The Global Digital Download is a weekly publication that aggregates resources on Internet freedom, highlighting trends in digital and social media that intersect with freedom of expression, policy, privacy, censorship and new technologies. The GDD includes information about relevant events, news, and research. To find past articles and research, search the archive database.
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(The Christian Science Monitor, Tuesday, November 12, 2013)
The NSA has been accused on spying on countries around the world, from Russia to Germany to France. The country with the loudest reaction, however, has been Brazil. Since the revelations, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff has cancelled a state dinner with President Obama, pushed for worldwide Internet governance through the United Nations, is overseeing the development of a state-run encrypted e-mail system, and suggested Brazil should build underwater cables that would route Internet traffic around the US. Now the most pressing response is making its way through Brazil's Congress. New legislation would require Brazilian's personal data to be stored within the country, which would force tech giants such as Google and Facebook to build servers on South American soil. When paired with Brazil’s position as an emerging technology hub, this move has some big implications, potentially bolstering the country’s tech industry and shifting Internet dominance away from the US.
(Global Voices, Sunday, November 10, 2013)
Regional authorities in Russia are cracking down on local opposition bloggers, persecuting them for alleged “extremism.” On November 6, 2013 Andrey Teslenko, a blogger from the Siberian town of Novoaltaisk, announced on his LiveJournal blog [ru] that he was approached by police who questioned him about a video called “Let's remind the crooks and thieves about their 2002-Manifesto,” which appears on his page on the social network VKontakte. Teslenko did not author the video or even upload it — he merely re-posted an October 28, 2013 post [ru] by the leading opposition blogger Alexey Navalny. In his post Navalny was making light of the fact that a regional Novosibirsk court has included the 2011 video (easily found on Navalny's YouTube channel where it has over 2 million views) in the federal list of “extremist” media. It is indeed unclear why the video, which calls on people vote for any party but United Russia because they are “crooks and thieves,” made it to a list that includes an image of a boy, hand raised in a Nazi salute, with a caption “Death to the Jews.”
(The Guardian, Saturday, November 9, 2013)
Over a few weeks' worth of bedtimes in the summer of 1984, my dad read me Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Though the dystopian context would have been lost on nine-year old me, the pervasive malevolence and the futility of the struggle was not. References to Orwell are never far off today, whether to Big Brother and the surveillance society, or doublethink and Room 101. The Orwellian dystopia is so familiar now to us – and so astonishingly real – that we might need a new cultural reference, a new literary vision to warn of what lies ahead. It's the relentless creep of progress and development that inevitably makes our worst nightmares and most brilliant visions a reality. Fifty years ago, security expert Eugene Kaspersky told a conference last week, the public would have been protesting on the streets at the idea that cameras would be surveilling every public placeacross the country, all day, every day. Today, we just accept it.
(Index on Censorship, Friday, November 8, 2013)
This week saw some movement in the debate over NSA and GCHQ surveillance, and a court case that could have very serious consequences. The court case first. One Wednesday and Thursday, the court of Appeal held a judicial review into the use of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act taken by David Miranda, partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald. Miranda was detained in transit at Heathrow airport under Schedule 7 while carrying encrypted documents that had emanated, ultimately, from whistleblower Edward Snowden. The question was whether the authorities, knowing who Miranda was, what he was likely to be carrying, and his purpose for holding the documents, had a right to detain him under that particular piece of law. It’s quite technical, but it comes down to whether carrying the documents Miranda was carrying could be seen as an act of terrorism or an act that could potentially aid terrorism (as the government and police argue) or as part of a journalistic enterprise (in essence, what Miranda is arguing). Index and other organisations have weighed in in support of the argument put forward by Miranda’s team, as we worry that a ruling against Miranda could have serious implications. Journalism can often operate in dubious areas: whether material “leaked” or “stolen” for example, is a question that can have very different answers depending on who you ask.
(Annenberg School for Communication, Thursday, November 7, 2013)
Using proxy servers in Iran, researchers Collin Anderson and Nima Nazeri scanned 800,000 Persian language Wikipedia articles. Every blocked article was identified and blocked pages were divided into ten categories to determine the type of content to which state censors are most adverse. In total, 963 blocked articles were found, covering a range of socio-political and sexual content including politics, journalism, the arts, religion, sex, sexuality, and human rights. Censors repeatedly targeted Wikipedia pages about government rivals, minority religious beliefs, and criticisms of the state, officials, and the police. Just under half of the blocked Wiki-pages are biographies, including pages about individuals the authorities have allegedly detained or killed. Based on prior research, it is known that Iran’s Internet filtration relies on blacklists of specifically designated URLs and URL keywords. Keyword filtration blindly blocks pages that contain prohibited character patterns in the URL. Sexual content is the main target of keywords, for example most keywords are sexual and/or profane terms. We found dozens of pages that seem to be unintentionally censored by keyword filtering, meaning that they were misidentified as sexual or profane and contained no content likely to offend Iranian authorities. See below for infographic.
(Access, Thursday, November 7, 2013)
The 8th annual U.N. Internet Governance Forum wrapped up late last month in Bali, Indonesia. This year’s official main theme was “Building Bridges – Enhancing Multi-stakeholder Cooperation for Growth and Sustainable Development”; however, mass online surveillance and a recently announced 2014 world summit on internet governance dominated many discussions at the IGF. The political landscape around global internet governance has changed dramatically since last year’s IGF held in Baku, Azerbaijan, when discussions centered around the upcoming, controversial the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT). In Baku, the U.S., the European Union, and allies were warning of attempts by authoritarian governments to regulate, censor, and surveil the internet through an international telecommunications treaty being negotiated at WCIT. By way of contrast, this year, ongoing revelations of mass surveillance primarily by the U.S. National Security Agency, have meant that many of the same governments have lost their moral authority as leaders in “internet freedom.” The IGF, which brings together civil society, companies, the technical community, governments and all interested stakeholders to discuss internet policy, afforded the opportunity to raise concerns on surveillance in both a public and private way with the governments and companies that are at the center of the scandal. While criticized by some participants as being too much of a polite UN-style meeting, the IGF provided an inclusive venue to share perspectives on how to reach a proper balance between security concerns and human rights, to address the lack of trust in the technical institutions and companies that play a key role in the functioning of the internet, and perhaps most importantly, to strategize on how to rein in mass surveillance.
(Reporters Without Borders, Thursday, November 7, 2013)
Reporters Without Borders condemns today’s decision by a Bangkok appeal court to uphold Prachatai news website editor Chiranuch Premchaiporn’s May 2012 conviction on a charge of lèse-majesté for failing to remove anti-monarchist comments from the site quickly enough. “This ruling sets a dangerous precedent for editors, who could now be held responsible for the comments that visitors post on their sites,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The judicial system’s obstinacy is appalling, but the fight for freedom of information must not be abandoned. We will keep on condemning use of lèse-majesté charges to persecute critics of the monarchy.” The court also upheld the eight-month suspended prison sentence that Chiranuch received at the original trial, arguing that, as an experienced journalist, she should have known that “criminals” often use the Internet to attack the monarchy and that it is every Thai citizen’s duty to defend the royal family.
(Global Voices Online, Thursday, November 7, 2013)
A new study shows that China's Communist Party is winning an “ideological battle” against public opinion leaders on social media and other commentary platforms in China. At the recent China Internet Media Forum, People’s Daily Public Opinion Monitoring Unit director Zhu Huaxin presented data illustrating the initial impact of an online offensive launched by the Chinese Communist Party in August of this year. The results show a marked drop in political commentary and conversation on social networks and other platforms over the past two months. The offensive began on August 10, when the State Internet Information Office convened a group of major online opinion leaders and Internet celebrities and compelled them to adopt and promote a set of seven “self-censorship guidelines.”
(ZDNet, Wednesday, November 6, 2013)
Google isn't exactly in the European Union's good-books at the moment, as the Internet giant continues to negotiate a settlement with the 28 member state bloc amid allegations of anticompetitive business practices. After a series of back and forth's between the two, Google's latest settlement package may be just enough to appease regulators, who are eyeing a $5 billion fine or a partial block of its business in the region as a backup last resort. First published by London's Financial Times (paywalled), leaked images show what Google may look like in Europe after a antitrust settlement is hammered out. The new competition links, which appear under the paid-for "sponsored" search results, are a subtle but important change. With larger text and icons, it allows users to check results from rival search engines and services.
(ZDNet, Tuesday, November 5, 2013)
At the recent Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Bali, I met Moez Chakchouk, CEO of Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI), who had a fascinating tale to tell. Pre-revolution, ATI was the agency responsible for all things Internet in Tunisia--the first African country to connect to the Internet. These ranged from dealing with ISPs, running the IXP, domain names, DNS, IP address allocation, as well as censorship and surveillance. One infamous incident the agency faced was when activists started the Ammar404 campaign, referring to the 404 error code for displaying censored pages, in protest against the ATI. Post-revolution, the options for ATI were understandably bleak. ATI could not operate the way it previously did despite years of building up the country's infrastructure and expertise. Stepping into his CEO role, Moez had to chart the new course and led the agency on a path of openness and best practices. This process was greatly aided by the local and international civil society as well as Tunisian netizens.