Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. June has seen a spike in threats to bloggers and online activists across the globe, from Iraq to China to Tajikistan, where authorities detained University of Toronto PhD student and Global Voices author Alex Sodiqov on June 16. A well-known as an analyst in Central Asia, Sodiqov was carrying out fieldwork on conflict resolution in Tajikistan’s troubled Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. The day after his disappearance, Tajik state security officials released a statement confirming that Sodiqov had been detained for carrying out “subversion and espionage” on behalf of a foreign country. On the contrary, as his academic advisor put it, “Alexander is a researcher, not a spy.” Supporters are using the hashtag #FreeAlexSodiqov to call for his release.
Meanwhile, YouTube and Google were partially inaccessible this week after local officials told Radio Free Europe that it had nothing to do with the issue, blaming “technical problems.” But Asomuddin Atoev, chairman of Tajikistan’s Association of Internet Service Providers, suggested that the government may have requested that Internet service providers block the sites. The Tajik government has issued a number of restrictions on media recently, including blocking independent news website Asia Plus after it published an article that criticized Tajikistan’s leaders and intellectual class.
Free Expression: China closes millions of “dirty” WeChat accounts
China’s Ministry of Information and Information Technology has its sights set on Apple’s iMessage as the next target in its campaign against fraud, porn, and rumors online. Chinese company Tencent, which was also targeted in the crackdown, closed several million WeChat accounts for cybercrime after it was singled out as a platform that needed to be “cleaned up”.
Amid escalating conflict in Iraq this week, reports confirmed that the nation’s Ministry of Telecommunications ordered ISPs to block Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other major platforms and then called for the Internet to be shut down in five provinces on June 16. The Ministry appears to be taking extreme measures after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki failed to convince Iraq’s Parliament to declare a state of emergency in the country in response to violence committed by the militant Islamic group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The Ministry also called for bans on access to virtual private networks between the hours of 4pm and 7am. Instructions (Arabic only) on how to circumvent the block using Tor are available at here.
Despite Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir’s pledge to loosen restrictions on the press, security authorities have been busy confiscating print publications and subjecting reporters to political pressure. According to Khartoum-based Journalists for Human Rights, at least 14 journalists were brought in for questioning during the last week of May for spreading what Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman calls “false news,” or on accusations such as sedition and disclosing official documents. The minister has called the measures normal in a “fragile country”, and a means for the government to “maintain and expand the margins of freedom”.
Still, Sudanese reporters at independent news sites like al-Tareeq [ar] are playing on those margins by turning to the Internet as a space for discussion of sensitive issues such as police brutality and corporal punishment. They’re using encrypted connections to evade censorship and retain anonymity.
Late last month, Hungary’s Constitutional Court ruled that website operators must shoulder full liability for “any comments to blog posts or news commentary” posted on their sites that violate Hungary’s notoriously restrictive media law. This decree and the recent firing of a hard-hitting online news editor have elicited protest and upheaval among media workers and open Internet advocates in the country.
A new and startling decision from a provincial court in Canada may force Google to remove links to a fraudulent website from search results not only in Canada, but worldwide. This could bode poorly for search engine liability in future cases.
Privacy: Netizens in Canada win some, lose some
In a rare win for online privacy, Canada’s Supreme Court found the voluntary sharing of ISP subscriber information to be unconstitutional.
Hong Kong’s Privacy Commissioner Allan Chiang Yam-wang announced that he wanted a “right to be forgotten” for his constituents. The statement came as 15 countries, including the United States, New Zealand, and Canada, gathered in Seoul, South Korea, for the 41st Asia Pacific Privacy Authorities forum this week.
Nominet, the Internet registry for .uk domains, is now requiring website owners who receive compensation (including via minor text ads) to make public their names and physical addresses.
Industry: Microsoft goes to bat for a user
Microsoft challenged a federal prosecutor request to hand over a customer’s email stored in a data center located in Ireland, potentially making itself the first company to challenge a domestic search warrant requesting digital information of its customers overseas.
Google will put notifications at the bottom of web pages on which links have been erased in connection with the European Court of Justice ruling last month granting European Union (EU) residents the “right to be forgotten.” Google has launched an online form where users may request removal of content, which they believe to be “inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant.”
Internet Insecurity: World Cup kicks off with J. Lo, DDoS attacks
Hackers associating themselves with the Anonymous collective claimed responsibility for a series of DDoS attacks conducted against a number of websites linked to the World Cup, including a state government and Brazil’s intelligence agency. According to a hacker calling himself Che Commodore, the group is targeting companies and institutions responsible for violations of Brazilian citizens’ rights in the name of a “private, exclusive and corrupt sports event”.
Publications and Studies
“Latin American and Caribbean Cyber Security Trends” – Symantec and the Organization of American States
Brazil: A New Global Internet Referee? — Melody Patry, Index on Censorship
“Soft Censorship, Hard Impact: A Global Review” – World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers