The Netizen Report originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Mahsa Alimardani, Juan Arellano, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Lisa Ferguson, Bojan Perkov, Sonia Roubini and Sarah Myers West 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 Ecuador, where an online video titled “What Correa Doesn’t Want You to See” (referring to President Rafael Correa) was removed from YouTube on Sept. 29. The video intersperses excerpts from a public speech in which Correa spoke about law enforcement with footage of police abuses of demonstrators at a Sept. 18 protest in the capital city of Quito. The company removed the video in response to a request from the office of Ecuador’s secretary of communication, which claimed the video violated copyright. The video, which was also removed from Facebook, was reinstated on YouTube on Oct. 2.
The incident highlights yet another facet of the Ecuadorian government’s increasingly restrictive policies and practices toward media of all kinds. Correa, who the Committee to Protect Journalists recently described as the country’s “media-critic-in-chief,” promulgated a far-reaching Communications Law that has had devastating consequences for media outlets and workers at every level. Since its passage in 2013, multiple print and online news sources have closed their doors. In a high-profile case, cartoonist Xavier Bonilla was ordered to erase a cartoon depicting government officials and redraw them in a more flattering light.
U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression Frank La Rue characterized the law as being “clearly directed at limiting the liberty of reporters to report on current events, public policies, and government officials.”
Pro-Beijing hackers obliterate independent media sites en masse
Independent Hong Kong media and citizen-organizing sites including Passion Times, Post852, HKDash, and inmediahk.net have undergone massive cyberattacks that have taken them offline for varying periods over the past 10 days. Fears about a full network blackout persist, though these appear to be just rumors for the moment.
Smartphone spyware purporting to be “for the coordination of Occupy Central” is circulating among Hong Kong protesters who are using the WhatsApp messaging app. When a link included in a WhatsApp message is activated, the app reveals the user’s geolocation, SMS, address book, and emails, among other data.
Bahrain arrests yet another human rights leader
Leading Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab was arrested on charges of “insulting a public institution” after sending a tweet insinuating that Bahrain’s security apparatus serves as an “incubator” for ISIS fighters. The tweet read:
Rajab was released from prison in May 2014 after serving two years for taking part in protests against a brutal crackdown in Bahrain. He remained in police custody as of this report’s publication. On Tuesday, Oct. 7, supporters ran a tweet storm calling for his release, under the hashtag #FreeNabeel.
The increasingly watchful eyes of Egypt’s government
The Egyptian government is attempting to develop a mass surveillance system that would monitor the digital activity of all Internet users in the country. Egypt’s Ministry of Interior has called for a limited tender to provide and operate software that monitors Internet activities, including private conversations and messages sent through mobile applications like Viber and WhatsApp. The tender, titled the “Social Networks Security Hazard Monitoring Operation (public opinion measurement system),” was first revealed in a report published by the Egyptian newspaper Al-Watan on June 1, 2014.
EU Commission set to investigate U.K. government spying
The European Union’s ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, called on the European Commission to release a set of documents relating to mass Internet surveillance conducted by the U.K. intelligence agency GCHQ, arguing EU citizens have the right to be informed about such discussions. The commission denied a German journalist access to the documents, which include letters between the U.K. government and the commission as well as correspondence from citizens asking the commission to investigate.
Who will want to visit Colombia’s one-stop shop for citizen data?
Colombian ICT Minister Diego Molano is pushing a policy initiative under which the government will bestow upon each citizen a “digital portfolio,” where all of one’s personal data held by the state, ranging from state identification and passport numbers to tax information and health data, would be stored together and come with a unique government-issued email address. Although conceived as a pathway to greater efficiency in communication between government agencies and reduction of paper use, the policy has raised concern that it may leave citizens vulnerable to greater government surveillance or to malicious hacking.
Netizen Activism: #FreeSaeed campaign for jailed Iranian open source developer
As of Oct. 4, 2014, Iranian Web and circumvention tool developer Saeed Malekpour had spent six years in prison for creating an open-source software program that others used to upload pornographic images to the Internet. Facing charges of threatening the nation’s Islamic ideals and national security via propaganda against the system, Malekpour testified that he did not know how his program and code had been used and developed by others, as it was distributed as open source code. On the anniversary of his arrest, activists and bloggers ran a tweet storm to support his release under the hashtag #freeSaeed.
- “Russia, Ukraine and the West: Social Media Sentiment in the Euromaidan Protests”—Berkman Center for Internet & Society
- “Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature”—Robert Darnton
- “Asia Chats: LINE keyword filtering upgraded to include regular expressions”—Citizen Lab