transparency guidelines.
Internet Insecurity: Don’t use Internet Explorer.
Iranian hackers reportedly attacked French aerospace engine maker Snecma by exploiting a vulnerability in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser. Although researchers are unsure how successful the attack was, the malware was intended to target remote users, steal employee and vendor credentials, and allow the hackers remote access to the company’s network. The same Internet Explorer vulnerability also facilitated an attack on the U.S. Veterans of Foreign Wars website earlier in the week.
Publications and Studies
- “Internet Filtering in a Failed State: The Case of Netsweeper in Somalia”—by the Citizen Lab
- “Censorship in the Wild: Analyzing Web Filtering in Syria”—by Abdelberi Chaabane, Mathieu Cunche, Terrence Chen, et al