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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  • (Center for Democracy and Technology, Friday, January 24, 2014)

    The collective IQ of the voices calling for overhaul of surveillance practices just shot through the roof. Today, a group of 50 leading academic researchers in information security and cryptography released an important open letter that condemns mass surveillance. It calls on the US Government to stop these activities and reject them in favor of an Internet that is secure and privacy preserving. Their most important point is: “We urge the US government to reject society-wide surveillance and the subversion of security technology, to adopt state-of-the-art, privacy-preserving technology, and to ensure that new policies, guided by enunciated principles, support human rights, trustworthy commerce, and technical innovation.” While the Obama Administration recognizes that bulk collection must be reformed, unfortunately, there has been far less discussion regarding the key security standards underpinning digital services. As we noted in our scorecard comparing President Obama’s surveillance reform speech last week and the recommendations of the President’s NSA Review Group, the Administration has made no clear commitments to cease activities that undermine communications security, security standards, and the security of software products. Instead, it seems as though they will continue to horde vulnerabilities and bugs that should be reported to software developers so they get patched

  • (Index on Censorship, Friday, January 24, 2014)

    It wasn’t meant to be like this. Connoisseurs of a good political bust-up may have noticed a subtle change in tempo to the online filtering debate over the Christmas period. For the argument, so long owned — in public at least — by the pro-blocking “think of the children” lobby took a sudden and unexpected twist. For a moment, the villains were not selfish libertarians, determined to place personal freedom of expression above child protection — but the incompetents in government, who had demanded a solution that was untested without first ensuring they weren’t doing more harm than good. What went wrong? As German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke, in the news during this World War anniversary year, once put it: “no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force”.

  • (Reporters Without Borders, Friday, January 24, 2014)

    After the publication in several international medias of revelations about the money Chinese elites hide in offshore taxe havens, the Monde, Guardian, Global Mail, El Pais and Süddeutsche Zeitung websites were blocked in China. The entire Chinese Internet also went down for several hours after these reports appeared online. Access to the websites of Le Monde, The Guardian, Global Mail, El País and Süddeutsche Zeitung were blocked in China after they and other international media reported the results of research into the accounts held by members of the Chinese elite in offshore tax havens. The entire Chinese Internet also went down for several hours after these reports appeared online. “The Chinese government’s reaction to the publication of these revelations about corruption in China is evidence of its embarrassment about information of public interest,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We will do everything possible to make this information available to Chinese citizens.”

  • (Index on Censorship, Friday, January 24, 2014)

    I had arranged to meet ‘Emma’ in a cafe, at the behest of a mutual friend. As a student of forensic computing informatics, I was asked to help educate Emma about online privacy, a particular passion of mine. Emma is an unassuming 24-year-old. Nothing about her physical appearance or mannerisms would divulge anything of the abuse she was subjected to at the hands of a former boyfriend. She explained that she had experienced on-going violence while in a three-year relationship. Her partner had physically, verbally and emotionally abused her. In addition, her former boyfriend monitored and restricted her access to the Internet. “I didn’t have anything private. I couldn’t do anything without him asking something about my behaviour, or my intentions, or whatever else I was doing. It was physical and psychological entrapment at its worst.” she said. For Emma, our meeting was about learning to use tools to take control of her privacy in an age of mass monitoring. She was taking back the capabilities that were torn from her by her abusive boyfriend, by becoming empowered to protect herself in the on-line sphere.

  • (Access , Friday, January 24, 2014)

    When it comes to US surveillance reform, structural changes don’t grab as many headlines as, say, ending bulk collection programs. Yet, ultimately, reforming the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) system, including its Court of Review (FISCR), would be one of the most feasible and effective solutions to protecting the rights of users everywhere against the abuses of intrusive surveillance. While the US Congress is currently working on legislative proposals that include FISC reforms, but little-to-nothing else in the way of additional protections for non-US persons is under consideration. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), President Obama, and President Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies have each proposed various degrees of reforms to FISC. While drastically different, they share a common call for introducing some kind of independent public advocate to challenge government assertions in FISC deliberations. While there has never been a strong tradition of national human rights authorities and public ombudsman in the United States, there’s certainly precedent to draw on. Indeed, internationally, the idea of a public advocate, or independent officer charged with defending certain rights and liberties of large groups of people has a deep history in courts, administrative agencies, and human rights institutions worldwide.

  • (ArsTechnica, Thursday, January 23, 2014)

    On June 5, 2013, the British newspaper The Guardian published the first of a series of articles based on unauthorized disclosures of classified documents by Edward Snowden, a contractor for the National Security Agency (“NSA”). The article described an NSA program to collect millions of telephone records, including records about purely domestic calls. Over the course of the next several days, there were additional articles regarding this program as well as another NSA
    program referred to in leaked documents as “PRISM.” These disclosures caused a great deal of concern both over the extent to which they damaged national security and over the nature and scope of the surveillance programs they purported to reveal. Subsequently, authorized disclosures from the government confirmed both programs. Under one, the NSA collects telephone call records or metadata – but not the content of phone conversations —covering the calls of most Americans on an ongoing basis, subject to renewed approvals by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (“FISC” or “FISA court”). This program was approved by the FISC pursuant to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act (“Patriot Act”). Under the second program, the government collects the content of electronic communications, including phone calls and emails, where the targets are reasonably believed to be non-U.S. persons located outside the United States. Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act is the basis for this program.

  • (Freedom House, Thursday, January 23, 2014)

    The state of freedom declined for the eighth consecutive year in 2013, according to Freedom in the World 2014, Freedom House’s annual country-by-country report on global political rights and civil liberties. Particularly notable were developments in Egypt, which endured across-the-board reversals in its democratic institutions following a military coup. There were also serious setbacks to democratic rights in other large, politically influential countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Venezuela, and Indonesia.

  • (Huffington Post, Thursday, January 23, 2014)

    Since the Internet became a common tool, the world has become smaller. Because we live 10,000 kilometers apart, the Internet is the most efficient way to communicate to my family in Turkey, as it enables us to be as close as the click of a mouse. In the bigger picture, it is a significant tool for all of humanity to have equal access to information and ideas. It can bring equality, justice and transparency to societies. We cannot deny the importance of the Internet as a tool for freedom of speech. Yet, a deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has now introduced an amendment to Turkey's Law No. 5651, which is related to Internet content and cybercrime. It would give the transport and communications minister the power to block websites deemed to be violating privacy, as well as compel Internet service providers to retain information on their customers' activity on the Internet.

  • (IFEX, Thursday, January 23, 2014)

    Reporters Without Borders is very concerned about an Internet bill that is to be debated by the Turkish parliament in Ankara in the coming days. Registered by a ruling AKP member in mid-December as proposed amendments to Law 5651 on the Internet, it would allow website blocking without a court order and mass surveillance of Internet users. Reporters Without Borders urges parliamentarians to reject this draconian bill and joins those who are calling for demonstrations against it throughout Turkey today. “Law 5651 needs overhauling to remove its repressive features and to guarantee respect for freedom of information but parliament is unfortunately moving in the opposite direction,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The bill it is about to consider aims solely to reinforce cyber-censorship, government control of the Internet and surveillance of the public.

  • (Save The Internet, Wednesday, January 22, 2014)

    After five years of advocating for Net Neutrality, I realize that many people have never heard of the concept. Even among folks who are familiar with the term, there is quite a bit of confusion about the details. Really the concept is quite simple, though it does require a basic understanding of how the Internet works. So here goes. We as consumers pay broadband Internet providers like Comcast, Time Warner Cable, AT&T and Verizon to provide us with connections to the Internet. Most of us have only one or two choices when it comes to home broadband Internet service providers. And usually these Internet connections are very expensive. In fact, broadband in the U.S. is exponentially more expensive (and slower) than in many other countries around the globe. These broadband providers are distinct from Internet content and application providers such as Facebook, YouTube, Netflix and any host of blogs, etc., that we enjoy over our broadband connections. These content and application providers, commonly referred to as “edge providers,” also pay broadband providers for their Internet connections. The FCC’s Net Neutrality rules accomplished three critical goals.