The past few weeks have seen promising developments in the use of online journalism to counter official narratives in countries under political upheaval.
The Network for Iraqi Reporters for Investigative Journalism launched in mid-June, becoming the first investigative journalism website in Iraq devoted to stories of “corruption, mismanagement of funds and power across Iraq.” Its articles will be published in Arabic, English and Kurdish. Syrian video activists have also launched an effort to create an online alternative to state-run media. Rami Jarrah, founder of the Activists News Association, hopes the network will transform the activists, who have been using video cameras to document the uprising, into citizen journalists whose work could eventually supplant that of the state media should Syrian President Bashar al-Assad be forced from power.
Independent websites have also played an important role in covering the Mexican presidential election, which took place on July 1, as an alternative to the mainstream media which have been accused of favoring the front-runner candidate Enrique Peña Nieto. Online news websites such as Animal Político, SinEmbargo.com, and ADN Político have provided investigative reporting and data analysis.
In this week’s Netizen Report, we cover more Internet innovations created by netizens to promote political and social change, alongside other developments related to the global struggle for freedom and control on the Internet.
Netizens around the world are using the Internet to monitor the performance of elected politicians. For instance, Egyptian non-profit initiative Zabatak created a website to track progress on campaign promises made by newly-elected Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi. In Taiwan, netizens started creating Facebook fan pages (in Chinese) to oversee the performance of legislators; Facebook users create a fan page for each lawmaker and post the lawmakers’ voting records, speeches, events and legislation information.
As the global battle over the Internet's future rages, more than 85 organizations including free speech advocacy group Free Press, the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation jointly announced a “Declaration of Internet Freedom” on July 2. The declaration emphasizes five core principles of Internet Freedom: free expression, access, openness, innovation and privacy.
Shortly after the declaration's announcement, libertarian internet policy think tanks TechFreedom and the Competitive Enterprise Institute published a rival declaration. TechFreedom president Berin Szoka warned that the Free Press declaration leaves the door open for government intervention in the name of Internet freedom, or for favoring certain digital business models over others. Free Press’ Internet Campaign Director Josh Levy dismissed those claims but welcomed further debate about the declaration’s principles.
Microblogging is thriving in China despite the intensified censorship and crackdown on online “rumors.” The Washington Post profiled microbloggers in China and how they push for accountability while adapting to shifting censorship laws.
Researchers at the University of Hong Kong released WeiboScope, a tool for detecting censorship on the China’s popular microblogging website Sina Weibo. The tool downloads pages over time to detect changes that may be politically motivated.
Bloomberg was reportedly blocked in mainland China following a report about the financial assets of Vice President Xi Jinping and his family. Following the incident, a U.S. State Department Official noted that the U.S. supports freedom of expression online in China.
Even as Chinese government tightens its Internet censorship, The New York Times has launched a Chinese language news website. Editor Joseph Kahn said that the newspaper is aware of the censorship issue in China, but will still “follow the paper’s journalistic standards.” The Times also launched microblogging accounts in popular Chinese web portals: Sina, Sohu and Tencent. However, the Sina Weibo account has already been deactivated and other accounts have been unstable over the past week since their launch.
A Chinese court in the Chongqing province dismissed the conviction of Chinese blogger Fang Hong for lack of evidence, and ruled that he was illegally detained in a labor camp for a year after publishing a poem ridiculing former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai who is currently under investigation for corruption and potential knowledge of a murder case in which his wife is a suspect.
Renowned Ethiopian journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega was found guilty by an Ethiopian court for “participation in a terrorist organisation” and for inciting terrorism via his blog. Nega was one of 24 activists convicted under the country’s anti-terrorism laws which have been criticized for being used as a means to silence dissent. He could face life in prison.
Sri Lankan police raided independent news website the Sri Lanka Mirror last week for unknown reasons. The police arrested nine journalists and confiscated computers and documents from their office. Sri Lanka’s government blocked the Sri Lanka Mirror for a month last year and still blocks four other websites.
Numerous websites and individuals launched the #freebassel campaign to urge the Syrian government to release Bassel Khartabil, a Syrian open source developer and Creative Commons volunteer who has been unjustly detained in Damascus since March.
The European Parliament has overwhelmingly rejected the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) which opponents argued unfairly favored the rights of copyright holders over the rights of Internet users. One commentary in The Guardian newspaper argues that the treaty stood no chance. However Euronews points out that the battle for Internet freedom is far from over. Infojustice reports that the fight now turns to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which critics denounce for being shrouded in secrecy.
The United States Commerce Department has awarded a new contract to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) for management of key Internet functions.
In other ICANN news: outgoing CEO Rod Beckstrom said goodbye, and reports emerged that at least some of Google's applications for new top-level domains are expected to be turned down. The process for awarding top-level domains has been full of glitches and subject to criticism, but continues to move ahead.
The US House Judiciary Committee passed the extension of the controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 Amendments Act of 2008 (FISA Amendments Act of 2008), and rejected changes that would make the process of collecting Americans’ overseas communication more transparent. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) also passed the extension. Digital rights advocacy organization Electronic Frontier Foundation issued a statement opposing the extension. The New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union revealed that the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which grants immunity to telecom companies that help the government conduct warrant-less wiretapping, also caused an over-collection of domestic communications among Americans.
The Pirate Party Australia has raised concerns over Telstra’s logging of users’ web history. The Party is also concerned that the data is reportedly stored in the United States, beyond Australian jurisdiction.
The website We Know What You’re Doing, which collects public social media updates about drug use, hangovers and contempt towards employers, highlights the potential risks of users not realizing how their public data can be aggregated.
On July 1, a New York City court ordered Twitter to release three months’ worth of an Occupy Wall Street protesters’ tweets.
Sovereigns of Cyberspace
Inspired by Google’s transparency report, Twitter released its own report on July 2, providing information on government requests for user information, government requests to withhold content, and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notices received from copyright holders. According to the report, the United States government has made the most requests for user information since January 1, 2012.
Telecommunications company Verizon has continued its legal fight against the US Federal Communications Commission's Net Neutrality rules arguing that they violate the company's free speech and property rights.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and 12 other organizations wrote an open letter to 11 heads of technology companies including Google, Yahoo!, and Facebook, urging them to end a blockade on Internet technology for people living in repressive countries like Iran.
OfCom, the UK telecom regulator, outlined a new three-strikes system that is intended to reduce copyright infringement. Customers accused of copyright infringement will be responsible for paying for their appeal. A commercial court in Ireland granted record labels and Internet Service Providers the ability to move forward with their own version of a three-strikes approach to reduce copyright infringement.
The New Zealand High Court ruled that the search of Kim Dotcom’s residence was illegal and based on an “invalid” warrant. Dotcom is the founder of file-sharing website Megaupload, which was shut by the US Department of Justice in January for copyright infringement.
Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales launched a petition to protect TVshack.net founder and British citizen Richard O'Dwyer from extradition to the United States, where he faces up to 10 years in prison for copyright infringement. O’Dwyer’s lawyers argue that TVshack.net did not violate UK law since it linked to copyrighted material but did not host content.
Cybersecurity researchers at Kaspersky Labs detected Mac-based malware and AlienVault security researchers uncovered Windows-based malware aimed at Uyghur activists in China. The researchers said that the malicious programs could take control of and spy on victims’ computers.
The Indian Express also reported that Chinese hackers exploited Indian Navy computer systems using a virus transmitted by USB thumb drives.
Internet research organization Citizen Lab found that supporters of the Syrian government may be behind two cyberattacks against Syrian activists.
Agence France Presse launched a new tool called the “E-diplomacy Hub” which collects the Twitter accounts of politicians, activists and experts from 150 countries to visualize and analyze the influence of international diplomatic figures, as well as top issues trending on Twitter.
Publications and Studies
- Päivikki Karhula: Data Driven Futures – Censorship Takes New Forms
- Tim Davies: What Does Internet Governance Have to Do with Open Data?
- Sir David Omand, Jamie Bartlett, Carl Miller: #Intelligence
- Electronic Frontier Foundation: Widespread Participation is Key in Internet Governance
For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.