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Netizen Report: Blackout Edition

Screenshot of ru.wikipedia.org's blacked-out homepage, 10 July 2012. Text reads: “Imagine a world without free knowledge.”

Screenshot of ru.wikipedia.org's blacked-out homepage, 10 July 2012. Text reads: “Imagine a world without free knowledge.”

Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Tom Risen, Weiping Li, James Losey, and Sarah Myers.

This week’s Netizen Report continues our coverage of the Russian government’s censorship of the Russian Internet (Ru Net), which could escalate to include a draft bill that would create a blacklist for websites dedicated to pornography, drugs, or extremist activity. Global Voices reported on Tuesday 10 July that this censorship effort could resemble the Great Firewall of China, and would require a website owner to delete content deemed controversial within 24 hours or risk being shut down. Wikipedia’s Russian website went dark on Tuesday in protest, mimicking a prior website blackout that helped galvanize criticism of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the United States. The Russian blackout coincided with a debate on the bill in the Russian parliament on Tuesday.

More posts on this issue can be found at Global Voices’ RuNet Echo, a project that aims to expand and deepen understanding of the Russian language Internet and related online communities.

Censorship

On Friday 6 July Facebook removed a post by Article 19, an organization focused on promoting freedom of expression, which highlighted a Human Rights Watch report on torture in Syria. Facebook has apologized, calling the removal a mistake in part due to the high volume of takedown requests. The Article 19 post had been reported as offensive.

According to Index on Censorship, last week China disabled mobile text messaging and Internet services for two days in the Tibetan region of Ganzi prefecture, Sichuan province. Those two days happened to coincide with the Dalai Lama's birthday.

Thuggery

Malaysian blogger Syed Abdullah Hussein Al-Attas is being detained for blog posts deemed insulting to the Sultan of Johor, following a complaint by a group of 30 people. A young woman who was with him at the time of his arrest is also being detained.

The father of a student who contributed to a Facebook page satirizing politics, religion and a Shi’ite imam (religious leader), has been arrested by Iranian authorities and threatened with execution unless the page is shut down. Yashar Khameneh, a 25-year-old seeking asylum in Holland, said he does not administer the page, and has issued an open letter on the case after failing to negotiate his father’s release.

Vietnamese blogger and activist Huynh Thuc Vy faces prison time after being charged under Article 79, which allows harsh penalties for vaguely defined “anti-state” activities. Authorities raided Huynh’s house last week for the second time since November 2011 to confiscate her family’s computers, but would not specify whether the charges are related to her blogging or protest activities.

Human rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders are condemning the conviction of human rights activist Nabeel Rajab for posting an “insulting” tweet.

National policy

Vietnam has proposed an Internet decree which would extend government speech restriction to websites and would mandate web companies to remove content not approved by the government. The law would also require social network companies to open offices and build data servers in Vietnam, which could make user data more vulnerable to government access. The United States (US)-based Human Rights Watch has pressured US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to make Internet freedom a focus of her visit to Vietnam on July 10.

The US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee has approved a bill co-sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), which increases penalties for online child pornography and increases protection for children involved, but removed a previous amendment that would have required Internet Service Providers (ISP) to store user data for 18 months.

Smith was the author of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which was voted down amidst protest. A new bill introduced by Smith entitled the Intellectual Property Attache Act would assign officers to trade negotiations to push for intellectual property restrictions similar to SOPA in foreign law.

Sovereigns of cyberspace

A freedom of information request has revealed that Google’s UK Privacy Manager Stephen McCartney held a senior role in data protection promotion with the Information Commissioner's Office prior to joining Google in November 2011, the BBC reports. The Information Commissioner had previously investigated Google for collecting personal data as part of street view mapping.

The US Federal Trade Commission has fined Google US$22.5 million for having violated user privacy when it was found to have overridden the default privacy settings of the Safari browser in iOS which runs on iPhones and iPads. The breach has since been corrected.

Surveillance

New emails released by WikiLeaks revealed the Italy-based SELEX and Greece-based Intracom, both subsidiaries of Italian defense contractor Finmecchanica, continued conducting business with the Syrian government despite US and European sanctions. Among the revelations is that SELEX sold Syria a secure software-defined radio network.

European advocacy group Freedom Not Fear announced plans on its website to coordinate with Australian civil society groups for demonstrations on September 14-17 to protest Australian security laws that restrict civil liberties. The annual demonstration for digital rights is organized by FoeBuD, a German digital liberties group, which in turn part of European Digital Rights (EDRi).

Privacy

A US-based mobile security firm called Lookout released new security guidelines for mobile advertisers, following a report that 80 million apps have been downloaded which carry invasive ads that download users’ phone data.

A British Airways customer service program in place for the past year called “Know Me” allows airline employees to search via iPad for passengers’ previous travel arrangements, food preferences, Google images and other online information.  

Copyright

Leaked documents about trade negotiations dated February 2012, reveal plans by the European Union and Canada to implement intellectual property enforcement provisions similar to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) as part of a treaty between the two powers entitled the Canada-EU Trade Agreement (CETA).

Fifty US law professors have sent an open letter to the Senate Finance Committee, arguing that ACTA is unconstitutional without Congressional approval.

Cybersecurity

An Australian firm hired by the government to provide online security alerts has lost the personal information of 8,000 subscribers including their user names, email addresses and passwords.

Last month, researchers at the University of Texas were able to hijack a civilian drone by remotely changing sending new GPS coordinates. The GPS transmission was unencrypted.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has shut off the servers initially commandeered to support users infected with the malware DNSChanger. DNSChanger, which originated in Estonia, would redirect user traffic when they attempted to type an address into their browser for the purpose of collecting advertising revenue. Despite fears that computers infected with DNSChanger might not be able to access the Internet, no significant outages were reported once the servers were shut off.

Members of the Cyber Warrior Invasion, a Bulgarian based hacker group, have been arrested following an extensive investigation. The group are reportedly responsible for hacking over 500 websites.

Six months after Chinese search engine company Baidu started operating in Vietnam, the CMC Information Security company and the Hacker Vietnam forum each claim Baidu services are infecting computers with spyware and adware.

Netizen activism

The Anonymous online movement is now targeting pedophiles for online attacks.

Eighty people in Japan wore Guy Fawkes masks, the figure popularized by Anonymous, while picking up litter in Tokyo to protest recent copyright legislation.

Members of Swedish advertising agency called Studio Total parachuted 1,000 teddy bears into Belarus as a protest of free speech repression in that nation.

Publications and studies

For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.

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