The Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. It originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Ellery Roberts Biddle, Lisa Ferguson, Hae-in Lim, Bojan Perkov, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.
A leaked report revealed the U.K. government is considering negotiating an international treaty to force U.S. Web companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and Yahoo to share their customers’ personal data. Currently U.S. laws prevent these companies from sharing customers’ private data with British police and security services without prior approval from judicial authorities. In response, the U.K. has considered implementing a “Snoopers Charter” bill that would require communications service providers to retain information about their users and would allow the use of deep-packet inspection probes to collect the data. After being killed off in 2013, the legislation was reintroduced in Parliament this May.
Paraguayan netizens celebrate defeat of "pyrawebs" data regulation
Paraguay’s Congress voted down a data-retention law last week following a flurry of online discussion and media coverage focused on problems that the bill presented for Internet user privacy. Local open Internet advocates opposed to the bill have nicknamed it “Pyrawebs” in a not-so-subtle reference to the late 20th-century dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner, during which police surveillance was routine. The term pyra comes from pyragüés, which means “informant” in the local indigenous language of Guaraní.
Macedonian digital activists wiretapped
Journalists and online democracy advocates in Macedonia have been under fire for months as authorities seek to stifle investigations of state corruption and abuse of power. This week, an unnamed source delivered a folder containing transcripts from wiretapped conversations of Bardhyl Jashari, the founder and director of open Internet group Metamorphosis. Jashari, who also serves as editor of Global Voices’ Albanian site, was shaken by the incident but said he was “not surprised” that his phone had been bugged.
On Tiananmen anniversary, Chinese find that money is not protected speech
June 4 is always a sensitive day in China, as it marks the anniversary of the deadly assault on protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Of course, around June 4, the nation’s behemoth Internet censorship regime ramps up, making it even more difficult than usual to search for sensitive terms like Tiananmen and democracy in China. But this year, even numbers became taboo. Multiple users of WeChat, a social media and e-commerce platform, reported that they were unable to transfer money if values contained the numbers 64 or 89—as in 6/4/89. These requests instead generated a message saying “Transaction error. Try again later.”
On the bright side, developers thought ahead about the anniversary, too. A few days prior to June 4, users got their first taste of FireTweet, a new app that allows Chinese smartphone users to access Twitter, which is blocked in mainland China. FireTweet was developed by the creators of Lantern, a peer-to-peer, or P2P, circumvention tool.
“Yemen Cyber Army” hacks Saudi government database
The self-described “Yemen Cyber Army” released information obtained from hacking Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including visa applications and passport information from foreigners who applied for visas to visit the country.
Iranian Web developer spends another birthday in prison
Programmer Saeed Malekpour will soon celebrate his 40th birthday and his sixth year in prison. Jailed under Iran’s cybercrimes law for creating open-source software that others used to upload pornographic images to the Internet, Saeed was initially condemned to death. But this has been reduced to an indefinite prison sentence. Saeed’s sister, Maryam Malekpour, is working with a group of activists to launch a campaign for him using the hashtags #FreeSaeedMalekpour and #HBDSaeed.
On another sobering note, eight months ahead of parliamentary elections, Iran’s police and the intelligence ministry are already making plans to ramp up Internet and social media surveillance. The effort will involve representatives from the police, Revolutionary Guards, army, and state radio and television.
Award-winning fiction writer, blogger behind bars in Ethiopia
Ethiopian writer Befeqadu Hailu, a member of the Zone9 blogging collective, has been imprisoned since April 2014 for his writing. He’s been charged with terrorism. In a recent story focused on Hailu’s literary work, Global Voices’ Nwachukwu Egbunike writes, “the real wrongdoers are his jailers: a repressive government that forbids critical dissent.”
June 17: Day of action for jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi
Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi will have been in prison for three years this June 17. Despite multiple attempts to appeal his case, the 31-year-old faces a sentence of 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes, and a fine of 1 million riyals (about $267,000), all due to his founding of the discussion platform Saudi Liberals. Amnesty International, PEN, and Global Voices Advocacy will participate in a day of action to mark this unfortunate anniversary next week. Learn more about his case and efforts to secure his release.
“Two Years After Snowden: Protecting Human Rights in an Age of Mass Surveillance”—Amnesty International
“The Tradeoff Fallacy: How Marketers Are Misrepresenting American Consumers and Opening Them Up to Exploitation”—Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania