On February 1, a coalition of human rights groups jointly filed formal complaints with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) against European-based surveillance technology companies Gamma Group and Trovicor GmbH for their potential involvement in human rights violations in Bahrain.
Various reports highlighting the Bahraini government’s use of both Gamma and Trovicor products against pro-democracy activists have surfaced in recent years. Citing the joint complaint, UK-based privacy rights NGO Privacy International explains that the pair “breached no fewer than 11 of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises,” which address business practices that may affect human rights. While the OECD Guidelines are not enforceable by law, the intergovernmental institution can choose to speak publicly about the complaint, a move that could serve as a strong sanction for the companies’ actions.
Mass pro-reform demonstrations have been ongoing in Bahrain since February 2012 and have been met with an excessive use of force by government authorities, according to Amnesty International’s 2012 report on Bahrain. At least 47 people have been killed as part of the crackdown, and thousands have been arrested in connection with the protests.
International Privacy Day was celebrated around the world on January 28 with campaigns calling for greater attention to individuals’ privacy rights. Global Voices Advocacy published a round-up of some of the successes in anti-surveillance campaigns over the past year.
US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a staff report recommending practices for companies in the mobile telecommunications industry to protect consumers’ privacy. These included a provision that would require companies to notify users if privacy-invasive measures such as geotracking were to be used by apps they had installed on their phones. They also proposed offering smartphone users the option of activating Do Not Track, a tool that allows users to opt out of tracking by websites they do not visit.
A flaw was found in the social networking service Path, which tags geolocation data found in photos to users’ posts on social networking platforms. According to Ars Technica, “Path's iOS app was found copying geographic locations embedded in photos and pasting them into user posts—even when location services have been disabled.” Path, which was recently fined US $800,000 by the FTC for violating consumer privacy, has promised to fix the problem.
In Russia's Kostroma region, government officials have plans to begin filtering online content in the name of protecting children. Similar to the Internet blacklist launched in November, this program will implement a subscription service for parents and children that will provide technical filtering of content deemed inappropriate for children.
After surviving an assassination attempt by the Taliban, 15-year-old Pakistani blogger and activist Malala Yousafzai spoke out for the first time in a video statement. She promised to continue fighting for girls’ and children’s rights to education and called for public support and action on the issue.
Vietnamese blogger Le Anh Hung was detained by security officials in a mental health institution for writing posts critical of the government. Vietnamese officials claim the detention is at the request of the blogger’s mother, yet Hung’s mother denies this claim and says that she and others are not allowed to visit Hung.
On January 22, Iraq’s Parliament voted to revoke a proposed Cyber Crime Law, which was criticized for its vague definition of crimes such as “[espousing online] ideas which are disruptive to public order” and harsh punishments. The Electronic Frontier Foundation published an overview of the law's provisions and its potential impact for Internet users after the draft law was released last spring.
Several major media outlets in the United States including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post revealed that their computer systems have been attacked by hackers suspected to be from China. According to reports, the hackers broke into the newspapers’ internal networks, spying on reporters’ email communications as well as files. Global Voices’ Oiwan Lam points out that cybersecurity has long been a major concern for Hong Kong and China-based independent reporters whose email accounts and SMS messaging services are frequently hacked.
Meanwhile, Twitter also experienced a cyber attack in which approximately 250,000 users were affected. Twitter believed the hack was done by “sophisticated attackers” and was not an isolated incident.
The New York Times reported that authorities in the US conducted a “secret legal review” of federal policy on the use of cyberweapons. Likely prompted by months of attacks on websites of US-based financial institutions, the review concluded that the President can command a pre-emptive strike if there is credible evidence of a “major digital attack” on the horizon. The rules governing this new executive power are classified.
Russia plans to fortify its cybersecurity practices by establishing a system to “detect, prevent, and respond to computer attacks.” The Kremlin issued a decree describing the new system, explaining that it will not only serve state agencies but also private websites, on the premise that all websites hosted in Russia are tied to the base network of the Russian Federation. The new policy will mark a shift in responsibility for cybersecurity from the Ministry of the Interior to the Federal Security Service (FSB), the country's primary agency for counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism.
After incorporating comments and contributions from Internet communities such as Reddit, US House Representative Zoe Lofgren announced an updated draft version of the “Aaron’s Law,” a bill to reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) which had led to the prosecution of Aaron Swartz, the programmer and open Internet advocate who committed suicide in January of 2013.
Indonesian government websites were hacked after the police arrested 22-year-old Wildan Yani Ashari who allegedly hacked into the Indonesian President’s website in an effort to protest increasing government corruption in the country.
In Uzbekistan, one or multiple hackers broke into the website of the government-run National Television and Radio Broadcaster, replacing the regular content on the agency's homepage with a message that read, “The news you spread are lies!” The hacker(s), who identified themselves under the name Clone Security, appear to support Internet openness.
Collaborative website Noisebridge wrote a tongue-in-cheek response to Hollywood film studio DreamWorks, which had requested permission to use the Noisebridge logo in an upcoming movie about Julian Assange. The letter notes that “the only conditions under which Noisebridge would sue [DreamWorks] and their partners to the maximum damages entitled to us by law would be if it turned out that hackers like us were completely hypocritical nihilists out only for our own egotistical ends.”
Wired has posted a real-time visualization of Tweets around the world.
Publications and Studies
- Access: The Telco Hall of Shame
- Global Information Society Watch 2012
- Citizen Lab: Middle East and North Africa CyberWatch – January 2013
For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.