Freedom Online Conference: Keynote Speech on Surveillance

Remarks at the opening ceremony of the Freedom Online Conference

Tunis, Tunisia. June 17, 2013.

(As written prior to delivery,  UPDATED ROUGHLY AS DELIVERED, relevant hyperlinks added.)

Thank you so much Moez.

It is a real honor to be invited as the only non-governmental speaker at this opening ceremony – and the only woman!

Congratulations to the Tunisian government organizers and to you Moez, for all you have done to make this conference possible, and thank you also Moez for all the important work you have done for the new Tunisia – and for the global Internet community.

Congratulations also to the people of Tunisia.

Those of you who have connected to the wireless Internet in this room will notice that in addition to the Sheraton wifi signal there is another signal, “openwireless.org.” That signal is generated by a group of hackers and activists from a room called the #404lab – in reference to the 404 browser error associated with censorship under the old regime. In fact, that lab is in a building that was once a private home of the dictator Ben Ali.

Speaking here today is especially meaningful for be because the first time I came to Tunis was in 2005 – for the United Nations World Summit for the Information Society. The Internet was censored. Tunisian civil society groups critical of the previous government were kept far away from the conference hall.

I came because I was invited to moderate a panel sponsored by the Dutch organization, Hivos, on the theme of  “Expression under repression.”  Our panel was almost canceled. Some of the people in charge at the time said the subject matter was unrelated to the designated theme of the conference’s NGO forum: “ICT for Development.”

We were able to proceed only after a diplomatic intervention by the Netherlands. Bloggers form China, Iran, Malaysia, and Zimbabwe spoke about the challenges and threats faced by citizen media in their countries. Then a member of the audience stood up and criticized our motives: Our topic, freedom of speech, was not relevant she said to developing countries.

Governments, she said, must first solve the problems of feeding, clothing, and housing before addressing other demands. I asked the panelists to respond to her critique. Taurai Maduna of Zimbawe immediately said: “Without freedom of speech, I can’t talk about who is stealing my food.”

The people of Tunisia have made it very clear that they agree.

Tunisia – like any new democracy – is now struggling to figure out how to balance all kinds of conflicting economic, social, cultural, and religious interests. It is inevitable that there will be never-ending tensions between the government’s duty to protect national security and fight crime, and the imperative of protecting civil liberties and human rights.

The world’s oldest modern democracies continue to struggle with that tension. The Internet has extended that tension into a new, more challenging and often confusing dimension. In fact my own country the United States is now facing something of a crisis over how to balance the government’s national security responsibilities with respect for fundamental – universal – human rights.

For those of you on Twitter, you may have noticed that one of the participants pledged to have a drink every time the U.S. National Security Agency’s surveillance program, PRISM, is mentioned in the plenary. So: prism, prism prism, prism, prism. Now if you see somebody stumbling around the corridors you’ll know who that person is.

The responsibility of a government to protect human rights relates not only to its own citizens but to people everywhere in the world who are using the Internet services that are based in or pass through its jurisdiction.

The governments that joined the Freedom Online Coalition deserve the world’s praise in taking two vital steps: recognizing that human rights extend to the Internet; and making a shared commitment to preserving and nurturing a free and open, globally interconnected Internet.

But without a third step that effort will fail. We are not going to have a free and open global Internet if citizens of democracies continue to allow their governments to get away with pervasive surveillance that lacks sufficient transparency and public accountability – mechanisms to prevent its abuse against all Internet users wherever they are connecting from.

Nobody will have good reason to trust any networks or platforms run by foreign organizations or companies – or trust any service whose communications traffic might cross through any jurisdiction whose government is not committed to being accountable and honest about its surveillance practices.

The Internet’s balkanization is inevitable unless and until we make a shared commitment to mechanisms, norms and standards that will hold government surveillance – and corporate business practices including compliance with surveillance demands – appropriately accountable to universal human rights standards.

A minister from one of the Freedom Online Coalition countries recently remarked on a conference panel that surveillance is not an obstacle to Internet freedom because it is discrete. That’s like saying execution by lethal injection is humane because it is painless.

Certainly, there is a real difference between countries where public debate about surveillance is made impossible by censorship and repression – facilitated of course by surveillance – and countries where it is in fact politically and legally possible for journalists and bloggers to report on government abuses, or write commentaries criticizing their leaders, in response to revelations about the abuse and over-extension of government surveillance powers.

But human history is a story of how un-checked power has always been abused, whatever good intentions those in power may hold at the beginning.

If surveillance is so discrete that there is no meaningful way to hold the abusers accountable, then democracy will be degraded and corroded.

The breakdown of democracy under pervasive unaccountable surveillance will happen subtly and gradually – unobtrusively – like a frog in a pot with the temperature rising so slowly the frog doesn’t notice until he’s nearly cooked.

Meanwhile governments of all kinds of political systems all over the world will point to the widespread deployment of unobtrusive and pervasive surveillance by the developed democracies to justify their own surveillance states as so-called “standard international practice.” Thus making it harder for citizens to use the Internet to expose government officials who may be stealing their food without being caught and punished immediately.

A recent report by the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Frank La Rue could not have come too soon. In it he presented examples from all over the world of exactly how pervasive and unaccountable surveillance threatens freedom of expression – and how this reality holds true for democracies and dictatorships alike.

He made several recommendations that will require effort but should be achievable. They include:

  • Updating and strengthening laws and legal standards to ensure that surveillance is conducted only in a manner that is publicly accountable.
  • Allowing and facilitating private, secure and anonymous communications.
  • Regulating the commercialization of surveillance technology.
  • Educating the public on the facts and implications of surveillance.
  • And making sure that international human rights mechanisms and frameworks are up to the task of identifying and constraining abuses by private and public entities alike.

Given the globally interconnected nature of the Internet it will not be enough if one or two enlightened democracies stand up and implement these recommendations while everyone else carries on as they presently do.

It is equally vital that the companies on whose platforms and services we depend – for practically everything in our lives these days – commit to technical and design standards, as well as business practices, that are consistent with universal human rights principles and standards.

Here in Tunis, the governments of the Freedom Online Coalition, civil society and private sector companies should commit to a multi-stakeholder process, working with civil society and the private sector, to determine how Mr. La Rue’s sensible recommendations can be implemented, along with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and other related principles like the Global Network Initiative‘s principles for the ICT sector on free expression and privacy. These must be implemented across the Freedom Online Coalition community and beyond. Here in Tunis we should come up with a plan and timetable for doing so.

That process will not be easy. It will make the efforts we have made thus far on behalf of a free and open Internet look like a walk in the park compared to the mountain we must now climb.

But we must start immediately. Winter is coming.

The window of opportunity to salvage our shared vision of a free and open Internet is closing fast. Our way forward could soon be blocked – unless we get moving. Right now.

May the force be with you – always.

[Note: Some of the most iconic Star Wars scenes for many of the movies were shot in Tunisia, and the Dutch foreign minister’s speech at the beginning of the opening ceremony contained multiple Star Wars references.]

Afterword to the Paperback Edition: Confronting surveillance

The paperback edition of Consent of the Networked came out in late April. I wrote the Afterword last December. It begins:

I ended Consent of the Networked with a call for action, and in 2012 netizens around the world proved they are willing to act, as demonstrated by the movement’s recent successes. But while we have gained momentum, we face continuing challenges in the pursuit of digital liberty that will not easily be overcome.

The most difficult challenges, I argued, are posed by the already well-entrenched, pervasive, unaccountable surveillance in the United States and other democracies. That argument has been vindicated, unfortunately, by recent news about the U.S. government’s surveillance programs.

Writing in December I concluded:

Citizens of democracies, companies that understand that they can build long-term global value for their brand by earning trust with their users, and politicians who understand the need to protect and strengthen the digital commons (even if mainly out of self-interest) must unite to demand a national and global reconsideration of already deeply entrenched surveillance laws, technologies, and corporate practices. There needs to be a more robust public debate about the facts of digital surveillance in democracies, the implications for accountable governance and social justice—and what can be done now that the surveillance state has already been allowed to reach too far, too fast. That debate requires data and information that companies as well as democratic governments have so far been reluctant to share. Companies claiming to support a free and open Internet and that benefit from the existence of a robust global digital commons are doing the commons no favors unless and until they agree to publish systematic and useable information about their relationships with governments.

Furthermore, governments that want their citizens to believe that their support for global Internet freedom and citizens’ digital rights is genuine—and not shallow political rhetoric—must make sure that laws are not preventing companies from releasing such information. All governments that intend to keep calling themselves “democratic” with a straight face should publish their own transparency reports so that engaged citizens can see enough of the whole picture that they can grant or withdraw consent for, or divest from, the surveillance systems and procedures governments and companies have built. Until these things happen, Western democracies and Western companies will remain net exporters of surveillance technologies, legal norms, and business practices that facilitate political abuse of surveillance powers by repressive regimes—and that will ultimately corrode existing democracies.

Getting governments and companies to do these things will make the fights against ACTA, SOPA, and ITU Internet incursion look trivial in comparison. The global movement for digital liberty spread its wings and took flight in 2012, but the real tests of its strength and agility have yet to come.

The whole chapter is available online here.

2013 Goldsmith Book Prize!

prize ceremony

Photo uploaded to Twitter by user @JFKJrForum.

It was a tremendous honor to receive the 2013 Goldsmith Book Prize in the Trade category last week from the Shorenstein Center on the Press and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Also honored were Jonathan M. Ladd in the Academic category for his book, Why Americans Hate the Media and How it Matters.  An investigative team from the Chicago Tribune won the investigative journalism prize, and the New York Times’ Nick Kristof received the Career Award for Excellence in Journalism. Full video and audio of the ceremony, plus a Storify curation of tweets and photos, can be found here.

Netizen Report: WCIT Edition

Originally published December 6, 2012 on Global Voices Advocacy.

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ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade speaks at the opening ceremony at WCIT 2012, courtesy of Flickr user itupictures (CC BY 2.0)

This report was researched, written, and edited by Alex Laverty, Weiping Li, Renata Avila, Hisham Almiraat, Chan Myae Khine, Sarah Myers, and Rebecca MacKinnon.

The World Conference on Information Technology (WCIT) which opened in Dubai on Monday, 3 December 2012, is being hailed as ‘The Battle for Control of the Internet’, ‘The Conference to Define the Future of the Internet’, and ‘The UN Takeover of the Internet’ among other colorful headings. Officially, the meeting of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the 193 member countries is to review the current International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) that essentially serve as the rules of digital connections and interoperability of telecommunications and satellite networks. They do not currently cover Internet protocols, resources, or governance, and there is much controversy over whether they should.

Experts from Vint Cerf to Tim Berners-Lee have weighed in on the decisions that could be made at this week’s conference. Google, joining forces with civil society from around the world, has launched a campaign to make their position clear: the ITU should keep its hands off the Internet. However Google’s agenda has been criticized by ITU Chief Hamadoun Toure, who said that Google is “abusing its power”.

Two primary concerns among netizens and civil society are that countries that deploy heavy-handed censorship and surveilance will use the opportunity to define the global rules for the Internet in a way that favors greater worldwide censorship and surveillance, and that the UN will propose it take over the domain name coordination functions of ICANN. There is also concern that telecommunications companies which have lost revenue as people replace international phone calls with email and voice chat, will try to regain lost revenue by redistributing bandwith costs to Internet companies – which Internet companies and many users will stifle innovation and make free social networking services less accessible.

News coverage on this issue has been extensive, however good articles with background on WCIT 2012 are found in The New York Times, Council on Foreign Relations, Mashable, and Wired. Also be sure to check out recent coverage of WCIT on Global Voices Advocacy, plus a great breakdown of the issues and resources by our very own Ellery Biddle.

Internet Governance

Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla signed the Declaration of Internet Freedom in advance of the upcoming ITU meeting in Dubai. Costa Rican courts declared Internet access to be a fundamental right two years ago.

In the name of supporting innovation and keeping the cost of internet access low, Kenya will oppose broadening the mandate of the ITU at this week’s World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai (WCIT-12)

South Africa moved closer to hosting the administration of the .africa generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) with Namibia formally backing the Rainbow Nation. South Africa has already passed the 60% of support that ICANN requires with 75% of African nations backing the bid.

Censorship

Internet and mobile communication in Syria was disconnected late last week, and has since been restored. AllThingsD reported the disappearance of the country’s 84 IP address blocks, detected by networking firm Renesys. It is unclear how the country was disconnected by the government, which was accused of planning a nation-wide massacre during the blackout. In the absence of connectivity the Speak2Tweet technology used by Google and Twitter to allow mobile phone users to tweet by voice during the Egypt Revolution has been reactivated for use in Syria.

In Russia, pressure has mounted on ISPs to self-censor, with the nation’s highest court ruling that ISPs risk losing their license if they fail to block what is deemed illegal content. Later in the week a Moscow court ordered Pussy Riot’s online videos be removed on the basis that they are “extremist”. Google said it would comply with the order and block the videos from view by YouTube users in Russia.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation blogged about recent events in Central Asia that suggest digital, print, and social media are under threat in the region. Reuters reports that Tajikistan has restricted access to Facebook specifically as a result of “mud and slander” posted by agents paid $5,000 to $10,000 per comment, according to Beg Zukhurov, head of the state-run communications service.

The Wall Street Journal shows how Chinese Internet users are able to circumvent The Great Firewall using a technique that doesn’t involve setting up a VPN.

Global Voices covers a Catalan newspaper that deleted the blog post of a Spanish cyber activist who had interviewed workers striking against telecom giant Telefónica. She subsequently dissociated her blog with the newspaper in order to republish her post on a personal blog. Since the story broke, the newspaper has re-posted [es] her original article to their website.

Thuggery

The commander of Iran’s cybercrimes police unit was fired on Saturday over the death of an Iranian blogger arrested by the national police. The blogger, Sattar Beheshti, died early last month while in police custody, allegedly from beatings administered by interrogators in Tehran’s Evin prison.

Sovereigns of Cyberspace

Last week we covered Facebook’s proposal to change its site governance policies. The changes would affect user privacy and would also eliminate voting on future changes. Fortunately, users have one final chance to vote on the proposed changes before the right to vote is eliminated. You can do so here.

The Global Post has an article on the global ambitions of the Chinese search engine, Baidu.

Privacy

The Electronic Frontier Foundation published their 2012 E-Reader Privacy Chart. Their table shows how different e-bookstores monitor and track their customer’s actions and preferences.

A US Senate committee approved a bill that would require a warrant for law enforcement agencies to gain access to citizens’ email and cloud storage. The measure still has to pass the full Senate and House to become law, but won applause from the American Civil Liberties Union, and many other free speech and privacy groups.

National Policy

Iran introduced a biometric ID card that would be loaded with encrypted digital fingerprints and other personal information of the user. The country would require this ID card to access the Internet and would block access for all those without the card.

A Tor Exit Node Operator in Austria had his hardware seized and was charged for the distribution of child porn as a result of the police failing to understand how the technology worked.

Copyright

Verteidige Dein Netz, a Google information campaign in Germany meaning ‘Defend Your Net’, launched this week. It seeks to alert netizens to a German law that would allow publishers to charge Google for the snippets of news that appear in Google News or Google’s search results.

A user of anonymous file-sharing network Retroshare was prohibited by a German court to use the network for unknowingly passing on a copyrighted music file.

The implementation of the “six-strikes” anti-piracy system by the Center for Copyright Information (CCI), which allows ISPs to locate user accounts involved in illegal file sharing and punish copyright infringers, has been postponed until early 2013 due to Hurricane Sandy which affected the testing schedules, according CCI.

A member of IMAGiNE Group, an in-theater camcording gang, was handed a 40-month prison term, the longest sentence awarded for illegal file sharing in US.

Cybersecurity

A number of websites in Romania with .ro domains including google.ro, microsoft.ro, yahoo.ro and paypal.ro were hijacked and redirected to a rogue server by changing DNS entries. We reported similar attacks that occurred in Pakistan last week.

An allegedly Egyptian hacker with the handle TheHell is selling a cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability in Yahoo.com for US$700. The vulnerability allows the attacker to steal and replace tracking cookies, as well as read and send emails of Yahoo webmail users. Yahoo Director of Security has said that fixing the XSS vulnerability is easy once the offending URL is found.

Netizen Activism

Sana Saleem, a Global Voices author and executive board member of advocacy group Bolo Bhi, wrote an open letter to mainland Chinese netizens on behalf of netizens from Pakistan to appeal for solidarity against increasing censorship in Pakistan, which is reportedly aided by Chinese telcos such as ZTE and Huawei.

Julian Assange writes for the Huffington Post this week on the 2-year anniversary of the release of US State Department cables. He recaps the stories that have emerged since the Wikileaks posted classified diplomatic cables.

Cool Things

Those planning a trip to Botswana and can now scope out the country on Google’s Street View as the capital Gaborone and the national parks of Chobe and the Makgadikgadi pan were added to the mapping service.

Publications and Studies:

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For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.

Index on Censorship: Don’t Feed the Trolls

In September, an anti-Muslim video demonstrated how politics of fear can dominate the online environment. In an essay that I co-wrote with my dear friend and former colleague Ethan Zuckerman for the latest edition of Index on Censorship magazine, we argue that concerted action must be taken to dis-empower and discredit those in the global information and media ecosystem who profit from fear and hate. Here is how the piece begins:

In September 2012, the trailer for the film The Innocence of Muslims shot to infamy after spending the summer as a mercifully obscure video in one of YouTube’s more putrid backwaters.

Since then, there has been much handwringing amongst American intellectual, journalistic, and political elites over whether the US Constitution’s First Amendment protections of freedom of expression should protect this sort of incendiary speech, or whether Google, YouTube’s parent company, acted irresponsibly and endangered national security by failing to remove or restrict the video before provocateurs across the Islamic world could use it as an excuse to riot and even kill.

Supporters of internet censorship argue that posting The Innocence of Muslims online is the equivalent of yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre. The analogy is not entirely off-base – the director of the video hoped to provoke violent reactions to his work. But we make a mistake if we focus on the man yelling fire and not on the crowded theatre.

The Innocence of Muslims was successful in sparking violence not because it was a particularly skillful – or even especially offensive – piece of filmmaking. Instead, it had a dramatic impact because it was useful to a small group who benefitted from a violent response, and because it exploited the ugly tendency of media outlets to favour simple narratives about violence and rage over more complex ones.

Increasing censorship in the name of fighting hate speech will do nothing to address the broader environment in which hate is incubated and nurtured.

Even if the US had a more narrow interpretation of the First Amendment, or if YouTube and other internet companies had more expansive definitions of ‘hate speech’, combined with more aggressive censorship practices, that would not have solved the more deep-seated problems which made it so easy for people – most of whom had never even seen the video – to riot outside the US embassy in Cairo. And any number of offensive videos or web pages could have served the authors of violence as a convenient flashpoint.

The danger of increased control of online speech is that we will not guarantee the elimination of flashpoints of violence, but we will almost surely make it a more difficult environment for those who use the internet to reduce hate and increase understanding. But if the argument for free speech is to be won, we must make more concerted and deliberate efforts to strengthen the world’s immunity against the virus of hate – both on social media and in the mainstream media.

Click here to read the rest.

Netizen Report: Facebookistan Edition

Originally published November 28, 2012 by Global Voices Advocacy.

Image via Flickr user opensourceway (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This report was researched, written, and edited by Chan Myae Khine, Weiping Li, Renata Avila, Sarah Myers, and Rebecca MacKinnon.

Facebook has faced another wave of scrutiny from Europe for changes to its privacy policies. Recently, the company proposed an amendment to its privacy policies requiring users to agree to share their data with other Facebook-owned applications, such as Instagram, with a possibility of expansion for use in ad targeting outside of Facebook. This proposal prompted Irish data protection regulators in the European Union to seek urgent clarification on the policy change.

Another challenge to Facebook comes from Scandinavian countries: the Consumer Ombudsmen of Norway, Sweden and Denmark sent a letter to the European Commission expressing concern that Facebook’s “sponsored stories” advertising program, which shows advertisements in users’ Facebook news feeds without users’ prior consent, may violate the European Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications.

Facebook has also proposed a change in its “site governance process.” Instead of letting users vote on proposed policy changes, as the site has done in the past, the new system will let users comment on recommended changes and submit questions on its privacy policies. Facebook explained that the voting mechanism “resulted in a system that incentivized the quantity of comments over their quality.”

Privacy

Hong Kong’s privacy watchdog issued a warning over the potential risks of using smartphones and related applications after commissioning a survey showing more than half of respondents did not know what personal information stored in their smartphones could be accessed by the apps they download.

Google has to pay US$22.5 million in a privacy settlement with the Federal Trade Commission for breaching 190 million users’ privacy settings on their Safari browsers by planting cookies improperly.

Censorship

Reporters Without Borders has launched a new website, We Fight Censorship, which will serve as a global repository for online articles, photos, and videos that have been censored or which caused the content creator to be jailed.

Kyrgyz independent news website Ferghana News is seeking to overturn a ban on the website based on a 2011 parliament resolution. Critics believe the ban was in retaliation to the news website’s coverage of ethnic violence which took place in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010.

Alistair McAlpine, a British politician who was falsely accused by the BBC of child sexual abuse, is pressing for compensation from those who tweeted about the BBC story at that time. According to the Economist, about 1,000 Twitter users implicated McAlpine, and 9,000 or so retweeted the messages. At least 20 high-profile tweeters are being targeted by the lawsuit, while those who have fewer than 500 Twitter followers are being asked for an online apology and charity donation.

Thuggery

Eduardo Carvalho, the owner and editor of the Brazilian website Ultima Hora News was shot to death by two men on his way home. Carvalho had repeatedly received death threats after he published articles criticizing politicians and police.

The offices of Malaysiakini, Malaysia’s largest independent news site, were raided by police seeking information about a contributor who wrote an article asking why ethnic Malays had to be Muslims. The raid is part of a continuing trend of harassment of news sites by Malaysian police, including police threats, DDOS attacks, and requests for statements on website funding.

A Vietnamese court upheld a 6-year jail sentence that had been imposed on the dissident blogger Dinh Dang Dinh for criticizing the government on the Internet. According to a report by Radio Free Asia, the Vietnamese police beat the blogger and herded him into a truck following the hearing.

South Korean Twitter user Park Jung-geun has received a 10-month suspended jail term for retweeting North Korean propaganda posts from his Twitter account. Park was charged with violating South Korea’s National Security Law and propagandizing for the North Korean government. Park has asserted that his actions were intended as parody.

National Policy

Pakistani authorities temporarily suspended mobile phone services in major cities, including parts of the capital Islamabad, the southern port city of Karachi, and in Quetta in the south-east, to avoid the use of mobile devices to set off bombs during key Shia Muslim commemorations.

The Hamburg Tax office in Germany decided to retroactively revoke the non-profit organization status of Wau Holland Foundation, the main financial supporter for Wikileaks in Germany, claiming that the organization “did not satisfy the condition for the direct pursuit of tax-advantaged purposes.” The decision specifically applies to 2010, the year when Wikileaks published a series of classified documents.

A new campaign has launched [pr] to save the Marco Civil, a bill that would define the rights of the Brazilian Internet. A vote on the bill has been postponed several times already and could be postponed indefinitely.

Copyright

The Australian High Court rejected an appeal from Optus TV Now over a ruling that had determined the broadcast recording product, which would allow Optus customers to save recorded TV broadcasts to Optus’ cloud, infringes on copyright. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and eBay have called for Australian copyright law to be more technology neutral in response to the ruling.

Sovereigns of Cyberspace

Kazakhstan’s public prosecution office urged Google, Facebook, Twitter and LiveJournal to take down pages that include content from opposition media, defining them as “directed at inflaming social hatred”.

Internet Governance

Google developed a Take Action website asking its users to sign a petition against upcoming United Nations International Telecommunication Union proposals that “could increase censorship and threaten innovation”.

ICANN will hold a meeting with representatives of around 50 countries to discuss requests for new generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) names, including .bbc by the BBC, .google, .docs and .lol by Google, and other, more controversial terms including .church and .islam. As Google and Amazon requested broader terms such as .book, .search and .app, many governments voiced their concerns at pre-discussions for ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee (GAC) meeting.

The European Parliament has approved a Joint Resolution which expresses its support to maintain the transparent and participatory Internet governance model, and urges EU member states to vote for proposals to “maintain the current scope of the [treaty] and the current mandate of the ITU…” at the upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) which will be held in December in Dubai.

Cybersecurity

Pro-Palestinian hackers claiming to be Pakistani have targeted Israeli websites and social media, shutting down Groupon’s Israeli site, and hacking in to Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom’s Twitter and Facebook accounts to send out pro-Palestinian messages.

In Pakistan, a group of hackers under the name “eboz” defaced 284 websites with .pk domains including google.com.pk, microsoft.pk and apple.pk by changing DNS entries mangaged by MarkMoniter and leaving a message in Turkish with an English phrase “Pakistan Downed”.

Netizen Activism

Many activists in India including Marx Anthonisamy, a 63-year-old former professor and author, have demanded the revision of the “arbitrary and unconstitutional” Section 66A of the Information Technology Act. Mr. Marx has filed a lawsuit for its repeal.

Bytes for All (B4A), a Pakistani human rights organization launched a “Take Back The Tech!” 16 day campaign to encourage women to tell, listen and map their stories about cyber bullying.

Cool Things

Sana Saleem, a Pakistani activist and blogger, and a contributor to Global Voices Online, has been named by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers 2012 for her efforts fighting against the Pakistani government’s online censorship.

Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email

For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.

Netizen Report: #Gaza Edition

This report was originally published November 22, 2012 on Global Voices Advocacy.

Twitter user @KhaledSawa shares a photo of his neighbor’s house in Gaza burning after being shelled on November 15, 2012.

This report was researched, written, and edited by Weiping Li, Renata Avila, Chan Myae Khine, Alex Laverty, Sarah Myers, and Rebecca MacKinnon.

The role of the Internet in the recent fighting in Gaza has been a subject of controversy and debate among members of the Internet freedom community. This week, we bring you some highlights of this discussion:

  • An article in the Verge overviews the #PillarOfDefense campaign by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), which has made the Internet another front in the conflict over Gaza.
  • Global Voices’ Jillian C. York provides a historical overview of the role of social media in the conflict over Gaza since 2008, as well as Israel’s efforts to mobilize public opinion online.
  • Forbes discusses the Anonymous cyberattacks against the IDF under the hashtag #OpIsrael
  • A Wired article notes that YouTube refused to take down a video showing the assassination of a Hamas leader despite a website ban on “graphic or gratuitous violence.”
  • Similarly, a piece in the Atlantic questions whether the Twitter exchanges between Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas violated Twitter’s terms of service, which limit postings that contain threats of violence.
  • On GigaOm, Mathew Ingram discusses how technology companies negotiate the issue of where free speech ends and violence begins.

The clash has highlighted the tensions companies face between freedom of speech and violence, how the Internet has a battleground for public opinion, and the role of the public in negotiating conflict. Global Voices, Global Voices Advocacy, and the Netizen Report will continue to provide updates on these issues as the fighting continues.

Censorship

In response to thousands of complaints with screenshots submitted by the public via zapret-info.gov.ru, the Russian government has blacklisted more than 180 sites for “offensive” content. As Global Voices’ Runet Echo project reported last week, the Russian wiki style encyclopedia for contemporary culture, folklore, and subcultures called Lurkmore has also been placed on the blacklist.

Google took down a blog run by the Portugese group Precários Inflexíveis during a general strike in Portugal. According to the group, the takedown was due to allegations of defamation in connection with their efforts to improve worker conditions.

After the UAE was elected to sit on the United Nations Human Rights Council, it set a stricter policy on censoring online political activism, allowing authorities to sentence web activists for offenses such as calling for protests or mocking the country’s rulers.

Thuggery

A former Chinese media worker named Zhai Xiaobing, also known as @stariver on Twitter, has been detained since November 7 for tweeting a joke about the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th National Congress. The police claim Zhai was “involved in spreading false and terrible information” online. Chinese netizens have initiated a campaign urging the police to release Zhai.

An Indian woman was arrested by Mumbai police after posting a critical comment on Facebook about the city’s official shutdown to mourn the death of an extremist Hindu politician. The woman was accused of “hurting religious sentiments,” and a friend who pressed Facebook’s “like” button under the message was also arrested. Both have been released on bail. An online movement has emerged in support of their free speech rights, condemning the Hindu party Shiv Sena whose members had pushed for their arrests.

Police from Fukui Prefecture in Japan raided the home of Yuzuru Kaneko, a video blogger who has documented anti-nuclear protests in Japan, seeking evidence that might support charges against another anti-nuclear activist. Kaneko’s supporters have launched a campaign demanding the police return Kaneko’s personal property. Police have since notified Kaneko that they will do so.

Surveillance

The Chinese government has reportedly asked private companies in China, including joint ventures with American corporations, to install equipment to monitor Internet traffic and block websites.

Chinese dissident Hu Jia claims that China’s Public Security Bureau has surveilled his communications through WeChat, a mobile voice and text instant message application developed by the Chinese Internet and phone value-added services company Tencent. Hu said the Public Security Bureau interrogated his friends about the content of their communication one hour after they ended the conversation.

Privacy

The Cloud Readiness Index 2012, released by Asia’s Cloud Computing Association (ACCA), ranked Japan number one among 14 Asian countries in data privacy, followed by Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan.

The affair between the former head of US Central Intelligence Agency David Petraeus and his biographer Paula Broadwell has alerted Americans of the power of law enforcement to access personal e-mail. See more analysis on privacy and surveillance issues related to this case at the ACLU’s blog and Ars Technica.

Twenty six organizations and individuals have sent an open letter to Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, urging the company to use HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure), a communications protocol for online secure communication, in Yahoo’s online services such as e-mails. Facebook recently announced it will roll out HTTPS as its default connection option to users in North America.

National Policy

David Cameron may push ISPs to tighten their web filtration policy to block access to pornography, especially by children, by unveiling tough new controls on the material.

Myanmar has drafted a new communications bill that could prohibit the use of social media and unregistered devices. The bill, which has not been passed by parliament, could pose a threat to social media users with its vague definitions of such terms as “electronic apparatus.”

Copyright

US Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-California) is using Reddit as a platform to crowdsource legislation that would make it more difficult for authorities to seize domains facilitating copyright infringement.

Sovereigns of Cyberspace

Google has threatened to sue a young man in South Africa because he has set up an employment website with the domain name Doogle.co.za. Google warned that the domain name could make others believe the two websites collaborate.

In a speech at the University of Michigan, Twitter’s CEO Dick Costolo discussed his views about the Chinese market. He said he hopes the new Chinese leaders will lift censorship constraints and let Twitter in. However, he also stressed that the company “will never compromise the way Twitter operates,” and that they also have no plans to operate in Iran.

Internet Governance

According to leaked documents from upcoming World Conference on International Communications (WCIT) organized by the United Nations’ International Telecommuncations Union (ITU), Russia has called on the UN to take greater control of Internet governance by transferring power of organizations like ICANN to an inter-governmental body under UN authority. The proposal declared that member states should have the sovereign right to manage the Internet within their national territory. Criticism of WCIT by civil society and human rights activists is growing: Groups from 55 countries who have signed an international ‘unity statement’ representing concern over threats to the exercise of human rights online.

The European Parliament has addressed the issue of credit card companies’ ability to refuse service, in response to the unilateral cutoff of donations to Wikileaks by Visa, MasterCard and Paypal.

Cybersecurity

A security hole was discovered in Skype that would allow anyone to change your password and thus take over your account. After being posted in a Russian forum and confirmed by The Next Web, Skype overhauled its password reset process to fix the issue.

Netizen Activism

Slovenia’s Pirate Party has officially become a registered political party since November 5. The Party is going to focus on the new proposal of an Electronic Communications law and a new copyright law proposal in the near future.

Cool Things

Research company Informa Telecoms & Media expects mobile data investments in Africa to reach $18.5 billion in revenue by 2016, making up around 22% of mobile revenue for the continent.

Publications and Studies


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For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.

Mediapolicy.org: China’s Digital Evolution

(This blog post was originally published at the Open Society Foundation’s Mediapolicy.org)

The Chinese Communist Party may have completed its once-in-a-decade leadership transition, but the future of media in China remains as unclear as the rest of China’s political and economic future.

Since Xi Jinping was anointed as China’s top leader last week, a close reading of the freshly-brewed political tea leaves favors gradual, messy evolution over any sudden Internet-led revolution. Those who prefer to read research reports instead of tea leaves will draw similar conclusions after reading OSF’s recently-published Mapping Digital Media China report – even though it was completed well before the leadership transition. According to the report’s authors, the emergence over the past decade of a “vibrant online civil society” in China provides grounds for optimism in the long run. Yet this vibrant online world will continue to coexist with a “sophisticated party-state propaganda and control system” whose grip on broadcast media, licensing of digital services, spectrum allocation, and professional news content production shows few signs of loosening.

Indeed, analysis of last week’s 18th Communist Party Conference indicates an intention to maintain as firm a grip as possible. In a thorough examination of the of the new CCP Standing Committee, Cheng Li, a scholar of Chinese politics at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, pointed out that key liberals in the Politburo, particularly Li Yuanchao who is known to support liberal intellectual demands for rule of law and greater government accountability, were not promoted to the Standing Committee as expected. Cheng concludes that “China’s much-needed political reform may be delayed.” And without political reform, meaningful media reform is unlikely.

Chinese proponents of free expression and media reform are also disheartened by the elevation of Liu Yunshan, head of the propaganda department, known as a faithful enforcer of party discipline on the media. His efforts to bring the Internet to heel have included a licensing system for online service providers and a requirement that microbloggers register their accounts with their real names and ID numbers. As dissident writer and former journalist Dai Qing recently lamented to the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based newspaper: “Liu’s appointment has reduced our hopes that citizens will be allowed to monitor their government and spread information freely over the next decade.”

Yet online social media – particularly the home-grown microblogging services known in Chinese as “weibo” – are nonetheless forcing more transparency and accountability upon Chinese bureaucrats and news media. Despite strict controls on news media coverage of the party congress, combined with elaborate attempts by social media companies to block the most edgy words and phrases from their services, netizens nonetheless managed to analyze and criticize the proceedings on Sina Weibo, the most popular of China’s Twitter-like social media platforms. Government offices at all levels now recognize the need to engage with the public on weibo: According to the state-run Xinhua News Agency there were over 51,000 government micro-blog accounts by the end of September.

The authors of the MDM China report place these developments in a broader, more sobering media context. They cite government survey data indicating that roughly 30 percent of the internet-using population – about 10 percent of the nation’s total population – actively participate in online discussions or post their own opinions and observations online. The report also reminds us that the majority of Chinese people have yet to use the internet at all: “the internet is still beyond the reach of 800 million Chinese who rely almost exclusively on television for their information and entertainment, in particular the mammoth state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV).”

China’s news organizations – particularly the more commercially-oriented ones serving local and regional markets – like news organizations everywhere, are working hard to innovate through creative use of digital technologies. However their ability to conduct independent investigative journalism, and actually publish or broadcast these investigations in their newspapers or on television, is severely constrained by strong party and government controls. Individual journalists have been able to use blogs and microblogs as an alternative distribution channel for some news and information, though the result is that news organizations do not directly benefit from their staff’s most cutting-edge investigative talents. Meanwhile, websites that are not part of government-approved news organizations are not allowed to conduct original news reporting – although online media companies are constantly seeking ways to subtly get around the strict rules about who can report news under what circumstances, particularly on local stories.

When it comes to television – which remains the most important and powerful form of media for the majority of Chinese – the government naturally controls the switchover process from analog signal to digital. It also controls which companies are allowed to participate in the provision of bundled internet, voice, and digital TV services – as well as who is allowed to create what sorts of content disseminated through these services. The same of course goes for mobile services of all kinds. When it comes to allocation of spectrum, politics “plays a decisive role in spectrum allocation policies.” There is no notion of “public service media” independent of party and state which “view themselves as the overseers of the public interest.” Yet there is no process by which the bureaucracy – often a patchwork of different agencies and departments – determines the broader public interest as they go about creating and enforcing rules and regulations.

The report makes a number of recommendations:

  • Media literacy. With “hundreds of millions of people with little knowledge or understanding of how the media are used and how they might use the media,” greater media literacy education for all ages would “help educate people to participate in public life so that the opportunities which digitization brings can be more widely enjoyed.”
  • Relaxation of government and party controls on media. This would make it more possible for journalists to carry out independent, investigative journalism that would hold authorities accountable to the public interest.
  • Constrain local government abuse of power over media. The central government should take “measures to end the pattern of violent retribution, harassment and victimization meted out to journalists or whistleblowers by local offcials angered by critical media coverage.”
  • Passage of a press law. This would be consistent with existing national policy of governance based on rule of law. A specific press law “can help prohibit administrative control and interference in the media.”
  • Official tolerance and support for press freedom organizations. Such organizations would “defend press freedom and the independence of media from the government and help address a crisis of ethics in the profession.”
  • Independent public service media. A “non-commercial, non-profit, public radio and television system” would help to “guarantee the dissemination of education, science, health, and other content to feed an information-hungry populace.”
  • Better coordination and stakeholder collaboration on the digital switch-over process. There is currently no clear process for mediating different bureaucratic, economic, commercial, and public interests. The report argues that “there should be the means for collaboration between industry players, especially broadcasting companies and mobile operators. Close collaboration between the principal stakeholders— the government, regulators, broadcasters, transmission providers, receiver manufacturers and retailers, and consumer representatives—is essential.”

The results of this month’s leadership transition provide little reason to expect that these things will happen in the near or even medium term. In the long run, however, the report’s authors remain hopeful. The internet, they write, “cannot change China’s political life in a dramatic way. It can, however, enhance the existing social capital, so that social forces that are operating independently of the state can have a chance to grow and prosper.”

Netizen Report: Chinese Leadership & Censorship Edition

This edition was first published on November 15, 2012 at Global Voices Advocacy.

Image via Flickr user methodshop.com (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This report was researched, written, and edited by Weiping Li, Renata Avila, Chan Myae Khine, Hisham Almiraat, Sarah Myers, and Rebecca MacKinnon.

As China’s new generation of leaders were officially presented to the world this week at the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th National Congress, Chinese netizens experienced severe Internet interruptions. As the longtime Beijing-based blogger and businessman Bill Bishop described it, “these have been the most draconian few days of Internet restrictions I have experienced.”

Several weeks before the Congress, netizens began to report frequent disruptions when accessing Google services, foreign websites and virtual private networks (VPNs) – important tools for Internet users to circumvent the “Great Firewall.” Interruptions to Internet access then cranked into high gear on November 9, one day after the start of the Congress, when Google services were reported to be fully blocked in China, and their domain name systems were deliberately redirected to unknown IP addresses in Korea. Please see Greatfire.org for more detailed reports and analysis.

Inside the Great Firewall, censors have been busy deleting online political discussions. According to Reporters without Borders, the word “the 18th Party Congress” (pronounced in Chinese “Shi-Ba-Da”) and similar sounding phrases used by netizens to avoid censorship are filtered; dissidents like Hu Jia have had their microblog accounts suspended; activist Guo Feixiong was detained on November 9th, and blogger Chen Zuoliang was also detained for interrogation on the same day.

Censorship

Meanwhile, Chinese websites have seen increased levels of self-censorship during the meeting. Some Internet forums have been temporarily suspended. For example, when visiting one of the forums, visitors see nothing but two lines [zh] reading: “To welcome the 18th Party Congress, this forum has closed temporarily. We happily welcome the Congress! Wish the Congress all the success!”

In early November, the popular Chinese microblog service Sina Weibo also changed the way it displays search results which are blocked from keyword censorship: instead of telling users that the keywords searched are forbidden by laws and regulations, the webpage only stated that “no results are found for the keywords” without explaining that the keywords are actually banned. Then on November 9th Sina weibo re-instated its censorship notice, as documented by the blog Fei Chang Dao.

Elsewhere in the world: on November 7, the Egyptian Public Prosecutor issued official letters to the Minister of Communications and Information Technology, the head of the NTRA (National Telecom Regulatory Authority) and the Minister of the Interior, asking them to enforce a court decision made in 2009 which ordered a ban on porn sites in Egypt. Global Voices Advocacy’s Rayna St and the MENA Netizen Report detail the history of the porn site ban in Egypt and related controversies.

The Australian government has given up its mandatory Internet filtering legislation which required Internet Services Providers (ISPs) to block objectionable materials that fit into the “Refused Classification”. Instead, the ISPs will be asked to filter specific child abuse websites that are on the Interpol’s “Worst of”-list.

A team under the European Commission has been working on the project “European Capability for Situational Awareness” which will monitor and map out global online censorship, surveillance and other issues related to Internet freedom in near to real time.

Thuggery

Iranian blogger Sattar Beheshti who had criticized the Iranian government on his website was taken from his home by men reported to be the Iranian cyber police in late October. On November 6, his family was told to collect his body from a detention facility. His family and friends suspect that Beheshti was tortured to death. Now the Iranian parliament has promised to investigate the blogger’s death, and a parliament member has called for officials to go after corrupt officials rather than bloggers and the media.

The questionable Indian law —Section 66A of India’s Information Technology [IT] Act, which has sweeping power to put people in prison for sending messages causing “annoyance or inconvenience”, has once again led to the arrest of an Indian anti-corruption campaign volunteer who tweeted about a politician’s wealth.

Privacy

Skype handed over the personal information of a 16-year-old to an IT firm without any court order over suspicions the individual was involved in an attack on online payment service providers including Paypal by hacker group Anonymous, known as “Operation Payback”. The company mentioned they are in the midst of reviewing how the personal information came into the hands of a private firm.

Microsoft filed a new patent known as “Content Distribution by Viewing User,” which would turn on Microsoft’s Kinect technology remotely to monitor how many users are accessing licensed content via Microsoft’s system, cutting the content if the number of users exceeds the terms of the license.

National Policy

According to the latest Transparency Report released by Google, requests by governments all over the world for user information have been steadily increasing since Google launched the report in early 2010.

The US government has announced sanctions against four Iranian individuals and five Iranian entities for their involvement in media and Internet censorship. According to AFP’s report, among those who are sanctioned, the Communications Minister Reza Taghipour has been accused of restricting Internet access; two software companies, AmnAfzar Gostar-e Sharif and PeykAsa, and their founder Rasool Jalili, have been blamed for monitoring and blocking Internet traffic.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is concerned that in Brazil, last minute changes to the Marco Civil, an Internet bill of rights, actually threaten Internet users’ freedom of expression because new wording leaves “users and Internet service providers in an ocean of legal uncertainty.”

Copyright

Last minute changes to Brazil’s Internet Bill of Rights (Marco Civil), legislation that is expected to defend Internet freedom, weaken protections for ISPs against being vulnerable for infringing content by third parties in cases of copyright and neighborhood rights. The vote on the legislation has been postponed from November 7 to November 13.

Kim Dotcom, the boss of the now closed file-sharing site MegaUpload, planned to relaunch the website by having its server hosted in Gabon. However, the Communication Minister of Gabon soon ordered suspending the website www.me.ga in order to “protect intellectual property rights” and “fight cyber crime effectively”. Afterward Kim Dotcom announced via Twitter that the MegaUpload website will find its new home in New Zealand at mega.co.nz.

Sovereigns of Cyberspace

An alternative to Google and Yahoo’s search engine named “DuckDuckGo” has been gaining popularity among Internet users. By branding itself as a ”pure search engine”, DuckDuckGo claims it brings truly relevant information within users’ first few search results and does not send user data to third parties.

The Uprising of Women in the Arab World, a group supporting women’s rights in the Middle East, has accused Facebook of censoring a photo on the group’s Facebook page, and threatening to deactivate administrators’ Facebook accounts. The image in question shows a woman named Dana Bakdounes holding a sign reading “I am with the uprising of women in the Arab world because for 20 years I wasn’t allowed to feel the wind in my hair and on my body.” Facebook responded saying that the photograph was initially removed in error, and was later reinstated; subsequently an item was removed for violating community standards.

Internet Governance

In an opinion piece in Wired, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Secretary General Hamadoun Toure outlines some of the positive outcomes UN regulation of the Internet could bring, including increased connectivity, Internet security, and infrastructure for those with disabilities. Less positively, TechDirt describes the way cybersecurity has been used as a banner to legitimize censorship by the ITU.

ICANN’s new CEO Fahdi Chehade has written an open letter to the ICANN community pledging to improve upon and deepen global support for his organization’s multi-stakeholder model by doing a better job of engaging with stakeholders around the world. After beefing up engagement with Africa his organization which coordinate’s the Internet’s domain name system will soon be holding stakeholder consultations in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as India and Turkey.

Cybersecurity

Last week Twitter emailed users whose accounts were suspected of having been compromised, asking them to to reset their passwords. However after large numbers of users, including some prominent China-based Twitter users, jumped to conclusions about politically motivated attacks, Twitter admitted that they had “reset passwords of a large number of accounts, beyond those that they believed to have been compromised”.

Chevron acknowledged that its IT network was infected by the “Stuxnet” computer virus in July 2010, shortly after the virus escaped its target, Iranian nuclear enrichment facilities in Natanz. Chevron is the first US company to acknowledge infection by Stuxnet, though most security experts believe many more cases have gone unreported.

Hacker groups 0-Day and Pyknic allegedly compromised Pizza Hut’s Australian website and claimed to have obtained credit card information from 240,000 customers. Pizza Hut admitted that the website was compromised but denied credit card details were stolen.

European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes claims that computers belonging to her advisers were hacked for surveillance purposes by an unknown party during the Internet Governance Forum. Kroes criticized the Azerbaijan government for conducting surveillance of activists during the meeting, which was held last week in the country’s capital Baku.

According to a draft report produced by the U.S.- China Economic and Security Review Commission, there are growing signs of cyber-espionage from Chinese hackers who breach US military and defense contractors’ computer systems to collect information.

Netizen Activism

The Robert Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, based in a former prison in Florence, Italy, will provide scholarships to bloggers and digital activists. The human rights campaigners will be trained to use practical tactics to maintain their anonymity during involvement in human rights campaigns.

Computer experts in Miami are working to expand the flow of uncensored information [es] to Cuba by sending USB drives, CDs and SIM cards containing a package of websites, blogs and online news portals consistently blocked on the island.

Publications and Studies

Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email

For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.

Mediapolicy.org: Why internet governance matters for press freedom

(This blog post was first published at Mediapolicy.org, a website of the Open Society Foundation’s Information Program.)

As the annual United Nations-run Internet Governance Forum (IGF) convenes in Baku, Azerbaijan this week, it is a bitter irony that a multi-stakeholder conference to discuss the Internet’s future is being held in a country where the government has no qualms aboutlocking up its online critics. And the IGF itself has, according to the Expression Online Initiative, even prevented the consortium of Azeri freedom of expression groups from distributing copies of two reports: Searching for Freedom: Online Expression in Azerbaijan and The Right to Remain Silent: Freedom of Expression in Azerbaijan ahead of the 7th Internet Governance Forum.

In light of this, it’s perhaps fortunate that the IGF is not a policy- or decision-making body. It is strictly a “talking shop” where all stakeholders are supposed to have a chance to air ideas and concerns about the internet’s future. But the barriers faced by Azeri free expression advocates to speaking and participating in the IGF in their own country certainly underscore why the debates over the future of internet governance and rule-making – and whether that power should reside with the United Nations or with another multi-stakeholder process less vulnerable to the concerns, sensitivities and manoeuvrings of individual nation states – are critically important for the future of press freedom.

Take, for example, a basic requirement for media organisations: the ability to reach and grow their audiences. All news organisations – whether their final news product is distributed online, in print, or broadcast – are increasingly dependent on broadband and mobile networks to gather, transmit, compile, and disseminate their reports and investigations. Whether the internet remains open and globally inter-operable affects the ability of all news organisations to obtain fair access to increasingly global or geographically-dispersed audiences.

And what about protection of journalists’ sources? And undercover or investigative journalism? Will internet users be able to have a reasonable expectation of privacy online or to secure their communications from third-party interception? Or will everybody on the network end up being subject to blanket surveillance and tracking by authorities and corporations, in the name of cyber-security and law enforcement? Decisions taken by governments and corporations regarding online privacy and security will have a tremendous impact on journalists’ ability to communicate confidentially with sources, and to conduct investigative reporting that governments and corporations may wish to suppress. Thus it’s vital that civil society – and that includes press freedom groups, journalists’ associations and media development organisations – have a seat at the table when global rules and standards for the internet are debated and decided.

For two excellent overviews of the issues at stake, see Standing up to threats to digital freedom, a white paper by Index on Censorship and UNESCO’s new report, Global survey on Internet privacy and freedom of expression.

While the IGF makes no decisions, another UN body, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), has been determining policy for the global telecoms system for decades – but now many of its members also want it to make policy decisions about how the internet is structured, regulated and developed. Proposals to that end will be discussed in December at the ITU’s next meeting, theWorld Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai. (Both the Center for Democracy and Technology and theInternet Society have excellent resource pages on the various proposals up for discussion by the ITU.)

Best Bits, a coalition of civil society groups from around the world, has made it clear that the ITU is not the appropriate body for internet governance – primarily because its decisions are made ultimately by national governments alone. The Best Bits coalition has used this week’s IGF meeting as a platform to build global consensus around the idea that internet governance must be conducted by a transparent and multi-stakeholder process with qualities of global public accountability – qualities the ITU clearly lacks. As the strongly worded statement issued by the coalition points out: “Fundamental to the framing of public policy must be the pursuit of the public interest and fundamental human rights.”

Beyond the IGF and the ITU, a lot of open questions remain about how to govern the internet in a manner that protects the rights and balances the interests of everybody around the world who uses – and increasingly depends upon – the internet. Existing multi-stakeholder institutions, like ICANN, are far from ideal and have been subject to capture by certain Western, developed-world corporate interests – challenges I recently discussed in detail over at Foreign Policy:

History has shown that all governments and all corporations will use whatever vehicles available to advance their own interests and power. The Internet does not change that reality. Still, it should be possible to build governance structures and processes that not only mediate between the interests of a variety of stakeholders, but also constrain power and hold it accountable across globally interconnected networks. Right now, the world is only at the beginning of a long and messy process of working out what those structures and processes should look like.

Unfortunately, since it’s a ‘long and messy process’, the debate on internet policy and governance tends to get short shrift from news organizations, even those with robust coverage of international news and global affairs, because it doesn’t fit cleanly into existing news “beats.” Does this story belong in the technology section, the business section, or the international news section? Foreign and global affairs correspondents, business reporters and technology journalists often have very different types of knowledge and skill sets. It is still rare to find journalists and editors who understand in a holistic way how technology and geopolitics overlap, let alone how to tell these stories in compelling ways so that their readers can understand how they are affected by the big decisions about internet governance and policy – just as they are by global trade negotiations or international security treaties.

And self-interest comes into it too. News organisations, press associations and media assistance organisations around the world have also been slow to recognize how internet governance debates will ultimately affect their own work and sustainability. If they do not seek to influence the processes and debates that will determine who shapes the future of the internet, they run the serious risk that internet standards and regulations will evolve in a manner that undermines journalistic freedom, public media, and non-commercial news outlets.

So, what can be done? Here are some concrete steps that different stakeholders can take to help improve the situation:

  • Journalists and editors need more training in how to cover internet governance and policy issues from a public interest and human rights perspective
  • Technologists, technology-focused NGOs and technology policy researchers need to find ways to frame and explain the issues in terms that journalists can understand and which broader audiences can relate to
  • The research community can provide journalists and NGOs with data and well-documented evidence of how both press freedom and business models for journalism overlap with global technology policy and internet governance debates
  • News organisations and journalists’ associations, as well as press freedom and media development organizations need to dedicate staff and resources to following and participating in the debates and processes that will determine how citizens worldwide can use the technologies on which the media itself increasingly depends
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