Netizen Report: Cybercrime Edition

Originally published on October 4, 2012 on Global Voices Advocacy

Image courtesy Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance

Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Tom Risen, Weiping Li, Renata Avila, Alex Laverty, Sarah Myers, and Rebecca MacKinnon

A new law in the Philippines, which took effect on October 3, 2012, is intended to combat cybercrime but could jeopardize online free expression. The Philippines was ranked sixth for the freest Internet in the world according to the Freedom on the Net 2012 report published by the Washington D.C.-based advocacy group Freedom House. Yet the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, filed as Republic Act (RA) No. 10175, broadens the coverage of libel as a punishable offense and also adds identity theft, cybersex and child pornography to a list of “cybercrimes”. Some charges such as cybersex would carry penalties of up to 12 years in jail. See previous Global Voices coverage of the law, and reactions to it, here and here.

Social media is a major focus of the law, prompting protests on October 2 by netizens across the Philippines who blacked out text and photos on their social media pages. Six petitions requesting a temporary restraint against implementing the law have been sent to the government by academics, lawmakers and bloggers, claiming it is “unconstitutional due to vagueness.” Several government websites were hacked and blacked out by a group identified as ‘Anonymous Philippines.’

Human Rights Watch has condemned the passage of the new law and called for it to be revised or repealed to better preserve free speech. The Electronic Frontier Foundation also criticized the law’s potential for misuse because of the broad legal interpretation of libel in the Philippines.

Censorship

Two Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Paraguay blocked access to a website entitled ABColor.me, without a warrant. After free speech and consumer rights advocates raised criticisms of the censorship the ISPs resumed access to the website, which allows uploading of user generated content but resembles a Paraguayan newspaper called ABC Color [es].

Swedish police raided web host PeRiQuito AB, which hosts whistleblower website WikiLeaks and used to host the content-sharing website Pirate Bay.

After pressure from the Sudanese security forces, a newspaper, Al-Intibaha [ar], censored a print edition opinion article about provisions of an independence treaty between Sudan and the recently created South Sudan. Yet on its website the paper published an article debating the pros and cons of the treaty and decryring government censorship pressure.

During the United Nations General Assembly meeting, Egypt’s democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi called for legislation to limit speech that mocks Islam in response to the YouTube video “Innocence of Muslims”. Also speaking at the UN, President Obama called for nations to uphold the right to free speech “even when it is hateful.”

Google’s Chief Executive in Brazil, Fabio Jose Silva Coelho, was detained briefly by police after the company resisted a court order to remove a campaign video that attacked a mayoral candidate in that nation’s elections. Brazilian judges have historically held executives responsible for resisting removal of online videos. Google censored access to the political video, but now faces another court order to remove the anti-Islam film clip also hosted on YouTube.

Meanwhile, Google announced it would censor access to the anti-Islam film in Russia, after a court in Chechnya upheld censorship of the film on the grounds that it could incite extremist reactions.

Chinese search engine company Baidu is seeking to quash a lawsuit filed against it in New York for censoring content created by New York-based pro-democracy groups.

Thuggery

According to the Twitter account of livestreaming video phone application Bambuser, a Syrian activist has been arrested by secret police simply for having the phone application, which has been very useful for publishing content as civil war continues to rage in that country.

Russian blogger Alexey Navalny is facing criminal investigation after a former corporation director alleged he was involved in embezzlement. Navalny has claimed innocence in this case.

Russian police also raided the Internet site URA.ru after prosecutors in the Urals region opened an embezzlement case against the publication, which critics state is politically motivated by the publication’s criticism of authorities in the region.

Tensions in Bangladesh flared up between Muslims and the minority Buddhists after a Facebook post of a desecrated Islamic Koran was blamed for instigating the destruction of 10 Buddhist temples and 40 homes near the border with Myanmar. Muslim Rohingyas from neighboring Myanmar and political opponents of the Bangladesh government were cited as instigators of what the government called a premeditated attack. The Facebook account hosting the photo was closed. For background on these tensions see the Netizen Report: Transition Edition.

Surveillance

Warrantless surveillance of electronic communications by federal agencies has dramatically increased the past few years, according to United States Department of Justice documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Also in the United States, this week marked the opening of a new Supreme Court term, during which cases on the docket will include the Amnesty et al v. Clapper case assessing the right of journalists and activists to challenge the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the constitutionality of warrantless government surveillance.

Privacy

According to a blog post by Joey Tyson, a Facebook privacy engineer, Facebook’s new advertising features to “help people discover products that are interesting to them.” Privacy groups disagree. The EFF has a detailed analysis of Facebook’s partnership with the marketing company Datalogic with instructions on how to opt out.

Cybersecurity

Software company Adobe’s internal server was hacked and the hackers created malicious files signed with a valid Adobe certificate. Adobe has investigated the hacking and plans to revoke the impacted certificates.

The White House confirmed an attempted attack on an unclassified network via “spear phishing” malware last week.

National policy

A Russian organization named the Foundation for the Development of Civil Society (which does not yet have its own website) will soon publish research on the current state and trends of the Russian Internet. The research shows that Russia’s Internet population has increased significantly, and highlights the close connections RuNet’s top websites have with foreign capital. This research has been deemed as controversial not only because of its conclusions but also because the creator of the foundation is the former deputy head of internal politics under President Dmitri Medvedev.

Metamorphosis: Foundation for Internet and Society has issued a statement urging the Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia to reject a draft law on civil liability for insult and defamation.

Copyright

Japan updated its copyright law to penalize downloaders of copyright infringing material with a two-year jail sentence or a fine of 2 million yen, which is approximately US$ 25,680.

Online radio station Pandora finds itself on the same side as the National Association of Broadcasters and Clear Channel on the Internet Radio Fairness Act, which would lower the rates Pandora and other Internet radio stations pay to performers and record labels. Pandora is using its Internet radio platform to generate support from its listeners for the legislation.

In an open letter to the Panamanian President, a number of civil society groups and NGOs called on the President to reject proposed legislation passed by the country’s legislature which one report has called “the worst copyright bill in history.” The letter describes the legislation as compromising citizens’ privacy and empowering rights-holders in ways that hamper the exchange of ideas.

Portugal’s Attorney General decided it is legal to share copyrighted works for personal use, and that an IP address is not enough evidence to identify a person.

Sovereigns of cyberspace

Social media site Odnoklassniki.ru has expanded its Central Asian and Eastern European presence by launching a Kyrgyz language version of its mobile site.

Online payment service Stripe has announced new measures to improve transparency on legal process: the company is cooperating with Chilling Effects, a project run by Electronic Frontier Foundation and several law schools to track takedown demands, and will report legal requests from third parties which ask Stripe to stop providing service to users; the company has also promised to first notice the users when the company is required by governments or litigants to disclose the users’ information.

Internet governance

The Article 29 Working Party of the European Union wrote to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) calling proposals for stricter identification of domain name registration on the Whois database “excessive and therefore unlawful.” The working party criticized the potential misuse of the Whois database, a feature maintained by ICANN to help them manage the global domain name system.

During a speech about the upcoming World Conference on Telecommunications (WCIT), Hamadoun Touré, secretary general of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), reasserted that Internet governance would not be a focus of the international conference slated for December, when the ITU will examine the international telecom treaty signed in 1988.

Netizen activism

A bus tour organized by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian will begin in early October to showcase the Declaration of Internet Freedom he helped endorse.

After criticism from groups such as press freedom advocacy group Reporters Without Borders the Ukrainian Parliament rejected a draft law [uk] that proposed sentences of up to five years in prison for defamation speech.

Cool things

Wikipedia ran a global contest through September 30, called Wiki Loves Monuments, to boost photo submissions to the website. Prizes include paid trips to the Wikimania 2013 conference in Hong Kong.

An ‘Enemies of the Internet’ infographic published on Mashable and created by OpenSite illustrates statistics and maps on global Internet freedom.

Publications and studies

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