The Netizen Report originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Ellery Roberts Biddle, Mohamed ElGohary, Lisa Ferguson, Hae-in Lim, Chan Myae Khine, Sarah Myers, and Sonia Roubini 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 Turkey, where last week Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to block major social media sites, assuming that he is re-elected later this month. Erdoğan has been humiliated with recording after recording surfacing on the Internet and implicating him in a vast corruption scandal involving media intimidation, among other things. He blames his political enemies—especially the exiled spiritual leader Fethullah Gulen—for fabricating recordings and disseminating them on social media. YouTube was blocked from 2008 to 2010 after users posted videos the government said were insulting to the republic’s founder, Ataturk. But Turkish President Abdullah Gul scoffs at the idea of shutting off access now, saying that such measures are “out of the question.”
In April, Brunei’s new penal code will extend Sharia law to cover adultery, alcohol consumption, and homosexuality, among other offenses. The impending reforms have triggered outrage from online communities in the country, prompting Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah to warn Internet critics that they could soon face prosecution. Brunei is the first East Asian country to implement the Sharia law at the national level.
Thuggery: 100 days in prison, but no trial for Egyptian blogger
March 6 marked Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah’s 100th day behind barsy. He was beaten and arrested after being accused of organizing a protest without obtaining legal permission, but has yet to stand trial.
Surveillance: Public funding for Italy’s Hacking Team?
According to Privacy International, the Milan-based surveillance technology company Hacking Team may have received more than 1 million euros of public funding linked to the Italian region of Lombardy. A recent report by CitizenLab suggested that Hacking Team’s spyware has been used in Azerbaijan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and other countries.
Industry: Facebook can haz drones.
Facebook may soon acquire solar-powered drone makers Titan Aerospace in order to bring Web access to 5 billion people as part of its Internet.org initiative. Titan’s drones, an affordable alternative to orbital satellites, could help narrow the digital divide in countries with low Internet penetration and presumably usher in a new generation of loyal Facebook users.
China debuted a new state-run search engine called ChinaSo that bears an uncanny resemblance to Google. It will be jointly managed by staff from the Communist Party's People's Daily newspaper and the Xinhua News Agency.
Internet Insecurity: The corruption of Tor?
According to research by Kaspersky Lab, a growing number of botnets and “darknet” markets similar to the Silk Road are using the Tor anonymity network. As InfoWorld points out, “Tor has long had its dark side but the scale of its use by criminals appears to have expanded quite rapidly in the last year.” Tor’s FAQ says that “like all privacy-oriented networks on the net, it attracts its share of jerks” but that its team “feel[s] that we're doing pretty well at striking a balance currently.”
Netizen Activism: Let’s all use encryption.
In a video appearance at SXSW, Edward Snowden accused the U.S. government of “setting fire to the future of the Internet.” He called on the tech community to protect the Internet by increasing their use of encryption and developing new encryption tools. Somewhat ironically, U.S. government intelligence folks seem to agree—the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and State Department both called for greater use of encryption by U.S. citizens this week.
March 15 will mark the second anniversary of the imprisonment of Syrian web developer and activist Bassel Khartabil, who represented the Creative Commons network in Syria and worked with many international tech initiatives including Mozilla, Fabricatorz, and others. Supporters around the world will come together to honor Bassel and advocate for his release this Saturday. Learn about #FreeBasselDay events here.
Publications and Studies
- “Cell Phones in North Korea: Has North Korea Entered the Telecommunications Revolution?”—Yonho Kim, U.S.-Korea Institute and Voice of America
- “Internet Policy and Governance: Europe’s role in shaping the future of Internet Governance”—European Commission
- “Enhancing Censorship Resistance in the Tor Anonymity Network”—Philipp Winter, Karlstad University Faculty of Health, Science, and Technology
- “Information technology: The Power and Responsibility of Business”—Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
- “What Next?: The Quest to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists in a Digital World”—Cynthia Romero, Freedom House