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Netizen Report: Halal-net Edition

Image via Flickr user ix4svs (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Tom Risen, Weiping Li, Renata Avila, Rayna St, Sarah Myers and Rebecca MacKinnon.

After years of planning Iran appears to have laid the foundations for a national Internet network, separate from the global Internet, according to the U.S.-based researcher Collin Anderson who is preparing to release a report on his findings in the near future. Anderson has previously unearthed evidence of Iranian government plans to build what some officials have previously described as a “halal” or “clean” Internet. Based on news reports about Anderson's research, groups such as the U.S.-based Human Rights First warned last week that Iran may have taken “one more step towards fragmented access to information.” According to Anderson, the national service relies on components sold by China-based telecommunications company Huawei.

Some are speculating about the nature of the network: whether it will be completely disconnected from the global Internet, or whether it will instead emulate China’s Great Firewall which blocks access to many outside websites while enabling Chinese Internet users to communicate with the rest of the world. Your Middle East quoted Mohammad Soleimani, former Minister of Communication and Information Technology and now head of a parliamentary communication committee, who said the new network “will not cut access to the Internet…because it would amount to imposing sanctions on ourselves, which would not be logical. However, filtering will remain in place.”

Reporters Without Borders reports that government offices and civil service departments throughout the country were supposed to be connected to the new national network on September 22. The actual launch of the network is still pending. Meanwhile, Iran has banned Gmail and to a lesser degree Google search, which officials said was to protest the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims. Earlier this month Iran launched a national email service, Iran.ir, which requires extensive information about the user's identity to join.

Censorship

The controversial film, Innocence of Muslims, continues to be used as an excuse by governments to block access to YouTube. Among the countries that have blocked YouTube pages are Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan, and Afghanistan. Some Chechen Internet service providers have also blocked access to YouTube, but a court will now determine whether the move was legal. The case is testing the implementation of a new law in Russia to censor websites the government finds disagreeable or indecent. Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov has threatened to shut down YouTube nationwide using the law.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Superior Court Judge Luis Lanvin denied a request to remove the controversial video from YouTube. The request was made by Cindy Lee Garcia, who acted in the film and claimed she was misinformed and misled about its actual content. YouTube itself blocked access to the film in Egypt, Libya, India and elsewhere.

As Myanmar loosens censorship, government officials and journalists have started talking about the way forward. One journalist from International Herald Tribune had the chance to meet his former censor and speak about the censorship process in Myanmar.

Jordan’s King Abdullah endorsed a new media law which requires “electronic publications” to be licensed by the government. Critics say it could restrict freedom of expression.

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) blocked some websites within its offices, including those of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Center for Democracy and Technology, and American Civil Liberties Union because the locations were dubbed “political” or “activist,” but then stopped filtering after the news spread and provoked criticism.

Thuggery

Syrian citizen journalist Abdel Karim al-Oqda, who used the pseudonym Abu Hassan to report from Hama, Syria, was burned to death after regime forces targeted his home.

Famous United Arab Emirates (UAE) blogger and political activist Ahmed Mansoor was beaten by an unidentified man at the university where he studies law.

Three founding members of Vietnam’s Free Journalists’ Club, a group of citizen journalists who advocate free speech and independent journalism, have been sentenced to jail for distributing “anti-state propaganda.”

In China, the famous Internet writer and former journalism professor Jiao Guobiao has been detained by Beijing’s public security bureau for “inciting subversion of state power” after he published articles on the Diaoyu Islands (known as “Senkaku” in Japan) territory dispute between China, Taiwan and Japan.

Surveillance

After recent violence in Assam, the Indian government is planning to set up a dedicated surveillance agency to monitor the Internet for false rumors and malicious content and warn national security agencies beforehand so that preventive measures can be adopted.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle spoke publicly against the sale of spying technology to repressive regimes. Several European political figures such as French Secretary of State for the Digital Economy, members of the Dutch Green Party and the EU Commissioner for the Digital Agenda have also expressed their concern over European technology corporations selling spyware to authoritarian countries.

In New Zealand, the Prime Minister John Key has asked the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security to investigate a case in which New Zealand’s intelligence agency helped the US government to illegally spy on Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom and other people involved in this case.

Privacy

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has proposed changes to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) which could raise legal risks to plugin program developers and website operators. According to the proposals, plugin developers could face legal liability for collecting childrens’ information if they receive IP addresses from plugins installed on childrens’ websites; another proposal seeks to expand the definition of sites “directed to children.”

The latest Facebook audit review by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner shows that Facebook has decided to turn off its controversial facial recognition feature and related data in Europe on October 15. The decision applies to the “tag suggestion” feature which automatically tag names on faces in the pictures when users upload photos to Facebook.

The browser feature “Do Not Track”, which prevents advertisers from tracking users’ online activities, has been added to several browsers such as Firefox, Internet Explorer, Apple Safari, Opera. Google has also promised to add this function by the end of this year. Here is a guide on how to enable “Do Not track” in various browsers.

The “cryptoparty” concept has spread from Australian cities such as Melbourne to international locations such as London, as people aware of privacy issues are getting together to learn about anonymity techniques and how to protect their right to privacy.

Cybersecurity

According to a recently unsealed court document in a computer fraud case that Microsoft has filed against Chinese Web domain 3322.org, some new computers had malware installed and were ready to attack websites from the moment they’re turned on. The malware may come from counterfeit software which some Chinese computer manufacturers had used to save costs.

To cope with the security breach dubbed “CRIME” (Compression Ratio Info-leak Made Easy), which targets HTTP sessions, researchers have suggested that website operators should turn off a bandwidth-saving compression feature.

Security researcher Chris Soghoian recently discovered that a company called Packet Forensics is developing equipment that could intercept secure communications by using forged website security certificates without breaking encryption, and then marketing the equipment to law enforcement agencies. The boxes would have to be connected to an Internet service provider by a law enforcement agency and then persuade a Certificate Authority such as Verisign to collaborate.

National Policy

The Director of Public Prosecutions in the UK plans to issue guidelines to help prosecutors decide whether to press charges in cases involving social media. The agency has announced they will start public consultation procedures.

A leaked document of the European Commission-funded “Clean IT” project, which aims to combat online terrorist content by encouraging cooperation between governments and Internet companies, has revealed that EU officials have proposed extreme measures such as authorizing the police to “patrol” the Internet and strengthening regulations to prevent anonymous use of online services.

Copyright

According to the 2012 International Piracy Watch List released by the US Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus (IAPC), Switzerland and Italy are now on the list of countries of concern along with countries such as Russia, China, and Ukraine. IAPC said Switzerland’s inadequate copyright law has made it “a home for rogue sites,” and that Italy needs substantial copyright reforms to combat illegal downloading.

Sovereigns of Cyberspace

A trustee of the Wikimedia Foundation UK and a high-level editor at Wikipedia have been discovered to have edited Wikipedia’s “Did You Know” feature and other projects to benefit their private clients for more exposure on Wikipedia pages. The trustee has resigned after the revelation of the pay-to-play relationship.

Recently Google was granted a US patent for a technology that allows users to create multiple pseudonyms online and decide when to reveal true identities to others. However experts have held different positions toward this development: some have worried Google could gather more sensitive personal information, while others have thought it is positive to have different levels of online identities for online activities.

Google has shut down its free online music download service in China in order to put more resources on “high impact products.” Google’s music service is one of the few remaining services on its China-based landing page after the company moved its search engine servers to Hong Kong in 2010.

Internet companies including Google, Facebook, AOL, Yahoo! and LinkedIn have formed an organization named “The Internet Association” to coordinate their efforts in lobbying for Internet freedom and economic issues in Washington D.C.

Internet Governance

Freedom House has published the report “Freedom on the Net 2012: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media.” The report argues that governments around the world have grown more sophisticated in controlling the flow of online information. At the same time, civil societies have fought back and won several important victories. The report says that people in Estonia enjoy the greatest degree of Internet freedom, while people in Iran, Cuba and China have the lowest among the countries examined.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an agency of the United Nations, released the “State of Broadband 2012” report on international Internet usage data. It showed that currently one-third of world's population has access to the Internet. The nation with the highest Internet usage rate is Iceland.

Cool Things

Ecuador will become a “free software” [es] territory, President Rafael Correa recently announced.

Riot police had to be called to the town of Haren in The Netherlands after a teenager’s Facebook event reportedly attracted 30,000 people to the tiny town of 18,000 inhabitants.

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