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Netizen Report: Gambia to Censor Government Critics

Members of the Gambian National Assembly meet with  Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Members of the Gambian National Assembly meet with Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Hae-in Lim, Alex Laverty, Ellery Roberts Biddle and Sarah Myers.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Gambia, where a new law targeting anti-government speech will go into force this week.

Free Expression

Last month, we reported that the Gambian National Assembly passed a bill that will likely cripple online free expression—particularly that of government critics. Among other things, Section 173A of the Information and Communication Act criminalizes the “spread of false news against the Government or public officials”; incitement of “dissatisfaction against the Government”; and acts that “caricature, abuse or make derogatory statements against the person or character of officials.” The law is slated to be put into force this week. At a high-level cabinet meeting on August 8th attended (and implicitly legitimized) by religious leaders, Minister of Presidential Affairs Momodou Sabally forewarned those who supported online campaigns against the law, “If you cannot say anything good about the country, then you should keep quiet.”

The Supreme Court of India responded to a petition filed by consumer review website MouthShut.com this spring, after the site faced escalating takedown requests from companies wishing to preserve their reputations after receiving negative reviews on the site. The court rejected MouthShut.com's claim that such takedowns posed a fundamental threat to their business model and upheld the government's application of India's IT Act, which requires Internet intermediaries to remove “objectionable material” from their networks within 36 hours of receiving a takedown notice. It noted that “in a large country like India…sometimes such publicity will create huge problems and havoc, particularly when the matter relates to political and religious issues.”

Thuggery

A man in Azerbaijan was sentenced to a year of “correctional labor” for creating a Facebook page criticizing Accessbank, his former employer. On a page entitled Accessbank-Unfairbank, Mikayil Talibov described what he felt were unfair practices by the bank, alleging that “Accessbank builds up political pressure on Azerbaijan, fosters discontent among the population.” The court found his accusations to be libelous. This was the first case to test the new legislative amendments extending criminal liability to Internet speech.

Surveillance

The government of Thailand announced plans to begin monitoring user activity on LINE, a popular messaging application based in Japan. The Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) said it would also begin surveiling social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube in an effort to thwart threats to the national security. Critics suspect that LINE is likely to have an experience similar to that of Google, which has often complied with government requests for the removal of Internet content that defames the monarchy. The 2007 Computer Crime Act has made it possible for third parties to be liable for violations of the law committed by Internet users.

Acclaimed tech law site Groklaw, which relies heavily on contributions from a large network of experts, will soon close down due to concerns about email surveillance. Groklaw editor Pamela Jones cited the recent closure of Lavabit, an encrypted email service provider, as reason for her decision.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed an amicus brief in Du v. Cisco, one of multiple cases brought by Chinese human rights activists against Cisco, which allegedly built technical tools for the express surveillance needs of the Chinese government. The suit accuses the silicon valley giant of knowingly “customizing, marketing, selling, and providing continued support and service for technologies used by the Chinese government to facilitate human rights abuses.”

Privacy

According to Forbes, the data hosting business is booming in Switzerland, which unlike the United States and the EU, has strong protections against government surveillance and data secrecy under the country’s strict Federal Act on Data Protection. The 8% corporate tax rate probably helps too.

iPhone users in the UK lost a court case against Google, in which they alleged that the company tracked browsing habits by iOS users through an loophole in the Safari web browser that allowed third-party cookies to be installed without the users’ knowledge. The defense argued that UK privacy laws do not apply to Google. The company's lawyers also argued that because consumer services in this scenario were being provided not by Google UK, but by Google Inc. based in the US, there would be no jurisdiction for the case to be heard in the UK. Google was fined USD 22.5 million last year by the US Federal Trade Commission due to its alleged tracking practices on Safari.

Cool Things

A malaria testing app developed in Uganda, called Matibabu (cure or treatment in Swahili), hopes to combat the 70,000-100,000 deaths per year in the country. It hopes to remove the need for needles used by a healthcare professional as well as limiting the long travel and waiting times at medical centers. Working with an attached diode and light sensor that uses light-scattering technology, Matibabu will enable users to detect red blood cells that have been infected. The phone runs the analysis and uploads the results to Microsoft’s SkyDrive, allowing their doctor to conduct the final diagnosis. With each malaria test costing USD 5, it is hoped that the cost of the hardware (USD 20-35) will prove economical over the long term for rural communities.

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