Netizens in Jordan used the protest tactic of blacking out websites last week to oppose amendments to the government’s Press and Publications Act, which would require websites to obtain licenses and bear legal responsibility for users’ comments. Approximately 500 websites joined the protest on August 29, led by the Jordanian Organisation of Electronic Websites, using a tactic similar to January’s protests against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and recent protests in Malaysia.
The success of the tech industry in the Kingdom of Jordan has been attributed to its relatively progressive approach to Internet freedom. Yet along with the draft amendments considered in parliament, recent censorship moves by the government also include plans by Jordan’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology [ar] to work with an unnamed Australian company to develop systems for filtering pornographic websites.
@QueenNoor: Hypocrisy, lies, intolerance, hate, violence — all unhealthy evils. Where does it start and end. #censorship #BlackOutJO
The online blackout was matched by demonstrations outside of Jordan’s parliament building and statements against the draft legislation by groups such as Centre for Defending the Freedom of Journalists. When Ramtha’s MP Khaled Shaqran met with protesters on August 29, he was “hopeful” the Lower House National Guidance Committee considering the draft legislation would either reject the controversial draft or propose less restrictive amendments.
Ukranian journalists protested a speech made by President Viktor Yanukovich at the World Newspaper Congress, in which he claimed that nation was making progress on media freedom.
The Hamas government in Gaza has censored access to online content deemed “pornographic.” This repressive move is a further step in Hamas censorship of activities it considers as “un-Islamic,” such as attending movie theaters or going to swimming pools.
Myanmar’s government claims it will allow private news organizations to publish daily, rather than weekly, in the coming months, another bold move toward press freedom.
Members of India’s government are staging a multi-stakeholder meeting including Indian civil society and Internet companies such as Facebook and Twitter to negotiate legitimate restrictions on hate speech and incitement rumors that do not slide into illegitimate censorship. India’s government recently blocked hundreds of websites and placed restrictions on text messages in an effort to control hate speech that spurred violence in the Assam region.
Tajikistan activists organized a boycott on September 2, during which they turned off their mobile phones for half an hour in protest of Swedish-Finnish telecommunications company TeliaSonera, which activists accused of censorship for cutting off mobile service for a month in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. The region was the site of fighting between the government and rebels in July, during which the government also blocked access to websites such as YouTube and the BBC. Swedish reporters at Sveriges Television [se] also accused TeliaSonera of aiding government surveillance in nations such as Azerbaijan, Belarus and Uzbekistan.
Facebook users in the Philippines removed their profile pictures on August 30 to commemorate the International Day of the Disappeared, and also to decry martial law and secret police disappearances carried out during the rule of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Co-founder of live-streaming video website Ustream, Brad Hunstable, reflects in an article on TheVerge.com on his service’s use as an online venue for protests in Russia, such as demonstrations against the two-year prison sentencing of punk rock activist band Pussy Riot.
Technologists have started a series of casual “cryptoparty” sessions to teach people to use cryptography and anonymity tools such as the Tor Project, Cryptocat,and Pretty Good Privacy. The parties began in Australia after a Twitter discussion and the idea inspired others to hold parties in Europe, Asia and the United States.
RT.com reports on the massive crackdown on opposition activists in Belarus. According to various sources, Belarusian authorities “hacked” the VKontakte groups of the two biggest opposition movements in the country (VKontakte is Russia's most popular social network). Marietje Schaake, a Dutch Member of the European Parliament, cited a report from a human rights organization describing the intrusive policies and called on the European Commission to take action and work for the liberation of at least four detainees.
Global Voices author and Sudanese activist Maha El-Sanosi reports on the release of online activist Usamah Mohamed Ali after two months in detention. Mohamed Ali was arrested in June after tweeting about and promoting protests in the capital of Khartoum against government austerity measures. Bloggers followed arrests of protesters on Twitter via #FreeUsamah or #SudanRevolts.
Through a well-documented report, Ars Technica’s Sean Gallagher discusses the devastating speed at which surveillance has developed. He highlights the implication of web mastodons such as Google technologies in the analysis of huge amounts of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) data.
Gamma’s spyware FinFisher continues to be uncovered in more and more devices: this time, security researchers have detected it in a broad range of smartphones. This surveillance tool is known to collect images, record Skype chats and log keystrokes, and was first discovered in Bahraini activists’ PCs. Since the publication of these outcomes, the researchers have been receiving a large amount of data to analyze.
Coz Toujours publishes an insightful post about how Cambodia is tightening its grip on the Internet. As in many other countries, the cyberspace is regulated for the sake of “national security, safety and social order.”
Singapore’s National Environment Agency will set up 100 CCTV cameras outside housing complexes in the coming three months as a means to fight littering of public spaces. The equipment is able to pick up items as small as cigarettes thrown from windows, raising concerns over privacy.
Facebook’s facial recognition software has been deemed illegal by the Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information in Germany, prompting analysis by CNET about other criticism of the Facebook technology. Examples include how the United States does not have the same provisions for users to protect what happens with their online data.
Chinese dissident Wang Xiaoning has been freed after ten years in prison. He was jailed when Yahoo Inc. gave in to government requests for his private information. The company says it has since developed a stronger approach to protecting the privacy of its customers.
Apple was granted a patent for location-based tech which aims to allow the remotely disabling of cameras at, for example, government buildings or a protest.
Russian Senator Ruslan Gattarov is proposing a 15-year prison sentence be created for hackers that exploit government websites. This proposal comes on the heels of the hacking of the website of the Moscow court that sentenced three members of activist punk rock band Pussy Riot.
Supporters of the Syrian government hacked the Livewire blog of human rights group Amnesty International on Monday 3 September. The Twitter account and blog of Reuters were also hacked in August when supporters of Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad posted phony news tweets and fake White House statements taking Al-Qaeda off the terrorist agency list.
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement conceded defeat to Spain-based Rojadirecta sports websites in a wrongful domain seizure case filed by the company, after the domains were seized in December 2011 for alleged copyright infringement.
The New Zealand government allowed Kim Dotcom to take out a US$ 4.8 million loan so the founder of file-sharing website Megaupload.com could pay for the rent on his mansion and for legal bills from the company’s copyright infringement lawsuit.
The livestream of the Hugo Awards, science fiction’s most prestigious award ceremony, was interrupted due to claimed copyright infringement. One of the reasons for this is claimed to be that clips of “Doctor Who” were screened and DRM bots were rigidly blocking the broadcast.
Sovereigns of cyberspace
A new search engine rivalry has arisen in China between Baidu and another company best known for its anti-virus software, Qihoo. Qihoo's new product, the Qihoo 360 browser, has been accused of being an aggregator, taking its results from Baidu, Google and others.
Apple has rejected Drones+, an application tracking US drone attacks, from its app store calling the content “objectionable and crude.” The New York Times notes that The Guardian newspaper has an Apple app containing similar drone strike information.
Twitter’s General Counsel Alexander Macgillivray reflects in a New York Times article on the legal challenges the microblog has faced trying to defend the privacy and free speech of its users.
The advocacy group AccessNow is summarizing the key dates ahead of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), a controversial meeting planned for December by the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Civil society groups and some governments are concerned that the meeting will assert greater United Nations’ control over Internet governance, without civil society involvement.
The Center for Democracy & Technology has launched a resource center to help civil society prepare for the WCIT.
In the US presidential campaign, the Democratic and Republican parties both claim Internet freedom is a part of their party platforms. Net neutrality is a divisive issue on the technology front as President Obama promises to “fight hard” for net neutrality, while the Republican party opposes net neutrality stating the government should not “micromanage telecom as if it were a railroad network.”
Meanwhile, an article in CNET states Internet freedom and net neutrality cannot be reconciled.
Ireland’s communication officials have called for a government standard for broadband to be set at “a minimum of 30Mbps for every remaining home and business in the country—no matter how rural or remote.”
Russia’s Parliament is considering adding amendments to law to track libelous online speech by anonymous users. This law will be only applicable to Internet users, not journalists, and will “allow police officers to ascertain the identity of anonymous slanderers and other criminals.”
An opinion piece in The Guardian called for global standards to secure the Internet as a digital commons while leaving room for commercial interests.
Publications and studies
- Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism: Reuters Institute Digital Report 2012: Tracking the Future of News.
- Center for Democracy and Technology: Chile’s Notice-and-Takedown System for Copyright Protection: an Alternative Approach.
- Robin Foster: New Plurality in a Digital World.
For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.