This week, netizens around the globe have seen an increase in censorship due to court orders and government actions: an Egyptian courtissued a verdict that would impose a month-long ban on YouTube for the website’s refusal to take down the anti-Islam film “the Innocence of Muslims.” In September of 2012, the controversial film appeared on YouTube with dubbing in Arabic, causing public outrage and prompting the governments of several countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan and Afghanistan to request YouTube to remove the video from its site, but to no avail. Experts in Egypt expect the decision will be appealed.
The Russian government has shut down nearly 600 websites that host suicide-related content, claiming that the sites violate the law “On Protecting Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development,” which has been effective since September 2012. Just this year, under the same law, Russian regulators have ordered ISPs and web hosting services to block access to over 90 sites that allegedly contain child pornography. According to the law, the government can block the website without a court order if the site's content includes or relates to child pornography.
Global Voices Advocacy contributor Besti Zibilova reported that the Azerbaijani government has blocked US-based popular image-sharing website Imgur.com. Some have speculated the blocking may be in response to sensitive government documents that were recently leaked by Anonymous and re-posted on Imgur. In Pakistan, netizens reported that social news website Buzzfeed and the website of Canadian newspaper The Toronto Sun have been partially blocked by the country’s firewall system.
A Palestinian court has found Anas Awwad guilty of “cursing the President” on Facebook and sentenced him to one year in prison. Awwad’s father said his son left a comment that read, “The new striker in Real Madrid” beneath a photo of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas kicking a soccer ball during a visit to Spain in 2011. Awwad's attorney plans to appeal the decision.
Police authorities in China have detained [zh] a Chinese weibo user from Sichuan province for criticizing Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s Sina weibo “fan club”. According to police documents, the user was charged with “inciting subversion of state power.”
Sanjay Chowdhary, a chairman of a public school in Agra, India has been arrested by the police for “communal and inflammatory” posts lampooning political figures including Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Facebook. Upon his arrest, Chowdhary's laptop, sim card, and data card were impounded by officials.
Vietnamese blogger Le Anh Hung was released on February 5 after being detained in a mental health institution by security officials for his online writings criticizing the government.
A report issued by the UK parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee suggested that to fight terrorism and other serious crime, the UK government should install surveillance equipment which uses “deep packet inspection” technology on mobile and Internet networks to monitor British citizens’ online activities. This technology would allow officials to track the domain names of the websites citizens visit, along with “third-party” content content traveling over the networks of Internet and telecommunications service providers.
Uganda’s activists have asked the government to suspend its SIM card registration requirement, launched last March for crime-tracking purposes, arguing that the government must first pass a law that will protect the personal data of users that is gathered and stored in the registration process.
A new Microsoft media advertising campaign, set to kick off on Thursday, attacks competitor Google for its practices concerning user data. Campaign messaging suggests that Google is far less respectful of user privacy than Microsoft and criticizes Google for monetizing its popular email service with ads that rely on keywords pulled from users’ emails.
Raytheon Company, a US-based defense contractor, has developed software that can track people’s movements and purportedly can predict future behavior by mining social media. Raytheon has shared its research with the United States government, but has yet to sell the software to any buyers.
In the Philippines, the Supreme Court ruled on February 5 to indefinitely suspend the controversial Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which has been criticized for limiting free expression online and criminalizing anonymous and pseudonymous expression on the Internet. Meanwhile, Filipino netizens have collaborated in drafting a proposed law called “the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom (MCPIF)” to replace the suspended Cybercrime Act. Philippine Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has brought the MCPIF before Congress.
The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), widely criticized by civil liberties advocates when it was introduced last spring, will soon be re-introduced in the US House of Representatives. The bill, which some advocates now have dubbed “Zombie CISPA”, encourages cyber-threat information sharing between government and industry.
In an effort to combat piracy, the Japanese government has plans to place faux files into peer-to-peer filesharing sites in order to ‘educate’ users about intellectual property laws in Japan. The faux file, disguised as copyright-protected material available for download, will contain a message telling the user that downloading such files constitutes a violation of copyright law.
The EU Commission is proceeding with the “Licenses for Europe” campaign, with the goal of “enabl[ing] quality content and new opportunities for all Europeans in the digital era.” French net rights advocacy group La Quadrature du Net has criticized the process for being biased in favor of copyright holders’ interests. Thus far, fair use-like policies and Creative Commons licensing have not been part of the discussion.
Sovereigns of Cyberspace
The mobile phone text and voice messaging service WeChat which is widely popular in China has started to enforce real-name verification and require those who use “public accounts” (such as companies’ and celebrities’ accounts) to submit national ID numbers, addresses, and even pictures of identification cards for verification.
Under the leadership of EU Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes, the EU Commission plans to propose a set of new cybercrime reporting rules. The rules would require member nations to establish Computer Emergency Response Teams and to designate a government agency to which businesses would be asked to report when cybersecurity breaches occur.
A group of journalists reporting on Myanmar have received warnings from Google that their email accounts have become the targets of “state-sponsored” cyberattacks, though Google did not identify the source of attacks. Some Myanmar media outlets’ websites and Facebook pages also experienced hacking since January.
Publications and Studies
- Bytes for all: Freedom of Expression and Net Freedom in the Manifestos of Political Parties in Pakistan
- Cybersecurity Strategy of the European Union: An Open, Safe and Secure Cyberspace
- Center for a New American Security: The Internet Yalta
For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.