Originally published on November 7, 2012 at Global Voices Advocacy.
The 7th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is being held this week in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. From November 6 – 9, the annual UN-sponsored event is bringing together “all the stakeholders” under the same roof to discuss major Internet governance issues ranging from policing, to access, to content management, to freedom of expression online.
The event comes at an important juncture, weeks before the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), convened by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a UN sub-agency, starts in Dubai. Online free speech advocates have voiced concern over the lack of transparency of the decision-making process leading to the WCIT, which, they say, could profoundly alter the structure of the Internet and erode human rights online. For more about the issues at stake read this post by our team member Ellery Biddle.
The choice of Azerbaijan as host country for the meeting was also controversial. The former Soviet republic is hardly known for its respect of human rights and many rights organizations have expressed concern about holding the event in a country known for its “poor and worsening record on freedom of expression, online and offline.” Emin Milli, an Azerbaijani blogger and activist who was arrested in 2009 and imprisoned for more than a year for his dissidence online, posted an open letter to President Aliyev on the opening day of the conference, challenging the authorities’ claims that the Internet was free in his country. For further updates on the outcome of the IGF, stay tuned for more reports here on Global Voices Advocacy and in next week’s Netizen Report.
At the 34th Annual Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners’ Conference in Punta del Este, Uruguay, the chairman of the Dutch Data Protection Authority argued that the European Union’s draft Data Protection Regulation should be strengthened to clarify the concept of “explicit consent” before collection of personal information. Global Voices’ own Renata Avila also argued there is a special need for data protection regulations in Guatemala, where security measures such as surveillance cameras are increasing in response to violence. For a further round-up of the conference discussion, see the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website.
Russia’s Telecom Minister Nikolai Nikiforov asserted that the Russian government is not seeking to censor the Internet, in reference to a new law which aims to protect children from harmful websites by allowing authorities in Russia to be able to take down certain websites that post child-unfriendly content. Human Rights advocates and other websites including the Russian version of Wikipedia have expressed concerns that the new law, which took effect November 1, could increase online censorship in Russia.
In a review of Pakistan’s human rights standing by the UN Human Rights Council, the Netherlands recommended Pakistan remove restrictions on Internet access. Pakistan will respond to the recommendations by March 2013 at the 22nd session of the Council.
Singapore’s TODAY newspaper discussed censorship of certain topics and phrases by the Chinese microblogging network, Weibo, as posing both a danger and an opportunity for China’s new leaders. (China is undergoing a leadership transition this week.) The article discusses the way Chinese censors allow discussion to occur when regional level officials are involved, but are quick to clamp down microblogs that mention national figures.
An Internet cafe worker, Cao Haibao, who set up a web chat group that discussed social issues has been jailed in the run up to China’s leadership transition. Cao was sentenced to seven years in jail for “subversion of state power” in a secret hearing in the southwestern city of Kunming. Global Voices added its own coverage to the story.
A Bahraini Twitter user was sentenced to 6 months for insulting the country’s king over the microblogging service.
The censorship of Mexican non-profit video blogger Ruy Salgado, who rose to attention during the most recent election in Mexico, was profiled this week by Americas Quaterly. After disappearing from the Internet for 42 days, Salgaldo, known as “el 5santo,” ceased broadcasting after threats jeopardized his safety and his family. On his final online broadcast, a Skype call streamed live onto the Internet, he warned other bloggers to be “very careful.”
Four Facebook users were arrested in Iran this week for engaging in ‘propaganda activities against the regime’.
Reporters without Borders condemned the action taken by four banks in Bulgaria which sought to use a financial law to intimidate the Bulgarian portal for Wikileaks. The website, Bivol.bg, published a report that alleged malpractice in the banking industry using their sources to corroborate a American Embassy cable that mentioned ‘bad apples’ in these banks.
The New York Times Arts Section carries an Associated Press report on two Vietnamese musicians who were sentenced to prison terms for their creation and dissemination of protest songs. One song became a YouTube hit, but it did not stop the government from continuing their increased repression of freedom of expression online in recent weeks.
Cuba has accused the United States of using the US Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy in Havana to support government opponents through the provision of Internet access to Cuban dissidents. The Americans have countered that they are simply providing free access and courses on the Internet.
With President Barack Obama re-elected this week for a second term (thanks in part to his campaign’s superior digital strategy), analysts predict that Internet policy challenges will include copyright and privacy.
In Germany a new bill known as the ancillary copyright bill allowing news agencies to charge Google and similar web pages for displaying links to their articles in search results will be discussed by the Bundestag at the end of November. Similar legislation has been proposed in France and Brazil, as described in the Netizen Report on October 25.
Sovereigns of Cyberspace
According to The Brookings Institution, a Washington D.C. think tank, social media platforms and mobile devices have become more important than ever when it comes to winning a presidential election.
Although Twitter can be an important tool during crises, victims of Hurricane Sandy also learned the hard way that like any un-filtered, unedited source of raw information it can also be a source of misleading and inaccurate facts.
Last week Facebook was accused of censoring U.S. Navy SEALs who said President Obama denied them backup as forces overran the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya and killed the U.S. Ambassador. After a storm of criticism Facebook apologized and allowed the content to be posted, claiming that the content removal was not political but rather an enforcement of its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities which forbids tagging people without their consent. Herdict.org analyzes the challenges for social networking companies of enforcing anti-spam mechanisms without inflicting collateral damage on political activists who can often behave like spammers.
Chinese Internet companies Baidu and Qihoo have agreed on a code of conduct for fair competition in the wake of a dispute in which Baidu sued Qihoo for allegedly crawling Baidu’s search results.
Hacker group Anonymous threatened Facebook that they would take the site down and allow its users to play Zynga’s games free to protest Zynga’s announcement that it will lay off 1,000 of its employees.
According to the threat assessment report by Kaspersky, Russia is the most dangerous country in the world for Internet security and holds 23.2 percent of world’s malicious web content. It also stands at second in the list of countries with the highest risk of infection from malware.
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) requested Ubuntu address some privacy related issues including the “include online search results” default feature in their latest version of Ubuntu 12.10. The new search feature returns Amazon-affiliated advertisements for products as part of search results, and has been criticized for data leaks because of an insecure search function.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation announced the launch of the Open Wireless Movement , a joint effort in collaboration with nine other organizations to let users share their wireless networks without privacy infringement or sacrificing bandwidth for “a future with ubiquitous open Internet”.
In a guest post on Access, Miguel Morachimo of Hiperderecho.org discussed the challenges civil society actors are facing in their discussions on Internet public policy in Peru. He describes the goals of Hiperderecho [es], a group of young professionals studying and facilitating public understanding of public policy on the Internet in Peru.
In Bangladesh, the “Info Ladies” project carries laptops with Internet connections to remote villages to help women use Internet devices to access government services and chat with loved ones.
Facebook is testing a service that provides a free Wi-Fi hot spot for users who “check-in” at local businesses partnering with Facebook. Users who do not wish to use Facebook can also access Wi-Fi by obtaining the password for local businesses.
Publications and Studies
- Kevin Donovan and Aaron Martin: The Rise of African SIM Registration: Mobility, Identity, Surveillance & Resistance
- UNESCO: Global survey on Internet privacy and freedom of expression
- Pew Internet & American Life Project: Social Media and Political Engagement
For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.