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 Russia, where pressure on independent news sites spiked last week amid rapidly rising tensions surrounding Crimea.
Under an order from the attorney general, three opposition news portals—Kasparov.ru, Grani.ru, and EJ.ru—were blocked on accusations that they called for “illegal activity and participation in mass events that are conducted contrary to the established order.” Also blocked was the immensely popular website of blogger and opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who is currently under house arrest in relation to embezzlement charges. In addition, the editor of the leading news website Lenta.ru was fired from her job following pressure from the Kremlin. According to a letter [ru] posted on the site by Lenta.ru employees, her dismissal violates Russian media laws. Russian journalist Alexander Erenko was also fired from his job after reposting a critical Facebook comment calling on Putin to “occupy” Russia's Vologodsk Region, where public infrastructure is in disrepair and many are without access to health care.
Free Expression: We don't chat? Writers’ social media accounts deactivated in China
The public instant messaging accounts of several popular writers on the Chinese social media platform WeChat were deactivated on March 13, the last day of the National People’s Congress session. In 2013, WeChat’s popularity rose dramatically—social media experts attributed the shift to the platform’s status as a popular alternative for those wishing to avoid censorship on platforms such as Sina Weibo. According to the China Internet Information Centre, 37% of users who quit Weibo last year started using WeChat, which is run by Internet giant Tencent. The Chinese government has a history of tightening its control over speech during politically sensitive moments like the NPC meetings.
Last week in Venezuela, numerous TunnelBear users reported they were unable to access the VPN service. This comes several weeks after TunnelBear made its services free for Venezuelan susers, in[TB1] response to reports of Web blocking at the start of the ongoing protest movement. Quick on the draw, The Canadian company has already created a new download page for Venezuelans to circumvent the apparent blockage.
Thuggery: The Internet has a lot of enemies
For the first time in the history of the report, Reporters Without Borders labeled three government bodies in democracies as Enemies of the Internet: the US National Security Agency, UK Government Communications Headquarters, and Indian Centre for Development of Telematics. The list also names “usual suspects” such as Syria, Iran, China and Vietnam, as well as newcomers Russia, Pakistan and Ethiopia. Jillian York points out that Turkey, Morocco, and Jordan are curiously absent from the list — Global Voices authors noted that Algeria, Bangladesh, Venezuela and several other countries known for online censorship and blogger oppression were also omitted from the roster.
Syrian activist and Global Voices author Marcell Shehwaro was detained for several hours on March 17 in Aleppo, along with friend and fellow activist Mohammad Khalili. The two were working with a group to hang photographs of slain activists in a public square when the detention took place. Shehwaro reported that authorities took her into custody for not wearing a veil. Both activists were released within hours of the incident.
Zambian journalist Thomas Zgambo, who is currently facing what are likely trumped-up charges for pornography possession, was reportedly beaten by Kazim Sata, son of Zambian President Michael Sata. The reason for the attack is unknown, but Sata’s ruling Patriotic Front tried to charge Zgambo with sedition last year when he was found in possession of information about President Sata. Zgambo is also facing allegations that he is affiliated with the blocked independent news site the Zambian Watchdog, which has become prominent critic of the Sata administration.
Privacy: No safe harbor for you, US
The European Parliament voted in favor of Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding’s proposed data protection reform, which would suspend the EU-US Safe Harbor Principles as well as the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme. The new regulations include higher fines for data protection violations, limitations on citizens’ rights to demand the erasure of their personal data, and limitations on what can be done with EU citizens’ data outside of the EU.
Industry: Still reeling from post-Snowden fallout, Facebook touts privacy values
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a statement calling on the US government to ensure better privacy and security of Internet users. According to Forbes, this statement most likely comes after revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) programs allowed mass spying on Facebook users, especially those outside the US. According to The Intercept, the NSA has also been using fake Facebook servers in order to infect computers with spyware. Hmm.
Internet Insecurity: Ukrainians hack NATO
Ukrainian hackers claimed responsibility for an attack on NATO websites ahead of a vote in Crimea to secede from the Ukraine. Members of hacktivist group Cyber Berkut protested Western leaders’ contention that the vote was “illegal” by taking down NATO’s primary website and that of its cyber defense center.
Internet Governance: Holding back tears, USG announces decision to relinquish control of DNS
The US government is reportedly ready to give up control over the Internet Domain Name System (DNS) which is managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a non-profit US-based entity that has coordinated the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions, essentially the Internet’s address book, since 1998 under a contract with the US Department of Commerce. The contract ends in 2015 and as of last week, will not be renewed. ICANN will have to work with global stakeholders, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Society (ISOC) and Regional Internet Registries, to make transitional plans. The first international meeting to discuss these issues will be held in Singapore on March 23.
Netizen Activism: The Web turns 25!
The World Wide Web, not to be confused with the Internet, turned 25 last week. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, reminisced about how his invention has revolutionized society since it was originally developed in 1989. Global Voices marked the Web’s birthday with a special GV Face live video hangout featuring GV technical director Jeremy Clarke, Web We Want campaign leaders Renata Avila and Josh Levy, and Alan Emtage, creator of the first Internet search engine.
Activists and allies gathered in Berlin, San Francisco and other cities around the world to honor Bassel Khartabil, a Syrian Web developer and Creative Commons leader who was arrested and imprisoned two years ago this past Saturday. Dutch writer and media expert Monique Doppert, who recently authored a book that tells Khartabil’s story, described her relationship with Bassel in piece for Global Voices Advocacy last week.
Publications and Studies
Maliciously Repackaged Psiphon Found – Citizen Lab
Whither Blogestan: Evaluating Shifts in Persian Cyberspace – Iran Media Program, Annenberg School
NETmundial Contributions – Lingua Synaptica