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 Turkey, where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to a block on major social media sites, assuming that he is re-elected later this month. Erdoğan has been humiliated with recording after recording surfacing on the Internet and implicating him in a vast corruption scandal involving media intimidation, among other things. He blames his political enemies—especially the exiled spiritual leader Fethullah Gulen—for fabricating recordings and disseminating them on social media. YouTube was blocked from 2008 to 2010 after users posted videos the government said were insulting to the republic’s founder, Ataturk. But President Abdullah Gul says that today, such measures are “out of the question.”
Free Expression: Networks under threat in Ukraine
Internet users in Ukraine have been spared from an Internet blackout throughout the Euromaidan protests thanks in part to Ukraine’s substantial Internet infrastructure, according to network analysis firm Renesys. This is in stark contrast to countries like Syria whose connectivity depends on a tenuous two internationally connected Internet service providers.
But communication networks in the country are still vulnerable. In the Crimea, Ukraine’s Ukrtelecom reported that “unidentified uniformed people” seized several of its key telecom nodes and damaged its fiber optic cables and zone networks, resulting in a partial communication shutdown. Crimea may be more vulnerable than the rest of Ukraine because it has only one Internet exchange point controlling all traffic in the peninsula.
In April, Brunei’s new penal code will extend Sharia law to cover adultery, alcohol consumption, and homosexuality, among other offenses. The impending reforms have triggered outrage from digital communities in the country, prompting Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah to warned online critics of the law that they could soon face prosecution. Brunei is the first East Asian country to implement the Sharia law at the national level.
Thuggery: 100 days in prison, but no trial for Egyptian blogger
March 8 marked Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah’s 100th day behind bars. He was beaten and arrested after being accused of organizing a protest without obtaining legal permission, but has yet to stand trial. Abd El Fattah’s family sent a statement to RightsCon via US-based advocacy group Access, which is available here.
Surveillance: Public funding for Italy’s Hacking Team?
According to Privacy International, the Milan-based surveillance technology company Hacking Team may have received more than one million euros of public funding linked to the Italian region of Lombardy. A recent report by CitizenLab suggested that Hacking Team’s spyware has been used in Azerbaijan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and many other countries.
Industry: Facebook can haz drones
Facebook may soon acquire solar-powered drone makers Titan Aerospace in order to bring Internet access to five billion people as part of its Internet.org initiative. Titan’s drones, an affordable alternative to orbital satellites, could help narrow the digital divide in countries with low Internet penetration and presumably usher in a new generation of loyal Facebook users.
China debuted a new state-run search engine called ChinaSo that bears an uncanny resemblance to Google. It will be jointly managed by staff from the Communist Party's People's Daily newspaper and the Xinhua News Agency.
Internet Insecurity: Tor “attracts its share of jerks”
According to research by Kaspersky Lab, a growing number of botnets and “darknet” markets similar to the Silk Road are using the Tor anonymity network. As InfoWorld points out, “Tor has long had its dark side but the scale of its use by criminals appears to have expanded quite rapidly in the last year.” Tor’s FAQ says that “like all privacy-oriented networks on the net, it attracts its share of jerks” but that its team “feel[s] that we're doing pretty well at striking a balance currently.”
Netizen Activism: Let’s all use encryption
Edward Snowden accused the United States government of “setting fire to the future of the Internet” in a video appearance at the South by Southwest festival. He called on the tech community to protect the Internet by increasing their use of encryption and developing new encryption tools. Somewhat ironically, US government intelligence folks seem to agree – the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and State Department both called for greater use of encryption by US citizens this week.
March 15 will mark the second anniversary of the imprisonment of Syrian web developer and activist Bassel Khartabil, who represented the Creative Commons network in Syria and worked with many international tech initiatives including Mozilla, Fabricatorz and others. Supporters around the world will come together to honor Bassel and advocate for his release this Saturday. Learn about #FreeBasselDay events here.
Publications and Studies
Blue Coat Errors: Sites Miscategorized as “Pornography” – The Citizen Lab
The Murky State of Canadian Telecommunications Surveillance – The Citizen Lab
Cell Phones in North Korea: Has North Korea Entered the Telecommunications Revolution? – Yonho Kim, U.S.-Korea Institute and Voice of America
Enhancing Censorship Resistance in the Tor Anonymity Network – Philipp Winter, Karlstad University Faculty of Health, Science, and Technology
Information technology: The Power and Responsibility of Business – Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
What Next?: The Quest to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists in a Digital World – Cynthia Romero, Freedom House