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Netizen Report: Big Brother Edition

Image via "Ministry of Tofu" blog

The image above comes from the Ministry of Tofu blog, in which author Jing Gao translates a hilarious flood of comments on the China's Twitter-like microblog service, Weibo, in response to an American user's appeal for help in accessing Facebook, which is blocked in China. Sarcastic replies included: “According to our country’s relevant laws and regulations, your request cannot be answered” and “Welcome to the Great China Intranet.” Click here to read the whole post – and to decide whether to laugh or cry.

Netizen power: The 3rd Arab Blogger Meeting was held this week in Tunis. This amazing event (your humble author attended the first two days) was much more than a celebration of the power of cyber-activism across the Arab world. There was much sober stock-taking about setbacks in countries like Bahrain and Syria, and an examination of the coming challenges in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya where dictators have fallen. As the Greek blogger and Global Voices contributor Asteris Masouras (who followed the proceedings remotely) astutely put it: “What MENA autocrats fear most of all isn't tech, but the kind of human network that came together in Tunis.” One Syrian participant who did not want to be named online described how the Syrian government is manipulating people – online and offline – in hopes that sectarian divisions will keep the regime from being overthrown.  Lilian Wagdy quoted this person on Twitter: “The only hope for #Syria is #Egypt ‘s revolution ending in Success, says Syrian Blogger” The meeting may be over but the conversation continues on Twitter at #AB11.

Surveillance & Censorship: At the Arab Bloggers Meeting Moez Chakchouk, head of the Tunisian Internet Agency, gave an eye-opening talk in which he revealed that under the Ben Ali regime his agency had secretly tested surveillance and censorship technology for Western companies. See Al Jazeera's follow-up interview with him for more details.

In early September, reports emerged that the Syrian government has been using technology purchased from the U.S. security company Blue Coat to filter and monitor the Internet. Now the hackers at Telecomix have published all log files in their possession taken from Syrian Blue Coat devices. Hacktivist Arturo `hellais` Filastò has raised some questions that need to answering as people begin to analyze the files.

The Italian parliament is discussing a Media and Wiretapping Bill which free expression and human rights groups are condemning as devastating, and which Italian bloggers say directly violates their constitutional right to free speech. In anticipation of the law's passage, Wikipedia has shut down its Italian edition, explaining that it cannot legally operate in Italy under such a law. One clause gives bloggers and website operators 48 hours to remove any post that has been subject to a formal complaint for being “offensive,”  before being fined €12,000 if the offended party chooses to prosecute.

Internet Governance: The Sixth annual Internet Governance Forum took place in Nairobi last week. Global Voices Advocacy carried several reports and special contributions from and about the meeting, and several more post-conference reflections by civil society participants are expected to be published here over the coming week. The key controversies at the meeting revolved around proposals by a range of countries to give governments a more powerful role in governing the global Internet – and thus diminishing the role of civil society, industry, and the technical community in as part of more multi-stakeholder processes. The Economist came out swinging for the multi-stakeholder model and against increased government control here, here, and here. For reaction by civil society participants see a statement by APC, and an open letter from the Internet Governance Council. As Jeremy Malcolm commented on his website IGF Watch, “The last couple of IGF meetings have begun to feel a little stale. Nairobi changed all that.  The sixth IGF meeting brought with it drama, intrigue, promise, and even a little danger.”

In other Internet governance news, the Council of Europe (47 European countries) agreed that governments can be prosecuted under human rights law if companies fail to protect critical infrastructure and freedom of expression on the Internet.

The Brazilian Congress is considering a draft bill for a civil rights based framework for the Internet.

Copywars: Internationally, the United States and eight other governments signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade-Agreement (ACTA) in Japan on October 1st. Three other parties to ACTA's negotiation, the EU, Mexico, and Switzerland, have yet to sign the controversial agreement, which has faced heavy opposition from free speech groups around the world who are concerned that the agreement will result in expanded pressure on Internet companies to conduct surveillance and censorship in the name of protecting copyright. The Greens in the European Parliament commissioned a report by Douwe Korff, professor of international law at London Metropolitan University, about the human rights implications of ACTA. His conclusion was that ACTA is “badly-drafted, breaches many fundamental rights and lawmakers should throw it out and start from scratch.”

Meanwhile in the United States, the right-wing Tea Party has joined libertarians, and left-of-center progressives, international human rights groups, and a long list of Internet engineers in opposing the proposed PROTECT IP Act that has just cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Net Neutrality: In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission has published its Net Neutrality rules announced late last year. They will take effect November 20th, although a number of companies and organizations are fighting to overturn them. 

Several European organizations have launched Respect My Net, a platform through which Internet users around Europe can detect and report whether their Internet Service Provider is throttling their bandwith.

Sovereigns of Cyberspace: The death of Steve Jobs has triggered world-wide mourning on a scale and emotional depth that is rare even in the case of the death of a major world leader. (See GV links to reactions from Iran (also here) the Arab world, and the Caribbean) As one pseudonymous Chinese Internet user spotted by the Wall Street Journal remarked: “This is the first time a foreigner’s death has been hard for me to take.” (See more Chinese netizen reaction here.)

Facebook has undertaken a major redesign with wide-reaching implications for users. Its expanded and un-transparent web-tracking practices that would follow users around the web even when not logged in to Facebook have come under heavy fire from many civil liberties and privacy groups.

In a positive step for corporate transparency, Google has launched a Raw Data section of its year-old Transparency Report, whose goal according to Google's Matt Braithwaite, is to “to keep providing data to anchor policy conversations about Internet access and censorship with real facts.”

Crime Alert: Scammers are already taking advantage of Jobs’ death, spreading scams by e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter. Many offer free Apple products through memorial sweepstakes, or spread malware via links claiming to contain images of the funeral, etc. Think before you click!!!

Publications: The Dictators’ Digital Dilemma: When Do States Disconnect Their Digital Networks? from the Brookings Institution. Written by a group of academics, the paper examines the question: “When do governments decide to interfere with the Internet, and why?” They conclude: “We find that overall more democracies participate in network interventions than authoritarian regimes. However, authoritarian regimes conduct shutdowns with greater frequency.”

Civil society involvement in ICANN: Strengthening future civil society influence in ICANN policymaking by Robin Gross for APC. Gross describes in detail how non-commercial interests have been marginalized systematically and intentionally within ICANN. However, she concludes optimistically that all is not lost if the world's netizens get involved with DNS policymaking – particularly through the Non-commercial User Constituency (NCUC).

The Importance of Net Neutrality in the Emerging and Developing World (PDF) by Access.org The authors argue: “Policies and regulation that reject net neutrality will stunt economic growth and innovation as well as restrict access to social, health, educational and human rights services, which are increasingly dependent upon reliable, unfettered wireless connections.”

News on the Go: How Mobile Devices Are Changing the World's Information Ecosystem by the Center for International Media Assistance.

Events: Contact Summit: “Connect with the people who are building what comes next, and celebrate the potential of networking to transform commerce, learning, and society.” October 20th, New York.

ICANN meets October 23-28 in Dakar, Senegal. As usual, netizens are welcome to follow and participate in the proceedings remotely. The schedule is here.

Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference,”A conference examining and exploring how the high-tech industry can better plan for and manage the human rights implications of their technologies.” October 25-26, San Francisco.

First Bloggers’ World Meeting, October 27-29, Foz do Iguaçu, Paraná, Brazil.

Mozilla Drumbeat Festival: Media, Freedom, and the Web. November 4-6 in London.

EU Hack4Transparency Hackathon, November 8-9: Bringing together “talented European developers to facilitate the co-creation of tools…focused on enabling transparency and accountability in the information society.” (Application deadline: Oct. 17)

The Internet Engineering Task Force (“a loosely self-organized group of people who contribute to the engineering and evolution of Internet technologies”) meets November 13-18 in Taipei, Taiwan. The IETF is open to participation by anybody of any nation or affiliation who is capable of understanding what these engineers are talking about, and of contributing constructively to the development of Internet standards and technologies. Even if you are unable to travel, much of the work is conducted through mailing lists.

EDITOR'S REQUEST: If you are attending any of the above meetings and would like to help cover them for GVA, please contact me.

NOTE: If this bi-weekly post does not satisfy your information appetite feel free to follow my netizenreport Google Reader tag, and the #netfreedom hashtag on Twitter.

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