While the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics was meant to celebrate freedom and creativity, its organizers have exercised strict copyright control. World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee appeared at the opening ceremonies of Games amid a dance about social media with a lights display of his live-tweet “This is for everyone.” Yet at the same time, the International Olympic Committee was busy censoring unauthorized videos of the ceremonies. In the offline world, a British florist was nearly sued for displaying the Olympics’ five-ring logo while the Games’ organizers have restricted vast amounts of online content linking to the official website or referencing combinations of words such as “games” and “gold.” With the help of YouTube, the Games are being live streamed to 64 countries, but users in the US still need to pay for cable or use a proxy server to access coverage. In opposition to these restrictions the file-sharing platform Pirate Bay re-labeled itself The Olympic Bay for sports fans seeking coverage, with a tagline echoing Berners-Lee’s message: “This is for everyone.”
Twitter has been another a point of controversy for NBC, which owns the broadcast rights for the Olympics in the United States. The account of Guy Adams, columnist for The Independent, was deleted after Adams tweeted a public email of an NBC official as a complaint about the Games’ tape delays. The account has since been reactivated, and Twitter’s General Counsel Alex Macgillivray responded with a post outlining Twitter’s guidelines on the publication of private information and explaining its actions.
The London Olympics website filed for an Internet Content Provider license in China, which allows it to avoid being blocked by firewall protections. However, it also opens up website content to manipulation in China, and live feeds could be delayed.
According to the Chinese state media, more than 10,000 people suspected of committing Internet-related crimes have been arrested by the police since the country began its campaign against “illegal and harmful” information in March. According to a statement released by the Ministry of Public Security, 3.2 million “harmful” online messages had been deleted and 30 Internet service providers have been punished for granting access to unlicensed websites.
This summer, Chinese netizens in Beijing have experienced much more strict censorship from the local government. Global Voices writer Oiwan Lam reported that the Beijing public security bureau has set up police accounts on 239 social media platforms and has vowed to strengthen law enforcement against those who spread rumors attacking political leaders and the political system.
Tajik authorities have blocked the local independent news website Asia-Plus for its coverage of the regional clashes between government military forces and local militants in Khorog, the capital of the southeastern Gorno-Badakhshan region. The blockage happened after the website revealed that a high-ranking security official was murdered.
Sovereigns of Cyberspace
Twitter is playing such a big part in the Olympics that organizers advised sports fans at the Games users not to overload networks with non-urgent tweets, which they said were interfering with television signals.
Internet companies including Google, Facebook, eBay and Amazon will open a lobbying organization named the Internet Association in September to exert their influence on political and regulatory issues in Washington D.C.
In France and the UK, Google has acknowledged failing to delete some of the data from unsecured wifi connections belonging to homes and offices that was controversially collected by cars taking pictures for Google Street View in 2010.
Activists in Bahrain are being targeted by the government with spyware called FinFisher, which is manufactured by British-based Gamma International. There are also indications the company discussed surveillance software business with Turkmenistan and with Egypt under former President Hosni Mubarak. The surveillance program allows its users to control computers of people who click on phony links or download attachments on strange emails.
Microsoft denied allegations that it redesigned Skype’s technical architecture to make data disclosure to law enforcement more convenient, as reported by a Washington Post article. Microsoft stated it installed self-hosted supernodes in company data centers to act as a distributed directory of Skype users, but peer-to-peer messages do not flow through data centers.
A US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee reviewed the privacy risks of Facebook’s Tag Suggestions feature, which uses facial recognition software.
Security and privacy researcher Christopher Soghoian blogged that media outlets should take a more objective view on the quality of privacy and encryption tools such as Cryptocat, after the circumvention tool Haystack was found to fall short of media praise in 2010. Cryptocat was created by college student Nadim Kobeissi, and allows users to chat online using secure encryption.
US Congressman Hank Johnson has launched a mobile app privacy initiative and invited mobile users to help him craft a law on mobile privacy. He encourages people to send him ideas about the legislation and will make the process of drafting the law transparent.
The Tor project, a project which enables netizens to go online anonymously and enjoy privacy, is considering paying those who are willing to provide “exit nodes” for the Tor network.
During a conference in Las Vegas hackers displayed ways to gain control over Android smartphones by infecting them using the smartphones’ near field communications sensors, which allow phone users to share data by aiming at another phone.
A Peruvian computer crime bill is being criticized for its potential restriction of Internet freedom and because it has been partially copied from other sources rather than independently researched with Peru in mind. With support from digital rights group Access, Peruvian civil society and academia sent an open letter [pdf] to the Peruvian Congress protesting the bill.
In the US Senate, politicians are seeking a compromise on the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 , including how to address protections for critical infrastructure and information sharing between the government and private sector on data breaches.
The government of the United Arab Emirates has waged another crackdown on bloggers and human rights activists. Several dissidents have been detained by the government after it announced its investigation into a group alleged to be a threat to national security.
The Belarus journalist Anton Suryapin has been charged with “organizing illegal migration” and faced a sentence of 7 years in jail. Suryapin posted photos of teddy bears carrying posters which supported free speech. The bears were dropped on July 4 in Belarus from a plane flown by two members of Swedish advertising agency Studio Total as a free speech protest.
In Cuba, online journalist and dissident Guillermo “El Coco” Fariñas Hernández, who is also the winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2010, was assaulted and arrested by the Cuban police along with other activists at the funeral of activist Oswaldo Paya.
The Sudanese blogger and web developer Usamah Mohamad was detained without charge in Khartoum, the country's capital city. It has taken a month for news of his detention to become public. He was arrested shortly after his speech against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, which was broadcast on Al-Jazeera English TV.
The Iranian government is reportedly seeking cooperation from Facebook to attack pornography and prostitution messages online. Facebook forbids such content in its terms of service, but Iran’s definition of pornography is much broader than in the United States.
The Sri Lankan government has made an amendment to a press law which mandates news websites be charged registration and annual renewal fees. Mass Media and Information Minister Keheliya Rambukwella stated the fees would ensure website content does not harm “defenseless individuals,” and that under the amendment news websites would also be monitored to prevent “mud slinging.”
Paul Chambers, the man who was convicted of sending a “menacing communication” via Twitter, was acquitted by the High Court in England. Mr. Chambers tweeted that he would blow an airport sky high if his flight was cancelled. The court ruled that the message could not be considered as “menacing.”
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Philip Verveer said the US State Department will file recommendations to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for revising its International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) in a manner that preserves the free and open nature of the Internet. The ITRs have not been revised since 1998 by the ITU, which in December will review a range of recommendations being submitted by governments to determine how regulations covering telephones and satellites might address the Internet.
As the World Conference on International Telecommunications approaches, the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association put forth a proposal requiring a fee system for the providers to pay other networks fees to route content, charge content operators a delivery fee and develop a two tiered system for Internet traffic. This could threaten an open Internet by allowing Internet service providers to prioritize certain traffic.
In an effort to increase transparency, the multi-stakeholder Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) which coordinates the global domain name system, has launched an online register of advice made by governments to the ICANN board. ICANN also announced that it has simplified the process for evaluating and deciding on applications for new generic top-level domains (gTLDs).
People in Turkey have turned to social media for unfiltered news as the Turkish government seeks stricter regulations on the media and traditional news outlets are gradually avoiding controversial topics. Turkey now ranks as 11th in the world for Twitter usage.
A fake New York Times Op-Ed defending Wikileaks and purportedly written by former editor Bill Keller fooled the Times’ own tech columnist, Nick Bilton. Wikileaks claimed responsibility for the hoax, as several of the group’s loyal followers claimed they had ‘punked’ the New York Times.
Tunisia’s Pirate Party is seeking a more active role in politics and a more transparent government with the help of Internet technology such as crowdsourcing platform and social media.
BitTorrent announced a plan to help artists get paid while sharing free content. The idea is to provide BitTorrent users with a bundle including a piece of sponsored software which users can decide to install or not. If a user installs the free software, then both the artist and BitTorrent receive proceeds.
A copyright lawsuit filed by Capitol Records against ReDigi, which will begin oral arguments on October 5, will determine whether users on the cloud service will be able to stream or sell legally purchased digital music. The website hopes to re-sell e-books via the same legal precedent that allows bookstores to sell used books.
A leaked anti-piracy strategy dated April 2012 of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, obtained by TorrentFreak, suggests that Internet service providers should deny Internet access to copyright infringing sites.
Another leaked memo from the Recording Industry Association of America states the now-defeated Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was “not likely to have been an effective tool” for dealing with music piracy.
Publications and Studies
- Daegon Cho, Soodong Kim, Alessandro Acquisti: Empirical Analysis of Online Anonymity and User Behaviors: The Impact of Real Name Policy
- Ana Keshelashvili, Nino Danelia & Ninia Kakabadze: Mapping Digital Media: Georgia
- Betsy Masiello and Derek Slater: Embracing an Innovation Stimulus Package
For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.