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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(Global Voices, Thursday, January 16, 2014)
Another Internet crackdown appears to be looming in Russia, where the Duma is reviewing three new pieces of proposed “anti-terror” legislation that could place hefty restrictions on the activities of website operators and civil society organizers. Two of the bills address government surveillance powers—one would create new requirements obliging website operators to report on the every move of their users, while another addresses penalties for terror-related crimes. The third would set new restrictions for individuals and organizations accepting anonymous donations through online services like PayPal, a measure that could have an especially strong impact on small civil society groups.
(Index on Censorship, Thursday, January 16, 2014)
The Ukrainian parliament has adopted a new repressive law that seriously restricts freedom of expression and assembly, in a move the country’s civil society calls “a constitutional coup d’état”. Law No. 3879, which enters into force tomorrow, criminalises libel (with a maximum sentence of two years of limited freedom), introduces criminal liability for “distribution of extremist materials”, allows blocking of websites and creates a Russian-style “foreign agent” definition for NGOs that use foreign funding. Criminal liability for defamation and dissemination of extremist materials includes content posted online. The National Commission of State Regulation of Communication and Informatisation has the right to restrict access to websites “that are considered by experts to contain information that breaks the law.” Internet service providers will be obliged to buy special equipment to allow security services to monitor the internet and to restrict the access “to websites of information agencies that have no state registration.” The law also requires mobile operators to identify SIM-cards owners; to buy a mobile contract one will have to present a passport and sign a formal contract.
(The New Yorker, Wednesday, January 15, 2014)
Since 1970 or so, carriers like A.T. & T. and Verizon have been barred from blocking or degrading whatever is transported over their lines. Although, at the time, the rule primarily concerned long-distance voice calls, that principle, applied to the Internet, has become known more recently as net neutrality. It offers a basic guarantee: that content providers on a network—whether it be YouTube, Wikipedia, or bloggers—can reach their users without worrying about being blocked, harassed, or forced to pay a toll by the carrier. Policing that rule in its various guises has been a core mission of the Federal Communications Commission for the past four decades—and keeping carriers away from Internet content has been among the F.C.C.’s most successful policy initiatives since its creation, in 1934. It is the Magna Carta of the Web; today, there’s not a tech firm or a blog that doesn’t owe something to the open, unblocked Internet. Yesterday, because of a faulty legal strategy used by the F.C.C., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down the law enforcing this principle, leaving the Internet and the F.C.C. in uncharted territory. Without net-neutrality rules, a firm like Verizon or Comcast can do whatever it likes to content moving across its network. If it wants, it can make a blog that criticized its latest policies unreachable, or block T-Mobile’s customer support. Acting together, the Internet service providers could destroy Netflix by slowing its data to a crawl, making movies impossible to watch.
(Center for Democracy and Technology, Wednesday, January 15, 2014)
On December 9, AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, Linkedin, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo! issued a call for governments around the world to reform their surveillance laws, as well as a released a set of principles to guide such reform. These principles align well in many ways with principles that civil society groups released this July applying human rights concepts to communications surveillance. While the respective principles differ in some important ways, there is enough commonality to suggest ample space for civil society and industry to move forward on a common set of norms and reforms that should inform the debate about surveillance law globally. This paper explores that commonality.
(The New York Times, Wednesday, January 15, 2014)
In a discouraging ruling, a federal appeals court on Tuesday struck down regulations that prohibited phone and cable companies from charging different rates for delivering different types of content to consumers or even blocking certain content. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the Federal Communications Commission exceeded its authority by imposing rules that barred Internet service providers like Verizon, which brought the case, from giving preferential treatment to some content over others.
(Wired, Tuesday, January 14, 2014)
Brendan Eich is the chief technology officer of the Mozilla, the organization behind the Firefox web browser. Among many other things, he oversees the Firefox security team — the software engineers who work to steel the browser against online attacks from hackers, phishers, and other miscreants — and that team is about to get bigger. Much, much bigger. In a recent blog post, Eich calls for security researchers across the globe to regularly audit the Firefox source code and create automated systems that can ensure the same code is used to update the millions machines that run the browser. That’s not an option for other browsers, but it is for Firefox. The code behind the browser is completely open source, meaning anyone can look at it, at any time.
(Slate, Monday, January 13, 2014)
The Financial Times reports that in the midst of the ongoing corruption investigation feud currently dominating Turkish politics, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s party is looking to expand government control over the Internet: A legislative proposal put forward by the ruling AK party would give the transport and communication minister the power to block websites deemed to infringe privacy, as well as compelling internet service providers to retain information of their customers’ movements on the net. In light of Turkey’s trajectory on this issue, this is worrying. An Internet filtering system introduced by the country’s Information Technologies and Communications Authority in 2011 was billed as a system to protect children from pornography, but in a pattern familiar from many other countries, has blocked all manner of objectionable content ranging from keywords related to the separatist Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) to Richard Dawkins’ website.
(The New York Times, Sunday, January 12, 2014)
For over six years, Roger Shuler has hounded figures of the state legal and political establishment on his blog, Legal Schnauzer, a hothouse of furious but often fuzzily sourced allegations of deep corruption and wide-ranging conspiracy. Some of these allegations he has tested in court, having sued his neighbor, his neighbor’s lawyer, his former employer, the Police Department, the Sheriff’s Department, the Alabama State Bar and two county circuit judges, among others. Mostly, he has lost. But even those who longed for his muzzling, and there are many, did not see it coming like this: with Mr. Shuler sitting in jail indefinitely, and now on the list of imprisoned journalists worldwide kept by the Committee to Protect Journalists. There, in the company of jailed reporters in China, Iran and Egypt, is Mr. Shuler, the only person on the list in the Western Hemisphere.
(Global Voices, Sunday, January 12, 2014)
Vasyl Pawlowsky, an independent consultant and English-language curator of Maidan Monitoring, a website set up and maintained specifically for following events and news from Euromaidan protests in several cities throughout Ukraine, reports in a blog post that the crowdsourced site is not available due to a DDoS attack, allegedly organized by authorities wanting to stop such information flow regarding the protests. Pawlowsky also tells of a recent two-day meeting in Karkhiv, dubbed the All-Ukrainian Euromaidan Forum, held by Euromaidan organizers to coordinate activities of the several protest locations throughout the country, but mentions the lack of structure in this coordination
(Amnesty International, Saturday, January 11, 2014)
Mohammad Reza Pourshajari, aged 53, was taken to the medical facility of Ghezal Hesar Prison on 4 January when he was suddenly unable to breathe. He was given an injection, but the medical staff would not tell him what it contained when he asked. The Prosecutor General of Alborz Province, in Karaj, north-west of Tehran, had asked the prison authorities on 6 November 2013 to have Mohammad Reza Pourshajari undergo a medical examination to assess his health requirements. As a result, Mohammad Reza Pourshajari was taken to Imam Khomeini Hospital in Tehran on 25 December for one hour: he was examined by a nurse who was unable to examine his heart, for which he requires specialized care after he suffered two heart attacks for blockage in his arteries. Mohammad Reza Pourshajari’s daughter, Mitra Pourshajari, has told Amnesty International that no diagnostic examination or medical tests were carried out during this check-up to assess her father’s heart condition. Mohammad Reza Pourshajari has been in poor health since at least September 2012 when he suffered the first of two heart attacks. After his second, in February 2013, he was taken to a hospital outside the prison for five days.