This week the spotlight turns to Sub-Saharan Africa where Internet freedom advocates are demanding reform as a range of governments across the continent continue policies of censoring dissent. In Nairobi, Kenya, a Pan African Civil Society Workshop on “Who Controls the Internet?” published a statement calling for African nations to prioritize the UN Human Rights Council Resolution affirming freedom of expression online. The participating organizations also called on governments across Africa to endorse the African Platform for Access to Information and to apply its principles.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has called upon United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to increase pressure for free expression during her 11-day tour of the region. In one of her first stops on the tour Clinton visited South Africa, where proposed legislation could mandate up to 25 years in prison for journalists and government whistleblowers who leak, possess or publish classified government documents. This week Clinton is also visiting Nigeria, whose Senate President David Mark has called for a clampdown on social media. Amidst a backlash by Nigerian netizens, Mark said that his comments were taken out of context.
Human Rights Watch has also issued a report calling upon Angola to stop censoring free speech in advance of its elections on August 31. Opposition party leader Isaias Samakuva has criticized attacks on press freedom by the ruling party, a repeat of government-biased media crackdowns practiced in 2008.
Two newspapers in Gabon, Ezombolo and La Une [fr], have been suspended by the government for six months for criticizing political figures in their columns. The government’s National Communications Council also accused Ezombolo of “threatening public order” by running an opinion piece urging troops not to obey orders to shoot protesters.
Moving on to Asia, two newspapers in Myanmar, The Voice and The Envoy, were also suspended for failing to submit stories to government censors, but solidarity support from other online publications caused the government to back down and allow their return as of August 18. Taking a cue from Wikipedia’s website blackout used to protest the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA), The Messenger, Express Time and The Nation blacked out their websites in protest on August 6, following a protest march on August 4.
France’s new Minister of Culture Aurélie Filippetti plans to cut the budget of France’s Internet piracy police group, Hadopi, which some speculate could be part of a larger plan to shutter the agency by newly-elected French President Francois Hollande.
Leaked text obtained by nonprofit Knowledge Ecology International from negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement indicates that the United States and Australia would require that fair use exceptions to copyright to be subject to an international standard.
Embedding copyright-infringing video content from third party websites is not a crime, according to a US Court of Appeals ruling that favors social video bookmarking website MyVidster in a lawsuit leveled by Flava Works, a pornography production company.
A leaked memo authored by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) describes how its employees are being briefed to tell reporters that TVShack.net founder and UK citizen Richard O’Dwyer “profited handsomely from advertising on the site,” which links to infringing videos rather than hosting them. With the help of Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales, O’Dwyer is fighting extradition to the US to face charges of copyright infringement.
Supporters in Washington, DC, New York, and elsewhere are campaigning for Ethiopia to release journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega. Nega was found guilty in June along with 23 other activists for “participation in a terrorist organization,” and in mid-July was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Nazir al-Majid has been released without charges by Syrian authorities after spending a year in solitary confinement.
Two Sri Lankan news websites, the Sri Lanka Mirror and Sri Lanka X News, have been raided by the Criminal Investigation Department’s Colombo Crime Division. Sri Lanka X News is tied to the primary opposition party the United National Party (UNP).
Iranian blogger Ahmad Shariat has been arrested. The National reports that Shariat is among pro-administration bloggers that have faced arrest in an ongoing power struggle.
A Vietnamese woman, Dang Thi Kim Lieng, self-immolated outside of a government building to protest the detention of her daughter, blogger Ta Phong Tan. She died of her burns on July 30. In a trial that began on August 7, which barred family from attending, Tan and two other bloggers face 20 years in prison for maintaining the Free Journalists Club blog, which the government states “distort[s] the truth, denigrat[es] the party and state.”
The Verge reported that “Olympic ‘Wi-Fi’” police were spotted shutting down unsanctioned Wi-Fi hotspots, officially including Wi-Fi on the list of items controlled at the Olympics. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games also shut down a free service that would alert users when tickets for Olympics events were available.
Next month Iran will unplug its ministries from the global Internet as part of a move to operate a national intranet.
Brazil’s government will vote on August 8 on the proposed Marco Civil, a legal framework of civil rights for Internet users in Brazil. The bill outlines protection for Internet users’ personal data and requires Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to inform the public of content removals.
Freedom House has launched a contest called the Internet Governance Forum Incubator Project. Project finalists will be part of Freedom House’s delegation to the IGF and at least two projects will receive funding.
In Sudan, bloggers are using online channels such as tweeting the hashtag #sudanrevolts in response to President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s crackdown on conventional media stifling protests against government austerity.
Sovereigns of cyberspace
Amidst rumors that Chinese-based telecommunications company Huawei is providing wiretap backdoors for the Chinese government, German security researcher Felix Lindner has told CNET that security flaws in Huawei’s routers already offer monitoring opportunities. In response Huawei stated that it seeks out such security gaps and requested input from businesses.
The now publicly-traded Facebook estimated 83 million of its approximately 955 million registered users were “fake” (not under the user’s real legal name) according to its latest SEC filing released on Thursday, available here. It claims some use pseudonyms to seek privacy, but 14 million “undesirable” users estimated in the report use fake names to spread links to malware.
In the US Senate, the Cybersecurity Act was defeated, gaining only 52 of the required 60 votes. The bill would have established a National Cybersecurity Council to coordinate with network managers in critical infrastructure industries such as emergency services, energy, banking, health care and communications. President Obama supports the bill and is considering an executive order to strengthen security measures if Congress does not pass the legislation.
The Twitter account and blog of Reuters were hacked and posted phony news tweets favoring the Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad and fake White House statements taking Al-Qaeda off the terrorist agency list. While the hacks are unattributed, they resemble hacks by the Syrian Electronic Army on Al Jazeera’s Twitter account in January.
An article by India’s Economic Times reports that Research in Motion (RIM), best known for its popular BlackBerry mobile services, has bowed to years of pressure from Indian authorities and provided a data solution allowing the government access to encrypted communications. The company stated in response “RIM cannot access information encrypted through BlackBerry Enterprise Server as RIM is not ever in possession of the encryption keys.” RIM set up servers and interception facilities in Mumbai in October after India threatened to shut down BlackBerry services because it could not wiretap encrypted communications.
The Norwegian Data Authority is investigating the privacy implications of Facebook’s Tag Suggestions feature, a default facial recognition option, which Facebook states complies with EU privacy laws because user can opt out of the feature. The US Senate questioned Facebook about facial recognition use on the website’s photos in July.
The World Wide Web turned 21 on August 6.
Global Voices Advocacy announced a new Facebook page.
Santiago Atitlan, an indigenous Guatemalan village, has declared Internet access a human right and is working to build a community wireless network to provide access.
Publications and Studies
- La Quadrature du Net: Proposals for the Reform of Copyright and Related Culture and Media Policy
- Liberation Tech: How Companies Could Fix Social Media’s Net Censorship Problem
- Journal For Communication Studies: Evaluating Press Freedom: Have Social Media Changed the Landscape?
- Internet Society: Internet Interconnections Proposals For New Interconnection Model Comes Up Short
- Freedom House: Safety on the Line:Exposing the Myth of Mobile Communication Security
- Department of Homeland Security Chief Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan: Published Privacy Impact Assessments on the Web
For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.