The past two weeks have been highly tumultuous for Internet activists around the world as governments continue to crack down on online protests. In Syria, the well-known blogger and free speech advocate Razan Ghazzawi was again arrested along with her colleagues by the Syrian government. Last December, Ghazzawi was kept in custody for 15 days. Although she and her female colleagues were released on February 18, 2012, other male colleagues remain in detention.
Another Internet activist who was arrested for second time in the past two months for her efforts for civil rights was Bahraini blogger Zainab Al-Khawaja, who was brutally first arrested by the Bahraini police last December. She was arrested again on February 14, during a peaceful demonstration demanding democracy.
In North Africa, two Moroccan students were accused of “defaming Morocco’s sacred value” for their Facebook post and Youtube videos which mocked the country’s King. In Saudi Arabia, the young journalist Hazma Kashgari’s ridicule of the Prophet Mohammed on Twitter also made him the target of the government.
The list of Internet activists who are threatened does not end here (more are listed below). There are many netizens who are fighting for their right to speak out and are facing increased government antagonism. Their efforts have raised attention around the web and gained support from the public.
Among other institutions which are concerned about the freedom of speech, Global Voices and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have teamed up for the project Bloggers Under Fire, hoping to deliver more information on free speech advocates’ struggles. We believe that, with the power of information and collaboration among netizens, the plight and the efforts of brave people like Ghazzawi and Al-Khawaja can raise awareness, and even lead to action amongst the global community.
More news about thuggery and other noticeable events in the cyberspace are as follows:
Journalists in Iran are encountering strong government opposition (see the ‘censorship’ section below), and are also facing email threats from anonymous sources. The threats from the government have even extended to the activists’ families: the jailed blogger Mehdi Khazali’s wife and daughter were reported to be kidnapped by security forces. The Iranian-Canadian programmer, Saeed Malekpour, whose web program was misused by others to upload pornography, is also going to be executed “at any moment”.
On the other side of the world, the Chinese activist Zhu Yufu was sentenced for seven years in jail for “inciting subversion of state power”. Another free speech activist’s family in China was also harassed and had their personal information released online.
In South Korea, a judge who lampooned his president on Twitter and Facebook has resigned from office. Although it seems that the judge left because of a poor work evaluation, his supporters have claimed that the real reason was a series of sarcastic online messages.
The Internet in Iran was once again disrupted on February 10. This time, the websites affected were those using Secure Sockets Layer protocol, which facilitates encrypted communication. Internet traffic returned to normal few days later. The reason for the disruption is still unknown, however some speculate that the Iranian government attempted to stop possible demonstrations before an upcoming March election. Others said it foreshadows the coming of an Iranian ‘National Internet’, by which the government intends to fend off websites which contradict its ideology.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is has also become more aggressive in ‘managing’ Weibo, the popular microblog service in China. According to Oiwan Lam’s report on Global Voices, the CCP will set up monitoring divisions within Weibo after the real-name registration policy is widely implemented. Currently, the main Weibo service has required all users to register with their real identity. However, the rule doesn’t seem apply to overseas users. To learn more about Weibo and how Chinese netizens circumvent Internet censorship, check out The Stream episode ‘Censorship in China’ on Al Jazeera’s website.
The Brazilian government has demanded web hosting companies take down domain names which “relate pornography with Brazil or characteristics associated with the Brazilian Identity on its domain name(s)”, though the Brazilian government may have no jurisdiction over the domain name since it is an .eu domain. Meanwhile, the government also took advantage of Twitter’s controversial censorship policy to stop Brazilian Twitter users from warning drivers of police traffic points on road.
The quality of the Internet connection in Thailand has worsened. This report revealed that the reason is that the government has set up a “war room”, an institution located in a Bangkok suburb to filter the Internet connection and resulted in a traffic jam in the Information highway.
In Uzbekistan, Wikipedia articles in the Uzbek language have all been blocked.
After Tunisia’s censorship machine was shut down with the fall of the Ben Ali regime, Tunisians are now debating where the line should be for limits on the freedom of speech; the Tunisian court has ordered the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI) to block pornography websites, while ATI has fought back by bringing the case to a higher court after losing its first round of appeals.
Reporters without Borders has started creating mirror sites for independent news websites to circumvent censorship and cyber-attacks from governments or other parties. Currently the websites mirrored have included Chechen magazine Dosh and the Sri Lankan online newspaper Lanka-e News.
The Wall Street Journal and the Guardian have investigated a database listing attendees to the ISS world trade surveillance shows, which took place in Washington DC. It seems not only are human rights abusing regimes attending but also local US police departments.
New Canadian legislation on lawful access has sparked new surveillance concerns.
Citizen journalism is flourishing in Pakistan as broadband Internet subscribers have risen by 1.5 million subscribers between 2005 and 2011.
Jimmy Wales and Kat Walsh of Wikipedia write in the Washington Post about the role of grassroots Internet users in defeating the SOPA/PIPA legislation in January, and Wikipedia’s dedication to protecting users’ rights.
Middle East Voices, a news grassroots social journalism website has created a digital forum, Lulu Live, which resembles Pinterest. The site is designed for online communications concerning the development of the Arab Spring.
The European Court of Justice has ruled that online social network sites cannot be forced to create filters to prevent users from downloading songs illegally.
Anonymous has leaked emails which show pro-Kremlin groups have paid bloggers for positive reports. The leaked emails show that some Internet users were paid more than US$20,000 to bombard negative stories about Putin with comments. Recently a leading Moscow newspaper filed a complaint with Russian security services which alleged that the country’s main Kremlin-funded youth group was behind a wave of illegal Internet attacks that caused the paper’s website to crash in 2008.
Internet law professor Susan Crawford makes the case for a publicly owned Internet service. Crawford writes that some states in the United States plan to build up a public Internet access network, but have encountered roadblocks from the telecommunication industry.
The Chinese government is building a platform to regulate Internet TV in China as part of a larger movement to regulate entertainment television programming viewed as harmful by the government.
Sovereigns of cyberspace
Google is getting closer to expanding its business into mobile device manufacturing, after the European Union and US gave green light to Google for its acquisition of Motorola.
Korea Telecom announced that it will be restricting Internet access by Samsung’s Smart TVs, removing their ability to download and run apps, and curtailing streaming.
An African entrepreneur writes his observations on the opportunities and challenges in building social networking businesses in Africa.
A Singapore-based iOS software developer has discovered that the popular social-networking app Path violates privacy protections. In the course of every new account creation, Path uploads the new user’s entire iPhone address book to their servers. The app is used on both Apple and Google’s phones and both companies have responded to the claims.
After a strong public response to this finding, Path has released a new version of the app which asks for permission before it sends your address book to its servers and has blogged about the episode. Advocacy organizations such as EFF are calling for greater responsibility on the part of tech companies and app developers to protect users’ privacy.
There has been growing opposition to ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement); as anti-ACTA protests have spread across Europe, governments are backing away from the global treaty as well as speaking up about their concerns. After the Polish Prime Minister suspended any effort to ratify ACTA and the European President criticized ACTA, the Czech Prime Minister announced that the government there will suspend the ACTA ratification process. Also, the Lithuanian Minister has completely condemned ACTA and Germany has also backed away from ACTA, as well as Bulgaria and The Netherlands, citing privacy and human rights concerns. US citizens are also taking action by signing petitions urging the US administration to ratify ACTA.
TPP, the Transpacific Partnership Agreement is a trade agreement that a number of countries, including the US are negotiating secretly. Opponents are concerned that TPP could have widespread ramifications including criminalizing small scale copyright infringement, kicking people off the Internet.
A company, Eolas, claimed to hold a patent on the interactive web. Tim Berners-Lee showed up in the court to be the witness. The jury reached the conclusion soon and ruled that the patent was invalid.
The Dutch government has proposed making copyright exceptions more flexible to protect remix artists.
The Associated Press is suing a paid news subscription company, alleging that repackaging AP’s content is a “parasitic business model”.
On the heels of SOPA’s defeat, a group of senators introduced the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 on February 16. This legislation that would allow for public-private sector cooperation in combating security threats online and enforce cybersecurity measures for companies with computer systems running at “critical infrastructure”.
Civil liberties groups are concerned that among other things, “the bill creates an equally sweeping immunity against law-breaking so long as the law-breaking provides information to a “cybersecurity exchange”. Another element is that “one of the provisions set in the bill states that the Secretary of State is “authorized” to prioritize aid to programs designed to combat cybercrime in a region”.
In Japan, Wi-Fi service is now offered from vending machines.
Funded by the State Department and New America Foundation among others, activists are increasing development of projects designed to provide countermeasures against government surveillance.
- John Villasenor: Recording everything: Digital Storage as an Enabler of Authoritarian Governments
- Lee Rainie, Amanda Lenhart, Aaron Smith: The tone of life on social networking sites
- Jillian York: The Arab Digital Vanguard: How a Decade of Blogging Contributed to a Year of Revolution
- New global statistics have been released: Internet World Stats: usage and population statistics.