Originally published on October 25, 2012 on Global Voices Advocacy.
This week Zambia and Malawi moved to regulate online speech by seeking to censor and silence the media in their respective countries. It remains to be seen whether this is an example of the growing pains of democratization in Southern Africa or part of a growing trend toward networked authoritarianism – a new form of authoritarian governance that is capable of adapting and surviving in a globally networked world.
In Zambia, the Sata Administration has banned the online news site Zambian Watchdog, claiming that the organization promotes hate speech. Pressure has been mounting all month: the regional media NGO, the Media Institute of Southern Africa, issued an alert on 5 October calling attention to the erosion of Internet freedom in the country.
In Malawi, despite a smooth constitutional transfer of presidential power earlier this year after the death of President Mutharika, journalist Justice Mponda was arrested on libel charges shortly after a new online regulatory bill was introduced in Parliament. See this Global Voices report for more details on the arrest; Mponda has since been released on bail. Dubbed the E-Bill, the legislation was presented by the government as a way to manage the development and deployment of ICT in the country. However critics argue that the bill threatens key constitutional rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press. More details on the E-bill are available here and here.
British magazine New Statesman has published an issue in Chinese edited by the famous Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei. This issue includes several articles discussing sensitive topics that are forbidden in Chinese media. To avoid censorship, the magazine is in digital format and can be downloaded as a PDF from the file-sharing website Dropbox.
Users from China and Hong Kong have reported that the popular mobile phone message service WeChat, a product of the Chinese web service company Tencent, has censored [zh] sensitive keywords such as the name of recently ousted political leader “Bo Xilai.” Users are asked by the application service to “readjust your text before sending your message” if their messages contain censored words.
Four Bahraini Twitter users Ali Al-Haiki, Abdullah Al-Hashimi, Ali Mohamed and Salman Abdullah have been arrested for “defaming public figures in social media.”
In Turkey, pianist and composer Fazil Say has also been charged with insulting religious values through his tweets. Say was put on trial on June 1.
As social media has become popular among Ugandan young people, the country’s police chief has pushed for more surveillance of social media to prevent dissemination of “dangerous” information.
The Pakistani government has ordered the country’s telecommunication services providers to install surveillance equipment to monitor email and voice communications from abroad.
The Dutch government has proposed a law to grant police the authority to install spyware, detect and destroy files in computers, including those located in other countries.
Last week saw the launch of a new mobile communications encryption application, Silent Circle. It is designed to secure communications against surveillance and counter growing demands from governments’ requests for user data is now on the market. This service will limit the data it stores and promises to publish a transparency report on requests it receives from law enforcement.
A government-appointed panel in India has proposed a new Privacy Act to protect individuals by articulating guidelines on the interception, use and storage of data.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that employees should have reasonable expectation of their privacy while using office computers in a trial between a school and its staff member who allegedly copied nude student photos to his computer.
AdWeek discovered last week that Facebook is offering a service to “priority” marketers, through which certain corporate can gain access to a tool that collects data related to other pages “liked” by their fans.
The European Parliament has endorsed stricter export control of “digital arms” – technologies that are used by authoritarian regimes to monitor, track and trace citizens.
In Singapore, an ASEAN scholar could be charged for uploading explicit photos and videos of himself and his girlfriend to his blog, according to Channel News Asia.
Using Viber and other VOIP services via mobile could be banned in Myanmar because of the absence of contracts between the ministry and users, according to an engineer from Myanmar’s Ministry of Communication.
Major United States Internet service providers including AT&T, Verizon and Comcast will implement the so-called “six-strike” copyright alert system in November. According to information revealed by the Center for Copyright Information (CCI), the ISPs will first alert the users who have downloaded files infringing copyright. If the users ignore the alert, the ISPs will slow down the Internet speed and direct users to an online tutorial program. A leaked AT&T internal document obtained by BitTorrent news blog TorrentFreak revealed that content owners may take legal action against users after the fifth warning.
According to the results of the American Assembly’s ‘Copy Culture Survey’, file-sharers in the US and Germany buy more music content than those who do not use file sharing networks.
A case of alleged illegal filesharing by a student was withdrawn with no specified reason by Recording Industry Association of New Zealand, who had asked for NZ$ 2,699.25 (US$ 2,223.38) in penalties. This would have been one of the first cases of illegal filesharing to be heard by the Copyright Tribunal.
The Swedish filesharing website the Pirate Bay has moved its service to the cloud, hoping that this move will cut down costs and make police raids more difficult.
Sovereigns of cyberspace
French newspaper publishers have advocated for a law to charge search engines for media content shown on search results. Google responded in a letter to the French government that its search results have helped to redirect four billion clicks to the media websites, and it would rather remove these media websites from its search results than pay to list them.
A similar scenario is playing out in Brazil. Since last year, 154 newspapers, which amount to more than 90% of Brazil’s total newspaper circulation, have terminated their cooperation with Google News after the search engine giant refused to pay for the right to use headlines from these newspapers.
ICANN has launched a new website myICANN.org to provide stakeholders with information about ICANN and collaboration tools for the community.
The Center for Democracy and Technology detailed in this document how the drafted revisions to the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR), which may be discussed in the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in December, could have a negative impact on the Internet and would further threaten global economic development.
Unknown hackers have targeted online voting for the Russian opposition’s “Coordinating Council,” where people against the Kremlin are voting for their leaders. The candidates in the election claimed that the Kremlin was behind the attack.
Tajikistan journalists organized an anti-censorship campaign called “100 Days for Internet Freedom in TajNet” which condemns the blocking of online websites including YouTube and BBC.
Co-founder and coordinator of a Live Mapping community called Standby Task Force, Jaroslav Valuch, explained trends and challenges for new media activists.
The Pirate Parties in Europe have scored another victory in a national election: Libor Michálek has been elected to be the first Pirate Party senator in the Czech Republic.
Netizens in Costa Rica have widely discussed a controversial cybercrime law which criminalizes leaking political information online, punishes those who impersonate others on the Internet, and makes “spreading false news” a crime. The local civil society has demanded to have a conversation with the government and has asked for revisions to the law.
Google now allows users to explore their data centers using Google maps street view and a photo gallery.
Anonymous users in Russia can now submit the details of bribes they paid using a new iPhone/iPad app called Bribr which serves to show the statistics of bribes paid and received.
The Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention will “award prize money of up to $10,000 to the problem-solvers who develop innovative concept papers and prototypes to help prevent mass atrocities.”
Publications and studies
- OECD: Internet Economy Outlook
- Internet Society: How the Internet Continues to Sustain Growth and Innovation
- Lee Rainie, Aaron Smith, Kay Lehman Schlozman, Henry Brady, Sidney Verba: Social Media and Political Engagement.
- Carleen Maitland, H F Thomas III (Trey), Louis-Marie Ngamassi Tchouakeu: Internet Censorship Circumvention Technology Use in Human Rights Organizations: An Exploratory Analysis.
- Open Net Initiative: Update on information controls in Burma
- Committee to Protect Journalists: Turkey’s Press Freedom Crisis
- Alternative Informatics Association: What has happened on the Internet in Turkey in 2012?: “Progress Report”
- International Modern Media Institute: Islands of Resiliance: Comparative Model for Energy, Connectivity and Jurisdiction: Realizing European ICT possibilities through a case study of Iceland
For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.