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 Singapore, where blogger and gay rights advocate Alex Au, who has written extensively about judicial corruption on his blog, Yawning Bread, will soon have a public hearing regarding his coverage. The city-state’s Attorney General’s Chambers recently issued a statement suggesting that Au may be held in contempt of court over one particularly “injurious” post.
“As important as the right to free speech and expression is, the Constitution recognises that our society as a whole must be safeguarded against statements without basis which injure the reputation of persons or lower confidence in the administration of justice.”
Au’s post, which has been removed from the site, reportedly suggested that, in an effort to control the outcome, the Supreme Court manipulated dates for hearings challenging the constitutionality of Singapore’s ban on homosexual sex. About 170 Singaporean academics, civil servants, citizens and activists have signed a statement in support of Au.
Meanwhile, a court denied bail to James Raj, who was extradited from Malaysia last month and charged with hacking the website of Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. This was one in a series of government-website attacks, which may be an attempt to protest new Internet licensing rules in Singapore. Observers fear that the new rules could have harmful implications for free expression.
Thuggery: Tech writers arrested in Iran
Several writers and staff of Iranian tech news website Narenji.ir were arrested last week. Hours later, site administrators posted a list of those who were arrested, but it was quickly removed from the site. Mehr News [fa] and other sources report that the writers have been accused of harming national security.
Charges of lèse-majesté—the criminal act of harming the majesty—continue to threaten Thailand’s online community. A new Reporters Without Borders assessment describes how the government’s new “cyber scout” unit has used the country’s penal code, which prohibits insulting the king, against bloggers. The sentence of Chiranuch “Jiew” Premchaiporn, the editor of the online newspaper Prachatai, was recently upheld. Jiew was convicted of lèse-majesté in May 2012 for failing to remove anti-monarchy comments from the Prachatai website quickly enough.
Free Expression: Will “extremist” sites get the axe in the UK?
UK Prime Minister David Cameron vowed at an October hearing to censor “extremist” websites as part of an effort to keep the country safe and “counter the extremist narrative” online. In recent weeks, critics have taken to Reddit to lambaste the leader.
National Policy: Ecuador gets choosy on digital rights
A new state university initiative in Ecuador, known as the FLOK—“free, libre, open knowledge”—society, aims to encourage sharing and alternative approaches to intellectual property rights. This comes as a surprise to advocates who have criticized the Ecuadorian government’s use of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown system to remove politically controversial material from the Web. How much freedom does the government want Internet users to have? Between FLOK, Julian Assange, and the country’s new “media lynching” law, it’s hard to tell.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet signed the U.S.-Estonia Cyber Partnership Statement last week, in which they pledge to cooperate closely on Internet issues like cybersecurity and Internet freedom. Estonia has worked closely with the FBI since 2007 to develop expertise in fighting online crime.
Surveillance: Spies like Shazaam?
German law enforcement may develop a Shazaam-like app that could identify neo-Nazi music playing in public and online. A similar tool developed by the Oakland police, Shotspotter, is now undergoing trials in schools. Established in 2006, the system uses sensors around the city to “hear” gun shots.
Police chiefs in India and the US apparently agree that by spreading “destructively inaccurate information,” social media users are making police work more difficult than in times past. At a recent joint conference, Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami urged the US government to cooperate with Indian law enforcement requests to monitor communications made via US service providers.
According to The Washington Post, the NSA is gathering location data of cellphones worldwide. Top-secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden and interviews with US intelligence officials show that nearly five billion records on hundreds of millions of devices are collected daily. Location data is apparently gathered by tapping into the cables that connect mobile networks around the world.
Copyright: Chinese video companies take profit over piracy
China’s largest online video companies, including Youku Tudou and Baidu Inc. were once known for selling pirated content — but the companies have changed their tune since discovering that legal content can generate greater profits than pirated films and programs. Youku Tudou is now cooperating with government efforts to combat piracy in order to improve relations with foreign media companies. China’s online video market is expected to reach annual revenues of 12.3 billion yuan (US$2 billion) this year.
Industry: Fearing public mistrust (and profit loss), companies ask USG to curb snooping
A coalition of top US Internet companies launched a public campaign to enhance privacy protection by reforming government surveillance practices. On the campaign website, Reform Government Surveillance, AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo! call for limits on the government's authority to collect user information and increased oversight, accountability, and transparency in private data collection. Electronic Privacy Information Center Director Marc Rotenberg was skeptical about the call. Rotenberg told the New York Times: “As long as this much personal data is collected and kept by these companies, they are always going to be the target of government collection efforts.”
Security: Get your own Merkelphone!
Deutsche Telekom’s SimKo project is selling what it claims are secure mobile phones for €1700 (about US$2300). SimKo’s phones use Android Knox, a cryptocard by Cergate, software by NCP, and a microkernel made by Berlin-based Trust2Core, to encrypt voice and data traffic. Privacy ain’t cheap.
Netizen Activism: Hackerdom in Moscow
After attending the 2010 Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin, Alexander Chemeris decided to reinvigorate the “hackerspace” concept in his home country of Russia. So he started project Neuron [ru], which over the last two years has developed into a flourishing community for education, technological innovation, and creativity in Moscow. Chemeris hopes to bring the model to other cities.
The global digital divide is contributing to the extinction of human languages: less than 5% of the 7,000 human languages in existence have “digitally ascended”—that is, are used online.
Publications and Studies
Translating Norms to the Digital Age: Technology and the Free Flow of Information under U.S. Sanctions – New America Foundation
Freedom of Expression and ICTs: Overview of International Standards – Article 19
Computer Crimes in Iran: Online Repression in Practice – Article 19