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 Mexico, where President Enrique Peña Nieto is pushing to pass major telecommunications reforms that for many harken back the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party’s authoritarian past.
Billed as an effort to break up Mexico’s notorious telecommunications and broadcast monopolies, the law covers a broad range of electronic communications issues [es] — and treads heavily in human rights territory. At the behest of the “competent” authorities, the law authorizes telecommunications companies to “block, inhibit, or eliminate” communications services “at critical moments for public and national security.” The law also authorizes Internet service providers to offer service packages that “respond to market demands” and differentiating in “capacity, speed, and quality” – a measure that could preclude protections for net neutrality in the country. To top it off, security measures in the law would allow authorities to track user activity in real time using geolocation tools, without obtaining prior court approval.
ContingenteMx, a local digital rights group, has issued multiple statements against the bill and has called for public consultations on the matter. In a recent post [es] for the group, Jacobo Najera notes that just over a year ago, Mexico’s Senate officially accepted a petition with over 200k signatures [es] in support of the country’s proposed law on the right to Internet access. The text of the law (in Spanish) can be found here.
Surveillance: Costa Rica — come for the rainforest, stay for the press freedom?
Costa Rica’s Supreme Court censured the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) for its surveillance of Diario Extra journalist Manuel Estrada. In an effort to identify sources Estrada had used for an investigative story on the OIJ, the prosecutor’s office had allowed the OIJ to record his phone calls. The presiding judge indicated that like “traditional” journalists, citizen journalists (identified as those who “regularly contribute” to reporting or public opinion) also deserved to be shielded from prosecutorial abuses of surveillance.
Thuggery: Bangladeshi teenagers jailed over Facebook posts
Two teenage bloggers in Bangladesh were arrested for allegedly posting ‘derogatory comments against Islam and Prophet Mohammad’ on their Facebook accounts.” Fellow bloggers allege that a local Islamic fundamentalist group had circulated false propaganda about the two boys, who were attacked by a mob outside the school and subsequently arrested. Both bloggers are currently in prison under the country’s recently amended ICT Act.
Free Expression: Civil conflict brings communications shutdowns in northern Nigeria
Caught amid a struggle between the Nigerian Army and militant fundamentalist group Boko Haram, residents of northern Nigeria have had to endure the destruction of telecom infrastructure (reportedly by insurgents) for nearly a year. Last month, they faced a communications shutdown in the state of Borno, the result of what an army spokesperson described as a counter attack strategy against Boko Haram. In 2013, residents of northern states of Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe filed a lawsuit against the government, four telcos, and the Nigerian Communications Commission for violating their right to communicate.
In response to allegations of government corruption circulating online, Turkish authorities blocked YouTube last week, after blocking Twitter several days prior. Google reported that most Turkish ISPs had “set up servers that masquerade as Google’s DNS service,” thwarting attempts by Turkish netizens to circumvent the ban.
While Prime Minister Erdogan has long been critical of social media, these particularly harsh censorship measures came in the days leading up to national elections, which took place on March 30. Shortly after his Justice and Development party claimed victory, Erdogan vowed to make his political enemies “pay the price.”
Privacy: Money, ID cards and thumbprints — the new price of a SIM card in Balochistan
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) announced that in order to sell SIM cards in Sindh and Balochistan (two provinces rattled by separatist violence) vendors must use the Biometric SIM Verification System, which matches a prospective buyer’s thumbprint and identity card to his or her record in the government’s database. Meanwhile, Pakistani telcos worry that this will deter purchases and potentially drive criminals to neighboring provinces.
UFC-Que Choisir (“what to choose”), a French consumer protection watchdog, filed a lawsuit and launched a campaign [fr] against Facebook, Google, and Twitter for “abusive” and “illegal” data privacy practices and for failing to modify their privacy policies. In a statement, the group accused the companies of shirking responsibility: “If the social media networks are particularly greedy in terms of data, they are dieting when it comes to responsibility.”
Obama Administration proposals for overhauling the United States’ electronic surveillance programs have been met with criticism due to “significant ambiguities,” particularly around communications between Americans and US citizens living abroad or other people overseas. The US is under pressure from the international community to reform these practices, and received calls by the UN Human Rights Committee to ensure its surveillance activities comply with its obligations to respect privacy rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political RIghts. ISPs criticized for being complicit in bulk surveillance are also taking a stand: Verizon argued companies “should not be required to create, analyze or retain records for reasons other than business purposes.”
Industry: Google transparency report number nine
Google released its ninth transparency report, issued this week, shows that government requests for user information in relation to criminal cases increased by 120% since the company published its first report in 2009. Google also posted an informational video on how it deals with such requests, highlighting the steps the company takes to protect users from government overreach.
Professional networking site LinkedIn is now a full member of the multistakeholder Global Network Initiative.
Internet Insecurity: Pakistan’s crime prevention law overreaches, say rights advocates
Draft legislation prepared by Pakistan’s Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications would criminalize illegal access to and interference with programs, data or information systems, electronic fraud, and unauthorized interception of communication, among other things. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act of Pakistan 2014 is currently being prepared for presentation before Pakistan’s Parliament. Advocacy groups including Digital Rights Foundation and Article 19 have issued detailed criticism of the bill.
Netizen Activism: Russian activists thwart censorship with mirrors, kittens
In response to blocks on a number of opposition websites by Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor, free speech activists have found a way to bypass online censorship and start counter-attacks by deploying a network of mirrors of the blocked site, and using sites featuring harmless content such as cat photos as decoys.
April 4 will mark 404 Day, a day of action to call attention to Internet censorship in public libraries and public schools in the US.
Publications and Studies
“Cyber Laws: Tools for Protecting or Restricting Freedom of Expression?” – Cambodian Center for Human Rights
“Buying Compliance: Governmental Advertising and Soft Censorship in Mexico” – WAN-IFRA, Center for International Media Assistance, Fundar Center for Analysis and Research, and ARTICLE 19
“Closing the Gap: Indian Online Intermediaries and a Liability System Not Yet Fit for Purpose” – Global Network Initiative
“Iranian Internet Infrastructure and Policy Report” – Small Media
Report on Internet Freedom and Online Safety in Uganda – Speak Out Uganda