Originally published November 2, 2012 at Global Voices Advocacy.
For the past weeks, netizens have seen multiple efforts by democratic governments to expand surveillance power in cyberspace for the sake of fighting and preventing crime. In the Netherlands, the government has pushed the parliament to pass a law to facilitate police surveillance across international borders. Blaming anonymity network Tor for making it more difficult to track pedophiles and other criminals or to determine computers’ actual location, the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security has proposed police powers to install malware, conduct remote searches of computers domestically and overseas, and delete “illegal” files on personal computers outside the Netherlands without first requesting legal assistance from foreign governments. Please see the articles at Electronic Frontier Foundation and Slate for more detailed analysis.
Another controversial proposal which grants police more online monitoring power in Canada returns to the spotlight after Canadian police urged the federal government to pass the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act, also known as the C-30 bill. Advocacy groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation have vehemently criticized the bill for enabling warrantless surveillance of online activities and requiring Internet service providers to install “backdoors” for eavesdropping. Currently the bill is still in the House.
Another call for more surveillance comes from the United Nations. In a report titled “The Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes” the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) called for more Internet surveillance capabilities to prosecute terrorists, including restricting open Wi-Fi networks and tracking users’ location data. Apparently the UNODC does not coordinate with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression.
Internet service providers in the UK have refused to block file sharing sites despite forceful requests by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), whose plans have been criticized by the Pirate Party UK and Open Rights Group as “frustrating” and “extreme.”
Although Twitter has removed anti-Semitic tweets in France with the hashtag #UnBonJuif (#AGoodJew) in response to threats of legal action by the Union of Jewish Students of France (UEJF), the UEJF is reportedly pressuring Twitter to reveal the names of individuals using the hashtag. The Citizen Media Law Center has an analysis of the case here. This is the second case in a month involving anti-Semitic content. As we reported in our October 19 edition, Twitter blocked tweets from a Neo-Nazi account in Germany last month using the recently released feature that enables to withhold content in countries where it is illegal while keeping it accessible in other parts of the world where it is legal.
An advocacy group in Pakistan, Bolo Bhi, warns that the government is reviving plans for a URL filtering and blocking system, which would not only infringe the digital rights of public but also slow down Internet speeds.
The New York Times has been blocked in China in both English and Chinese versions after publishing an article revealing the wealth of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s family. This is expected to impact the newspaper’s revenues due to sudden blockage of advertisements from millions of target viewers. Posts mentioning the article and related issues were also blocked on the popular Chinese micro-blogging site, Sina Weibo.
Philippine anti-mining activist Esperlita “Perling” Garcia has been charged with libel and arrested for a post on Facebook blaming Gonzaga Mayor Carlito Pentecostes Jr. of harassing people involved in a planned anti-mining demonstration. Garcia’s case has also roused a debate over whether the charge was based on the recently suspended Cybercrime Prevention Act, the controversial anti-cybercrime law. Now Garcia’s supporters have set up a Facebook page called “Cyber-perling” to advocate for the activist’s cause.
The Senate of the legislature of the U.S. state of New Jersey has passed a bill which prohibits employers from demanding access to the social media accounts of employees, and allows employees to sue for violations. Before becoming law the bill must now be passed by the New Jersey state Assembly.
Singapore’s parliament has passed a personal data protection law allowing people to add their mobile numbers for a “Do Not Call” option. Telemarketers who violate the term could be fined SG$10,000 (US$8,188).
According to Firefox Chief Gary Kovacs, Mozilla does not collect any user data. The open source software development project has developed two applications that show users how they are being followed by third party tools and allow users to configure settings so that they do not get tracked by them.
Chinese media reported [zh] that the Chinese government will suspend any major changes to Internet operations such as upgrading facilities during the 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in November. In addition, the State Internet Information Office has also required [zh] local government Internet offices to strictly censor rumors and objectionable information from November 7 until the end of the 18th Congress to ensure “national security.”
A remark by the vice president of Bolivia, Álvaro García Linera, asserting that he has kept track of those who insulted the Bolivian president in social media, has triggered surveillance worries among Bolivian netizens.
In Thailand, netizens expressed their concerns regarding the recently drafted International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR) proposed by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The regulations would require that Internet users pay depending on data usage and release their identity and browser history.
In a case filed by an anti-piracy group, the BREIN Foundation, a Dutch court found the hosting company XS Networks liable for the activity of a torrent site it hosted called SumoTorrent. According to BREIN, XS Networks, which was shut down in February, refused to turn over information on SumoTorrent’s owner despite repeated requests from the anti-piracy group, prompting the suit.
Sovereigns of Cyberspace
Google has come under attack from the South Korean government for changing the name of a set of islands on its Maps service. The islands are at the center of a territorial dispute with Japan; they are controlled by South Korea but claimed by both countries. They are known as Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan. Google’s Korean-language Maps service uses the name of Dokdo, while its Japanese-language service uses the name of Takeshima. It recently updated its English-language version, replacing the name Dokdo with Liancourt Rocks. A South Korean foreign ministry spokesperson says Google notified its embassy in the United States of the name change on October 18, adding that “the change is unacceptable” for his country.
A recent, controversial entry [zh] on the Chinese-language Wikipedia has revived fears that pro-Beijing online groups, known as the “50 Cent Party” or the “Online Navy” are using the platform for propaganda purposes, defaming pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong and mainland China. Inmediahk.net [zh], a citizen media project based in Hong Kong, explores the extent to which these attacks threaten the credibility of the knowledge-based platform and interviews two senior Wikipedians, Yuyu and Albert.
The Indian government has backed away from its proposal to establish a UN body to govern the Internet after the proposal has met strong opposition from Indian civil society.
A recent study commissioned by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development on Internet traffic concludes that most data exchange takes place without a written contract or formal agreement. Author Stacey Higginbotham comments on this finding, comparing the Internet to an ideal communist institution that, contrary to the Soviet Union, actually works.
The Swedish non-profit organization Civil Rights Defenders has implemented a novel CAPTCHA system on its website, CAPTCHA is a mechanism used to verify whether website visitors are human beings or spamming robots. Instead of traditional questions asking users to type garbled letters or numbers, the system provides statements related to civil rights issues and asks users to input a “fitting emotion.”
Social bookmarking website Diigo’s domain name, which is registered through Yahoo domain service, was hijacked for two days. Unknown attackers impersonated Diigo’s owner, asking Yahoo to transfer the domain, and then tried to extort money from Diigo. The website has been returned to normal. Diigo’s co-founder Wade Ren talked to the technology news website Techcrunch about the attack.
Cyber criminals have targeted some low-cost smartphones which lack sophisticated security features, especially those operate on Android mobile platforms and charge low application development fees.
An Internet freedom documentary project called “freenet?” includes a short film featuring interviews with bloggers, activists and academics called “Netizens vs Online Censorship” and reflects the issues of digital freedom. It was filmed in 2012 at the Global Voices Summit and Mapping Digital Media Project’s 2012 Istanbul Summit.
In Iceland, a referendum asking citizens whether they support a new draft constitution based on suggestions and opinions raised on Facebook and Twitter has resulted in two-thirds of the voters saying yes. Icelandic deputies now have the task of transforming the referendum, a non-binding result, into reality. The new constitution should be finalized before the spring of 2013.
Echoing the Open Contracting Initiative, the World Bank will disclose its finance contracts in order to support its anti-corruption and open development agenda. Although full contracts may not be able to be published due to commercial confidentiality, all relevant documents such as the awarding of related procurements and implementation of projects will be released.
The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art has launched a new portal offering free, full-text online versions of over 600 art books dating from 1964 to this year. The content of the portal can be searched through Google Books or the Met’s own catalogue.
Publications and Studies
- Internet Society: How the Internet Continues to Sustain Growth and Innovation
- Brookings Institution: Baked in and Wired: eDiplomacy at State
- Electronic Frontier Foundation: 4 Simple Changes to Stop Online Tracking
For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.