How not to kill the Internet when fighting terror

Yesterday I testified at a hearing titled The Evolution of Terrorist Propaganda: The Paris Attack and Social Media convened by the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade. I am not a counter-terrorism expert but I do have a few things to say about how not to destroy Internet users’ right to freedom of expression and privacy. Below is my five-minute oral testimony as delivered, with links added. A pdf of my more detailed written testimony, along testimony of all other speakers can be found here. Video is here.

How do we fight terrorism and violent extremism in the Internet age while not undermining the core principles and freedoms of democratic and open societies?

Terrorists are not the only people who are using social media powerfully and effectively. Yesterday I returned from the Philippines where I participated in a conference of bloggers, activists, and citizen journalists from all over the world. People who believe in freedom of expression, the open Internet, and multicultural tolerance. Many people connected to this community face serious threats of censorship and imprisonment when they write about subjects or advocate policy positions that their governments find threatening. In countries like Ethiopia, Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, China and elsewhere some have even been charged under broad anti-terror laws that are habitually used as tools to keep incumbent regimes in power.

In response to the tragic massacre in Paris, the French government has called for UN member states to work together on an international legal framework that would place greater responsibility on social networks and other Internet platforms for terrorist use of their services. In addressing the problem of terrorist use of social networking platforms, the United States should adhere to the following principles:

First, multi-stakeholder policymaking. The US opposes UN control over Internet governance because many UN member states advocate policies that would make the Internet much less free and open. Instead the US supports a multi-stakeholder approach that includes industry, civil society, and the technical community alongside governments in setting policies and technical standards that ensure that the Internet functions globally. In constructing global responses to terrorist use of the Internet we need a multi-stakeholder approach for the same reasons.

Second, any national level laws, regulations, or policies aimed at regulating or policing online activities should undergo a human rights risk assessment process to identify potential negative repercussions for freedom of expression, assembly and privacy. Governments need to be transparent with the public about the nature and volume of requests being made to companies. Companies need to be able to uphold core principles of freedom of expression and privacy, grounded in international human rights standards. Several major US-based Internet companies have made commitments to uphold these rights as members of the multi-stakeholder Global Network Initiative. Guidelines for implementing these commitments include: narrowly interpreting government demands to restrict content or grant access to user data or communications; challenging government requests that lack a clear user basis; transparency with users about the types of government requests received and the extent to which the company complies; restricting compliance to the online domains over which the requesting government actually has jurisdiction.

Third, liability for Internet intermediaries including social networks for users’ behavior must be kept limited. Research conducted around the world by human rights experts and legal scholars shows clear evidence that when companies are held liable for users’ speech and activity, violations of free expression and privacy can be expected to occur. Limited liability for Internet companies is an important prerequisite for keeping the Internet open and free.

Fourth, development and enforcement of companies’ Terms of Service and other forms of private policing must also undergo human rights risk assessments. Any new procedures developed by companies to eliminate terrorist activity from their platforms must be accompanied by engagement with key affected stakeholders and at-risk groups.

Fifth, in order to prevent abuse and maintain public support for the measures taken, governments as well as companies must provide effective, accessible channels for grievance and remedy for people whose rights to free expression, assembly, and privacy have been violated. Thank you for listening and I look forward to your questions.

The above recommendations were informed by my years of work on Internet free expression and privacy issues, the Global Network Initiative’s principles and implementation guidelines, standards for Internet and other ICT sector companies currently under development by the Ranking Digital Rights project, and a new report published by UNESCO titled Fostering Freedom Online: The Role of Internet Intermediaries.

In the Q&A session, in response to a question about why companies don’t do a better job of working with the government and others to take down terrorist speech, I tried to remind the committee that we have a bit of a trust deficit between Silicon Valley and the national security community these days. In the wake of Edward Snowden’s surveillance revelations, U.S. companies are already under fire for how NSA has used them for surveillance. The lack of trust, accountability and transparency about the relationship between Internet companies and the US government is a barrier to constructive dialogue. If I’d had more time to comment, I would have suggested that an overhaul of this country’s surveillance laws might be a good place to start in building trust between companies, government, and Internet users. Calling for back doors and opposing encryption doesn’t help either.

Here is the full video:

World Policy Journal: Joining Zone Nine

In the latest issue of the World Policy Journal, I write about the absurd “terrorism” trial of Ethiopia’s “Zone 9” bloggers and point out that the crackdown in Ethiopia against online speech is part of a disturbing global trend.

Governments are fighting back against the Internet’s empowering, decentralized character. They are upgrading their own institutional, military, and technical power.  They are passing laws criminalizing various forms of online speech and enforcing those laws with police, security, and intelligence forces. Law enforcement and intelligence services of democracies, as well as dictatorships, are pushing their powers of surveillance to the limit. Many governments are also finding new and creative ways to control through their legal and technical powers what people can and especially cannot do on the Internet and with mobile devices.

The piece concludes:

As we think globally, those of us lucky enough to live in democracies must not forget that Internet freedom starts at home. If we cannot figure out how to constrain government and corporate power over digital networks people depend on, prepare to join our Ethiopian friends in Zone 9.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Netizen Report: WCIT Edition

Originally published December 6, 2012 on Global Voices Advocacy.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


A number of websites in Romania with .ro domains including,, and 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 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.

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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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, and 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.


In response to thousands of complaints with screenshots submitted by the public via, 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.


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.


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.


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.”


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 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.


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

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: Chinese Leadership & Censorship Edition

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

Image via Flickr user (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 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.


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.


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.


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.”


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 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

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.


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

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

Netizen Report: Baku Edition

Originally published on November 7, 2012 at Global Voices Advocacy.

Image via Flickr User InternetSociety. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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

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.

Facebook integrated their privacy policy into the registration tutorial for new users this week. According to analysts, this was done in an effort to encourage users to share more by understanding how Facebook would use their data. 


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,, 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.

National Policy

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.


Intending to increase transparency, Twitter will leave a message titled “Tweet withheld” for any content removed due to copyright violations, and removal requests will be sent to Chilling Effects.

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. 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.

Netizen Activism

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 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.

Cool Things

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

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

Netizen Report: Cyber-Police Edition

Originally published November 2, 2012 at Global Voices Advocacy.

police tape

Image via Flickr user freefotouk (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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

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.


Microsoft has changed its privacy policy – which it calls a “service agreement” – related to the collection of user information from its web-based products like e-mail and search. A user’s information from one service can now be used to improve other services. The company had previously stated that it would not use such information for the purpose of targeted advertising, but the new policy does not explicitly say it will not do so. Microsoft is now being investigated by EU Privacy regulators.

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.

National Policy

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. [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.

Internet Governance

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.

Netizen Activism

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.

Cool Things

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

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

Netizen Report: Malawi & Zambia Regulation Edition

Originally published on October 25, 2012 on Global Voices Advocacy.

justice mponda journalist Justice Mponda was released on bail after his arrest on libel charges following the introduction of an online regulatory bill in Malawi’s Parliament. Photo courtesy of

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

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.

Verizon may use users’ personal data for marketing related purposes, according to its new privacy policy. Although it can be opted-out at any time, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has said such monitoring of customers’ data could be against with Wiretap Act.

National policy

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.

Internet governance

ICANN has launched a new website 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.

Netizen activism

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.

Cool things

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

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

Netizen Report: Subpoena Edition

Originally published on October 18, 2012 on Global Voices Advocacy.

Oil barrel in Ecuador, Amazon Mycorenewal Project, by newmy51 on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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

Chevron has sought data through U.S. courts from Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft email accounts of lawyers and other individuals involved with an $18 billion court case against the company in Ecuador. The legal action is taking place in a California federal court, the spillover of legal battles in Ecuador that has pitted the California-based multinational energy corporation against indigenous Amazonian Indians. The subpoenas are part of a larger effort by Chevron to discredit the February 2011 ruling in Ecuador, which found Chevron responsible for polluting the Ecuadorian jungle. Chevron contends that the lawyers for plaintiffs used fraud and misconduct to achieve the judgment and that the subpoena will allow the gathering of data from email accounts that would give evidence to this effect.

A total of 101 people, some only indirectly connected to the case, have had their email accounts targeted by the subpoena. Any digital interaction with the plaintiffs’ lawyer seems to be a condition for inclusion in the subpoena. Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google have provided notices to their users about the request for information, with Melbourne-based law professor and blogger Kevin Jon Hellmer detailing his experience. Last week CNet reported that Google has asked the court to deny Chevron’s request for immediate disclosure, arguing it’s “simply unreasonable to demand that Google collect, review, and produce this volume of information in less than 30 days.” Chevron subsequently agreed to more time.


Twitter has blocked a neo-Nazi account to users in Germany upon request from German authorities, because its content is illegal in Germany. The account remains visible elsewhere. Here is the announcement by Twitter General Counsel Alex MacGillivray and here is the text of the German order, posted at

In an ongoing crackdown, Uzbekistan’s state monopoly telecommunications operator Uztelecom has blocked proxy servers which enable the nation’s Internet users to access websites blocked by the government. According to Uznews, currently the company has only blocked servers that contain the keyword “proxy,” but soon it will expand the list to include more servers.

About 10,000 people, many of them Muslims, protested outside Google’s London headquarters, demanding the company take down the controversial anti-Islam movie trailer “The Innocence of Muslims.” Another protest march is expected to take place in Hyde Park in coming weeks.

Also in a reaction to the video, Saudi Arabia’s government said at the World Telecommunications Policy Forum, an occasion where members of International Telecommunication Union exchange views on telecommunication policy, that there should be more international cooperation to “address ‘freedom of expression’ which clearly disregards public order.”

There are growing concerns among tech-savvy Syrians that the government will shut down the Internet.

Palestinians in Gaza are concerned that Hamas could extend an online porn ban to political websites. has released a new search tool Free Weibo through which users can conduct anonymous and uncensored searches for messages on the popular Chinese microblog Sina Weibo, even including messages that have been deleted by censors.

Recently the online community Reddit, a longtime supporter of free speech, faced a dilemma over whether to block links to articles on the blogs Jezebel and Gawker that reveal the true identity of a Reddit user. Some volunteer moderators even asked to ban links to other Gawker pages. The Reddit staff initially banned the links site-wide, but then lifted the ban and let moderators decide whether to restrict access in their subreddits.


Apple’s new iOS 6 includes features that track user information for advertising purposes. Although an opt out feature is included, Apple has faced criticism for making the op-out feature difficult to turn on.

European Union regulators have given Google three to four months to clarify the company’s new privacy policy, which was the product of Google’s decision earlier this year to consolidate all of the different privacy policies across its many platforms into one policy. Google’s privacy policy does not allow for an opt-out, which is required under EU law. The French data protection commissioner, the CNIL, issued a press release criticizing the policy for “incomplete information and uncontrolled combination of data across services.”

A law in Slovakia that compels telecommunication and ISP companies to monitor the communications of all users, including those not suspected of any crimes, has been challenged in court by members of Slovakia’s parliament.


The New Zealand Ministry of Social Development suffered a major data breach after it failed to prevent users from accessing the ministry’s entire network as well as other department data via a PC internet kiosk for job seekers.

The majority of 27,900 IP attacks that affected 7.8 million computers in China come from the United States, according to China’s National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team.

National Policy

Prompted by a recent case in which a teenager in the United Kingdom has been sentenced to 12 weeks in jail for making offensive jokes, as well as an increase in arrests resulting from irritating online messages, the British director of public prosecutions is considering encouraging social media companies to become more involved in moderating their own websites.


The Derivative Work Concern Group in Hong Kong has condemned actions taken by YouTube that led to the deletion of an authorized derivative song that commemorated the victims of a recent ship crash. Google responded that it was acting on the content owner’s policy of deleting matched content on YouTube.

Sovereigns of Cyberspace

Apple has removed a free map application that uses Google data from its App store. The application had some features resembling Apple’s previous maps app, which was replaced with the launch of iOS6.

Following an antitrust investigation into Google’s business practices, the US Federal Trade Commission has drafted a memo suggesting the government sue Google. The focus of the investigation includes whether Google has manipulated search results to favor its own services, and whether the company has prevented phone makers from dropping Google’s products.

Twitter has opened an office in South Korea and plans to launch localized features.

Wikimedia Foundation and Saudi Telecom (STC) have signed a deal to offer free Wikipedia access to the telecom company’s customers in the Middle East. Soon customers will be able to visit Wikipedia via cell phone without being charged data fees.

Internet Governance

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is meeting in Toronto this week. Anybody with an Internet connection can follow the proceedings online. The California-based non-profit organization which coordinates the world’s web addresses has unveiled a new plan to increase ICANN’s participation and presence across Africa.

The Non-Commercial Users’ Constituency held a conference on Internet governance prior to the ICANN meeting. You can watch the entire proceedings online here.

Last week India held an Internet Governance Conference which was heralded by the Internet Society as a “multistakeholders success story.”

The Secretariat of the International Telecommunication Union hosted a briefing for civil society organizations, hoping to provide an overview for those who look for more information on the procedure and issues that will be discussed in the World Conference on International Telecommunications. However, a report from the Center for Technology & Democracy says the meeting left many questions unanswered.

Netizen Activism

Hacker network Anonymous was enraged by Wikileaks’ installment of a paywall soliciting donations on its website. A press release attributed to Anonymous announced they will no longer risk prison sentences for Wikileaks nor its founder Julian Assange. Anonymous and Wikileaks had been allies, and have cooperated to reveal sensitive and classified information to the public.

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.