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Keep track of Berkman-related news and conversations by subscribing to this page using your RSS feed reader. This aggregation of blogs relating to the Berkman Center does not necessarily represent the views of the Berkman Center or Harvard University but is provided as a convenient starting point for those who wish to explore the people and projects in Berkman's orbit. As this is a global exercise, times are in UTC.

The list of blogs being aggregated here can be found at the bottom of this page.

October 08, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Journalists across India share their testimony on the deteriorating state of media — and vow to fight back

A panel of speakers at the National Convention Against Assault on Journalists held in New Delhi on September 22, 2018. Screenshot from YouTube by user Media Vigil.

Abuse, intimidation, and attacks on journalists and media organizations are nothing new in India.

In June 2018, veteran journalist and editor-in-chief of Rising Kashmir Shujaat Bukhari was shot dead (along with two police officials assigned for his protection) by gunmen in Srinagar, the north Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir in India.

While the killing evoked public outrage, it failed to change the ground reality for journalists.

Bukhari became the fourth Indian journalist killed this year in connection with his journalistic work, and many more continue to face threats from both state and non-state actors.

In their 2018 country report for India, Reporters Without Borders notes that the right-wing Hindu nationalism promoted by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, poses a deadly threat to press freedom in India. The report states that there is growing self-censorship among the mainstream Indian media “with Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate.”

Being a journalist in Modi’s India

The National Convention Against Assault on Journalists was organized by the Committee Against Assault on Journalists (CAAJ) in New Delhi last month and a number of notable Indian journalists were present.

Speaking to the audience at the convention, NDTV journalist Ravish Kumar criticized PM Modi for fostering a political culture that encourages much hatred against media and that has turned India into a “republic of abuse.”

After Modi's election in 2014, critics of the government were labeled as “Anti-Modi,” later as “Anti-India,” and then as “Anti-National,” Kumar observed. This type of rhetoric appears to have turned a significant sector of society against a few journalists, in turn, isolating them and silencing them into self-censorship.

In May this year, Kumar reported an increase in abusive calls and death threats from fanatic right-wing nationalists. “It is well-organized and has a political sanction,” Kumar said in an interview with The Hindu.

Making his experience a case in point, Kumar emphasized that freelance journalists, women, and those working in rural areas were far more vulnerable to intimidation and obstruction of work, and lacked the support system that journalists in the capital and large cities enjoyed.

“The onus does not lie on us, it lies on the state to provide a constitutional mechanism to address these kinds of trolling and threats everybody is facing,” said Neha Dixit, an independent investigative journalist, in her remarks at the convention.

Dixit described a political atmosphere that discourages journalists from talking about the rights of the marginalized. The trafficking and indoctrination of the tribal girls of Assam by right-wing Hindu outfit affiliated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the phenomenon of working-class Muslims being killed in fake encounters on flimsy charges or the misuse of the National Security Act (NSA), are two examples of issues that larger media houses appear unwilling to cover.

Delving further into the broader problems within the press in India, Dixit lamented that there was no single press body in the country dedicated to addressing the challenges faced by journalists – be it intimidation, false court cases, workplace sexual harassment, or matters pertaining to pay and benefits.

Testimonies of journalists from conflict-zones and rural areas

Speaking of the challenges faced by journalists in Jammu and Kashmir for the last 30 years, Jalil Rathor, a well-known journalist who works in the northern state said,

“In a conflict zone journalist finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place, and is accused of taking sides by both state, as well as non-state actors.”

Rathor stressed that curtailment of government advertisements [the main source of revenues for newspapers in Jammu and Kashmir], banning internet services, and summoning journalists for questioning by state police or at the National Investigating Agency (NAI) in New Delhi, were some of the common ways the government and its agencies continued to intimidate local journalists.

“There is also an attempt to control the narrative [about Kashmir in news] both in traditional media and social media,” Rathor said.

Kashmiri women shout anti-India slogans during a funeral procession of a local militant killed during an encounter with government forces in south Kashmir. Image from Instagram by Ieshan Wani.

Patricia Mukhim, the editor of Shillong Times, an English daily in the northeastern state of Meghalaya and a survivor of a petrol bomb attack in April 2018, echoed the same anguish as Rathore, about journalists reporting from conflict zones.

Mukhim suggested that for some minority groups, particularly in northeastern India, indigenous identities or sub-identities are stronger than their national identity. She lamented that this kind of ethnic politics, though different from the political culture propagated by the present government in the capital, was equally constricting for freedom of the press.

“If you take a stand for or against something, then one or other group will seek your head,” Mukhim expressed.

Seema Azad, editor of Dastak Patrika and secretary of People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Uttar Pradesh, sharply criticized India's Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), a law increasingly used to gag journalists along with activists. The 1967 law is intended to combat terrorism and has been made more and more stringent in recent years. Multiple lawyers and activists have argued that it has significant potential for misuse, especially for silencing dissent.

Azad urged that there was the need to widen democratic space to include discourse about various people’s movements in India and reporting on issues the government has strongly discouraged, such as the conflict in Kashmir. Reporting about the human costs of the conflict is often characterized by the Modi government as “anti-National.”

Speaking of the impact of crony capitalism, Azad noted, that as the corporate control in India over the years increased — from media houses to natural resources — such attacks have grown.

Lalit Surjan, the Editor-in-Chief of Deshbandhu and a speaker at the convention said, “Journalism in the past, and even in the present times has been a risky undertaking, so be brave.”

by Shraddha Kakade at October 08, 2018 04:07 PM

September 28, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Bangladesh is set to replace its notorious internet law — but the new one looks even worse

Free speech in action: Demonstrators at 2013 protest in Bangladesh, demanding justice for war crimes. Photo by Mehdi Hasan Khan via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

In early 2018 the Bangladesh government promised to repeal the notorious Information and Technology (ICT) Act, which has been used to silence critics and media workers.

But instead of repealing and improving this law, the Bangladeshi parliament made it worse. Passed just before the start of election season, the new Digital Security Act expands and reinforces the most draconian aspects of the ICT Act.

The Digital Security Act criminalizes various types of online speech, ranging from defamatory messages to speech that “injures religious values or sentiments.” The law also authorises sentences of up to 14 years in prison for gathering, sending, or preserving classified information of any government using a computer or other digital device. Journalists demonstrated against this provision earlier this year, and have spoken out strongly against the law as it stands.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and various local groups have denounced the law as an attempt to stifle free speech.

Meanwhile, the ICT Act is still going strong and silencing legitimate criticism online. On September 24, a sociology professor in Chittagong was jailed for a critique of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that he had posted on Facebook. A ruling party affiliate filed the case against Maidul Islam in July, under the ICT Act. Although he was originally freed on bail, he was summoned to the police station this week and put behind bars. He has also been suspended from his job with Chittagong University, which is state-run. More than 50 university professors signed a statement demanding his release.

Kenya joins ranks of African governments taxing internet use

Kenyan officials are set to implement a new tax scheme that will impose an excise tax of 15% on telephone and internet services. The charge will place an additional burden on Kenyans, who already pay an excise tax of 20% on mobile money transactions, which represent a significant engine for the local economy.

Kenya will find itself in increasingly good company with the new tax scheme, as nearby Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia have all recently begun taxing different types of internet use — from mobile messaging to blogging — in an effort to increase state revenues. These schemes will also, without question, chip away at African citizens’ abilit to communicate and speak freely online.

Tanzanian regulators double down on ‘blogger tax’

In April 2018, Tanzanian officials implemented the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, informally known as the “blogger tax.” The law requires bloggers and anyone with an independent media site to register with the Tanzanian Communications Regulatory Authority and pay over USD $900 each year for a license. It also restricts the publishing of a long list of types of content, ranging from nudity to fake news to confidential government documents.

In a recent interview with local media outlet The Citizen, the director general of the regulatory authority, James Kilaba, threatened independent media workers who publish state documents online. “We are following up on those publishing such documents online,” he said. “They will be unveiled and arrested for the law to take its course.”

UK government admits to spying on anti-surveillance advocacy group

Not two weeks after the European Court of Human Rights found the UK government’s surveillance programs to be unlawful, three UK intelligence agencies disclosed in writing that they have unlawfully collected and monitored the communications of Privacy International, a London-based NGO that advocates for privacy rights in the EU and beyond.

Migrant rights advocate convicted of libel in France

On September 25, a migrant rights advocate who previously worked in the refugee camps of Calais was convicted of libel by a French court over a tweet he sent out earlier this year. The court sentenced 21-year-old Loan Torondel to a suspended fine, and ordered him to pay court costs. In the tweet published in early January, Torondel shared a photograph of two French police officers standing over a young man (who appears to be a migrant) sitting on his sleeping bag.

Torondel wrote a satirical caption for the image, in which he imagined a dialogue between the police and the man, in which the police confiscated the man’s sleeping bag, and the man begged them to relent, arguing that it was just two degrees celsius outside. “Maybe, but we are the French nation, sir,” they replied in the imagined exchange. Torondel was alluding to a speech by French President Emmanuel Macron in which he said: ‘’Never forget, we are the French nation,’’ a statement his critics turned into a meme to mock him.

India’s Supreme Court upholds digital ID system, with some exceptions

A five-judge bench ruled to uphold India’s digital ID system, known as Aadhaar, but placed key restrictions on its use. The Aadhaar system gives each person a unique ID number associated with multiple pieces of that person’s demographic and biometric information and stores it in a centralized database. In theory, it helps people authenticate their identity so that they may access a host of social and federal services.

But the program has suffered from data mismanagement and machine errors that have sometimes increased obstacles for citizens seeking everything from school enrollment to food subsidies. In addition, multiple massive leaks have proven that Aadhaar numbers can be easily disclosed, posted online and used for malicious purposes.

The court ruled that Aadhaar numbers shall no longer be required for residents to purchase SIM cards, open bank accounts, enroll in school or take university entrance exams. An Aadhaar ID will be voluntary for Indians who do not receive state subsidies of any kind. The section of the original Aadhaar Act that allowed private companies to require authentication via Aadhaar also was struck down.

New research

 

Subscribe to the Netizen Report

 

by Netizen Report Team at September 28, 2018 10:54 PM

Free speech advocates say Bangladesh's new Digital Security Act is ‘ripe for abuse’

In February 2018, journalists demonstrated their opposition to the new law using the hashtag #IamASpy, referring to the law's provision of espionage charges against those who handle classified state documents. Screenshot from Facebook.

On September 19, the Digital Security Act 2018 was passed by the parliament in Bangladesh, with just 11 lawmakers opposing the bill, despite widespread opposition from journalists and human rights advocates.

Intended as a replacement for Bangladesh's ICT Act, the Digital Security Act criminalizes various types of online speech, ranging from defamatory messages to speech that “injures religious values or sentiments.” It also authorises lengthy prison sentences for using the internet to create public unrest, and for “gathering, sending or preserving” classified government documents using a digital device.

With the next general election approaching in the coming months, some speculate that the law is intended to stifle criticism of the ruling party and the spread of disinformation online. The Act was introduced as part of the government's “Digital Bangladesh” agenda – a framework for bringing the country's services, government, private sector and citizens into the 21st century with technology.

The Bangladeshi The Editors’ Council, made up of editors from numerous Bengali news outlets, said they consider the Act to be “against the freedom guaranteed by the constitution, media freedom and freedom of speech.” International media and human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have also condemned the law.

In response to critiques, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has suggested that there is nothing for journalists to worry about. “Journalism is surely not for increasing conflict, or for tarnishing the image of the country,” she said in a speech before parliament.

Sections of interest within the Act:

  • Section 21 says anyone spreading propaganda against the Liberation War or the notion of it or the Father of the Nation using digital devices will be sentenced to up to 14 years in jail or fined up to Tk 10 Million (US$125,000) or both.
  • Section 25(a) authorises sentences of up to three years for publishing information that is “offensive and threatening” or anything that tarnishes the image of Bangladesh.
  • Section 28 allows for sentences of up to five years in prison for speech that “injures religious values or sentiments.”
  • Section 29 authorises up to 3 years in prison or Tk 500,000 [US$6250] fine if a person publishes information with an intent to defame someone else.
  • Section 31 authorises 7 years of imprisonment or Tk 500,000 [US$6250] fine or both, for the deterioration of law and order by creating unrest or chaos or creating enmity, hatred between communities and hampering communal harmony.
  • Section 32 authorises up to 14 years in prison for gathering, sending or preserving classified information of any government using a computer or digital device terming it as espionage – striking a blow for whistleblower’s rights.

The Act also calls for establishing digital forensics labs and a Digital Security Agency, alongside a national computer emergency response team and an 11-member Digital Security Council.

The Right To Information Forum, a coalition of 45 organisations in Bangladesh, also expressed “deep concern” about the passage of Digital Security Act 2018 by the Parliament. In a press statement, the coalition wrote:

[The Act is] clearly inconsistent with the fundamental constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression as per Article 39 of the Constitution and, therefore, undermines democracy and human rights, which are among the fundamental principles of state policy.

Specifically, the group expressed concern about provisions within the Digital Security Act which “create an impediment” for citizens to acquire information from the government. This would sit in contrast to the Right to Information Act, which was passed in 2009 to improve transparency and accountability in government by allowing citizens to file formal requests for government documents and data.

The new legislation also brings in historic elements, invoking the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. This trend can also be seen in neighbouring Myanmar, where two Reuters journalists were sentenced to seven years in jail in early September, under their colonial-era Official Secrets Act.

Posts, Telecommunications and IT Minister Mustafa Jabbar had previously announced that the new Digital Security Act would replace Section 57 of the previous Information and Communication Technology Act 2006, which had also been criticised by rights activists and journalists for the way it was used to target and punish journalists. Most recently, photographer and journalist Shahidul Alam was charged under Section 57 after posting extensive coverage of student protests in Dhaka and giving an interview to Al-Jazeera about the protests. He remains in prison after more than two months.

But the final text of the Digital Security Act expands and reinforces this section, instead of repealing it as promised. And despite Jabbar’s assurances in May 2018 that “necessary amendments so the freedom of the press does not get hampered”, the Act passed without any major reforms.

Internationally, the passing of the act was met with condemnation. Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams said:

The new Digital Security Act is a tool ripe for abuse and a clear violation of the country’s obligations under international law to protect free speech. With at least five provisions criminalizing vaguely defined types of speech, the law is a license for wide-ranging suppression of critical voices.”

On social media, people expressed their concern:

The Editors’ Council will stage a human chain protest against the Act on September 29, in front of the National Press Club.

 

Read more about internet policy in Bangladesh

‘According to the Digital Security Law, I am a Spy': Bangladeshi Journalists Defend Their Right to Investigate, February 2018

Bangladesh's ICT Act Paved the Way for Hundreds of Lawsuits Over Online Speech, July 2017

Bangladesh Shuts Down the Internet, Then Orders Blocking of 35 News Websites, August 2016

Bangladesh Keeps Blocking Social Media, Threatens New Surveillance Tactics, December 2015

Critics Fear Bangladesh's New Media Monitoring Policy Will Stifle Free Expression, August 2015

Bangladesh's ICT Act Stoops to New Lows, September 2013

by Zara Rahman at September 28, 2018 01:28 PM

Wanna compare the world’s largest tech companies on human rights terms? Now you can do it in Korean — and five other languages

Companies evaluated by the 2018 Corporate Accountability Index. Source: Ranking Digital Rights

Earlier this month, Google caved in to pressure from Russian authorities and took down videos promoting a protest rally against an unpopular pension reform law. This, reportedly, was the first time that Google decided to comply with a Russian censorship demand. However, actions like these, where Google or other ICT companies fail to ensure respect of users’ freedom of expression and privacy in their policies and practices, have now become too common.

Tech giants and telecommunication service providers are increasingly facing public scrutiny over their direct or indirect involvement in human rights abuses including misusing user data by sharing and selling data without users’ consent to third-parties and censoring legitimate speech at the request of governments are just two ways in which this happens on a regular basis. For telecom operators, the ability to shut down their networks or slow down access to certain services and platforms has been abused at the behest of governments in South Asia, the Middle East and across Africa.

To help shed light on the policies and practices of these kinds of companies, the non-profit research initiative Ranking Digital Rights (RDR) has been working with partners around the world to promote greater respect for freedom of expression and privacy rights among information communications technology (ICT) companies.

In April 2018, RDR released their third Corporate Accountability Index, a ranking of corporate policies affecting freedom of expression and privacy.

For the Index, the Ranking Digital Rights research team evaluated 22 companies from 13 countries (China, France, India, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Qatar, Russia, South Africa, Spain, the UK, the US and the UAE), whose products and services are accessed by a majority of the world’s 4.2 billion internet users.

The 2018 Index found that not one of the 22 companies evaluated is fully transparent about their policies and practices that affect users’ freedom of expression and privacy. Their failure to make their policies and practices public can leave users vulnerable to undisclosed risks.

These platforms and services are part of the daily lives of people who access them to exercise fundamental human rights to communicate, access information, express themselves, organize and protest. Yet users remain largely in the dark as companies fall short of disclosing basic information about the design, management, and governance of the digital platforms and services that affect human rights, according to the RDR research.

Companies are evaluated on 35 indicators across three categories: governance, freedom of expression and privacy. Several issues stood out in these areas:

Governance: Too few companies make users’ expression and privacy rights a central priority for corporate oversight and risk assessment. Companies do not have adequate processes and mechanisms in place to identify and mitigate the full range of expression and privacy risks to users that may be caused not only by government censorship or surveillance, and by malicious non-state actors, but also by practices related to their own business models.

Security: Most companies withhold basic information about measures they take to keep users’ data secure, leaving users in the dark about risks they face when using a particular platform or service.

Privacy: Companies don’t disclose enough about how users’ information is handled, including what is collected and shared, with whom, and under what circumstances. This includes how user information is shared for targeted advertising.

Expression: Companies do not adequately inform the public about how content and information flows are policed and shaped through their platforms and services.’’

To make these findings more accessible to companies, civil society, and policy makers in these regions, RDR partnered with Global Voices Translation Services to translate key components of the 2018 Index into six major languages—Arabic, Chinese, French, Korean, Russian, and Spanish.

Baidu and Tencent

The two Chinese companies performed poorly in the Index. Baidu earned the lowest score of all internet companies in the Index, disclosing almost nothing about policies affecting freedom of expression and privacy. Tencent was more transparent but it also revealed little information.

A summary of the overall findings of the Index and the company report cards for the Chinese tech companies Tencent and Baidu are now available in Chinese.

Orange

The French multinational group group ranked fourth among the 10 telecommunications companies evaluated. While the company disclosed a strong commitment to freedom of expression and privacy as human rights, it lacked transparency about its policies and practices affecting freedom of expression and privacy. It disclosed nothing about how it handles government requests to block content or restrict user accounts, and did not provide enough information about its handling of user information.

A summary of the overall findings of the Index and the company report card for Orange are available in French.

Kakao and Samsung

Kakao ranked sixth out of the 12 internet companies evaluated, and failed to disclose sufficient information about policies and practices affecting freedom of expression and privacy. However, the company outperformed Samsung, the other South Korean internet company evaluated, by roughly 21 points. While Samsung disclosed a strong commitment to freedom of expression and privacy as human rights, it lacked transparency about its policies and practices affecting these fundamental rights. 

A summary of the overall findings of the Index and the company report cards for Kakao and Samsung are available in Korean.

Mail.ru and Russia

Yandex and Mail.ru performed poorly in the Index, occupying the ninth and 11th positions, respectively. Both companies disclosed little information about policies affecting users’ freedom of expression and privacy. For example, they revealed almost nothing about how they handle government demands to remove content or to hand over user data.

A summary of the overall findings of the Index and the company report cards for Russian companies Mail.ru and Yandex are now available in Russian.

Telefónica

Telefónica ranked third out of 10 telecommunications companies evaluated, after Vodafone and AT&T. The company disclosed a strong commitment to protecting users’ freedom of expression and privacy, but was less transparent about policies affecting these rights in practice. For example, the company lacked transparency about how it handles user information and what steps it takes to keep user information secure.

América Móvil

América Móvil ranked fifth out of the 10 telecommunications companies evaluated, disclosing little about policies and practices affecting freedom of expression and privacy. For example, the company lacked disclosure about how it responds to government requests to shut down networks, and did not clearly disclose how it handles government or private requests to restrict content or hand over user information.

A summary of the overall findings of the Index and the company report cards for América Móvil and Telefónica are now available in Spanish.

The Index allows users, investors, and activists to compare how—and whether—internet, mobile and telecommunications companies are making substantive efforts to respect freedom of expression and privacy. Advocates can use this information to demand more transparency and action from companies.

Digital rights groups and researchers are also encouraged to use and adapt the Index methodology to produce local research evaluating the human rights policies and practices of companies and services in their regions.

by Afef Abrougui at September 28, 2018 08:38 AM

September 25, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Chat bot lets Russians detained at protests request legal assistance

“Pension to the living!”: Russians protest against an unpopular pension reform. Photo by Andrew.Filin via Wikimedia Commons (CC 1.0)

When Russians took to the streets to protest proposed pension reforms on September 9, an estimated 1200 people were arrested in 38 cities. Police officers could be seen beating protesters in several instances caught on camera.

September 9 was also election day for regional legislatures and the Moscow mayoralty, which may partially explain the extreme, heavy-handed actions of law enforcement during the protests.

Throughout the protests and in the days that followed, the Russian non-government organization OVD-Info was gathering and disseminating information on arrests and police brutality. The group also provided legal assistance, with the help of 24-hour phone hotline — and an automated chat bot.

About OVD-Info

Named for the Russian acronym for “law enforcement agencies” (OVD), OVD-Info works to gather information on all forms of politically-motivated arrests and prosecutions. OVD-Info describes its mission and activities as follows:

ОВД-Инфо — независимый правозащитный медиа-проект про политические преследования в России.  С помощью горячей линии мы собираем информацию о задержаниях на публичных акциях и других случаях политпрессинга, публикуем новости и координируем юридическую помощь задержанным…Это может быть консультация по телефону, выезд адвоката в ОВД, помощь в российских судах обеих инстанций или, наконец, подача жалобы в Европейский суд по правам человека…Мы не поддерживаем какую-либо конкретную политическую силу и защищаем людей вне зависимости от их и наших политических пристрастий.

OVD-Info is an independent human rights advocacy media project on political repression in Russia. With the help of a hotline, we collect information about arrests at public actions and other forms of political repression, and publish news and coordinate legal assistance for detainees…. This could be telephone consultations, sending a lawyer to law enforcement agencies, helping out in Russian courts at trial and during appeals, or finally, submitting a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights…We don’t support any specific political tendency and defend people regardless of their (or our) political views.

The mobile messaging app Telegram is extremely popular in Russia, so OVD-Info decided to use this tool as another way to help protesters defend their rights. In addition to a relatively secure private messaging feature, Telegram allows users to follow publicly accessible “channels” relevant to their interests, which can be anything from politics to humor and pornography. Users can also develop bots that can interact with other users in channels, or on an individual basis.

Recently, OVD-Info developed a special Telegram bot that allows users to voluntarily report their arrests and any other interaction with law enforcement. Upon contacting the bot, a user is prompted to share their name and telephone number and an encrypted chat is launched.

Once an arrest is reported, OVD-Info will try to follow what is happening with the user. Through the bot, users can also get advice on what to do after being arrested, and which legal statutes to cite when speaking with law enforcement officers. It also can be used to send a message to the OVD-Info team, should the need arise.

While it may be difficult to imagine being able to access your phone while or after being arrested, not all of the arrests during the recent protests were as brutal or dramatic as some of the beatings seen on video. In some cases, the police simply arrived in buses asked protesters to climb aboard. Some people were able to take selfies and videos while on the buses. Taking and sharing selfies from the back of a police van has become a symbol of honor among protesters.

Screenshot of OVD-Info-Bot with several automated messaging options, from “I’ve been released” to “They’re beating / threatening me”.

Are these communications entirely secure? It's hard to say. Although Telegram boasts of encrypted messaging ensuring only the sender and intended recipient can read a message, technologists and activists have raised concerns about the quality of Telegram's encryption standards and other security features.

If correspondences between protesters and OVD-Info were ever compromised, it could expose activists to further state surveillance and repression. Telegram also recently updated its privacy policy to allow for the sharing of user information with authorities during terrorism cases, a rule that could easily be exploited by Russian authorities, who have been known to abuse the application of laws concerning extremist and terrorist activity in connection with posts on social media.

Although Telegram has not proven to be the most secure messaging app on the market, it is the most popular mobile app in Russia that offers encrypted features at this level, making it a strong choice for an NGO seeking to support thousands of protesters in action.

In an interview with Global Voices, Boris Beilinson, OVD-Info’s in-house programmer and developer, shed some light on the bot’s functionality and how it was used this past Sunday.

Global Voices (GV): Was this the first time OVD-Info used this type of bot?

Boris Beilinson (BB): No, the bot was released before protests on June 12, 2017 [anti-corruption protests that took place across Russia].

GV: What drove the decision to develop this bot and not just rely on other methods like the hotline, private messages on VKontakte, and so on?

BB: We didn’t stop using any of the old methods of communication, including the main one, the hotline. But we wanted to lessen the burden on the hotline, because during days of big protests, it’s hard to deal with a large number of calls, so chat is more convenient then. Now a large part of our internet communications are happening with the bot, and the hotline got a bit of a break. We liked this not just from a technical standpoint, but also because from our point of view, Telegram is the most secure method of communication we use. We trust it and believe that through the bot, we can talk about things that are better left unsaid by telephone.

GV: How many people shared their contact information before the protests on Sunday?

BB: As of now, 16,002 people contacted the bot, of which 8,185 left their contact information and gained access to its primary functions.

GV: How many of them reported their arrest through the bot?

BB: Not a big number, 184 (the great majority of them started talking to the bot that day to report their arrest).

GV: Do you think the bot was a success? Are there any other functions you’d like to add?

BB: Considering the effort that went into its creation, it’s definitely a success. One indicator of success are the growing pains: it got tough to manage the flow of messages the old way so we have to develop special administrative functions. Of course, we also want to develop other functions for the user. Particularly, instructions for defense at court will be added soon; unfortunately, repression of protestors doesn’t end at arrests in our country.

by Christopher Moldes at September 25, 2018 05:33 PM

Venezuelans say they are unable to access key Google services

Illustration by Eduardo Sanabria. Used with permission.

During the first days of September, many Venezuelan Internet users reported having difficulties accessing Google services through the state-run Internet service provider, CANTV, the largest telecommunications company in Venezuela. The service seemed to be working again by mid September, but the conversation revealed the many ways online users are deprived of information and communication online.

Blogspot, Hangouts, Google Drive, and image services, including Gmail attachments were among the services affected.

I think our little friends from the broadband Internet service (ABA) at CANTV are blocking access to specific Google CDNs (content delivery networks). I'm not sure of the breadth of the service outage/block, but it is consistent. Run a quick test by opening the Play Store to see if the app images are downloaded.

In the absence of official information, users began to speculate about the reasons behind this outage, pointing to an intentional block by CANTV as a possible cause.

Venezuela Inteligente, a Venezuelan civil society group, said that Facebook and Twitter had also been affected by the outage, suggesting that content distribution platforms may have been the intended target. It could not confirm, however, if this blackout was caused by an intentional block:

We are continuing to review the problems of accessing several important platforms via #CANTV, many of these problems are occurring in the CDN platforms (content distribution networks, which load common files more quickly) At this time WE CANNOT CONFIRM an intentional block #internetve #9Sep

Meanwhile, Fran Monroy, a technology journalist, declared that the blackout stemmed from a combination of technical failures:

A colleague specialized in telecommunications @fmonroy explained that #CANTV has two problems at this time in #Venezuela Read the thread.

It is worth mentioning that frequent outages have been an enduring characteristic of state-run Internet services. It not only happens with the Internet connection, but also with the electrical grid.

In Venezuela, attacks against the Internet are not new. Among other cases, in June 2018, the anonymous browser Tor, and various pornography sites were blocked.

Furthermore, a recent study by Venezuela Inteligente, IPYS Venezuela and the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) found that the censoring of news websites in Venezuela by means of DNS tampering and HTTP filtering is a wide-spread practice.

When content is blocked by means of DNS tampering, the domain name server does not respond to the Internet protocol (IP) request. When a specific web address is entered in the browser, the IP request is prevented from being carried out. Meanwhile, HTTP filtering blocks access to information whose principal code contains a syntax seen as invalid by the system.

In the past, Venezuelans have reported being unable to access of radio frequencies, but more recently, stricter control has been seen with the direct blocking of independent news sources and the arrest of journalists. A few days before the latest reports of blocked platforms, international media outlets had already condemned attacks against independent news sources.

Meanwhile, other limitations linked to the political and economic crisis have also meant less freedom of press and expression. The shortage of basic goods such as paper, or the recent economic measures (that include, for example, a 60-fold increase in the minimum wage, due to soaring inflation rates) have forced several media outlets to close their doors.

As a result, the number of news outlets that could oppose Nicolás Maduro's government are being reduced in a sustained and ever-accelerating manner.

A study co-written by the author of this post and Derechos Digitales (Digital Rights) reports a deterioration in online communications in Venezuela. The study also indicates that the restriction of information and communication that has been documented in Venezuela and the lack of transparency in the use of personal information are a violation of human rights.

by Marianne Diaz at September 25, 2018 05:30 PM

September 20, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Will Brazil's forthcoming data protection law actually protect peoples’ privacy rights?

Michel Temer sanctions the Personal Data Protection Bill | Image: Valter Campanato/Agência Brasil/CC

After two years of negotiation at the National Congress, Brazil’s Personal Data Protection Bill was finally sanctioned by president Michel Temer on August 14. The original text was approved in both houses of Congress by a unanimous vote.

The bill, as defined by members of Congress, is a “legal framework for the protection, use and treatment of personal information”. The law intends to give individuals greater power to control their data, by requiring corporate entities to obtain a person's consent before collecting their information. This is an important move in Brazil where pharmacies, public transportation and other services often capture people’s data without their explicit consent or prior notice.

After the misuse of data captured on Facebook became a worldwide concern with the Cambridge Analytica scandal in early 2018, the Congress expedited its process on the bill.

But there is a catch. The text signed by Temer is not exactly the same one approved by at the Parliament. Temer vetoed some elements of the original.

Global Voices talked to Bia Barbosa, an activist part of the collective Intervozes and a member of Coalizão Direitos na Rede (Net Rights Coalition), to learn the groups’ concerns about the bill.

Barbosa explains that the text has a series of problems, mainly caused by the Temer's vetos. She highlights three of them:

O primeiro o veto à criação de uma autoridade independente e de um conselho de proteção de dados pessoais, que estaria vinculado à essa autoridade, garantindo participação multissetorial. Hoje, isso deixa a lei sem condições e garantia de sua aplicabilidade. O governo tem declarado que vai enviar um projeto de lei ou uma medida provisória para o Congresso para criar essa autoridade, mas as informações que a gente tem é de que o modelo que vai ser enviado pelo Executivo não respeita o modelo de autoridade que foi negociado nesse texto no Parlamento. Esse é o principal problema para a gente, porque sem uma autoridade realmente independente, com autonomia administrativa e poder sancionatório, a lei corre sérios riscos de não sair do papel.

Outro risco que nos parece bastante preocupante é o veto ao artigo 28 que estabelece o dever do poder público informar, de maneira pró-ativa a sociedade quando ele compartilha dados pessoais com outros órgãos do poder público. Esse artigo foi vetado, de uma maneira, na nossa avaliação, sem justificativa e gera uma deficiência de transparência no tratamento de dados pelo poder público.

O terceiro aspecto, que para as organizações de defesa de liberdade de expressão também é significativo, é o veto dado ao artigo que garantia a proteção dos dados pessoais dos requerentes de informação via LAI. Ou seja, os dados das pessoas que pedem informação ao poder público, tinham uma previsão garantiste de proteção aos dados desses requerentes e isso também foi vetado. Na nossa avaliação, apesar da grande maioria da lei ter sido respeitada, esses vetos são preocupantes.

The first one is the veto of the creation of an independent authority and of a personal data protection council, that should be submitted to this authority, ensuring a multi-sector participation. With this section removed, the bill no longer articulates conditions or protections for its enforcement. The government says it will send a new law to the Congress to create this authority, but the information that we've received indicates that the Executive’s model doesn’t respect the model that was negotiated at the Parliament. Without this, the bill has serious risks of not coming to fruition.

Another risk that is very worrisome to us is the veto of article 28, which establishes the public duty to inform society, in a pro-active manner, when sharing personal data with other public offices. This article was vetoed, in an unjustifiable way, limited the transparency of how public data is treated by public power.

The third aspect is the veto given to the article that guaranteed the protection of personal data of those who required information via the Access to Information Act (LAI). There was a provision to ensure protection of people requesting data, but it was also vetoed. To us, even though the majority of the bill was respected, these vetoes are concerning.

The collective Net Rights Coalition warned of the possibility that the president would veto the creation of a National Data Protection Authority (ANDP) before signing. The ANDP was meant to work as an independent regulatory agency. According to the federal government, it would be “unconstitutional” if the Congress was to create such authority, therefore a governmental office should have oversight in the process, in order to ensure its functionality.

Most importantly, the group noted that the military has been working to incorporate the Institutional Security Cabinet into the policy. The Brazilian Intelligence Agency falls under the authority of the Cabinet.

A possibilidade de deixar para um órgão do próprio governo a tarefa de garantir o respeito à lei pelo poder público coloca em total risco sua eficácia.

Por isso, o texto aprovado no Congresso prevê uma Autoridade independente administrativamente do Executivo. Este modelo de autoridade não é nenhuma novidade no Brasil e é o padrão da grande maioria dos países que têm leis gerais de proteção de dados pessoais.

The possibility of leaving an organ that is part of the government with the task of ensuring respect to the law puts its efficiency at a total risk. Therefore, the text approved by the Congress has foreseen an Authority that is administratively independent from the Executive. This model is no news in Brazil and is a pattern to a large majority of countries with general data protection laws

The vetos can also affect the enforcement of Brazil's unique Marco Civil or “Internet Bill of Rights” that was passed in 2014. As Barbosa notes, currently, there are around 200 proposals under review in Congress that would change Marco Civil. Most of these proposals are focused in two areas. The first is to remove a key check on state entities that wish to access personal data held by companies — the current legislation requires state actors to obtain a court order before doing this, but many of the pending proposals would remove this requirement.

Na nossa avaliação, isso abre um precedente muito perigoso, para risco de vigilantismo total do poder das forças de segurança, do poder investigativo para o cidadão comum, por isso a gente tem combatido esses projetos.

In our evaluation, this opens a very dangerous precedent, risking a total vigilantism for the power of security forces, or investigative power of a regular citizens, that’s why we’ve been fighting against these projects.

The second line of proposals would obligate social media and other platforms to immediately remove content after receiving a request, rather than awaiting judicial review. Many of them using the “blue whale”, an internet challenge that allegedly drives teenagers to commit suicide, as an excuse.

Para a gente isso também é perigoso, porque coloca nas mãos dessas plataformas a responsabilidade de avaliar esses conteúdos e, não necessariamente, isso vai ser feito de uma maneira equilibrada com a defesa do princípio de liberdade de expressão. Então, a gente tem combatido esses processos no sentido de manter o marco civil na sua integralidade, entendendo que é uma lei principiológica, bastante atual.

We also see this as dangerous move, because it puts on the hands of these platforms the responsibility to evaluate content and, not necessarily, this would be driven in a balanced manner, defending the principle of free speech. So, we’ve been fighting these processes in the sense of keeping Marco Civil at its integrality, understanding this is a principle law, very up to date.

Bia Barbosa also points to the fact that collecting data through apps, credit card, internet browsers, is now an “indiscriminate practice” of many companies. This leads to leaking, wrongful commercialization, sharing without consent. “All our data is being constantly treated and collected, without people knowing or being informed about it”, she says.

She also notes that although Marco Civil has multiple provisions ensuring protections for users’ privacy, the text has been disrespected or ignored, which has led civil society to propose a specific law aimed at personal data protection.

A gente espera agora que com a aprovação dessa lei, o Brasil comece a mudar a cultura da coleta de dados porque a ideia da lei não é impedir o tratamento de dados, mas definir em que condições isso pode acontecer, que o usuário seja informado, que respeite direitos fundamentais, que haja limites para esse tratamento, que a comercialização não seja feita de uma maneira indiscriminada e massiva como é feita hoje.

We now hope that with the approval of this law, Brazil will begin to change the culture of data collection, because the bill’s goal is not stopping data processing, but to define under which conditions that can happen — it says that users must be informed about it, respecting fundamental rights, and that puts limits on how data can be treated, stopping indiscriminate and massive commercialization as it’s done today.

Brazil is currently approaching presidential elections. Temer, who came to power after the controversial impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, being her vice-president, will leave office on January 1.

When sanctioning the bill he promised to send a new bill to create the agency “soon”. How the agency will operate or if it will be submitted to the Ministry of Justice has yet to be defined.

Valor newspaper quoted him saying:

“Eu vou mandar logo, muito brevemente um projeto de lei, mais ou menos com os mesmos dizeres, mas sem vício de iniciativa”, explicou o emedebista. (…) “Vou deixar mais ou menos como está”, sinalizou.

I will send, very soon, a draft law, with similar language, but without the initial vice (the fact that the Legislative power was creating and could make it unconstitutional, according to the Executive)…I'll leave it more or less how it is.

by Fernanda Canofre at September 20, 2018 02:43 PM

Netizen Report: Authorities shut down mobile internet in Ethiopia’s capital, as ethnic and political conflict persist

Protest in Ethiopia's Oromo region, 2016. Photo from Abdi Lemessa's Facebook page. Used with permission.

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Just five months into the administration of Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, protests rooted in ethnic conflict and the administration of land rights policies have once again taken Addis Ababa by storm and led to the deaths of at least 20 people.

On September 17, in what appeared to be an effort to quell social unrest, mobile internet networks were shut down across the capital city. Ethio Telecom, the country’s sole, government-owned internet and phone service provider, did not offer any public statement about the shutdown.

Abiy Ahmed came into office in April 2018 after nearly three years of mass protests, ethnic conflict and violent military interventions in some regions of the country. Former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn voluntarily resigned from office in February 2018 after his once-ruling coalition had splintered beyond repair, opening the window of possibility for Ahmed’s election.

Hailed as a reformer, the new prime minister has ordered the release of thousands of political prisoners, removed top-level police and security officials from the previous regime and worked to rekindle relations with Eritrea. He also lifted the country’s state of emergency, which had been in place intermittently since 2015.

The resurgence of protests and corresponding internet shutdown, both hallmarks of public life under the previous regime, have raised fears that Ahmed's efforts to restore peace and uphold human rights in the country are already faltering.

Reacting to the shutdown, activist and former prisoner of conscience Atnaf Berhane tweeted about the irony of this move on the part of the new government:

Kazakh police break up fact-checking workshop to arrest journalist

Ukrainian journalist Aleksandr Gorokhovsky was arrested in the northwestern Kazakh city of Uralsk while he was training a group of Kazakh journalists in fact-checking methods. The workshop was organized by regional newspaper Uralskaya Nedelya, that has long been the target of state harassment, due in part to its precarious position near the Kazakh-Russian border, where there are strong political currents of pro-Moscow sentiment. Gorokohovsky was fined two days later by a local court, where the public prosecutor argued that when entering Kazakhstan, Gorokhovsky had failed to indicate who had invited him to the country on his migration form

With ethnic tensions rising, how will Facebook affect Cameroon’s elections?

The Cameroonian government is targeting the spread of misinformation online with presidential elections approaching on October 7. Online campaigns promoting ethnic violence have become a growing force in Cameroon’s internal conflict, where a separatist movement in English-speaking areas has led to clashes between armed separatists and military forces, with military attacks on Anglophone villages forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes. For 230 days in 2017 and 2018, Anglophone regions of Cameroon also suffered one of the longest continuous internet shutdowns known to have occurred on the continent.

Cameroonian officials recently met with Facebook over concerns that the platform poses a threat to public security as calls for ethnic violence continue to spread on the platform.

Writing for Quartz Africa, Amindeh Blaise Atabong questioned whether the officials may have other additional motives: Facebook has been used to share videos that local experts say depict Cameroonian soldiers killing unarmed civilians in the separatist regions, and that the government may have hopes of blocking this material.

Malaysia’s ‘anti-fake news’ law may not last

Malaysia’s Senate blocked an attempt by the lower house of Parliament to repeal the country’s “Anti-Fake News Law”, which penalizes the distribution of “news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false” with fines of up to 500,000 ringgit (USD $123,000) or a maximum sentence of six years in prison. The law has been criticized by a group of UN special rapporteurs for enabling restrictions on freedom of expression, and its repeal was one of the election priorities of the recently elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. It will now return to the lower house for another vote.

Google’s China strategy will include plenty of censorship — and surveillance

After leaving the Chinese market in 2010, citing human rights concerns, Google is now preparing to launch a censored version of its search engine in China. The “Dragonfly” app would automatically identify and censor websites like Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, BBC, Global Voices and many others that are currently blocked in China, and remove Google search results that government officials deem sensitive.

According to new findings by The Intercept, the app will also link users’ searches to their personal phone numbers so that the company (and presumably Chinese state officials) can monitor their queries. This reinforces the concerns of a coalition of 14 human rights groups expressed in an open letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai that the storage of Google data in China could make users’ data vulnerable to government surveillance, and could make Google complicit in human rights violations.

European Court says UK surveillance programs violated human rights

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the UK’s mass surveillance programs violate the right to privacy and freedom of expression. The ruling, which responds to a challenge brought by organizations including Amnesty international and Privacy International, found that the programs lacked sufficient oversight for how data is collected and violated human rights doctrine and laws. It fell short of stating that the existence of a bulk data collection scheme would itself be in violation of the law.

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by Netizen Report Team at September 20, 2018 02:19 PM

September 18, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Arrested for fact-checking: Kazakh court fines Ukrainian journalist after police break up media workshop

Aleksandr Gorokhovsky. Photo taken by Raul Uporov for Uralsk Week. Used with permission.

A media fact-checking workshop in northwestern Kazakhstan came to an abrupt conclusion on September 15 when police barged in, broke up the event and arrested one of the workshop leaders, Aleksandr Gorokhovsky.

The workshop's organiser, Lukpan Akhmedyarov, is the editor of independent regional newspaper Uralskaya Nedelya, that has long been the target of state harassment.

A respected journalist and media trainer from Kyiv, Gorokhovsky was slapped with a fine of roughly USD $110 after a Kazakh court found him guilty of violating Kazakhstan's migration legislation. The public prosecutor argued that when entering Kazakhstan, Gorokhovsky had failed to indicate who had invited him to the country on his migration form.

The two law enforcement officers that arrived on the scene said they were responding to a citizen complaint that “a seminar on Ukraine” was taking place in the Chagala hotel in the city of Uralsk.

Aleksandr Gorokhovsky with his lawyer. Lukpan Akhmedyarov is sitting in the row behind. Photo taken by Raul Uporov for Uralsk Week. Used with permission.

Ukraine emerged as something of a leader in media fact-checking after Russia invaded and annexed its territory of Crimea in 2014. The invasion was accompanied by a strident propaganda offensive that served to justify Moscow's actions towards the country.

Organisations like StopFake.org emerged as Ukrainian journalists worked to peg back the tide of lies emanating from Russian state media for the benefit of audiences both inside and outside Ukraine. Gorokhovsky's own media project, Bez Brehni (the name of which translates as Without Lies), is another website in the same genre that works with the International Fact Checking Network. He has also authored a book on fact-checking.

The arrival of a Ukrainian media trainer would logically cause anxieties for authorities in Uralsk, a town close to Kazakhstan's border with Russia. The country's leadership tends to avoid any discussion of Ukraine, reflecting a keen sensitivity to the pro-Moscow separatist potential in its own northern regions, where Russian influence is strongest.

But a more powerful motive for the police invasion may have been the fact the youth journalism school itself was the brainchild of Akhmedyarov, editor of the Uralskaya Nedelya newspaper, whose relentless reporting on corruption has been a thorn in the side for authorities in the region for years.

“I think it was a combination of the two things,” Akhmedyarov told Global Voices, speaking about police interference and Gorokhovsky's detention. “Anything the government thinks is related to Ukraine is extremely sensitive.”

On the other hand, he says, authorities have been hellbent on stopping the nascent journalism school from getting off the ground in recent weeks.

“When we tried to find spaces to rent for the school we kept on being turned away. Some of our students were told not to attend the course by their schools. Then there was a fake profile in my name on Facebook that advertised the course as costing money. But it is completely free,” he added.

The litany of obstacles described by Akhmedyarov is part and parcel of life for Uralskaya Nedelya, which is one of the few remaining independent media in authoritarian Kazakhstan.

These challenges are nothing new for Akhmedyarov and other staff at Uralskaya Nedelya, and some have been nearly fatal. In 2012, Akhmedyarov was attacked by a group of men who stabbed him multiple times and shot with air pistols. Although four men were sentenced to jail terms in connection with the attack, its ultimate organiser was never identified.

“It's dangerous to be your friend, Lukpan, you get fined for that,” joked one journalist colleague on Facebook after Gorokhovsky's punishment was confirmed.

An open disregard for the rule of law in Uralsk showed through in Gorokhovsky's trial, which descended into a farce almost immediately.

Talgat Katauov, the man that police said had called to inform them of the “seminar on Ukraine” appeared as a witness, but said he had never made any such call. He accused the police of using his name under false pretences and threatened to sue them in an angry tirade delivered in a mixture of Kazakh and Russian.

At the back of the courtroom, a man Uralskaya Nedelya journalists assumed was a young representative of Kazakhstan's Committee of National Security, a successor to the Soviet-era KGB, shielded his face from photographers.

Akhmedyarov told Global Voices that authorities had set a “terrible precedent” by fining the trainer. “Now NGOs and other organisations in Kazakhstan will think twice before inviting foreign specialists,” he said.

When Akhmedyarov told Gorokhovsky that he planned to try to hold the youth journalism school again next year, the Ukrainian journalist could barely control his laughter.

by chrisrickleton at September 18, 2018 09:53 PM

Protestors artfully demand the release of Shahidul Alam, Bangladesh's prisoner of conscience

People gathered at the Shahbag Square in the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka wearing masks to protest the detention of internationally acclaimed photographer Shahidul Alam and other students. Image by Pranabesh Das, used with permission.

Detained Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam has once again been denied bail in a case filed under the Information, Communication and Technology Act (ICT) for instigating “students to continue a [recent] movement against the government” and “spreading propaganda against the government”. Alam and his acquaintances deny those charges.

Meanwhile, protests continued at home and abroad to release the photographer and other detained students. A number of students got bail a few weeks ago, but an unknown number are still detained.

Alam was detained on August 5, 2018, officially arrested the next day, and ultimately sued under the ICT Act, to which his counsels submitted the bail petition on August 28.

On September 4, a two-member High Court bench felt ‘embarrassed’ to hear Alam's bail in the case. In Bangladeshi judicial practice, the judges can sometimes feel embarrassed to entertain cases demanding a fair and impartial dispensation of justice, especially if any party in the case is personally known, directly or indirectly, or if they fear they will be threatened or intimidated. Alam's counsels appealed to the High Court who directed the lower court concerned with the case to dispose of the plea by Tuesday.

Arrested for expressing his views

Alam was arrested in August after covering the student protests against ineffective traffic laws in Bangladesh on his Facebook and Twitter accounts and discussed the protests on Facebook Live.

Thousands of secondary school students in the capital city of Dhaka took to the streets on July 29 in sustained protests lasing more than a week, demanding improved road safety and rule enforcement after two of their classmates were killed due to reckless driving by a public bus.

Alongside his social media coverage of the protests, Alam gave a television interview with Al Jazeera where he talked about the recent situation in Bangladesh and criticized the government.

Global outcry, artful protest

A number of international agencies, Nobel laureates, photography professionals, journalists and human rights organizations have urged the Bangladesh government to release Alam.

Indian writer Arundhati Roy, American linguist Noam Chomsky, Canadian author Naomi Klein, American playwright Eve Ensler and Indian journalist Vijay Prasad have issued their second statement to the Bangladesh government to drop charges against Alam.

Amnesty International has declared Shahidul Alam as Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.

In Bangladesh, numerous protests and solidarity rallies have been organized in the past weeks to demand the unconditional release of Shahidul Alam and other detained protesters.

On September 4, the Drik Gallery hosted an exhibition of selected photos of Alam titled “A Struggle for Democracy” to highlight his struggles and honor the fact that he founded the picture gallery 29 years ago.

Alam is also the founder of the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, a school of photography and multimedia journalism, and the Chobi Mela, a biannual International Festival of Photography.

On Sunday, September 9, a public gathering titled “Let democracy be free” was held at Shahbag Square in Dhaka to protest Alam's imprisonment along with several other students. Some of the images can found in this Instagram post:

Participants used art and performance to express their grievances.

One woman wore a paper bag which read “We are not supposed to have heads” and “we don't have tongues, words”. Another protestor sang and played guitar while wearing a makeshift cage. In front of the cage, a helmet and hammer were placed, signifying the pro-government vigilantes wearing helmets who attacked the student protestors using hammers.

A duct-taped camera was displayed along with a banner beside it that read “Let Democracy Be Free”.

“Let Democracy be free”. An innovative protest in Shahbag Square in Dhaka, demanding the release of Shahidul Alam. Image by Pranabesh Das, used with permission.

Worldwide solidarity

Protests in solidarity have been also arranged abroad in cities like London, New York, and Washington DC:

Instagram's visual protests

Alam's niece, London-based Sofie Karim, activated the visual power of Instagram to protest her uncle's detention:

View this post on Instagram

My uncle loves the world and the world loves him. Friends at @visapourlimage International photojournalism festival (France), NY, Washington DC and London – thank you so much. Love and truth beat torture and repression. Break the dark machinery of paranoia with your light. #freeshahidulalam – For my incarcerated uncle @shahidul001, prisoner of conscience. Link to petition in my bio. Please share this post freely. @hansulrichobrist @tate @liverpoolbiennial @whitechapelgallery @alessio_antoniolli @annemcneill215 @impgalleryphoto @icp @thephotographersgallery @bobandrobertasmith @fionabradleyxx @francesmarymorris @cammockhelen @joe_scotland @johnakomfrah @ikongallery @lubainapics @mahtabhussain @martinparrstudio @martinparrfdn @aceagrams @polly.staple @nicholascullinan @rachelwords @ranabegumstudio @autographabp @nadavkander @mack_books @loubuck01 @theartnewspaper.official @artnet @guardian @thetimes @jamesestrin

A post shared by SOFIAKARIM (@_sofiakarim_) on

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Arrow Through the Heart of Bangladesh Art: Screenshot of article in today’s The Art Newspaper @theartnewspaper.official with my imprisoned uncle’s @shahidul001 punjabi shirt trim. Artist friends please read this important article. @shahidul001 is one of Bangladesh’s leading art and humanitarian activism figures, with international reach. His (and hundreds of others’) treatment by the state of Bangladesh, changes everything for the art scene there. The state wants silence, but forcibly mute art has little credibility. @theartnewspaper.official @nytimes @washingtonpost @time @thetimes @financialtimes @skynews @guardian @itvnews @bbc @channel4 @cnn @dhakatribune @newage_bd2011 @dhakaartsummit @dailystarbd @bdnews24.comm @unitednewsofbangladesh@indiartfair @kochibiennale @kochibiennalefoundation @the_hindu @indianexpress @kathmandupost.official @lemondefr @indiaartfair @india.today @amnesty @peninternational @tatemodern_official @themuseumofmodernart @thephotographersgallery @photographmag @royalphotographicsociety @commonwealthinstitute @autographabp #freeshahidulalam #censorship #bangladesh #bangladeshprotest #asianart #contemporaryart #photography #royalphotographicsociety #blackphotography

A post shared by SOFIAKARIM (@_sofiakarim_) on

View this post on Instagram

‘Tell Someone’ (for my incarcerated uncle, photographer @shahidul001). When I was a child my uncle taught me: “if someone does anything bad to you, the best thing is to tell as many people as possible straight away. Don’t hide it, fearing others may not believe you. It won’t go away. Your best protection is to let people know and tell the perpetrator you are letting people know. But be transparent. Say what you say in front of everyone, including the perpetrator”. When he shouted that statement about his blood stained punjabi in those few moments he had, in front of the police, in front of the world, I knew he was applying that theory. He told the world and he let the perpetrator know that he told the world. (My son’s painting of the Bangladesh flag, on my aunt Rahnuma Ahmed’s sari). #freeshahidulalam @theartnewspaper.official @nytimes @washingtonpost @time @thetimes @financialtimes @skynews @guardian @itvnews @bbc @channel4 @cnn @dhakatribune @newage_bd2011 @dhakaartsummit @dailystarbd @bdnews24.comm @unitednewsofbangladesh@indiartfair @kochibiennale @kochibiennalefoundation @the_hindu @indianexpress @kathmandupost.official @lemondefr @indiaartfair @india.today @amnesty @peninternational @tatemodern_official @themuseumofmodernart @thephotographersgallery @photographmag @royalphotographicsociety @commonwealthinstitute @autographabp #freeshahidulalam #censorship #bangladesh #bangladeshprotest #asianart #contemporaryart #childrensart #photography #royalphotographicsociety #blackphotography#humanrights #prisonerofconscience

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More protest art is available through Karim's Instagram account and her interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

London-based Bangladeshi legal consultant Dr. Rayhan Rashid expressed his reactions about the denial of Alam's bail on Facebook:

‪Disgraceful cowardice on the part of the judiciary and the ruling Awami League government in Bangladesh! When a regime is governed by nothing but fear, it is often a sign that the regime might have lost its plot. Weaponising fear as a tool to govern citizens, or trying to act tough – do not hide who are the afraid ones here!

A nationwide demonstration has been called for by student organizations on September 17 if Shahidul Alam and other student leaders are not released.

by GV South Asia at September 18, 2018 09:19 PM

Three days behind bars for the ‘crime’ of journalism: Diary of a Nigerian journalist

Samuel Ogundipe. Photo by PREMIUM TIMES, used with permission.

On August 14, 2018, Nigerian investigative journalist Samuel Ogundipe was detained by Nigeria’s Special Tactical Squad after refusing to name his sources for a story concerning the Nigerian security service's involvement in preventing officials from entering the Nigerian National Assembly in early August 2018.

Ogundipe, who works for the privately-owned Premium Times online newspaper, spent three nights in detention and was then arraigned without his lawyers present. He was released on bail on August 17 at his lawyers’ urging. The following is an abridged first-person account of the incident, written by Samuel Ogundipe and originally published by Premium Times. This version was edited and published by Global Voices as part of a republishing agreement with Premium Times.

For three days, I lay on a rough blanket in a cell inside the police Special Tactical Squad (STS) detention centre in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

I sweated profusely as I read an old copy of a Christian daily guide, printed by Paul Enenche’s Dunamis Gospel Centre—a book precisely written to prevent people from finding themselves in a spot like this. But for three days, this mouldy, fetid cage — shared with dozens of violent crime suspects — was my reading, eating and sleeping corner.

The book, which had been smuggled in by a Dunamis devotee, was my first encounter with the work of Mr. Enenche and his ministry, and I tried to savour it. I read a passage that preached about the value of freedom, and what believers must do to avoid any form of incarceration. Where individuals find themselves in custody through no fault of their own, it recommended holding on strongly to faith.

It was a striking sermon, one which bore relevance to my case, and gave me confidence that justice would ultimately prevail.

I spent three days behind bars for the crime of journalism. During that time, I heard from several others how people had been in and out of STS detention due to sloppy investigation by the police. Their tales provided mental fodder that helped me endure my first experience in custody.

My experience with STS left me with a sense of a police unit more restrained than others, although some of its tactics still mirror the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The STS facility is housed in a bungalow inside the larger SARS compound for hardened criminals — gives the impression that it is only for temporary custody, but this does not seem entirely true.

As with SARS, STS detainees are condemned from day one, starting with the archaic prejudicial method of interrogation and unbearable living conditions. And also

like SARS, the STS seeks to psychologically torture detainees, to make them give in by isolating them in an attempt to crush their spirit and weaken their will. Many succumb. The only difference is that STS personnel appear more tidy, educated and less crude than their SARS colleagues, whose notoriety has made Abuja residents dub their premises an “abattoir” or “slaughterhouse.”

 

How it began

My journey through police detention began on August 11 when my colleague, Premium Times’ reporter Azeezat Adedigba, received a call from a police superintendent telling her she was being investigated for criminal offences. She alerted our office,and our managers advised that she proceed with caution.

Two days later, at her request, police delivered to our office a formal letter alledging that Ms. Adedigba had committed criminal conspiracy, cyber crime, attempted kidnapping and fraud, and ordering that she turn herself in by 10:00 a.m. on August 14.

My colleague honoured the invitation that Monday as instructed, accompanied by our Editor-in-Chief, Musikilu Mojeed. As they waited to speak with police superintendent Emmanuel Onyeneho, a fully armed junior officer confiscated Ms. Adedigba’s mobile phone and then  detained her.

Hours later, Mr. Oyeneho appeared, returned Ms. Adedigba’s phone and asked her to dial a number on it. The number turned out to be mine. The detective then asked that I join them. I was halfway through a piece of choco pie when the call came in. I devoured the rest before reaching for my keys.

I was halfway through a piece of choco pie when the call came in. I devoured the rest before reaching for my keys.

I arrived at about 2:30 p.m. to a barrage of questions from Mr. Oyeneho, all aiming to find out the source of our story about Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris’ interim report to then-acting President Yemi Osinbajo on the State Security Service’s siege on the National Assembly on August 7.

I’d written the piece on the night of August 9, after receiving the report from a trustworthy source and getting it authenticated by two high-ranking police officers. The police had no complaints about the accuracy of the story. They only assumed it was not meant for public consumption. In fairness to the police chief, the five-page document, aside from being clumsy, contained too many errors that cast him in a bad light.

On my arrival, Mr. Oyeneho released Ms. Adedigba. “We only used you as a soft target to get our main suspect,” the officer told her.

 

‘Mr. Oyeneho could not get me to reveal my sources on the spot’

It soon became clear that Mr. Mojeed and I were going to be detained. An officer in jeans and a t-shirt suddenly took a seat beside us, blocking all pathways The officer was slightly dreadlocked and wore a yellow jungle boot. He kept a straight face and was completely attentive to our conversation.

Mr. Onyeneho demanded my phone when he came to collect me at the entrance, but I told him I didn’t have it. He was curious, and ambled around me to make sure. My editors had advised I should never take my phone if I was called  in for questioning, because the operatives might end up finding details unconnected with their investigation, and also bugging the device.

Just before Mr. Oyeneho started interrogating me, he boasted that my salary account with Ecobank had been frozen hours earlier. My mind immediately dashed to a transfer that failed to go through on my bank’s mobile app, just before I received the call to turn up at the station. Before I could ask whether he procured a court order before taking this measure, he started growing increasingly furious about the source of my story.

When Mr. Oyeneho could not get me to reveal my sources on the spot, the police superintendent informed his superior at the STS and sought the next move. The administrative officer in charge of the STS detention centre said we should proceed to the Force Headquarters for further interrogation.

 

‘He tried many times to tell me what to write’

Four plainclothes officers, the administrative officer and Oyeneho drove us into the bowels of the Force Headquarters.

We arrived at the office of Sani Ahmadu, the police commissioner overseeing the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Monitoring Unit, of which the STS is a department.

As we took our seats, Mr. Oyeneho tried to boast about the “intelligence operation” they executed to arrest me, but Mr. Ahmadu interjected, apparently feeling it was too much information for Mr. Mojeed and me.

Mr. Ahmadu told us the story Premium Times published had violated the law, but assured us his men would be civil in handling the matter. They gave me a pen and two sheets of paper to write a statement.

Nigerian police officers complete their training in 2015. Photo by AMISOM, released to public domain.

As I wrote, Mr. Oyeneho was interrupting. He tried many times to tell me what to write, but I declined each time. He insisted I state the number of times I had written unfavourable stories about Mr. Idris, Nigeria’s police chief, or the police as an institution, or even the Nigerian government in general. I paid no heed.

While I was writing my statement, an officer assisting Mr. Oyeneho whispered that I was “in trouble”.

After about one and a half hours of back and forth with the officers, I turned in my statement, just as Mr. Ahmadu’s early evening meal was delivered. We would have to wait, I signaled to Mr. Mojeed, who was seated about a metre away.

 

‘Everyone brought in for interrogation is a “prime” suspect’

As we waited, I saw Mr. Ahmadu working the keypad of his Samsung phone. He was shopping for a warrant to keep me in custody. Another officer also could be heard  discussing efforts to convince a magistrate to issue a warrant. About 45 minutes later, a police prosecutor attached to the STS arrived with some paperwork.

He pulled out a document and showed it to Mr. Ahmadu and other officers. Mr. Mojeed signaled to me that it was a warrant, and asked me to stay calm nonetheless.

We heard the officers saying the warrant would be valid from August 15 until August 25. By then, Mr. Ahmadu was through with his meal. He had also read my statement, and was  ready to conclude the session.

Then Mr. Mojeed’s phones  started buzzing non-stop. Apparently, Azeezat and Tosin Omoniyi, another colleague who was also at STS before Azeezat was freed, had broken the news to other colleagues at the office. Halfway into my statement, Mr. Oyeneho had already started receiving calls from our lawyers and other concerned persons.

Just before I was returned to the STS by my minders, Mr. Ahmadu asked for the last time if I could reveal my sources. I turned him down yet again. As we made for the exit, Mr. Mojeed turned and told him:

“I just want to let you know that this action you are taking, this attempt to lock up a reporter for writing a story, would embarrass this country seriously.”

“I do not care,” Mr. Ahmadu said meekly before snapping: “Go and tell that to those who are afraid of the media. We are not!”

“I do not care,” Mr. Ahmadu said meekly before snapping: “Go and tell that to those who are afraid of the media. We are not!”

As we made our way down the stairway from Mr. Ahmadu’s office, the officers were asking Mr. Mojeed how detaining a journalist for publishing a confidential document would embarrass the country.

“Your question shows that you people do not understand the implication of the assignment you were given,” Mr. Mojeed answered.

Before they were able to give any coherent response we reached the car park. The same Hiace bus did a pirouette to take us back to the STS detention centre.

Within minutes, we were back at the detention centre. Mr. Oyeneho quickly prepared a docket for my detention.

He asked me to remove my wrist watch, belt and shoes as he prepared to move me into the cell. Though obviously angry and disturbed, Mr. Mojeed remained level headed, and he admonished Mr. Oyeneho on the need to ensure I was not physically tortured or hurt in detention.

“Okay, I will tell the guys in cell not to touch him,” the officer responded, to my relief. “That would go a long way,” I said.

“Okay, I will tell the guys in cell not to touch him,” the officer responded, to my relief. “That would go a long way,” I said.

A female officer taking records of inmates gave Mr. Oyeneho the key to the cell and pointed me in the direction of the cell. “Follow him,” she ordered.

Everyone brought in for interrogation is a “prime” suspect in this centre and treated with disdain, and it is even worse if you are being detained.

 

‘I will tell the guys in cell not to touch him’

Around 5:30 p.m., I was escorted into the cell. As the iron bar door opened, a musty odour oozed from the room. Mr. Mojeed was asked to step back while the officers pushed me in. For nearly a minute, Mr. Onyeneho called out the leaders of the cell and warned each of them to ensure my safety.

“President, IG, OC Torture,” he said, addressing various prisoners by their “roles” in the cell, “this person is a journalist and a visitor of the Inspector General, (referring to Nigeria’s police chief, Mr. Idris ), he did not come in here the same way the rest of you came here,” Mr. Oyeneho said.

“If he complains about any of you, the person will pay seriously for the offence, is that clear?”

“Very clear,” they chorused.

He then pointed to a blanket in a corner of the cell and said a space should be created for me there. Before I could whisper my appreciation, the officer had disappeared and the cell door slammed shut.

I had been told how new prisoners are usually tortured, especially those who came in with nothing. It is a form of ritual aimed at weakening a newcomer into submission to the existing authority in the cell.

“Who be that?” a sleepy voice mumbled from a mound of filthy football jerseys.

“Na one oga oh and dem don talk say make we no touch am,” the cell president responded. He’s a big man and we were told not to touch him.

“So person wey just come today now go dey siddon for president side, they sleep for president bed and e no bring anytin for president?” So this person that just arrived today will sit by the president’s side, sleep on the president’s bed and he did not bring anything for the president? another guy fumed.

“My people wan know whether you bring bread come, oga?” My people want to know if you came with some bread, boss, the president asked me.

“No, I no carry bread come but I get small change for my pocket if una wan buy anytin.” No, I did not come with bread but I have some small change in my pocket, in case you need to buy anything.

The whole cell erupted in ecstasy.

“This our new journalist e weigh so?” Is this our new journalist up to the task?, the president asked rhythmically.

“E weigh!” He’s weighty! He is up to the task.

“If una sure say e weigh make una give am seven gbosas!” If you’re convinced he’s weighty, then give him seven gbosa (greetings), the president said.

“Gbosa! Gbosa! Gbosa! Gbosa! Gbosa! Gbosa! Gbosa!”

I’d had about N6,000 (about USD $17) crammed in my pockets. Mr. Mojeed had advised that I should take only half into the cell. Even if I’d had no cash on me when I entered, the president would still have covered me from harm strictly on the basis of Mr. Oyeneho’s warning.

I learnt there are worse cells in the facility where people could be moved to. The president asked that I hold on to my cash until the next morning, when they would need to place an order for food.

I had barely spent 15 minutes in the cell and my head was already hot. 34 of us were packed in the 12×12 room. Inside the bare concrete cell, dozens of young men sat in rows, some with unshaved beards and dusty heads, laid out like an orchard plantation in the harmattan. It was difficult to imagine how they sleep at night in such a compressed setting.

Amongst the 34 men I met in the cell were kidnapping, armed robbery and even Boko Haram suspects. They had not been moved to the “condemned” suspects’ jail because they were providing intelligence to the police, and some were already negotiating their way out.

“I have been in this situation since February ending,” the president told me. “The former president smuggled this blanket in May and I inherited it from him when he was moved out.”

It was at this point that I realised the blanket I was sitting on had not been laundered for three months.

It was at this point that I realised the blanket I was sitting on had not been laundered for three months.

“I go bring clothes now make you use am do pillow, dem dirty small but you fit manage am.” I’ll bring some clothes that you can roll up and us as a pillow, they’re a little bit dirty but you can manage it, the president said in a bid to help me adjust to my new reality.

He was here on car-jacking allegations. An accomplice with whom he was arrested had since left after ‘bailing’ himself. But the president had no resources to extricate himself from the charges.

“Dem no even gree carry me go court again,” They don’t want to take me to court again, he said. “My mama and brother no get enough money wey dem fit use fight for me.” My mother and brother don’t have enough money to use in fighting for me.

 

Just add 18 minutes

It was already 7:30 p.m., and we were being called for Christian prayers; Muslim inmates had already concluded theirs. A digital wristwatch owned by the president read 7:12.

“We know say e no correct, but e get as we dey use am.” We know it’s not correct, but we use it like that.

“Why you no fit correct am?” Why can’t you correct it? I asked. He threw the watch at me, and I immediately noticed the crown was broken.

“Just add 18 minutes to anytin wey you see for the screen,” Just add 18 minutes to anything you see on the screen, he said.

After prayers, which lasted about an hour with songs of praise, it was time for dinner. And strong vexation rent the air. The cell president had ordered food at 4:40 p.m., but the vendor was yet to deliver.

“Cell guard!” he called out, trying to get the police officer on duty to look for the food vendor.

“Oga journalist, na so dem dey treat us for here.” Boss journalist, that’s how we are treated here.

The guys knew exactly which officers behaved well and which are unkind. They were taking mental notes.

The guys knew exactly which officers behaved well and which are unkind. They were taking mental notes.

At about 9:00 p.m., dinner arrived. The president, assisted by the IG and OC torture, served packs of food to 26 cellmates. Some had noodles, while others had ordered porridge beans. The food was divided, with each person getting not more than a small portion.

More than a dozen had only garri (cassava flour cereal) and kulikuli (a peanut-based snack) for the night. I was told these were inmates who had run out of money and had no family or associates that cared enough to visit them in jail, much less replenish their pockets.

As the others were eating, I quickly fell asleep. Luckily—and strangely—there were no mosquitoes. It was 5:00 a.m. before I woke up. By 6:40 a.m., both Muslim and Christian brothers had concluded prayers.

At 7:00 a.m., the cell guard came in for his routine counting of inmates. The others knew the officer was coming, so they were already standing.

“Who dey sit like chief for there?” Who is sitting like a chief there?, the officer said as he flashed a powerful torchlight into my eyes.

Of all the inmates, I was the only one the cell guard, who resumed shift that morning, was meeting for the first time. He asked that I join others on one end of the open concrete. One after the other, we were asked to move to the opposite side and given numbers as we obliged.

At some point, I pushed the OC Torture forward. “Na your turn,” It’s your turn, I said.

“Na you dey sleep for Aso Rock, make you go first.” You are the one sleeps in Aso Rock, so you have to go first, he replied. Aso Rock is what inmates call the cell president’s blanket area—a tongue-in-cheek reference to Nigeria’s presidential villa, which bears the same name.

Aso Rock is what inmates call the cell president’s blanket area—a tongue-in-cheek reference to Nigeria’s presidential villa, which bears the same name.

Before the counting session was over, I was already blending in with my fellow inmates, my remarks frequently eliciting cheers from many of them.

The impression I had  of prison cells was one of violence and exploitation. But I realised within one day that inmates, no matter how long they had been behind bars, could also be persons of candour.

We fraternised and discussed our individual ordeals without fear. Some talked openly about their offences in the cell, admitting things about which they had kept  investigators in the dark. An unwritten convention says cell mates should not divulge confessions shared, and flouting it could be costly.

Some said they had already confessed to the police and were waiting to be arraigned. The police often promise to help them through trial if they confess, but since such arrangements are seldom done before a lawyer, they are difficult to enforce. Yet the court continues to admit verbal confession of suspects as evidence.

I had a slight share of this one-sided practice in my own case, when I was secretly and hurriedly driven to court on the afternoon of August 15. The prosecutor and officers promised to let me call the office or our lawyers if I cooperated with them but this turned out to be a ruse.

 

Alone in the courtroom

Mr. Ahmadu, came to the detention centre to interrogate me a second time.

The commissioner’s expectation was that I would divulge the source of my story because I had become isolated from Mr. Mojeed. He also promised that I would be released immediately, and receive some unspecified benefits. But I dug my heels in, and it ended up being a wasted 40 minutes for both of us, or mostly for him.

Around 11:00 a.m., my breakfast arrived, brought in by Premium Times’ Administrative Manager, Williams Obase-Ota. He came in with one of our lawyers, and the two ensured I started eating before they left around noon.

By 1:00 p.m., I was being told preparations were underway to take me to court, and I started asking that I be allowed to call Mr. Mojeed or our lawyers. They declined. By 1:30 p.m., I was ordered into a Nissan light truck that would take me to court in Kubwa, about 25 minutes away. I insisted on being permitted to make calls, but I was denied yet again.

Abuja at night. Photo by Jeff Attaway via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The prosecutor called me aside, saying I should not resist because he would allow me to make a call along the way, and he had no plans of submitting any application to further detain me, anyway.

I got into the vehicle with three officers. The prosecutor went ahead in his own car.  We arrived at the magistrate’s court in Kubwa around 2:30 p.m. The prosecutor asked that we wait inside the car, and went into the chambers to meet the magistrate.

We were eventually called in around 3:45 p.m., after the discussion between prosecutor and the magistrate had dragged on for well over an hour. As we stepped into the courtroom, I was immediately put in the dock. While we were waiting outside, I repeatedly asked the prosecutor to live up to his words and allow me just a telephone call, but he declined repeatedly.

I was alone in the courtroom. The prosecution side had the prosecutor, another lawyer whom he had called to meet him at the court, and two of the three police personnel who had accompanied me. The charges were read: violation of sections 352, 288 and 319A of the Nigerian penal code, offences related to sexual assault and murder, not trespassing and obtaining police document, as the police officers had originally accused.

Even though I had not studied the charges closely, I entered a not guilty plea. The prosecutor who had promised not to seek my further remand demanded that the magistrate keep me in custody so officers could continue their investigation.

The magistrate immediately granted the relief, saying I should be kept in custody for five more days and returned to court on August 20.

Having listened to the charges and after the curious meeting the two held in camera, the prosecutor had stripped my identity and I needed to clarify this before the magistrate.

Just before the magistrate hit the gavel and retreated into his chambers, I quickly informed him that I was a journalist with Premium Times. I told him I did not burgle the Force Headquarters to steal documents from the IGP’s office, as the prosecutor implied in the first information report.

The magistrate was stunned, and looked right into the eyes of the prosecutor, apparently feeling a sense of manipulation. I needed to make a call, I told him. I had been denied access to my office and lawyers.

The magistrate was stunned, and looked right into the eyes of the prosecutor, apparently feeling a sense of manipulation. I needed to make a call, I told him. I had been denied access to my office and lawyers.

The magistrate initially said the prosecutor should allow me to make a phone call later. Then he changed his mind on the spot, demanding that the court registrar bring his cell phone to me so I could call whoever I wanted.

The entire court proceeding lasted about 10 minutes. I called Mr. Mojeed to brief him about it afterwards, passing across enough information before I was whisked back to detention.

I returned to detention devastated, unnerved at the thought of staying through the weekend. I wondered  why I was denied access to my office or lawyers.

‘They want to break your spirit as much as they can’

The next day Mr. Mojeed visited and urged patience, saying I would soon be out. It was at that time that he first hinted that my arrest had sparked even bigger anger amongst freedom lovers in and out of Nigeria.

“You will be very proud of yourself when you come out,” Mr. Mojeed said. “Just be patient and continue to endure whatever treatment you get in here, because you will soon be out.”

Just before Mr. Mojeed came in, an officer had denied me a chance to brush my teeth outside the cell, to say nothing of having a shower. I had now spent two full days without bathing, and brushed only once.

I whispered this to Mr. Mojeed inside Mr. Agu’s office. “I understand everything, it is all part of their tactics,” he responded. “They want to break your spirit as much as they can. Just hold on and do not let them succeed.”

Some minutes later, just before Mr. Mojeed turned to Mr. Agu to discuss my welfare, the senior officer offered both of us akara and water. That was my first meal for the day.

After discussing with Mr. Agu for about half an hour, Mr. Mojeed was ready to go. Mr. Agu asked that I remain at his office for some fresh air, but this was only a face-saving gesture. A few seconds after Mr. Mojeed exited the building, a personnel officer was called in to usher me back to the cell.

That was already past 7:00 p.m., and the president was preparing Christian inmates for prayer. The akara I had was too heavy in my stomach, knocking me straight to sleep in the middle of the evening prayer.

When the cell guard arrived for the routine count of inmates at 7:00 a.m. on Friday, he asked me to step outside and gave me a seat at the front desk.

“If you get anything for inside, make you go carry am.” If you have anything inside, go and collect it, he said.

I had nothing in there — I had been wearing the same clothes since Tuesday.

“Call that your oga make he come sign for your bail.” Call your boss, let him come and sign your bail, the officer said.

I called Mr. Mojeed, who was already on his way to the station. I later learnt that my release had been concluded the night before, but it was too late to take me to court at that time. I had to be taken before the magistrate who ordered my remand until Monday before I could be released on Friday.

“What if the magistrate denied me bail again?” I asked an officer.

“No be him put you for cell, e no fit talk say make we no release you.” He is not the one that ordered your detention, so he has no right to tell us not to release you.

Adding my experience before the magistrate two days earlier, I began to appreciate the domineering influence police and other law enforcement agencies wield over magistrates across the country. Magistrates are often said to cluck under police officers like hens, but I did not know much about this until now.

Just before Mr. Mojeed stepped in, the cell guard asked me to go and take a shower. There had been an order from above that I should not be allowed to leave the station in the tattered way I had been for days. Some of the kidnapping suspects in my cell were called out to fetch water from a nearby well.

I had my shower and put on new clothes my colleague brought the day before, but which I was denied from putting on because I could not shower.

 

Free on bail

I met Mr. Mojeed at the front desk as I emerged from the bathroom. “You are free now,” he said to me gleefully. “Amen, thank you sir!” I responded reservedly.

At about 10:00 a.m., we arrived at the court. Our lawyers were already present, and it was not long before the magistrate arrived.

The seats and the floor were filthy. A dirty quilt was abandoned on the floor between the dock and the wall. Not a single computer or clock in the room. The ornamental bulbs and blinds were also broken.

Magistrate Abdulwahab Mohammed took his seat around 10:15 a.m. My case was listed at number four, but the magistrate moved it to number one, seconds after the registrar had already called the first case on the list.

I entered the dock before being prompted. It was a bail hearing, so our lawyers were called on first. The application for my bail was moved and the prosecutor raised no objection. It was already a done deal.

The prosecutor even sought lenient bail terms for me, even on self-recognisance, he said.

The suave magistrate, likely in his thirties, found this funny, and he first concealed his chuckle with his pen before using the sleeve of his jacket.

“Is he the acting president?” he asked the prosecutor. “He is a known journalist, your lordship,” he responded.

The magistrate approved the November 7 adjournment sought by the prosecutor and agreed to the motion by our lawyers and the hearing quickly wrapped up. In less than half an hour I was a free man. The entire hearing and tidying of paperwork for my bail were concluded within 20 minutes.

The officers who brought me to court were the first to request selfies with me. I was reluctant at first, then one said the picture was only an innocuous way of showing that I had no personal reservations towards them. I obliged.

I also posed for photographs with our lawyers and Mr. Obase-Ota who was in court to drive me to the office. But just as we were about driving away, I saw a news item pop up on his phone, saying the police had accused me of violating the official secrets law.

Why would they charge me with violating official secrets when I am not a public official? What I could immediately think of was that the government was out to muzzle the press, and it would stop at nothing, no matter how ridiculous. Even then, it would be difficult to describe the document as secret because nothing in it warned it was, a fact widely observed.

Moreover, Premium Times later learnt separately, days after my release, that Mr. Idris was angry about some of my stories in the past. This is understandable, especially as the factual bases of my work were not in dispute. But this was not enough grounds to lock me up for days, one would imagine. Then again, there have been several cases of journalists being hounded in the past three years, some of which I chronicled here only last year.

 

The precarious work of journalism, with elections on the horizon

With the 2019 elections in view, there are fears that journalists may be deliberately targeted, or, like me, made scapegoats. It was in the car that my colleague informed me that another journalist, Jones Abiri, had been released after two years in custody. He was freed on August 15, a day after my arrest.

I also began noticing the magnitude of support and how big the story of my arrest was, when my colleague at the digital strategy desk would not allow me to get to the office before taking new pictures of me to upload with the breaking story of my release. Mr. Obase-Ota quickly parked at a safe compound and took pictures in the specified resolutions. The picture was everywhere before I got to the office, and both the management and I had to put together separate statements of gratitude.

The Buhari administration understands the critical role the media will play in the upcoming election, just like those before it, including the one that brought him to power three years ago. And, as The Punch noted in an August 24 editorial, Premium Times has been playing a leading role in unearthing the missteps of this administration, making the investigative newspaper a prime target for harassment.

Babajide Otitoju, a political analyst, also saw my arrest as part of a desperate strategy by state actors to instill fears in journalists ahead of 2019, describing it as an “elevated exaggeration.”

Babajide Otitoju, a political analyst, also saw my arrest as part of a desperate strategy by state actors to instill fears in journalists ahead of 2019, describing it as an “elevated exaggeration.”

Early last year, it was the leadership of the Nigerian Army that was uncomfortable with our journalism and goaded the police into arresting publisher Dapo Olorunyomi and Evelyn Okakwu, my colleague at the judiciary desk. They were released the same day and the matter was never brought to court, apparently because, as with my case, they had no serious complaint at the time.

I spent three days in detention. But it was enough time for me to appreciate the precarious fate of journalism in Nigeria, despite nearly two decades of uninterrupted civil rule.

I felt terrible to have been incarcerated and isolated and accused of crimes that were clearly unfounded.

But I remain eternally grateful to everyone around the world who pushed for my release. The unbelievable magnitude of support my organisation and I enjoyed during this episode has strengthened my resolve to always be a voice for the voiceless, while also pushing for the people’s right to know and holding our leaders accountable.

by Guest Contributor at September 18, 2018 07:26 PM

September 14, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Internet taxes are sweeping sub-Saharan Africa — and silencing citizens

June 2018 Women’s Protest Working Group march in Kampala, Uganda. Photo by Katumba Badru, used with permission.

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

In the wake of Tanzania’s “blogger tax” and the social media tax recently implemented in Uganda, Zambia’s cabinet approved a similarly-styled tax social media users and internet-based communication platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Viber and the like in mid-August.

The government of Benin also approved a similar tax amendment that targets standard telephony-based mobile messaging and calls, and then puts an additional tax on the use of internet-based communication apps.

The focus on these applications raises a long-standing issue that many governments have taken with internet-based communication applications, such as WhatsApp, which are free of charge for any person with internet access. Government actors have long voiced concern about revenue losses for national telecom operators who were once the primary providers (and cost beneficiaries) of these services.

But at this stage in the development of the telecommunications sector in much of sub-Saharan Africa, tools like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are key platforms for the distribution of community information, news, and public alerts during emergencies. Making them more expensive may drastically reduce citizens’ ability to communicate with one another.

Zambia’s new tax was approved despite opposition from various sectors, including the country’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who anticipated the tax creating major strains on businesses.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa’s Zambia chapter released a statement of concern on the matter, in collaboration with Blogger of Zambia, a national collective. They wrote:

This is a form of double and punitive taxation and taxing individual users in lieu of the social media companies that actually make money. We are concerned about this proposal because it falls within a pattern of government clampdown on online expression as we have noted of late.
[…]
Why should we make this expensive in the midst of already over-taxed residents, coupled with high poverty levels?

Quartz Africa also pointed out that mobile internet use has dropped in Zambia, from 6.1 million to 5.2 million in 2017, suggesting that the cost of connecting has become too high. With the new tax coming into effect, these numbers may fall once more.

Myanmar military sets up shop on Russia’s VKontakte

After Facebook banned a total of 18 accounts and 52 pages related to Myanmar's military in late August, in tandem with United Nations findings that the military had promoted ethnic violence against Rohingya people, the office of the Myanmar Military Chief swiftly created a new account on Russian social media site VKontakte (VK), and several other military officers followed suit.

As of September 14, the account had 37,000 followers. Time will tell whether this transition will allow the military to rebuild its online presence on VK. Similar to Facebook, the platform prohibits content that “propagandizes and/or contributes to racial, religious, ethnic hatred or hostility, propagandizes fascism or racial superiority.”

Chinese women arrested for warning friends of flood-related health risks

Two WeChat users in China’s Shandong province were arrested on August 25, 2018 for spreading “rumors” about the spread of disease in livestock, triggered by record-level flooding in Shandong. The users had both posted messages warning friends and family to be careful of disease, which has spread due to flooding from Typhoon Rumbia. In China, any piece of information that does not come from official government channels can be considered a rumor.

Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Shawkan to be released from prison

Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Shawkan, who was sentenced to five years in prison for covering police abuses of protesters in 2013, will soon walk free. Shawkan's verdict was part of a mass trial that included 739 people charged after the violent dispersal of a protest camp in support of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. During the same trial, 75 prominent members and affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood were sentenced to death.

Google obliges Russia’s demands to censor activists

One day before a major rally against an unpopular pension reform was planned in Russia, Google informed the rally organizers, the Anti-Corruption Foundation, that it was taking down their YouTube videos promoting the rally, citing violation of Russian election laws. Legal experts say that this is a questionable interpretation of the law. Leonid Volkov, a former campaign manager of opposition activist and former Moscow mayoral candidate Alexey Navalny, warned against the company's unquestioning compliance with censorship demands from repressive governments.

What if the new European Union copyright directive gives tech companies even more power?

The European Parliament approved a Copyright Directive that will likely have major implications for online free speech. The directive includes a so-called “link tax” that will allow publishers to collect a fee from major platforms like Google when listing links to their publications or papers. The directive will also require user-generated content platforms like YouTube to assess the ownership of a piece of content — whether it be video, audio, text or image — before a user can successfully upload the file. In a critique of the measures for The Guardian, James Ball argued that rather than taking power away from major internet platforms, they will do the opposite:

“…building these pre-filters will be time-consuming and expensive – meaning that they will serve to entrench existing social networks in their positions of power and make it harder for new competitors – perhaps with better business models not based on data harvesting – to appear.”

India decriminalized gay sex — this could help privacy rights

India’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a 157-year-old law that criminalized homosexual sex was unconstitutional and struck the law down. The court’s decision could set a strong precedent for defending a variety of privacy rights, especially online. Commenting on the judgement, APC Women’s Program director Jac sm Kee said: “The work of concretising the right to privacy and its critical link to the right to autonomy, life and dignity is an important recognition of this fundamental right in an age of increasing digital surveillance and intrusion into the embodied, private and public lives of individuals by states, corporations and other parties.”

 

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by Netizen Report Team at September 14, 2018 06:06 PM

September 12, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Under Austria's right-wing government, ‘ethical’ principles for journalists could hijack media rights

An ORF journalist interviews lawyer and politician Rudolf Vouk. Photo by Eino81 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Written by Eliška Pírková.

When members of the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and radical right Freedom Party (FPÖ) were elected into power in 2017, there was little response. There were  almost no protests, except for a few gatherings in the Austrian capital, Vienna.

The now majority right-wing populist government has since tightened asylum laws, put migration on hold, and set its sights on restricting press freedom.

Just few months after the government’s inauguration, Norbert Steger, a member of the board of trustees at the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF), accused ORF of being biased in its recent reporting on the parliamentary elections in Hungary. Steger is a former chairman of the Freedom Party and maintains close ties with its leadership.

Steger demanded that the public broadcaster take “steps towards more objective reporting” and threatened that failure to do so could result in one third of foreign correspondents losing their jobs. Steger does not have the authority to make this happen, but he does have significant (if soft) political power.

As the Freedom Party (FPÖ) keeps friendly ties with Hungarian right-wing Fidesz party, led by Viktor Orbán, one can imagine why FPÖ party members might have thought ORF’s coverage to be too critical. Steger also stated in the same interview that journalists who violate the newly drafted “Social Media Guidelines on Journalists’ Behaviour” will receive a warning but could also risk losing their jobs.

But at the time of the interview, in April 2018, ORF employees and other journalists had not even been told about the guidelines. They had been written, but not communicated to journalists or the public.

After months of tensions between FPÖ and ÖRF staff, and numerous personal attacks against journalists, the draft Social Media Guidelines were officially released in June 2018.

They immediately raised concern among many media workers. They present troubling example of how such “self-regulatory” codes of conduct can be abused by those who wish to establish stricter control over the media in the country.

Ethical guidelines are common practice in media regulatory frameworks across Europe. Their general purpose is in the name: it is to guide. ORF itself has had social media guidelines in place since 2012, which followed the example of BBC Social Media Guidance for Staff. Their general role is to articulate ethical principles for journalism and are traditionally meant to serve as as the voice of reason, underlining and protecting the professional integrity of journalism.

But the newly drafted ORF Guidelines (still yet to be approved), threaten precisely what their proponents claim to protect: independence and objectivity.

The draft Guidelines stipulate:

…öffentliche Äußerungen und Kommentare in sozialen Medien, die als Zustimmung, Ablehnung oder Wertung von Äußerungen, Sympathie, Kritik und “Polemik” gegenüber politischen Institutionen, deren Vertreter/innen oder Mitgliedern zu interpretieren sind.

…public statements and comments in social media should be avoided, which are to be interpreted as approval, rejection or evaluation of utterances, sympathy, antipathy, criticism and ‘polemics’ towards political institutions, their representatives or members.

Every single term used in the aforementioned sentence, whether it is “antipathy” or “polemics,” is extremely vague at its core. Such vagueness could allow authorities to use these guidelines as ammunition against any critical statement aimed at the current government, no matter of how objective, balanced or well-intended the critique may be.

Second, the Guidelines ask journalists to refrain from the following:

…öffentliche Äußerungen und Kommentare in sozialen Medien, die eine voreingenommene, einseitige oder parteiische Haltung zum Ausdruck bringen, die Unterstützung derartiger Aussagen und Initiativen Dritter sowie die Teilnahme an derartigen Gruppen, sofern damit Objektivität, Unparteilichkeit und Unabhängigkeit des ORF konterkariert würde. Die entsprechenden Meinungsbekundungen können dabei sowohl durch direkte Äußerungen erfolgen als auch indirekt durch Zeichen der Unterstützung/Ablehnung wie Likes, Dislikes, Recommends, Retweets oder Shares.

…public statements and comments in social media that express a biased, one-sided or partisan attitude, or a support for such statements and initiatives promoted by third parties, and participation in such groups, provided that objectivity, impartiality and independence of the ORF may be compromised. The corresponding statements of opinion can be made both by direct statements and indirectly by signs of support / rejection such as likes, dislikes, recommendations, retweets or shares.

Here again, terms such as “partisan opinions” are very problematic. Would criticism of human rights violations or fact-based coverage of groups fighting climate change qualify as biased? With this wording, the chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression is inevitable, and may lead journalists to censor themselves, in order to avoid difficulties and further insecurities in their workplace.

At the same time, if the main public broadcaster in the country seeks to achieve relative neutrality — in an effort to best serve the public interest — it must  showcase a diverse range of opinions. This commitment to impartiality and neutrality is intended to prevent the misuse of media for propaganda and other forms of manipulation.

Finally, the new guidelines also employ language suggesting that they represent a mandate, rather than recommendations, as was stipulated in the original wording of the Guidelines from 2012. The June 2018 draft uses a very different tone. The document creates a shadow of hierarchy by forcing every ORF journalist to think twice before they share anything on their social media.

The primary duty of the Austrian press is to monitor and to inform whether the rule of law is intact and fully respected by the elected government. Due to its great importance in preserving democracy, the protection of the free press is enshrined within national constitutions and enforced by domestic media laws. Freedom of expression not only guarantees the rights of citizens to write or to say whatever they want, but it also protects and promotes the right of the public to access important information of consequence.

Although not legally binding document, the Guidelines still pose a real threat to democracy. The non-binding nature of the Guidelines serves as an excuse for policymakers who defend its provisions as ethical principles for journalists’ conduct and not the legal obligations per se, enforced by a state agent. But in practice, the independent and impartial work of journalists may be increasingly jeopardised, as every statement, whether in their personal or professional capacity, is subject to much stricter self-censorship in order to avoid further obstacles to their work or even an imposition of “ethical” liability for their conduct.

If the current draft is adopted as it stands, it will provide for an extra layer of strict control that aims to silence the critique and dissent.

When in 2000, FPÖ and ÖVP formed their first ruling coalition, the Austrian government was shunned by European countries and threatened with EU sanctions. But today’s atmosphere in Europe is very different. Authoritative and populist regimes openly undermining democratic governance are a new normal. Under such circumstances, human rights of all are in danger due to a widespread democratic backsliding present in the western countries as much as in the eastern corner of the EU.

Without a doubt, journalists and media outlets have a huge responsibility to impartially inform the public on these and other matters of public interest. Ethical codes of conduct can play a crucial role in journalistic work, acknowledging a great responsibility to report accurately, while avoiding prejudice or any potential harm to others.

However, when journalists’ freedom of expression is being violated, the right to receive and impart information of all of us is in danger, and so is democracy. Human rights and ethics are two different things. One cannot be misused to unjustifiably restrict the other.


Eliška Pírková is a research fellow at the Privacy and Sustainable Computing Lab in Vienna who specializes inn freedom of expression and protection of digital rights. She is originally from Slovakia.

by Guest Contributor at September 12, 2018 04:52 PM

September 10, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
More Afghan journalists killed as militants ramp up attacks on Shiites

Kabul panorama by Masoud Akbari. CC 3.0.

A recent double suicide bombing that killed nearly two dozen people near a sports club in the Dasht-e-Barchi suburb of Kabul, has highlighted the plight faced by two of Afghanistan's most threatened groups: journalists and Shia Muslims.

Dasht-e-Barchi is a Shia-dominated part of Kabul. The first blast on September 5 targeted a crowd gathered outside a wrestling club. Witnesses said the bomber killed the club's security guard before self-detonating. A second bomber drove a car full of explosives into the area where police and journalists had gathered.

Among those that died in the second explosion were a reporter and a cameraman from Tolonews, the country's leading private broadcaster.

Their deaths mean that at least eleven journalists have been killed in suicide bombing attacks since the beginning of the year. On April 30, nine journalists died during an attack in central Kabul.

The Dasht-e-Barchi district is still reeling from another horrendous attack last month when a bomber killed nearly 50 students taking classes in preparation for entering university.

Both attacks were claimed by ISIS, which views Muslims from the Shia branch as heretics.

The Afghanistan Arg (presidential administration) condemned the attack as a crime against humanity.

Notably, the Taliban also issued a condemnation of the attacks and attacks against civilians in general shortly after the twin blasts.

While the militant group has targeted Shias from the Hazara minority in the past, it seems to have scaled back sectarianism as it battles to retain authority over its fighters, who are prone to defecting to other militant groups.

As far back as 2015, Reuters reported that Hazara elders were actively reaching out to the Taliban for protection against ISIS, whose foothold in the country has reportedly grown with an influx of foreign fighters displaced from the Syrian conflict.

That fact was extraordinary, the news agency noted, because during the Taliban's reign Hazaras suffered mass killings at the hands of the Taliban.

by Advox at September 10, 2018 01:56 PM

Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Shawkan to be released soon after five years in prison

Cairo court has sentenced the prominent figure to five years

Egyptian Photo Journalist, Shawkan, has been released after spending five years in prison over unratified charges. Widely shared photo by Ayman Aref.

Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Shawkan was sentenced by a Cairo Criminal Court to five years in prison for covering the 2013 clashes of Rab'aa El Adaweya sit-in dispersal. But since he has been in detention for more than five years already, his lawyer said he will be able to walk free in the next few days.

Shawkan's verdict was part of a mass trial that included 739 people charged after the violent dispersal of a protest camp in support of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. During the same trial, 75 prominent members and affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood were sentenced to death.

Shawkan, 31, was accused of murder and being affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood which has been designated as a terrorist group by several governments in the region.

President Morsi was toppled from power after mass demonstrations took place against the latter in late June of 2013. Morsi's ouster, which was led by incumbent President Abdelfattah el Sisi, was followed by one of the most violent crackdowns on Islamists and dissents, leaving a vacuum in the opposition scene in Egypt.

Prolonged Detention

Shawkan's detention has been prolonged because of postponed trials without having ratified official charges. Both charges and trial postponements have been criticized by the public and led to global campaigns calling for Shawkan's release. Some of the groups which campaigned for his freedom include Press Behind Bars, Press Uncuffed, Freedom for Shawkan, and Shawkan Photo Awards – a contest that aims to distinguish photojournalism in Egypt.

Torah prison, one of the most famous jails across Egypt known for harboring political prisoners, was where Shawkan has been detained. In March 2015, Shawkan wrote a letter published by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), describing Torah prison as a cemetery:

It is a place where dreams come to die. A five-star paradise by Egyptian prison standards, I sleep on a cold tiled floor, I hang my bags of belongings on nails over my thin mattress. There is a tiny “kitchenette” where we prepare our food. We have a single element electric cooker, which we also use for warmth in the winter months. The “kitchenette” is adjacent to a squat-down drop toilet, which is basically a hole in the concrete floor. Both areas are separated by a hanging blanket to try and provide an element of privacy. Our dignity was left at the prison gates.

In April 2018, Shawkan was the first Egyptian to be awarded the UNESCO Press Freedom Prize after being selected by an independent jury of international media professionals, an honor that was denounced by Egypt's foreign ministry and the parliament.

Rejoice over the verdict

The impending release of Shawkan was celebrated by rights groups and social media activists. Former political prisoner Mohamed Soltan asserted that the freelance journalist should not have been detained in the first place:

Journalist Bel Trew reiterated Soltan's tweet, saying:

TV Presenter Osama Gawish criticized the sentencing of victims of the Raba'a massacre:

Congratulations for Shawkan and all heroes who will be released. All shame on every judge who has no conscience and stained justice and sentenced other victims of Raba'a massacre.”

Activist Mostafa Hegazy is happy for Shawkan's family:

Despite one good news among many other bad ones, at least a family is happy today for the first time since five years. Congrats on your freedom, Shawkan”

Court convictions in support of crackdown?

Although Shawkan's release is a win for defenders of human rights, his verdict was part of a mass trial that saw 75 individuals receiving the death penalty.

The court's sentence is in line with President Abdelfattah el Sisi's systematic approach to arrest Muslim Brotherhood members following a second victory in the presidential elections this year in which his only challenger was a supporter of his campaign, placing greater political power in the hands of the military.

Whether by mass arrests or political prosecution or systematically forced disappearances, Sisi has been doing everything possible to finish off the Muslim Brotherhood since he became president in 2014.

by Salma Essam at September 10, 2018 01:53 PM

Google caves in to Russian demands, censors videos promoting a protest rally

Alexey Navalny, whose Anti-Corruption Foundation's videos were taken off YouTube by Google following a complaint by the Russian government, is currently serving a 30-day jail term for organizing a protest rally // Mitya Aleshkovsky, CC3.0

One day before a major rally against an unpopular pension reform was planned in Russia, Google informed the rally organizers, the Anti-Corruption Foundation, that it was taking down their YouTube videos promoting the rally, citing violation of Russia’s laws.

Russia’s administrative code imposes a “day of silence” on the day before an election, and all political campaigning is prohibited. The rally coincides with mayoral elections in Moscow on Sunday, September 9, as well as polling in other regions. Ads for several videos promoting the rallies in the 80 Russian cities where they were scheduled to take place were rejected, and the videos themselves were taken down by YouTube.

Earlier this week, Russia’s Central Elections Commission (CEC) and the Attorney General’s office sent a formal complaint to Google accusing the tech giant of election meddling. According to CEC member Alexander Klyukin, who spoke before the temporary commission to protect state sovereignty and prevent foreign interference into Russia's internal affairs, the Russian authorities took issue with Google’s promotion of Anti-Corruption Foundation founder Alexey Navalny’s political agenda. The temporary commission was established at Russia’s Council of the Federation (the upper chamber of parliament) last year. Navalny is a prominent opposition activist and is currently serving a 30-day sentence for attempting to organize an allegedly unsanctioned rally in January 2018.

Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s ally and former campaign manager when the activist ran for mayor of Moscow in 2013, said in a Facebook post that the Anti-Corruption Foundation had filed a formal complaint to Google and warned against the company's unquestioning compliance with every censorship demand from repressive governments:

Why is that so important.

This is not the first time when Russian authorities abuse their power to issue unlawful requests to the western IT-corporations. This is the first time, though, when Google decides to comply with such a request.
This sad precedent has to be given high priority and to be reverted. We realise how legal compliance works in large corporations: the lawyers would always advise just to follow local rules to avoid problems with the local authorities. This is a good practice in the countries where the rule of law is well established.
The corporations — including Google — should face the reality. In authoritarian regimes these are the governments who most frequently abuse the law. Not every request signed by a government authority should be automatically considered as a lawful one. Good portion of criticism is necessary to protect the users and their rights.

This latest scandal is unfolding as Google finds itself in the middle of an existential crisis of sorts, with employees revolting against what they see as as their company's embrace of censorship.

by RuNet Echo at September 10, 2018 01:47 PM

September 07, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
As China faces record-breaking flood levels, authorities arrest two women for spreading ‘rumors’ of health risks

Flooding in Ningxiang, Hunan, China in 2017. Photo by Huangdan2060 via Wikimedia (CC0)

Two WeChat users in Shouguang county of Shandong province were arrested on August 25, 2018 for spreading “rumors” about the spread of disease in livestock, triggered by record-level flooding in Shandong.

Typhoon Rumbia, which hit the northeastern regions of China beginning on August 17, has left at least 13 people dead in Shouguang alone, and has done an estimated 9.2 billion yuan (USD $1.34 billion) worth of damage to the area, which is one of China's largest producers of vegetables and pork. The flooding has also killed an estimate of 250,000 pigs in Shandong.

Members of a private messaging group on the popular WeChat platform were discussing the flooding and related damage, when the conversation turned to the possible spread of disease triggered by flood waters. The conversation, translated below, led to the arrest of two group members on August 25, 2018:

A: A plague has spread to the north of Shouguang county.

B: What plague?

A: I am not sure. Just heard from XXX

B: Is it serious?

A: Eat less pork and chicken.

B: I have heard nothing about it.

A: My husband bought anti-septic detergent to clean up the house.

A few minutes later, a member of the chat group shared their messages with another WeChat group, in a likely attempt to warn other people of the possible spread of disease.

In less than 15 hours, both users were arrested and detained for spreading “rumors” — in China, any piece of information that does not come from official government channels can be considered a rumor.

Shouguang police reported with photos on the arrest of two females for spreading rumors about a possible “plague” on a WeChat group on August 26, 2018.

The arrest was reported by Shouguang police on their official Weibo account on August 26 at 3:37 am, and even included photos of the two women, as seen above. A number of media outlets followed with reports. Very soon the term “Shouguang” became a popular search on social media platform.

China has recently strengthened its approach to stopping the spread of “rumors” by using a centralized system that leverages artificial intelligence, social media data and user reporting. Now even private conversations about social unrest and natural disasters in chat groups can easily trigger the rumor switch and police can take instant action against the “talkative” ones, as seems to be the case in Shouguang.

The users’ arrests have brought panic online. Social media outlet Today’s Headlines posted a news thread about the arrests on August 26 that has attracted more than 1000 comments, most of which have slammed the local Shouguang authorities for abusing their power.

Some pointed out that the two WeChat users were not spreading rumors:

真是可笑,张徐二人皆是听她人所说,瘟疫这种东西人心惶惶,莫非她二人还要亲眼去看一看验证了才能将听到的消息警告给亲友吗?一个正常人处在那种大灾难时,神经紧张,一点儿风吹草动就会被吓到,她二人听说了有瘟疫,立刻告诉亲戚朋友,作为一个都不知道寿光在哪里的普通人,我不知道他们有什么错。

This is such a joke. Both got the information from other sources. Do they have to go for a site visit and verify the information before they can warn friends and family members? People become very nervous facing disasters. They feel frightened easily. They shared what they heard about the plague with their friends and family, what have they done wrong?

寿光被淹几天才退洪水,现在这个天气,我要在附近,人家跟我说瘟疫的话,我肯定会信的,会做些预防,本身新闻也是在报无人机撒药防瘟疫,造谣是不对,你们及时辟谣就好了,不提醒不告知,先逮起来以儆效尤,这处理说白了还是做给人看的,有意思吗?

Shouguang has been flooded for days. In such weather, if I were in the region and someone told me that there was a plague, I would definitely believe this information and take precaution. Even the news reported that the authorities had arranged for drones to spray the flooded areas to prevent plague. It is wrong to spread rumors, but you can make clarifications. Now, you have neglected to inform people of the situation and arrested people for spreading rumors. This is a public performance to intimidate people.

Others expressed their frustration with mockery:

救灾也能这么快就好了

If they could react to the floods as effectively [as they do to the ‘rumors’], that would be great.

寿光洪灾恐怕也是谣言!

The floods in Shouguang must be a rumor too!

哪有什么瘟疫,只不过村民皮肤发痒红肿,满村弥漫腐臭气息,封锁了村子而已。请大噶放心,下一步一定会加强信息封锁,绝对不能让现实情况传播出去。

There is no plague, people’s skin just turned red and inflamed; the villages just smelled rotten and they were all blocked from entering. Please take it easy, information will be blocked and the real situation will not be reported on.

死畜遍地,饮水污染,喝了就生病难道不是瘟疫?

So many livestock have died and the drinking water has been polluted. Once you drink the water, you are sick and this is not a plague?

大家不懂,这是为了百姓好早抓了处罚轻,再不抓有可能就是和境外敌对势力勾结,妄图利用负面信息颠覆政权

You have no idea. They arrest people and punish them lightly for their own good. If they don’t arrest them now, they would hook up with foreign enemies and use the negative news to subvert the state.

Widespread online criticism has not stopped the Shouguang police from arresting more concerned citizens. On August 29, two more users were arrested for insulting Shouguang and Weifang police because they left angry comments under the two authorities’ Weibo posts about police efforts to save lives during floods.

The floods hit Shouguang on August 19, and historical surveys suggest that they are the most severe floods seen in the region since 1974. Yet only four days later, official media outlets were already criticizing negative responses and censoring negative news about flood damage. Now, when one searches “Shouguang” on Weibo, most of the news items praise the authorities’ disaster relief efforts.

by Oiwan Lam at September 07, 2018 04:27 PM

South Asian governments keep ordering internet shutdowns — and leaving users in the dark

When students in Bangladesh protested, demanding improved road safety, mobile internet  connections were cut. Image via Wikimedia Commons by Asive Chowdhury CC: BY-SA 4.0

This post is published as part of an editorial partnership between Global Voices and Ranking Digital Rights.

When students in Dhaka, Bangladesh launched public protests demanding road safety after a speeding bus killed two students on July 29, mobile internet connections suddenly were no more.

When the protests turned violent on August 3, after rumors of rape and kidnapping triggered confrontations between police and protesters, authorities resorted to shutting down 3G and 4G networks in and around Dhaka.

Local media reported that the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission ordered service providers to reduce mobile phone network signals for 24 hours so that only 2G networks could operate.

The measures made it impossible to share multimedia and live video, which many protesters were using in an effort to show what actually was happening on the streets, in real time, and to debunk false claims. Telecom operators in Bangladesh gave subscribers no explanation of the cut in service.

These measures are not unique to Bangladesh. They represent part of a growing trend across South Asia, where access to networks or platforms is restricted or completely shut down when protests or violence erupts, and the public is left in the dark, with little or no information about what causes these shutdowns.

Technical glitch or strategic shutdown?

Earlier this year, Sri Lankan authorities shut down the internet in the district of Kandy, in response to acts of sectarian violence. The government, which also ordered telecom operators to block Facebook, Viber and WhatsApp across the country, blamed social media for spreading hate speech and calls to violence.

While service providers alerted users prior to the shutdowns, “there was no indication as to why in the formal notice,” Amalini De Sayrah, an editor at GroundViews, an award-winning citizen media group based in Colombo told Global Voices. GroundViews contacted the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission for more information, but “there was confusion or just unwillingness to divulge more,” De Sayrah said. “We were told it [the shutdown] would end in a few hours, but it carried on for a few days.”

The lack of corporate transparency is also an issue in India, where the Software Freedom Law Center, documented 106 shutdowns across the country so far this year.

In India, users are “most often” not informed about these shutdowns before they take place, “leaving [them] to wonder if it is a technical glitch or a shutdown,” Mishi Choudhary, legal director at the SFLC told Global Voices in a previous story.

“Transparency in the operator-user relation has a long way to go in South Asia,” said Subhashish Panigrahi, a Global Voices author and co-founder of O Foundation (OFDN) a non profit organization working to preserve underrepresented languages and cultures through digital technology. “India had blocked as many as 23,030 websites by 2017. There are cases where the operators share about the shutdowns and there are many [others] where the users are left to be startled.”

‘Operators owe transparency to their users’

Telecommunications companies are facing increasing burdens in this area, from all sides. Companies that push back on shutdown orders can risk losing their licenses. While companies usually have little choice but to follow these orders, that should not absolve them from responsibility towards their users’ human rights.

In legally-challenging environments, companies should at least notify users when shutdowns are about to happen, name the authorities that ordered the shutdown, and specify its duration activists told Global Voices.

De Sayrah said that she would like to see operators not only publish alerts about shutdowns that are about to happen but also include information on who made the shutdown request and when and the duration of restriction.

“This way the companies are accountable to the people and are doing their part, which is one step up from the government,” she added.

Panigrahi noted that industry organizations like the Internet Service Providers Association of India’s (ISPAI), which represents 60 operators could address this issue by maintaining a public record of the ongoing shutdowns. While there are civil society groups and activists that document these restrictions, “ISPs have a wider and a direct reach to users and [can] always inform users prior to the shutdowns.” He added that activists and civil society groups “can at times put their own security at risk” in their efforts to document shutdown cases.

Transparency from the part of telcos can help media groups that play a key role in times of crisis to verify information and provide accurate media coverage prepare better. During the March shutdowns in Sri Lanka, GroundViews found it challenging to get information on the situation in Kandy, editor Raisa Wickrematunge told Global Voices.

“Providing justifications and ideally a potential duration of a block or shutdown can help assess what strategy to use to continue pushing out information,” she added.

India internet shutdown map, January 2010 – March 2017. Created by the Centre for Communication Governance (CC BY)

Corporate transparency can also help digital rights activists and advocacy groups understand the scope, the impact and the legality of shutdowns.

Data such as revenue loss experienced by telcos, impact on e-commerce, reasons given by the state and terms of licensing could be useful for advocacy groups, Choudhary said.

“It is important to have a record of how long these blocks persist, and when and why they commenced, in order to help digital rights advocates prepare for possible clampdowns in the future,” Wickrematunge said. She added that transparency can be useful when engaging with the government “to try and prevent these types of shutdowns happening arbitrarily…”

Despite the outcry from civil society groups and a 2016 UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning “measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online,” governments across South Asia are very unlikely to stop ordering shutdowns anytime soon.

The Indian government, which has been blaming Whatsapp and other messaging and social media apps for a spike in mob killings and lynchings, has reportedly urged telecom operators “to explore various possible options” to block such applications “to protect national security.”

In Sri Lanka, activists fear that the the Kandy shutdowns may not be the last. “I do believe the incidents in March have now set a precedent for similar blocks in future, particularly on social media,” Wickrematunge said.

Following the recent 3G and 4G network shutdowns in Bangladesh, the ICT minister said that access to Facebook and networks could be restricted again for the “security of the state and its people.”

In the absence of government transparency, corporate transparency can help users and digital rights groups prepare to fight shutdowns when they are about to happen, hold to account those responsible, and raise awareness about their negative impacts.

“Operators owe complete transparency to their users, as consumers who are paying them money and also in the interest of accountability,” De Sayrah.

by Afef Abrougui at September 07, 2018 02:55 PM

After Facebook ban, Myanmar military accounts are moving to Russian social media site VKontakte

Screenshot of Myanmar Military Chief VK account

After being banned from Facebook, Myanmar's military chief was quick to create a new account on Russian social media site VKontakte.

Facebook announced its decision to ban a total of 18 accounts and 52 pages related to Myanmar's military, including the account of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army) on August 27, 2018. The pages had a significant presence on Facebook, with almost 12 million followers combined.

Immediately after the bans were implemented, the office of the Myanmar Military Chief created a new account on Russian social media site VKontakte and gained 2,000 followers within 48 hours. The page had more than 35,000 followers as of this writing.

Facebook justified its removal of the military accounts on grounds that they were using the social media site to promote ethnic violence against the Rohingya people, a claim supported by a United Nations fact-finding mission. In a subsequent report, Facebook added that it identified a covert Myanmar military propaganda campaign on its platform.

The UN group issued a report accusing the Myanmar military of committing genocide against the Rohingya people. Myanmar-born Rohingya people are neither recognized as an ethnic group nor as citizens by the state of Myanmar. Last year, conflicts and military operations in the northwestern state of Myanmar resulted in displacement of more than 700,000 Rohingya residents, many of whom taking refuge in neighboring Bangladesh.

On Facebook, the former presidential adviser and writer Nay Zin Latt has been urging his followers to open VKontakte accounts. His post which accused Facebook of being a “dictator” got more than 5,000 likes and 1,400 shares.

 VK ကိုပြောင်းကြပါ။ အာဏာရှင် FB ကို စွန့်ကြတော့။ အမျိုးသားရေးသမားတွေအတွက် ပိုသင့်တဲ့နေရာ။

Forsake dictator FB. Move to VK, a place more appropriate for patriots [nationalists].

The anonymously-authored blog Myochit Monitor published a post titled Myochit [Nationalist] Migration from Facebook, where the author described how nationalist social media accounts reacted to the Facebook ban.

The author wrote:

…not being able to log on to social media and post your daily propaganda hurts your ego and ability to change public opinion. But the military is adapting well.

No doubt the reason Myochit are migrating to this Russian platform is the Facebook’s tightening of its policy. That means they are now spreading their hate freely on the site without any moderation.

The blogger also noted that several media outlets have created their pages on VKontakte although it is not known if these are official accounts.

When it comes to social media and online communication, Facebook is far and away the most popular platform Myanmar, so the military move to VKontakte may not result in an instant reconstitution of the massive following that Min Aung Hlaing and other military leaders had before.

Facebook's decision to ban the accounts of Myanmar military officers was met with mixed reactions online. Some lauded it as a timely intervention to stop the spread of hate speech. But some also raised the question of censorship and whether it was consistent with Facebook's policy on removing accounts.

Will VKontakte be a more hospitable platform for these accounts? Not necessarily. Despite Myochit Monitor's interpretation, VKontakte (similar to Facebook) prohibits content that “propagandizes and/or contributes to racial, religious, ethnic hatred or hostility, propagandizes fascism or racial superiority.” Also similar to Facebook, the Russian company is not known for implementing its Terms of Service in a consistent or transparent manner.

Time will tell if the strategy serves the military's best interests.


This post was written by a guest contributor who wished to remain anonymous, due to security concerns.

by Guest Contributor at September 07, 2018 02:12 PM

September 06, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: What role does Facebook play in Libya’s civil war?

Libyans in central Tripoli protest the continuing presence of armed groups in 2011. Photo by Maghrebia via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Earlier this week, Facebook was blocked in the Libyan capital Tripoli and surrounding cities, as fighting between armed militias raged. On 3 September, Reuters reported that the blocking started around noon local time, and that while residents were able to access other websites, Facebook was inaccessible.

It remains unclear who blocked the social media platform and for what reasons. Al Jazeera reported that the state-owned Libyan Post, Telecommunication and Information Technology Company, which owns the country’s only two internet providers, said “a lack of security had led to outages” but did not directly address the blocking of Facebook.

Like elsewhere in the region, Facebook is by far the most popular social media platform in the sparsely populated country of six million people. While Facebook played a key role in 2011 to mobilize protests against the regime of now-deceased dictator Muammar Gaddafi, different armed groups vying for control have since been using the platform to find, threaten and silence critics and opponents, engage in hate speech and other illegal activities such as arms and human trafficking. A recent investigation by The New York Times showed that “practically every armed group in Libya” had its own Facebook page.

The New York Times found evidence of military-grade weapons being openly traded, despite the company’s policies forbidding such commerce. Human traffickers advertise their success in helping illegal migrants reach Europe by sea, and use their pages to drum up more business.

Saudi Arabia says no to online satire

Public prosecutors in Saudi Arabia announced via Twitter on September 3 that online speech that “ridicules, mocks, provokes and disrupts public order, religious values and public morals through social media” will be criminalized, in what would likely be an amendment to an already existing cybercrime law. This will amount to a ban on political satire in the kingdom, and provide authorities with an additional legal mechanism for silencing critical speech.

The country’s cybercrime law has been used to criminalize political speech multiple times, including in the prominent case of Israa Al-Ghomgham, an activist who has been in detention for more than three years on charges related to her online activism during and after the Arab uprisings of 2011-12. Prosecutors are now seeking the death penalty against Al-Ghomgham, whose next court appearance will be in October.

After he “shit on God”, Spanish actor refuses to appear in court

A popular actor is facing detention in Spain over a July 2017 Facebook comment that read: “I shit on God and there's shit leftover to shit on the holiness and the virginity of the Virgin Mary.” The Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers filed a complaint arguing that the comment offended religious sentiments, despite the fact that “I shit on God” is a common exclamation in Spain. After the complaint was filed, Willy Toledo refused to appear in court on two occasions, at which point the judge in his case ordered his arrest. #MeCagoEnDios (#IShitOnGod) rose to the number one trending topic on Twitter in Spain, tweeted mainly by users showing solidarity with Toledo.

WhatsApp remains under fire in India

An inter-ministerial committee in India is developing a set of recommendations intended to quell the spread of disinformation in the country, which in multiple cases has escalated to real-life violence, in particular in the form of lynch mobs. Although Facebook and WhatsApp appear to be prime targets of government leaders who are part of the committee, many in India say that vicious party politics lie at the root of the problem.

China's chasing fake news, too

A new state-run platform, Piyao, is now centralizing efforts to stop online “rumors” in China, where any piece of information that does not come from official government channels can be considered a rumor. Hosted by the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission and operated by the official Xinhua news, Piayao has integrated data from 40 other rumor report platforms and generated a rumor database with 30,000 incidents. It encourages the public to file reports, but also uses artificial intelligence to identify rumors spreading online.

Five eyes seek stronger snooping powers over encrypted communications

United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada — the so-called Five Eyes nations — issued a memo in late August 2018 that pressures private technology companies and developers to make encrypted communications accessible to law enforcement authorities. Much of the language in the memo is remarkably general and vague, but the final sentence makes it clear what these governments want:

Should governments continue to encounter impediments to lawful access to information necessary to aid the protection of the citizens of our countries, we may pursue technological, enforcement, legislative or other measures to achieve lawful access solutions.

New research

 

 

Subscribe to the Netizen Report

 

 

by Netizen Report Team at September 06, 2018 09:22 PM

A lethal combination: How MENA governments use cybercrime laws and spyware to target activists

Israa Al-Ghomgham as a child. Photo widely circulated online.

Human rights advocate Israa Al-Ghomgham may soon be facing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, for her non-violent human rights related activities.

Arrested in 2015 along with her husband, activist Mousa Al-Hashim, over their roles in anti-government protests in Al-Qatif, Al-Ghomgham was charged under article 6 of the Cybercrime Act of 2007 for “preparing, sending and storing material that would harm the public order”. She also stands accused of “inciting rallies and young people against the state and security forces on social networking sites”, and posting photos and video of these protests online. She has been in detention ever since, and was put on trial in early August 2018. State prosecutors for her case are seeking the death penalty.

The stakes in Al-Ghomgham's case could barely be higher. But the circumstances of her arrest, detention and prosecution have become chillingly common across the MENA region.

For nearly two decades, activists like Al-Ghomgham in the MENA region have been using online tools to demand democratic societies that respect fundamental rights, and freely express other ideas that are not welcome in traditional media, which in many cases is controlled by governments. 

But following the cascade of social movements across the MENA region in 2011-2012, several governments and their security forces endeavoured to tighten their controls over the internet and cripple its use to promote human rights and social justice.

In countries where human rights groups documented serious human rights violations, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Qatar, governments invested millions of dollars in surveillance, espionage and hacking tools to target human rights defenders, including internet activists and bloggers.

Alongside these technical measures, they sought out legal mechanisms to further this cause. Their tactics included the adoption and strict implementation of anti-cybercrime laws that have been used to stifle freedom of expression on the internet and to criminalise and imprison activists.

A recent report by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), entitled “Mapping Cybercrime Laws and Violations of Digital Rights in the Gulf and Neighbouring Countries” illustrates how this combination of technical and legal measures has led to a new era of repression in the region.

The report highlights these trends and anticipates that regional governments may expand their capacity to prosecute such “cybercrimes”:

There are two trends at hand we anticipate to proliferate and feel compelled to warn against. First, legislation will introduce more restraints on online freedom of speech and expression under the label of combating ‘fake news.’ Second, now that the UAE and Syria have developed two branches that are specialised in the prosecution of cybercrimes i.e. the police units and courts, other countries are likely to follow suit.

In addition to using cybercrime laws as an arbitrary legal cover to target activists, governments and their security agencies hire foreign companies, often based in Western democracies, to provide them with the latest software and hardware to fully control the activities of internet activists and civil society.

The Canadian company Netsweeper sold filtering tools to the UAE government to block websites including that of the GCHR, which has been blocked in the country since January 2015. 

In addition to monitoring and surveilling the online activities of civil society organisations, government actors have attempted to hack their accounts and obtain the sensitive data contained therein.

Human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor is currently serving a ten-year jail sentence in the UAE. Photo Credit: Martin Ennals Foundation, via Citizen Lab.

Emirati blogger and human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, who is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for merely expressing his opinions online, was targeted with spyware known as Finfisher and sold by Gamma International which is incorporated in the UK and Germany. Technical research indicates that Mansoor was also targeted with software developed by Hacking Team, an Italian firm.

Through 2015 alone, authorities in the UAE used Hacking Team software bought for USD $634,500 to spy on 1,100 people. In 2016, Mansoor was once again the target of a phishing attempt this time using the technology of the Israeli company NSO Group.  

Across the region, when human rights defenders and online activists are arrested, their electronic equipment and those of their family members are confiscated. When Mansoor was arrested in March 2017, the security forces confiscated his children’s cell phones and laptops.

As crackdowns across the MENA region continue unabated, governments in Western democracies should take action against companies that aid such repression. EU, US and Canadian governments need to impose controls on digital security companies to prevent them from exporting censorship, blocking and spying technologies to repressive governments. 

by Gulf Center for Human Rights at September 06, 2018 04:40 PM

September 03, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Kashmiri journalist arrested after reporting on slain rebel, Burhan Wani

Indian forces make a formation to stop the stones after protests erupted in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir. Image from Instagram by Ieshan Wani. Used with permission.

Police in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir have detained a journalist for allegedly “harboring terrorists.” Aasif Sultan, who works with a with Srinagar-based news magazine Kashmir Narrator, was detained by the police for questioning on 27 August.

According to family members, local police raided their house in the Batamaloo area of the city and took Aasif into custody. His father told local media that police seized his son's personal belongings, including laptop and other electronic items, during the raid.

His friends believe that he was being targeted for a recent cover story which featured the slain rebel commander, Burhan Wani on its cover.

Journalists working in Kashmir have demanded his immediate release. Condemning his arrest, Kashmir Working Journalist Association and Kashmir Journalist Association said:

We are outraged to learn that journalist, Aasif Sultan, has been under illegal detention at police station Batamaloo for the last six days. We demand his immediate release from illegal custody.

The editor of Kashmir Narrator, where Aasif works as an assistant editor, told a Delhi-based newspaper that he was being framed wrongfully and the magazine was being targeted for their reportage.

Mugshot of the detained journalist. Used with permission.

“This is a cock and bull story. [The police] are not happy with our reportage,” he said.

“We have taken up his arrest with CPJ, IFJ, and other global organizations. We will fight it in the court of law,” editor Showkat Motta told the Indian Express.

Jammu and Kashmir police in a press statement said that they have seized what they termed as “incriminating materials” from various locations.

Though Aasif was detained on 27 August, a First Information Report was only filed on 31 August.

“On 31/8/2018 Asif Sultan S/O Mohammad Sultan Saida R/O Firdousabad Batamaloo has been arrested by Police Station Batamaloo in case FIR No 173/2018,” a police statement said.

Harris Jargar, a journalist in the Indian News portal LiveMint tweeted:

Journalist of Republic TV Aditya Raj Kaul tweeted:

The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement expressing deep concern about the ongoing detention and interrogation of Aasif.

“Police should immediately release Aasif Sultan from jail and halt efforts to pressure him to reveal sources or become an informer,” said Steven Butler, CPJ's Asia program coordinator in a statement. “By reporting on militant activity, Sultan is performing an important public service, not committing a crime.”

by Ieshan Wani at September 03, 2018 06:15 PM

Myanmar sentences Reuters journalists to 7 years in prison

One of many online campaigns’ images demanding the release of wrongly accused journalists.

Two Myanmar reporters who were covering the killing of Rohingya in Rakhine state last year were sentenced to seven years prison on September 3 for violating the Official Secrets Act of 1923 after a nine-month-long trial.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were working for Reuters when they were arrested in December 2017 for possessing state documents regarding military operations in Rakhine state. In court proceedings earlier this year, police testified that they had handed the documents to the reporters without explanation, shortly before the arrest.

The two reporters were investigating the killings of 10 Rohingya villagers by the military in Inn Din village in the northwest of Rakhine on the aftermath of the clashes between the army and Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) in August 2017. The clashes were followed by the displacement of more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh.

Myanmar's government does not recognize Myanmar-born Rohingyas, most of whom are Muslim, as citizens or as an ethnic group living in Myanmar. The government designates ARSA as a terrorist organization.

In April 2018, police captain Moe Yan Naing testified in court that he and a colleague were ordered to entrap the reporters. He was sentenced to one year in prison after that testimony for violating the Police Disciplinary Act. He told reporters after the hearing that sentenced him: “Putting me in prison stops other police officers from saying the truth”.

Immediately after the court decision, Free of Expression Myanmar (FEM), a local civil society group, released its statement denouncing the state for its failure to protect journalists.

The conviction shows the lengths to which the Myanmar state is willing to go to hide its wrongdoing. In the past, the state has mostly bullied and jailed local journalists, but now it has picked on one of the most renowned media houses in the world.”

On the same day fifty Myanmar civil society organizations have signed a statement letter requesting for the release of two journalists.

Local voices demand justice

The case has attracted outrage not only internationally, but inside Myanmar too.

Many people in the country, including civil society organization and activists, have been speaking out against the journalists’ arrest since last year.

Last month, A-than (Voice), a local civil society group working for the abolition of Myanmar's online defamation law, launched a video campaign on social media featuring several activists from Myanmar calling for the release of the journalists. The statement message of the campaign posts read as:

ရိုက်တာသတင်းထောက်နှစ်ဦးဖြစ်တဲ့ ကိုဝလုံးနဲ့ကိုကျော်စိုးဦးတို့ဟာ အင်းဒင်ရွာမှာ တပ်မတော်က ကျုးလွန်ခဲ့တဲ့ လူသတ်မှုအကြောင်းကို စုံစမ်းဖော်ထုတ်သတင်းရေးသားနေဆဲအချိန်မှာ ဖမ်းဆီးထိန်းသိမ်းခံခဲ့ရတာဖြစ်ပါတယ်။ အင်းဒင်ရွာမှာ ကျူးလွန်ခဲ့မှုတွေကို တပ်မတော်ကလည်းဝန်ခံခဲ့ပြီး တာဝန်ရှိတဲ့ တပ်မတော်သား(၇)ဦးကို စစ်ခုံရုံးကနေပြီး ပြစ်ဒဏ်အသီးသီး ချမှတ်ခဲ့ပြီးဖြစ်ပါတယ်။ ကိုဝလုံးနဲ့ကိုကျော်စိုးဦးတို့ဟာ ပြည်သူတွေ သတင်းအမှန်သိရဖို့ သတင်းသမားကျင့်ဝတ်နဲ့အညီ သတင်းရယူခဲ့တာဖြစ်ပါတယ်။ သူတို့ လိုက်နေတဲ့သတင်းကြောင့် ရဲတွေက ထောင်ခြောက်ဆင်ပြီး ဖမ်းဆီးခံခဲ့တာဖြစ်တယ်လို ဒုရဲမှူးမိုးရန်နိုင်က ထွက်ဆိုထားပါတယ်။

Reuters Journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested and detained when they were doing their investigative report on the killings in Inn Din village committed by Ta-ma-taw [Army]. Inn Din village killings were admitted by Ta-ma-taw and seven army officers have been convicted by war court already. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were acting ethically in order to get reliable information for people. Captain Moe Yan Naing has already testified that [the reporters] were set up by the police because of the news that they were covering.

A few days before the hearing on September 3, many marched in the city of Yangon, Myanmar's economic capital, to demand journalists’ release.

For some, the case reinforces the growing disappointment with the government of the National League for Democracy (NLD), headed by noble peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Peace activist Moe Thway expressed his disappoint for Aung San Suu Kyi for not speaking out to protect the journalists.

ဝလုံးတို့မတရားထောင်ချခံရတာ
တရားရေးတခုတည်းရဲ့အပြစ်မဟုတ်ဘူး…

ဒီလိုဖမ်းဆီးတာကိုထောက်ခံခဲ့တဲ့
ဝလုံးတို့ဟာပြစ်မှုကျူးလွန်ခဲ့တာလို့ပြောခဲ့တဲ့
ဒေါ်အောင်ဆန်းစုကြည်နဲ့
သူ့အစိုးရမှာပါတာဝန်ရှိတယ်…

ဒေါ်အောင်ဆန်းစုကြည်ဟာ
အာဏာရှင်စရိုက်ကို
ထင်ထင်ရှားရှားပြလာပြီ…

The fact that Wa Lone (and Kyaw Soe Oo) were given unjust prison sentences is not because of the court alone.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her government are also responsible for approving their arrests and saying that they were guilty.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has clearly revealed her characteristic of a dictatorship.

In a statement [pdf] condemning the verdict, organized by A-than and signed by 63 local NGOs, supporters wrote:

We believe that the decision by the court is irrational and the case was brought against the two journalists….to justify [their] arrest and imprisonment…We take this as a crackdown on the right of access to information and media freedom, and an oppressive gesture [against] all concerned people of Myanmar who are aspiring [to]….a society characterized by rule of law, accountability, freedom and justice.

The court decision was also condemned by the international community, including statements released immediately by US Embassy in Myanmar and EU Union in Myanmar.

by Thant Sin at September 03, 2018 03:24 PM

August 31, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
‘Fake news’ is in the eye of the beholder: China is centralizing efforts to stop online ‘rumors’

Screen capture from Piyao's promotion video on Weibo.

A new state-run platform is now centralizing efforts to stop online “rumors” in China.

This is a significant step for China, where any piece of information that does not come from official government channels can be considered a rumor.

Since 2012, Chinese authorities have undertaken a series of measures and campaigns to control online speech. Major social media platforms have been forced to implement community rules and reporting systems intended to curb the spread of rumors and false information.

In September 2013, an official “rumor rule” was issued, under which high-profile internet users could face up to seven years in prison for posting unverified information, if it were viewed 5,000 times or shared more than 500 times.

According to a 2017 rumor governance report from WeChat, China's popular social media and chat site, the platform blocked more than 500 million messages deemed to be rumors in 2017, and penalized more than 180,000 WeChat public accounts for spreading rumors.

In July 2018, state internet regulators received 6.7 million reports of illegal and false information.

But it seems authorities felt these efforts were still inadequate. So on August 29, 2018, they launched Piyao, an official platform that integrates existing initiatives for cracking down on “rumors” and upholding “truth” on the internet.

Piyao, meaning “rumor-squashing”, is hosted by the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission and operated by the official Xinhua news. The platform, which includes a website and mobile app, has integrated data from 40 other rumor report platforms and generated a rumor database with 30,000 incidents. It encourages the public to file reports, but also uses artificial intelligence to identify rumors spreading online.

Upon collecting and analyzing the “rumor” data, reports are disseminated through the platform’s website and mobile apps, as well as its WeChat and Weibo account. Censorship authorities also issue instructions to social media sites to block the relevant information.

The platform has various sections, including official releases from government bureaus, instant response from local governments, media fact checking, expert analysis and resources for stopping rumors.

According to Xinhua’s report, the platform is a joint effort of 27 government departments, including the Central Party School, and is working with more than one hundred media experts.

On Weibo, which is heavily censored, the majority of the comments about Piyao echoed the messages of authorities. Below is a typical message of praise:

俗话说,“三人成虎”。我们的生活经常遭遇各种谣言,诸如“紫菜是塑料袋做的”、这些谣言侵犯个人隐私,制造社会恐慌,有的谣言借助网络实现病毒式传播,向网络谣言亮剑已经刻不容缓!

There is a saying that when three people said that there was a tiger in the market, everyone took them seriously. We always encounter rumors in our daily life, such as the seaweed was made of plastic, etc. Rumors have infringed on individual privacy and created social panic. Some rumors have become viral online and we have to point our sword to crackdown online rumors.

But Radio Free Asia pointed out that the very definition of “rumor” in China quite often refers to politically sensitive information that is proven to be true. A Mr. Yuan points out:

从中国的现实情况来看,政府严加打击的一部分谣言通常是“遥遥领先”的“预言”…像薄熙来事件、周永康事件。当时传言北京政变。还有令计划儿子(令谷)车祸死亡的事情。

In China, some of the so-called “rumors” are “predictions” of the reality [that has not been reported by official media outlets]… Like the Bo Xilai incident, the Zhou Yongkang incident, [prior to the official reports] there are rumors about a coup. Also the car accident of the son of Ling Jihua [the news was spread on the internet].

Yuan believes that the new platform is to strengthen stability control:

一个是中共高层斗争比较激烈,政治八卦特别多。政府可能想从这方面引导一下。再一个社会矛盾激化,各种事情层出不穷。好像最近昆山砍人、老兵群体维权、还有P2P暴雷。这些维权事件特别多。(当局)有点控制不住,就想引导舆论。

The internal struggle within CCP is rather serious, and juicy political gossips keep circulating online. The government may want to deal with this. Furthermore, social conflicts have been intensified and incidents keep popping up, like the recent self-defense stabbing incident in Kunshan, military veterans’ protests and the social outcry following the collapse of P2P lending platforms. The authorities have lost control and wanted to channel it instead.

Since there are already a few dozen rumor-squashing platforms in operation and most Chinese netizens already avoid making critical comments and sharing politically sensitive information online, many have cast doubt on the effectiveness of the integrated platform.

Some are taking the news as a joke, like @guobaoj from Twitter:

CCP [Chinese Communist Party] is such a weird clan. Now they've launched an integrated rumor crackdown platform, this is such a joke. The CCP has been spreading rumors for decades, the great leap forward success and glory in surpassing Britain and US. They cheated all the Chinese people, how can they crack down on rumors? You have the internet under control, you have cut people’s throats and they can’t talk anymore, who can produce the rumors for you to squash?

by Oiwan Lam at August 31, 2018 09:19 PM

Netizen Report: It’s not just Myanmar — ethnic hate speech runs rampant on social media in Cameroon, India

Mobile phone kiosk in Bangalore, India. Photo by Victor Grigas, retouched by Wikimedia Foundation. CC BY-SA 3.0

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

This week, Facebook removed several accounts and pages belonging to members of the Myanmar military. The company announced the move just after a UN fact-finding mission accused Myanmar’s military of genocide in Rakhine state, where attacks on Rohingya Muslims caused a mass migration of an estimated 700,000 people in 2017.

A smattering of quick stories burst onto the internet, linking the Facebook press release to the UN report. Some media, like Frontier Myanmar, raised the question of whether this move was consistent with Facebook’s corporate policies on content.

This raises a question: Is Facebook finally getting ahead of the news cycle? From its announcements about censoring content and accounts from Russia, Iran, the US, to hate speech removals in Myanmar and the somewhat poorly received rollout of a user “trust ranking” mechanism, Facebook suddenly seems to be driving media coverage of its exploits, rather than fidgeting on the defensive line, as it has often done in the past.

A cursory review of recent English-language media coverage of Facebook could lead unsuspecting readers to believe that Myanmar is the only country where campaigns of hate speech and disinformation targeting ethnic minorities are escalating to incidents of real-life harm. But we know this is far from true.

Two recent examples prove this point.

Cameroon: Online campaigns promoting ethnic violence have become a growing force in Cameroon’s internal conflict, where a separatist movement in English-speaking areas has led to clashes between armed separatists and military forces, with attacks on Anglophone villages forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes. Local experts from the Global Voices community report that these disinformation campaigns and viral ethnic hate speech messages on WhatsApp and Facebook are escalating and contributing to the violence.

India: In July 2018, at least nine people in India were killed in lynch mob attacks organized on WhatsApp. Sparked by disinformation campaigns that are consistent with the political interests of India’s ruling BJP party, the attacks primarily targeted Muslims. Independent data journalism website IndiaSpend reports that minority Muslims, who account for 14 percent of India's population, have been the victims of 56 percent of lynching attacks since 2014.

To all of our readers — especially those who have some influence in technology reporting and criticism — we urge that you keep these and other examples in mind. And consider the likelihood that this phase of disinformation pandemonium is only the tip of the iceberg.

Palestinian journalist arrested for Facebook posts

Palestinian journalist Ali Dar Ali was detained by Israeli police for posts on Facebook that Israeli authorities say were incitement to violence.

Ali is a widely followed independent journalist in Palestine who broadcasts live from clashes between Palestinian protesters and the Israeli army. According to the indictment, in one of the posts in question, Ali captioned a photo of a Palestinian man throwing a rock under a street sign that reads “We are at your service.” In the other, Ali posted a video featuring a song about the Al-Aqsa mosque in Old Jerusalem, a highly contested holy site that carries deep significance in both Islam and Judaism. The song includes the lyrics, “take revenge, Arab.” Ali is currently in detention, awaiting trial before an Israeli military court.

The brief wondrous life of ‘This is Nigeria’

“This is Nigeria”, an adaptation of Childish Gambino’s “This is America” music video, was banned by Nigeria’s broadcast regulator less than three months after its release. In the video, the Nigerian rapper Falz addresses corruption, nepotism, and violence in Nigeria. In one lyric, he makes a reference to the original song by saying “This is Nigeria, everybody be criminal”, a statement that regulators claim is “vulgar”. Despite restrictions on local radio and television, the video is still accessible on YouTube.

India’s Aadhaar system keeps on leaking

The personal data of over 64,000 students in Andhra Pradesh, India was published by the Commissionerate of College Education without their consent. In what appears to be a major slip-up, the Commissionerate posted data from the students’ national ID registrations, via India’s Aadhar system, after collecting the data from students to avoid discrepancies in its management of scholarships and fee reimbursements. Aadhar is a state-run biometric ID system, and the largest of its kind in the world. Since its introduction, there have been multiple major leaks of citizens’ private information.

Egypt’s Parliament approves cybercrime law

The Egyptian Parliament voted to approve a new cybercrime law increasing the government’s power to conduct online surveillance and censorship. In practice, Egyptian authorities already employ these tactics, and have been blocking a long list of news and human rights websites since May 2017. But the law gives them greater legal authority under which to censor the internet: ISPs can be asked to block a site as soon they receive an order, and then the request must be sent for judicial approval within 48 hours.

Malaysia’s new government bags ‘anti-fake news’ law

The Malaysian government repealed its ‘fake news’ law, which was introduced last March by the government of previous Prime Minister Najib Razak and seen by many as a tool to silence critics. Razak is currently facing up to 125 years in jail for corruption, and repealing the law was an election priority of new prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. The law provided for fines of up to USD $122,000 and jail time of up to six years for posting content the government deemed to be “fake news”. Though several countries have passed similar legislation, Malaysia is the first country to repeal such a law.

EU Commissioner mulls a 60-minute time limit for terrorist content removal

The EU Commissioner for Security, Julian King, is considering a regulation that would force tech companies to remove terrorist content within 60 minutes of receiving a complaint from law enforcement. Companies would face steep fines if they failed to comply. The measure would raise of a host of difficult questions about the independence of these two entities. If approved, this would all but require tech companies to work side-by-side with EU law enforcement agencies, not unlike the relationship that Chinese tech companies maintain with their government. The proposed regulation is still in the draft phase, but will likely go to a vote among EU member states before the end of 2018.

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by Netizen Report Team at August 31, 2018 04:31 PM

August 30, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Is Russian social media giant VKontakte sidestepping the GDPR? One user is trying to find out.

As if revealing their users’ personal data to Russian authorities wasn't bad enough, VKontakte may now run in serious trouble in Europe // Martinsson Serg, CC2.0

Russian social media network VKontakte has been having a bad few months. Multiple platform users have been prosecuted for their posts, and the company has been publicly shamed for its lack of transparency regarding how it shares user data with law enforcement authorities.

Now, VKontakte (VK) is facing a new privacy-related challenge: Kristian Shinkevich, a Belarussian activist living in Poland, is demanding that VK give him all the personal data that it has pertaining to him. The company has yet to comply. And in the meantime, it has suspended his access to the account.

Shinkevich first began wondering about VK's data collection practices after he faced legal threats for participating in a demonstration in Belarus. Shortly thereafter, he was expelled from his university, where he says an administrator told him that the school had access to all their students’ VKontakte data, including which posts they had liked. In his case, this would have revealed his involvement with demonstrations.

Between this, and the fact that other Belarussian activists have been arrested for VKontakte posts promoting protests (an indication that authorities in Belarus also monitor activity on the social network), Shinkevich found himself wanting to know more about VK's data collection practices.

So he looked to the European Union’s newly-instituted General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a set of policies aimed at standardizing the handling of personal information by companies and organizations. Under the GDPR, any company that processes the personal information of EU subjects must comply with certain rules regarding the protection and transfer of such data.

Another provision stipulates that EU subjects have a right to access the personal information that companies retain about them, and that they have a right to know how this information is used.

Although Shinkevich is a citizen of a non-EU state, Belarus, he is entitled to request this information under the GDPR, as an EU resident (or “subject”, as described in the GDPR) in Poland. Additionally, despite the fact that VKontakte is a Russian company, it must still comply because it is providing services to EU subjects abroad and handling their information.

Noncompliance would give EU authorities the power to levy a fine of either 20 million euros or 4 percent global gross revenue, depending on which is higher.

When Shinkevich filed a request to VKontakte Support to get access to all the data VKontakte had collected about him, he received the requested file. He described what he found on Facebook:

Today I have received the file, and that's freaking serious.

They store:
1. the whole name and surname changes history
2. groups and public pages I've managed
3. name of files uploaded, from which IP address, city, links to the deleted files, moreover, even simple voice messages from deleted conversations are there
4. complete list of files I've removed from my page, their exact address, name, date added, direct link – no matter that they all have been removed – voice messages, PDF documents etc.
5. adresses [sic] of pictures from Saved Photos album (protected). Direct links can be opened without being logged in
6. complete history of conversations, including removed, up to 27.06.2018 20:43:51 (the first message is dated 01.09.2016 21:40:30), with all the attachments including removed ones.
7. complete history of phone number ever linked to the account
8. history of password retrieval requests
9. all the comments and posts from my page timeline, including ones removed about 1-2 years ago (the section is titled “Messages posted on the user's wall”)

This file is about 1,5 Mbytes but it has al [sic] the history of my activity on VK since 2016 (when my page was created).

Shinkevich was not surprised by what the file contained — but he was surprised at what it lacked. “I am pretty sure that what they have sent me is not the whole information, and they have much more,” he wrote on Facebook.

Indeed, VKontakte's privacy policy indicates (in section 4.2.1) that the company processes a wide range of information about users and their activities, including but not limited to information about the “user's operating system, type of a browser, geographic position, the Internet provider, contacts, data obtained accessing the camera, microphone and similar devices.” The policy does not clearly define how this data is treated after being processed. VK's terms of service (7.2.5) indicate that “the Site Administration has the right to keep archive copies of the user Content for an indefinite period.”

Do these and other types of information qualify as “personal data”? It depends on where you ask the question. While Russian Federal Law 152 defines personal information as any information directly or indirectly related to a specific individual, the GDPR has a very specific breakdown of this wide interpretation. But as the terms of the GDPR apply to all companies providing services to EU subjects, VKontakte is required by law to follow these terms when dealing with customers in the EU.

When Shinkevich asked VKontakte for the rest of the information, it evaded his request. The company later blocked his access to his account at the end of July. His page is still online, but he cannot log in to it or reset his password.

When Russian news aggregator TJournal reached out to VKontakte, they said:

Страницу пользователя мы не блокировали. Доступ к ней был ограничен после того, как пользователь изменил несколько ключевых параметров, в том числе имя, фамилию, пол и другие. Такие действия считаются подозрительными и могут свидетельствовать, например, о продаже аккаунта или передаче другому лицу.
Ограничение доступа к странице никак не связано с запросом пользователем информации по GDPR.

We didn’t block the user’s page. Access was restricted after the user changed several key parameters, including first name, last name, gender, and so on. Such activity is considered suspicious and could be proof that the account was sold or given to another person.

Restricting access to the page isn’t in any way related to the user’s GDPR information request.

Shinkevich has since filed a complaint with Poland’s personal data security service and has taken the controversial step of advocating that VKontakte be blocked in Poland.  He joins a growing number of voices urging users to stop using VKontakte and delete their pages.

Last year, VKontakte's total revenue was over $200,000,000.If found in violation of GDPR, their fine would be ten percent of that amount. With upwards of two million EU users, the social network could soon pay a hefty price if it doesn't address privacy concerns.

by Christopher Moldes at August 30, 2018 07:37 PM

In Mozambique, new licensing fees have raised the cost of doing journalism — and may threaten media freedom

Display of newspapers published in Mozambique. Photos by author.

New licensing fees for media workers that went into force in Mozambique on August 22 could make it prohibitively expensive for journalists do their jobs. Many see them as a threat to press freedom in the country.

Approved by the Mozambican government on 23 July 2018, the new fee structure was introduced with a legal decree setting fee rates for media accreditation that will affect news outlets and foreign correspondents — and could be especially painful for those with small budgets.

The decree document defines the administration, licensing, renewal, endorsement, and advertising for outlets of written press, radios, television, and digital platforms, as well as the accreditation for foreign and Mozambican journalists and freelancers.

Since the measure was announced by Mozambique’s Bureau of Information, GABINFO (an entity answering to the prime minister) it has been contested by various organizations, including Amnesty International which described it as “a blatant attempt to clamp down on journalists”. The decree comes just a few months ahead of municipal elections in October 2018. Mozambique will hold national elections in 2019.

Pushback and controversy

Drafted secretly and without consultation or debate with members of the media, the decree establishes a media regulator — a first for Mozambique — and imposes a fee structure under which journalists and media outlets will need to pay high fees in order to establish and maintain accreditation.

Mozambique's new media decree fee structure requires media workers and outlets to pay a set of fee in order to establish and maintain their accreditation, with renewals every five years.

  • Foreign correspondents pay 500,000 metical (USD $8450), and the same amount for renewal of accreditation.
  • National correspondents working for foreign media outlets pay 200,000 metical (USD $3383) for accreditation and renewal.
  • Foreign freelancers will pay 150,000 metical (USD $2537) and Mozambican freelancers 30,000 metical (USD $507) for accreditation and renewal.
  • Media outlets will pay between two and four million metical (USD $38,330 to $67,670) for accreditation and renewal.
  • Community radio stations will pay an initial licensing fee of 50,000 metical (USD $855) and an annual licensing tax of 3000 metical ($50).

Media workers and outlets that fail to pay licensing fees will have their licenses revoked.

The fees were described by Mozambican online newspaper @Verdade as “astronomical”. The independent weekly publication Savana called them “draconian“.

Indignation with the measure led a group of Mozambican media professionals to submit a petition to the national ombudsman calling for the decree to be declared unconstitutional.

Fee schemes of this nature can have a disproportionate effect on small media outlets along with independent and freelance media workers, who may be unable to pay the fees and thus forced to either stop reporting, or seek out unauthorized means of doing so, which could lead to other consequences.

Fátima Mimbirre, a researcher at the Centre for Public Integrity, said that no private media outlet would be in a position to pay these taxes, citing community radio as a case in point:

Muito recentemente, as rádios comunitárias tiveram de pedir isenção do pagamento das taxas anuais do uso do espectro radio-eléctrico porque nenhuma estava em condições de pagar, pelo que, com as novas taxas, é certo que muitas irão à falência, o que seria uma pena, sabido o papel que estas rádios têm na democratização do direito à informação e garantir outros direitos aos cidadãos principalmente das zonas rurais.

Very recently, community radios had to ask for exemption from paying annual taxes for the use of radio frequencies because none of them were in a position to pay, and so, with the new taxes it is certain that many will go into bankruptcy. This would be a shame given the role that these radios have in the democratization of the right to information and guaranteeing other rights to citizens mainly in rural areas.

The Order of Lawyers of Mozambique (OAM), considered the fees to be “excessive” and said that they could restrict the right of access to information:

Olhando para nossa realidade as taxas parece-nos serem tão exageradas que irão eventualmente eliminar alguns órgãos de comunicação social, o que é mau porque de forma indirecta estamos a coarctar o direito à informação… a OAM não é contra a introdução de taxas na comunicação social, o que defendemos é que devam ter em conta a realidade moçambicana.

Looking at our reality, the taxes seem to us to be so excessive that they will eventually eliminate some media outlets which is negative because, in an indirect way, we are restricting the right to information… OAM is not against the introduction of taxes on media outlets, what we argue for is that they must account for the Mozambican reality.

Similarly, the coordinator of the Africa Program for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Angela Quintal, said that this is probably the worst fee structure in sub-Saharan Africa and it would constitute an attempt to block the independent press:

Estou surpreendida. Creio que Moçambique apresenta provavelmente uma das piores taxas de acreditação de jornalistas. Já vimos tentativas de governos tentarem fazer algo parecido…Na África subsariana, já vimos a imposição de taxas nas redes sociais no Uganda, mas este caso de Moçambique é exagerado. Para o Comité, esta é uma tentativa do governo impedir a imprensa independente, bloquear a diversidade de vozes, fechar o espaço e privilegiar a imprensa estatal

I am surprised. I think that Mozambique has probably one of the worst fee structures for journalists’ accreditation. We have already seen attempts by governments to do something similar…In sub-Saharan Africa, we have already seen the imposition of taxes on social media in Uganda, but this case in Mozambique is excessive. For the Committee, this is an attempt by the government to hinder the independent press, restrict the diversity of voices, close space, and privilege the state press

Alongside Uganda's “social media tax”, the fee also brings to mind the recent so-called “blogger tax” law in Tanzania, which establishes a blogger registry and requires bloggers to pay a USD $900 annual fee to publish online. Breaches of the law can result in astronomical fines, or imprisonment.

Mozambique's decree does not set out the rationale for fixing the high rates, nor does it explain how the fee revenues will contribute to the improvement of press freedom, only mentioning that 60% of the fees coming from this measure will go to the state budget and 40% to GABINFO.

‘We want to make the communications sector a robust and sustainable industry’

In an interview with the newspaper Savana, GABINFO President Emilia Moiane addressed criticism of the new decree, stating that the fees are intended to make the communications sector a “robust and sustainable industry” similar to other economic sectors which contribute to state finances:

Nós queremos uma indústria que possa ser sustentável. Nós queremos que os jornais estejam na praça com sustentabilidade. Quem entra para o mercado da comunicação social tem de ter capacidade de se sustentar. Não estamos a coarctar nenhuma liberdade. Estamos a criar condições para que quem está no jornalismo diga “sim senhor”, está no mercado, numa indústria. Não queremos eliminar os mais fracos. Nós queremos ter um mercado da comunicação social sustentável.

We want an industry that can be sustainable. We want the newspapers to be operating sustainably. Whoever enters the communications market has to have the capacity to sustain themselves. We are not restricting any freedom. We are creating conditions for whoever is working in journalism to say “yes sir”, they are in the market, in an industry. We do not want to eliminate the weakest. We want to have a sustainable media market.

The Institute of Media in Southern Africa (MISA – Moçambique) interpreted this comment as a statement of noncompliance with the principle of free public services:

O decreto parte do pressuposto de que os media, em primeiro lugar, são um sector comercial e lucrativo, o que viola o princípio funcional e democrático do papel dos media – que são um espaço público que deve ser acessível a todos e promovendo a informação aos cidadãos a custo zero. Ao incrementar taxas de licenciamento, o Governo está a transmitir a ideia de que o produto dos media pode ser vendido a qualquer custo, o que viola o princípio de acessibilidade para os cidadãos, pois pode tornar os custos operacionais mais elevadas…. o Direito à Informação não pode ser medido sob ponto de vista de valores monetários.”

The decree starts from the presupposition that media, first of all, is a commercial and lucrative sector, which violates the operational and democratic principle of the media – which is a public space that should be accessible to all and offering information to citizens at zero cost. In increasing licensing fees, the government is conveying the idea that the product of the media can be sold at any cost, which violates the principle of accessibility to citizens, since it could make operational costs higher… the right to information cannot be measured from the viewpoint of monetary value.

Human Rights Watch called on the government to cancel the fees, stating that they are a “huge setback” for press freedom and access to information in Mozambique.

A day before the decree came into force, GABINFO met with journalists, correspondents, and freelancers to create a commission to analyse how the fee rates could be improved so as to benefit the different parties. However, this will happen while the decree is already in force.

It should be noted that the high fees add to numerous other problems affecting media professionals in the country. Various media outlets and journalists continue being targeted by threats and intimidation, especially in rural areas, as Reporters Without Borders noted in its World Press Freedom Index for 2018, where Mozambique ranked at 99 of 180 countries.

Recently, a study published by MISA said that threats to press freedom rose from 11 reported cases in 2016 to 21 cases in 2017.

by Alexandre Nhampossa at August 30, 2018 01:49 PM

August 25, 2018

Joi Ito
Blog DOI enabled

As part of my work in developing the Knowledge Futures Group collaboration with the MIT Press, I'm doing a deep dive into trying to understand the world of academic publishing. One of the interesting things that I discovered as I navigated the different protocols and platforms was the Digital Object Identifier (DOI). There is a foundation that manages DOIs and coordinates a federation of registration agencies. DOIs are used for many things, but the general idea is to create a persistent identifier for some digital object like a dataset or a publication and manage it at a meta-level to the URL, which might change over the lifetime of the drafting and the publication of an academic journal article or the movement of a movie through a supply chain.

One registration agency, Crossref, focuses on DOIs for academic publications and citations across these publications and their service has proliferated the use of DOIs as a convenient and effective way of rigorously managing and tracking citations. Many services, like ORCID which manages affiliations and publications for academics, use DOIs as one way to import and manage publications.

Although DOIs can be used for many things, because they are somewhat non-trivial to get and set up and because of the success of Crossref which services academic publishers, they have become somewhat synonymous with authority, trustworthiness and formal publishing. Although Geoffrey Bilder from Crossref warns us that this is not true and that DOIs shouldn't signal that, I think that in fact they do, for now.

Something I noted as I started playing with all of the various tools available to academics to manage their profiles and their citations, and having only one peer reviewed paper to my name so far (thanks Karthik, Chelsea and Madars for that!), was that my blog posts weren't getting indexed. Also, as I was doing research while working on my dissertation, I noticed that blogs generally weren't very heavily cited. Using my privilege and in the name of research, I started bugging Amy Brand, director of the MIT Press, who worked on the adoption of DOIs when she was at Crossref. I asked whether I could get DOIs for my blog posts.

It wasn't as easy as it sounds. First of all, you need a DOI prefix--sort of like a domain--registered through one of the registration providers. Amy helped me get one, under the MIT Press, via Crossref. Boris defined the DOI suffix format, set up a submission generator and integrated everything into my blog. Alexa from MIT Press worked on getting the DOIs from my blog to Crossref. The next problem is that "blogs" are not a category of "thing" in the DOI world so the closest category according to the experts was "dataset." So, this thing, formerly known as a blog post, that I'm writing is now a dataset contribution to the scholarly world. I do believe that it meets the standard of something that someone might possibly want to cite, so I don't feel guilty having a DOI assigned to it. I hope that Crossref would consider adding a blog post "creationType" or extend the schema more broadly for other citable web resources.

Also, I wish APA would update their blog citation format so that the name of the blog is part of the citation and not just the URL. In a rare act of disobedience, I've gone rogue and added the name of this blog in the APA citation template on this blog against their official guidelines. Strictly speaking, the APA citation for this post would be "Ito, J. (2018, August 22). Blog DOI enabled. [Blog post]. https://doi.org/10.31859/20180822.2140" but the citation tool here gives you: "Ito, J. (2018, August 22). Blog DOI enabled. Joi Ito's Web [Blog post]. https://doi.org/10.31859/20180822.2140". Sorry not sorry if you get dinged on your paper for using the modified format.

When I tweeted about the issue of blog posts not being cited, one of the concerns from the Twittersphere was lack of peer review for blogs. I think this is a valid request and concern, but not all things that are worthy of being cited need to be peer reviewed. On the other hand, clearly citing others, noting any contributors and their contribution to a blog post, and having some sort of peer review when it makes sense, is probably a good idea.

I'm not stuck on the use of the world "blog" although that's what I think this is. I just think that having an ability to rapidly publish, as blogs enable us to do, and have it connect to the world of academic literature is something worth considering.

Recently, academic preprint servers have become very popular and a growing number of academics are skipping journal publishing altogether, putting their papers on archive servers and presenting them at conferences instead of submitting them to journals.

My sense is that blogs can play a role in this ecosystem if we can tweak the academic publishing side, the culture on both sides and some of the practices on the blogging side. Geoffrey suggests that DOIs should be assigned to anything that is citationworthy and I agree, but I think that blogs are and could be even more like informal publications than just a merely citationworthy blobs of data.

Boris Anthony who has been my partner in thinking about this stuff and has been designing and maintaining my blog for the last 15 years or so has been thinking deeply about the semantic web and the creation of knowledge and was critical in getting it sorted out on this blog. He was also the one who convinced me not to convert all of my blog posts into DOI'ed objects, but to pick the ones that might have some scholarly value. :-)

PS There appears to be a DOI plugin for Wordpress using a prefix registered by the developer.

by Joichi Ito at August 25, 2018 12:36 PM

August 24, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Russian social media giant evades hard questions about privacy failures

Screenshot of the Russian social network Vkontakte's 404 page.

After news broke of VKontakte users getting fined and jailed for resharing memes, the Russian social media giant has announced some changes to its privacy policy. Activists, however, remain skeptical as the company has been catching flak for readily supplying information to Russian authorities on their users when requested.

Announcing the new privacy measures on August 13, Vkontakte’s managing director Andrey Rogozov responded to the public outcry by assuring the company would introduce new steps to protect users’ privacy. He explained: 

ВКонтакте как крупнейшая коммуникационная платформа обязана выполнять российские законы и содействовать поиску настоящих преступников, но мы решительно выступаем против необоснованных преследований за публикации в Интернете

As the largest communication platform, VKontakte is obligated to comply with Russian laws and help find real criminals, but we are categorically against groundless persecutions for publications on the Internet.

Currently, any user can share a post which then appears in the user’s feed, thereby increasing the post’s reach. Several infamous prosecutions for meme-sharing are based on this very function — sharing someone else's offensive meme have been grounds enough for prosecution. Once a post is shared, a list of everyone who shares it is visible. Rogozov says this list will soon only be visible to the original author.

This suggests that Russian authorities were using the list to track users’ posting activities. However, given VKontakte’s demonstrated willingness to hand over this information, it remains to be seen how this new measure will protect users from prosecution.

Another proposed change is the ability to make one’s profile private and accessible only to friends. Right now, anyone logged on to VKontakte can view various aspects of another’s profile such as timelines, regardless of privacy settings.

While some users welcome these changes, others feel that it is too little, too late and that it sidesteps the issue of providing information to authorities behind the scenes. Commenters on VKontakte and Twitter blasted Rogozov’s announcement:

“VKontakte” announced “the most important privacy reforms in recent years”, which they’re prepping to release in a month. It’ll be possible to make profiles open only to friends and cops.

VKontakte employees have not been spared in the blowback. When one of their designers tweeted an innocuous anecdote about his mother, users seized upon it to shame him for working at the company.

Maksim Kats, a Russian opposition figure, also joined the fray, saying it was shameful to be working for a company that actively works to jail people. The official VKontakte Twitter account intervened, hoping to distract users from targeting their designer: 

We won’t tolerate the bullying of our employees. If you have questions for VKontakte, write to this account, we have nothing to hide, we’ll answer any questions.

Kats immediately took them up on their offer, tweeting several questions about the company’s backroom dealing with the Russian security services.

One question referred to assertions made on Telegram, a popular messaging and social media app, about how employees of Mail.Ru Group, VKontakte’s parent company, not only share information but also testify against users at trial.

The VKontakte Twitter account replied saying authors of the Telegram post in question were mistaken. Kats went on to his second question:

Question number two: How many times have you challenged the security services in court over their demands to hand over user information? You have that right.

VKontakte evaded the question, saying they would make the whole process more transparent in the future.

His third question was about an official VKontakte email address seen in court documents showing exchanges between the company and security service officials. Kats wanted to know if they were using this email informally to hand over information to the authorities.

VKontakte refuted these claims, saying they require official documentation after receiving requests from the authorities by email. Without these documents, they added, the request goes unanswered.  

Kats pressed further, asking how many requests go unanswered, and the VKontakte account stated that statistics would be available in an upcoming report. Kats continued unassuaged, urging them to share this information immediately, which they did not. 

His last question was why users were not notified when the authorities requested their data.

VKontakte answered that they were forbidden to share any material related to preliminary criminal investigations by Article 161 of the Russian criminal code. Kats and other users wrangled with VKontakte over legal terminology, pointing out that the majority of the requests in meme cases were actually part of a pre-investigation probe and were therefore not subject to confidentiality under Article 161.

The VKontakte Twitter account fell silent.

This tense public exchange left many unimpressed. Lentach, a Russian news aggregator, summed up the Twitter exchange like this: 

“VKontakte” answered questions about working with investigators, but nothing was cleared up.

Meme captions: “Awkward questions” on the arm, VKontakte logo on the dog

As the company’s public image falters, statistics provided by Liveinternet, an internet traffic analyzer, show that traffic to VKontakte has been steadily declining since the end of 2016. Stats for 2018 undo the previous year’s modest increase. VKontakte denies these stats. The user who initially discovered these stats later reported that they were no longer accessible because VKontakte had seemingly blocked access by requiring a password. 

The social media giant is in full damage control mode, and it remains to be seen if these overtures toward transparency will translate to real measures. Their defensive, evasive stance indicates otherwise. 

by Christopher Moldes at August 24, 2018 05:18 PM

August 22, 2018

Joi Ito
Citing Blogs

On May 13, 2018, I innocently asked:

240 replies later, it is clear that blogs don't make it into the academic journalsphere and people cited two main reasons, the lack of longevity of links and the lack of peer review. I would like to point out that my blog URLs have been solid and permanent since I launched this version of my website in 2002 but it's a fairly valid point. There are a number of ideas about how to solve this, and several people pointed out that The Internet Archive does a pretty good job of keeping an archive of many sites.

There was quite a bit of discussion about peer review. Karim Lakhani posted a link about a study he did on peer review:

In the study, he says that, "we find that evaluators systematically give lower scores to research proposals that are closer to their own areas of expertise and to those that are highly novel."

Many people on Twitter mentioned pre-prints which is an emerging trend of publishing drafts before peer review since it can take so long. Many fields are skipping formal peer review and just focusing on pre-prints. In some fields ad hoc and informal peer groups are reviewing pre-prints and some journals are even referring to these informal review groups.

This sounds an awful lot like how we review each other's work on blogs. We cite, discuss and share links -- the best blog posts getting the most links. In the early days of Google, this would guarantee being on the first page of search results. Some great blog posts like Tim O'Reilly's "What Is Web 2.0" have ended up becoming canonical. So when people tell me that their professors don't want them to cite blogs in their academic papers, I'm not feelin' it.

It may be true that peer review is better than the alternatives, but it definitely could be improved. SCIgen, invented in 2005 by MIT researchers creates meaningless papers that have been successfully submitted to conferences. In 2014 Springer and IEEE removed more than 120 papers when a French researcher discovered that they were computer-generated fakes. Even peer review itself has been successfully imitated by machines.

At the Media Lab and MIT Press, we are working on trying to think about new ways to publish with experiments like PubPub. There are discussions about the future of peer review. People like Jess Polka at ASAPbio are working on these issues as well. Very excited about the progress, but a long way to go.

One thing we can do is make blogs more citation friendly. Some people on Twitter mentioned that it's more clear who did what in an academic paper than on a blog post. I started, at the urging of Jeremy Rubin, to put credits at the bottom of blog posts when I received a lot of help -- for example my post on the FinTech Bubble. Also, Boris just added a "cite" button at the bottom of each of my blog posts. Try it! I suppose the next thing is to consider DOI numbers for each post although it seems non-obvious how independent bloggers would get them without paying a bunch of money.

One annoying thing is that the citation format for blogs suck. When you Goggle, "cite blog post," you end up at... a blog post about "How to Cite a Blog Post in MLA, APA, or Chicago." According to that blog post, the APA citation for this post would be, "Ito, J. (2018, May). Citing Blogs. [Blog post]. https://joi.ito.com/weblog/2018/05/28/citing-blogs.html" That's annoying. Isn't the name of my blog relevant? If you look at the Citing Electronic Sources section of the MIT Academic Integrity website, they link to the Purdue OWL page. Purdue gives a slightly more cryptic example using a blog comment in the square brackets, but roughly similar. I don't see why the name of my blog is less important than some random journal so I'm going to put it in italics - APA guidelines be damned. Who do we lobby to change the APA guidelines to lift blog names out of the URL and into the body of the citation?

by Joichi Ito at August 22, 2018 08:15 PM

August 21, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Facebook admits it has been slow in addressing hate speech in Myanmar

“Monk using his phone at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar.” Image and caption by Remko Tanis. Flickr photo, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Facebook reported on August 15, 2018, that its efforts to deal with misinformation, fake news, and hate speech in Myanmar have been slow and inadequate:

The ethnic violence in Myanmar is horrific and we have been too slow to prevent misinformation and hate on Facebook.

It cited some technical issues and other reasons why it failed to decisively address misinformation in Myanmar:

The rate at which bad content is reported in Burmese, whether it’s hate speech or misinformation, is low. This is due to challenges with our reporting tools, technical issues with font display and a lack of familiarity with our policies.

During his appearance before the United States Senate in April 2018, Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg boasted about his company's progress in resolving the spread of hate speech in countries like Myanmar.

But six civil society groups signed a letter disproving Zuckerberg's claim while highlighting the “inherent flaws” in Facebook's ability to respond to emergencies. Zuckerberg was quick to apologize and vowed to do more to stop groups from using Facebook to promote religious violence and discrimination in Myanmar.

Facebook usage has surged in Myanmar over the past several years but this has also led to the widespread dissemination of fake news, hate speech, and other forms of misinformation targeting the country’s Muslim minority, especially the stateless Rohingya population.

Hardline Buddhist groups were accused of fomenting hatred and bigotry against the Rohingya which led to violent clashes, displacement of Muslim residents in the Rakhine State, and the intensification of online persecution against minorities.

The government of Myanmar refuses to recognize the Rohingya as one of the country’s ethnic groups and considers them as illegal immigrants.

Even before Zuckerberg's testimony in the United States Senate, United Nations officials blamed Facebook for its failure to prevent hate speech in Myanmar.

Marzuki Darusman, chairperson of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar reported on March 12:

[H]ate speech and incitement to violence on social media is rampant, particularly on Facebook. To a large extent, it goes unchecked.

Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar told members of the 37th session of the Human Rights Council:

[T]he level of hate speech, particularly on social media, has a stifling impact on asserting sensitive and unpopular views.

A recent update from Facebook allows for reviews of mechanisms implemented in the past five months to address hate speech and misinformation including the following programs carried out by Facebook:

In the second quarter of 2018, we proactively identified about 52% of the content we removed for hate speech in Myanmar.

As of this June, we had over 60 Myanmar language experts reviewing content and we will have at least 100 by the end of this year.

We proactively identified posts that indicated a threat of credible violence in Myanmar. We removed the posts and flagged them to civil society groups to ensure that they were aware of potential violence.

The Facebook update was issued a day after Reuters published a special feature about the ‘meager’ resources allotted by the tech company to resolve complaints relating to hate speech in Myanmar. Reuters also identified around 1,000 posts with hate speech content which could still be accessed on Facebook during the first week of August.

Now that Facebook recognizes the link between online hate speech and the violence inflicted on Myanmar’s minority groups, it remains to be seen to what extent will the company's actions halt the dissemination of hateful content. This, however, should embolden civil society groups and other human rights advocates to place greater pressure on Facebook and other digital platforms to prevent the publication and broadcasting of misinformation in Myanmar and around the world.

by Mong Palatino at August 21, 2018 10:55 AM

August 17, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Fearing reprimand, student protesters in Bangladesh go silent

Students protesting in a Dhaka street. Screenshot via YouTube user TheLifeOfJord

On July 29, Bangladeshi students spontaneously launched a protest movement demanding safer roads and traffic enforcement in the country, after two students were hit and killed by a municipal bus.

Over the course of a week, tens of thousands of students from 6th grade to university level filled the streets, chanting for road security and even directing traffic to prove their point. The protests were widely followed by international media, with Bangladeshi students using hashtags like #CNN #ALJAZEERA #REUTERS and other global media tags to draw attention their cause.

Demonstrations began peacefully but turned violent on August 3 when rumors of police abusing and kidnapping students triggered confrontations between police and protesters, with police resorting to tear gas and rubber bullets.

In a few days’ time, nearly 1,000 people were wounded, among them 45 police personnel.

Social media blamed for rumors

Use of social media to spread rumors and disinformation generally has been on the rise in Bangladesh, particularly via Facebook, which is the most popular social media platform in the country — in fact, Bangladesh's capital Dhaka has the second highest number of Facebook users per capita among major cities across the world.

Rumors of police abuse also led to clashes between protesters and the student wing of the ruling party. Soon thereafter, a group representing the student protest visited the headquarters of the ruling party and found no evidence of students being held.

The government has blamed social media users and activists for trying to create unrest by sharing provocative posts and content on Facebook. On August 5, in the heat of the protests, police arrested 22 students on vandalism charges.

The government also arrested Shahidul Alam, an acclaimed photographer and civic activist, who had been documenting the assaults on students and journalists. His arrest has been condemned by local and international organizations.

In one of his posts, Dinesh Khanna shared on Facebook:

Shahidul Alam matters because he is our Voice. His life as a photographer, educationist, and thinker has been informed by his activism, his belief in what is just. It is this commitment that has made him one of the most admired international figures in the world of photography and media. Delhi Photo Festival was inspired by Chobi Mela and Pathshala, both founded by him, and we were privileged to have him as the keynote speaker at our first edition in 2011. Shahidul cannot and should not be silenced.

Crackdown on activists

In the days following the protests, Bangladesh police arrested at least 12 social media activists accused of spreading rumors on Facebook during student protests. Among them are prominent media figures like actress Kazi Noushaba Ahmed. Media reports quoting police officials confirmed that the authorities have investigated more than a thousand Facebook profiles which allegedly incited violence during the unrest. DMP’s Deputy Commissioner of Cyber Security and Crime Division Md Alimuzzaman said: “Scrutinizing over 1,500 profiles on different social media, we have found over 150 accounts as vibrant and some 80 to 90 have appeared as highly vibrant.”

In total around 100 people have been arrested so far and 51 police cases were filed. Human Rights Watch said in a statement:

The recent wave of arrests, targeting student protesters and journalists, has created an atmosphere of fear, putting a serious chill on free speech.

Students are gone, traffic chaos is back

Fear of arrests and investigations of online activities has led many students to go quiet on social media — some have even deleted their posts. Meanwhile, Dhaka's roads are back to their chaotic form. The complexity of the problem is often underestimated as a Facebook user writes (link omitted for the safety of the user):

I found one benefit of this recent road safety movement and that's also from my own perspective. Now common people realized that traffic police is not the sole agency to streamline the traffic issue of this city. It is a huge relief. Even the highly educated citizens used to believe that the inefficiency of traffic police was the only cause of traffic jam or if police wanted, they could solve this issue just like this! Now they know there are many issues and agencies [Road transport authorities, Bangladesh bus truck owners association, Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority, Bangladesh Rickshaw Owners Association] are involved, Police is just one of them.

On Friday, August 10, a city bus bumped into the Home Minister's car amidst the Traffic Week which followed the demonstrations. The driver’s assistant was behind the wheel at the time of the accident.

by Palash Ranjan Sanyal at August 17, 2018 01:37 PM

Joi Ito
My comments at the John Perry Barlow Memorial Symposium yesterday


Yesterday, I participated in a memorial symposium John Perry Barlow's at the Internet Archive in San Francisco. It was amazing to see so many old friends that I realized I had missed so dearly. It really felt like Barlow was in the room - he was the energy that united us. It also reminded me of the roots of the Internet and how different the culture of many of the founders was from the Silicon Valley. It gave me hope that we still have a fire in our belly to continue the fight for freedom and liberty that John Perry Barlow embodied and inspired everyone with.

I was allowed to make a few comments. The video of the whole event is worth watching. This is the speaker lineup in the order they appear:

Welcome
Brewster Kahle, Founder & Digital Librarian, Internet Archive

Co-Hosts
Cindy Cohn, Executive Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation
Cory Doctorow, celebrated scifi author and Editor in Chief of Boing Boing

Speakers
Anna Barlow, daughter of John Perry Barlow
Mitch Kapor, Co-founder of EFF and Co-chair of the Kapor Center for Social Impact
Pam Samuelson, Richard M. Sherman Distinguished Professor of Law and Information at the University of California, Berkeley
Trevor Timm, Executive Director of Freedom of the Press
Edward Snowden, noted whistleblower and President of Freedom of the Press Foundation
Shari Steele, Executive Director of the Tor Foundation and former EFF Executive Director
John Gilmore, EFF Co-founder, Board Member, entrepreneur and technologist
Steven Levy, Wired Senior Writer, and author of Hackers, In the Plex, and other books
Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab
Amelia Barlow, daughter of John Perry Barlow

I've taken a bit of editorial license - below are my rough notes of what I was going to say which are roughly what I said or meant to say. :-)


I met Barlow in the summer of 1990 when my mother had moved to LA and we were installing my sister in college in Palo Alto. Timothy Leary, who I had met in Japan and who would later adopt me as a god son, drove us from LA to San Francisco to introduce us to his community there. (He didn't have a drivers license.) He threw a party for us at the Mondo 2000 House to introduce us to his SF community and Barlow was there.

This was 1990 - before WIRED, before the web. It was all about Cyberpunk - leather jackets, CDROMs, weird drugs, raves, VR. South Park was a needle park, and Toon Town used to have raves around there. I remember raves advertising "Free VR." Silicon Graphics computers were being used to make amazing rave flyers that eventually inspired the design for WIRED Magazine. All that started in South Park and and was the genesis of the gentrification that transformed the neighborhood to what it is now.

Cyberpunk was a sort of new punk rock - meets the hippies, meets computers and the proximity to Haight-Ashbury, Silicon Valley and Berkeley created this weird sub-culture where a lot of this Internet stuff started.

Timothy Leary and Barlow had many differences, but also had a lot of similarities. They were my mentors.

They both had an amazing sense of humor, optimism and hope. This wasn't the optimism of giddy investors during a bubble. Rather, it was the optimism and humor that I sense in the Dalai Lama and others who have become self-aware through meditation, mind-expanding drugs or whatever brings you close to understanding true nature and reality. It's that peculiar zone where you see all of the suffering, the injustice and just how fucked up the world can be - and you face this challenge with a fundamental confidence in human beings and a sense of humor.

Timothy Leary used to say, "Question Authority and Think for Yourself."

Barlow's manifesto, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, was a great example of that. It was a rallying cry for a new generation - for us. I remember when we were starting out, it felt like if we could just connect everyone and give them a voice, we'd have peace, love and fairness.

Today our dream of the world that Barlow wrote about seems like a distant dream. Barlow was obviously aware of the twists and turns that this path has taken.

Barlow said, "My belief in the virtues of giving all humanity a voice did not take into account what would happen if you gave every one of a billion people his own virtual soapbox and street corner. Everybody's talking and nobody's listening."

Barlow also said, "I'm not sorry I wrote it. One day, I still believe, it will seem true."

We're having to climb some mountains and suffer some bad weather. It almost feels like the winter of 1846 for the Donner Party. But he gave us a compass heading.

I also believe, as Barlow did, that one day it will seem true. But to make it true, it will require organizing, action and tenacity.

In addition to a compass heading, Barlow helped us organize, think and act, and he fueled us with hope, humor and optimism even in our darkest moments.

We are in one of the darkest moments in global and American history that I remember.

I was born in 1966. I don't remember 1967 because I was just a 1 year old. But in 1967, we had the Detroit Street Riots which some called a rebellion (I guess if you squash it, you get to name it). It the worst incident of its kind in US history killing 43 people and burning down 1,400 buildings as the National Guard was called in to stop it. It was also the year that The Grateful Dead's debut album came out and Barlow introduced them to Timothy Leary at Millbrook. 1967 was also the year of the Summer of Love that kicked off the Hippie movement.

The Hippies and the Grateful Dead fought against the Vietnam war and the racial tensions with songs, love and humor.

The Parkland kids and the collective movement they've inspired, the #meetoo and TimesUp movements are two of the most powerful movements of the day. The TimesUp movement is headed to overturn centuries of patriarchal power. There is another wave coming. It feels different from the Hippie movement, but it feels like we're once again on the following the compass heading Barlow gave us - to overthrow the established and ossified power structures and more importantly the paradigms that feed them. There is a feeling of rebellion and revolution in the air. I believe that now more than ever, it's important to remember Barlow's elegant balance of humor, love, optimism and kindness that so magically integrated with his activism, power, confidence and resolve.

I want to finish with the last two sentences from his manifesto.

"We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before."

This is our compass heading.

by Joichi Ito at August 17, 2018 06:56 AM

On Ethics and Techno-Utopianism at the Media Lab

I received a lot of excited feedback from people who saw the 60 Minutes segment on the Media Lab. I also got a few less congratulatory messages questioning the "gee-whiz-isn't-this-all-great" depiction of the Lab and asking why we seemed so relentlessly upbeat at a time when so many of the negative consequences of technology are coming to light. Juxtaposed with the first segment in the program about Aleksandr Kogan, the academic who created the Cambridge Analytica app that mined Facebook, the Media Lab segment appeared, to some, blithely upbeat. And perhaps it reinforced the sometimes unfair image of the Media Lab as a techno-Utopian hype machine.

Of course, the piece clocked in at about 12 minutes and focused on a small handful of projects; it's to be expected that it didn't represent the full range of research or the full spectrum of ideas and questions that this community brings to its endeavors. In my interview, most of my comments focused on how we need more reflection on where we have come in science and technology over the 30-plus years that the Media Lab has been around. I also stressed how at the Lab we're thinking a lot more about the impact technology is having on society, climate, and other systems. But in such a short piece--and one that was intended to showcase technological achievements, not to question the ethical rigor applied to those achievements--it's no surprise that not much of what I said made it into the final cut.

What was particularly interesting about the 60 Minutes segment was the producers' choice of "Future Factory" for the title. I got a letter from one Randall G. Nichols, of Missouri, pointing out that "No one in the segment seems to be studying the fact that technology is creating harmful conditions for the Earth, worse learning conditions for a substantial number of kids, decreasing judgment and attention in many of us, and so on." If we're manufacturing the future here, shouldn't we be at least a little concerned about the far-reaching and unforeseen impact of what we create here? I think most of us agree that, yes, absolutely, we should be! And what I'd say to Randall is, we are.

In fact, the lack of critical reflection in science and technology has been on my mind-I wrote about it in Resisting Reduction. Much of our work at the Lab helps us better understand and intervene responsibly in societal issues, including Deb Roy's Depolarization by Design class and almost all of the work in the Center for Civic Media. There's Kevin Esvelt's work that involves communities in deployment of the CRISPR gene drive and Danielle Wood's work generally and, more specifically, her interest in science and racial issues. And Pattie Maes is making her students watch Black Mirror to imagine how the work we do in the Lab might unintentionally go wrong. I'm also teaching a class on the ethics and governance of AI with Jonathan Zittrain from Harvard Law School, which aims to ensure that the generation now rising is more thoughtful about the societal impact of AI as it is deployed. I could go on.

It's not that I'm apologetic about the institutional optimism that the 60 Minutes piece captured. Optimism is a necessary part of our work at the Lab. Passion and optimism drive us to push the boundaries of science and technology. It's healthy to have a mix of viewpoints-critical, contemplative, and optimistic-in our ecosystem. Not all aspects of that can necessarily be captured in 12 minutes, though. I'm sure that our balance of caution and optimism isn't satisfactory for quite a few critical social scientists, but I think that a quick look at some of the projects I mention will show a more balanced approach than would appear to be the case from the 60 Minutes segment.

Having said that, I believe that we need to continue to integrate social sciences and reflection even more deeply into our science and technology work. While I have a big voice at the Lab, the Lab operates on a "permissionless innovation" model where I don't tell researchers what to do (and neither do our funders). On the other hand, we have safety and other codes that we have to follow--is there an equivalent ethical or social code that we or other institutions should have? Harrison Eiteljorg, II thinks so. He wrote, "I would like to encourage you to consider adding to your staff at least one scholar whose job is to examine projects for the ethical implications for the work and its potential final outcome." I wonder, what would such a process look like?

More socially integrated work in technology has continued to increase in both the rest of society and at the Lab. One of my questions is whether the Lab is changing fast enough, and whether the somewhat emergent way that the work is infusing itself in the Lab is the appropriate way. Doing my own work in ethical and critical work and having conversations is the easiest way to contribute, but I wonder if there is more that we as a Lab should be doing.

One of the main arcs of the 60 Minutes piece was showing how technology built in the Lab's early days--touch screens, voice command, things that were so far ahead of their time in the 80s and 90s as to seem magical--have gone out into the world and become part of the fabric of our everyday lives. The idea of highlighting the Lab as a "future factory" was to suggest that the loftiest and "craziest" ideas we're working on now might one day be just as commonplace. But I'd like to challenge myself, and everyone at the Media Lab, to demonstrate our evolution in thoughtful critique, as well.









by Joichi Ito at August 17, 2018 06:55 AM

August 16, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Elections in Mali marred by militant violence — and internet shutdowns

Discarded ballot boxes. Photo by Sheila Rouge, labeled for reuse.

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

The night before Mali’s sitting president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, was re-elected in a runoff vote, internet access was hard to come by. Some internet users in the major cities of Bamako and Gao reported that they could not access the internet at all, while technical testing indicated that major social networks were blocked.

Later in the week, journalists for Agence-France Presse reported that mobile internet networks became inaccessible, just prior to the official announcement of Keita’s victory.

Internet outages like these put a strain on citizens’ abilities to communicate and access public information — activities that are especially important during an election. On top of this, an estimated 500 polling stations were closed for the August 12 runoff vote, due to militant violence and threats against voters and poll workers in the northern region of the West African country. In turn, only 34% of Mali’s eligible voters cast ballots.

While international election observers reported no evidence of election fraud, the effects of violence in the north undoubtedly contributed to the low turnout. It is also worth noting that internet access (especially via mobile networks) is not only important during elections, but also in conflict situations where safety is of the utmost concern. Network shutdowns can hinder users’ access to communication services at a time when they are most in need of information that can help ensure their safety.

RSF presses the reset button in Egypt

It has been one year since the Egyptian government ordered internet service providers to begin blocking a spate of foreign and local independent news sites, including Al Jazeera, Huffington Post Arabic, Medium and Mada Masr, alongside various media and human rights NGOs, among them, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). On August 10, 2018, RSF announced the creation and launch of a “mirror” site that will allow users in Egypt to access the site once more, without needing to use censorship circumvention tools.

Bangladeshi students go quiet as police pursue online accounts

In the fallout from a rapidly organized student protest movement in Bangladesh demanding stronger enforcement of traffic laws, Dhaka’s Metropolitan Police are scouring social media networks to identify accounts who a police official said were “provoking the students by spreading propaganda” on social media.

Thus far, they say they have arrested 12 people and analyzed more than 1500 accounts. Local experts say that some of those arrested appear to have spread rumors about police abuse, while others were simply promoting and helping to organize demonstrations. Many students involved in the protests meanwhile have been deleting their posts related to protests, fearing punishment by police.

Brazil has a new data protection law, with some caveats

After dragging through legislative procedures for more than six years, Brazil finally approved a data protection law, following in the footsteps of the European Union's GDPR and similar laws in neighboring Argentina and Uruguay. The new regulations, which will take effect in 18 months, require companies to inform users when and how their information is collected, to delete it upon the user's request or after the relationship between the parties has ended, and to pay fines if they fail to comply. However, a number of items from the original text were vetoed by president Michel Temer, among them the creation of a government regulator and the obligation of public bodies to disclose whenever they share user information among themselves.

Facebook hired Accenture to moderate hate speech in Myanmar

Messages of hate and threats of violence on Facebook were a focal point in CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before the US Ccongress last April, where members of Congresscongress pointed to examples from Myanmar, where hate speech and threats of violence against Rohingya Muslims reached a boiling point in autumn of 2017. The company soon thereafter pledged to hire more Burmese language speakers to review abusive content on the site.

A recent investigation by Reuters showed that Facebook recently outsourced some of this work to the US-based strategy and consulting firm Accenture, which has hired a team of Burmese-speaking moderators (in a project team dubbed “Honey Badger”) who work out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. “Honey Badger employees typically sign one-year renewable contracts and agree not to divulge that the client is Facebook,” Reuters’ Steve Stecklow writes.

Meanwhile, VICE News reported that Facebook has hired Business for Social Responsibility, a US-based NGO, to conduct an assessment of whether and/or how Facebook’s platform enabled ethnic violence and hate speech against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Time will tell if the company does the same in other countries (such as India and Bangladesh) where its tools are used to plan and propagate violence.

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by Netizen Report Team at August 16, 2018 10:01 PM

Joi Ito
Ding! Earned First Higher Degree.

34581570_10156015313486998_718869846225321984_o.jpgIn 2011, when we announced that I would join the Media Lab as the new Director, many people thought it was an unusual choice partially because I had never earned a higher degree - not even an undergraduate degree. I had dropped out of Tufts as well as the University of Chicago and had spent most of my life doing all sorts of weird jobs and building and running companies and nonprofits.

I think it took quite a bit of courage on the part of the Media Lab and MIT to hire a Director with no college degree, but once we got over the hump, some felt it was a kind of "badge of honor." (I'm also sure, not everyone felt this way.)

Jun Murai, father of the Japanese Internet and my mentor in Japan, who is the Dean of the Graduate School of Media and Governance at Keio University in Japan, had been encouraging me to complete a PhD in his program. We had been discussing this in earnest from June 2010,when they confirmed that Keio would be OK with awarding a PhD to someone without a Bachelor's or a Master's degree. When I joined the Media Lab, I asked the co-founder and first Director of the Lab, Nicholas Negroponte, whether it would help me if I completed the PhD. He recommended (at the time) that I not complete the PhD because it was more interesting that I didn't have a degree.

Eight years later, I am often referred to as "the academic" when I'm on panels; I advise and work with many students including PhD students. It felt that it was time to finish the PhD. In other words, one product of my profession is degrees and I felt like I needed to try the product. Even Nicholas agreed when I asked him.

The degree that I earned is a "Thesis PhD" which is a less common type of PhD that you don't see very much in the US. It involves writing about and defending the academic value and contribution of your work, rather than doing new work in residence in an institution. The sequencing and the ordering is different than typical PhDs.

The process involved writing a dissertation and putting together a package that was accepted by the university. After that, a committee was formally constituted with Jun Murai as the lead advisor and Rod Van Meter, Keiko Okawa, Hiroya Tanaka, and Jonathan Zittrain as committee members and thesis readers. They provided feedback and detailed critique on the thesis, which I rewrote based on this feedback. Oh June 6, I defended the thesis publicly at Keio University and, based on the questions and feedback from the defense, I rewrote the dissertation again.

On June 21 I had a final exam, which involved a presentation to the committee of all of the changes and responses to the criticisms and suggestions. The committee had a closed-door discussion and formally accepted the dissertation. I rewrote, formatted, and polished the dissertation some more and submitted the final version in printed form on July 20.

Finally, on behalf of the committee, Jun Murai prepared and presented the case at a faculty meeting on July 30, 2018 where they voted and awarded the PhD.

Although by definition and according to rules the dissertation is entirely my own work, I couldn't have done it without the help of my advisors, collaborators, and all of the people I've worked with over the years.

While I started this project mostly to understand the process and "see what it was like" to work on a degree, I learned a lot during the process of researching, reading, and talking to people about my dissertation. The dissertation, titled "The Practice of Change", is available online both in PDF and in LaTeX as a GitHub repo. It's a summary of a lot of the work that I've done so far, a question about how we understand, design solutions for, and try to address the current challenges to our society, and how the work going on at the Media Lab might be applied to or provide inspiration for people trying to work on addressing these challenges.

In some ways, the dissertation feels like I've gone around and kicked a dozen hornet's nests. I've mostly stayed out of extremely academic discourse in the past, but the process of trying to understand a number of different disciplines to try to understand and describe the context of my work has caused me to wade into many old and new arguments. I'm sure that many of my forays into various disciplines will cause annoyance to those well versed in those disciplines, but those constructive criticisms that I've received about my treatment of various disciplines have surfaced an exciting array of future work for me.

So while I do not believe that I have yet become a "serious academic" or that I will be focused primarily on research and academic output, I feel like I've discovered a new lens through which to look at things -- a new world to explore. It reminds me of entering a new zone in a game like World of Warcraft where there are new quests, new skills, new reps to grind, and lots of new things to learn. So fun.

by Joichi Ito at August 16, 2018 04:28 AM

August 15, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
#FreeKhayrullo: Human rights groups demand justice for Tajik journalist facing trial

A FreeKhayrullo campaign image from Ukraine. Shared by @MAjourno.

Khayrullo Mirsaidov was one of the few civic voices that Tajikistan's authoritarian government could not break in the latest, most brutal phase of a multi-year crackdown on free speech and opposition.

A well-regarded independent journalist and the former leader of a now-dissolved local comedy troupe, Mirsaidov is currently serving a 12-year jail sentence on dubious charges.

In November 2017, after Mirsaidov penned a letter to Tajik leader Emomali Rahmon complaining about officials’ rent-seeking behaviour in his home province of Sogd. He was later himself charged with embezzlement, misuse of state funds, and false reporting to the police.

In the letter, Mirsaidov noted that a regional official had asked him for a $1,000 bribe in order to disburse funding for Mirsaidov's comedy troupe, which represented Tajikistan in tournaments in Russia and was partly government-funded.

Rather than pay to play, Mirsaidov chose to blow the whistle and inform the official's superiors, including the all-dominating Rakhmon. The 40-year-old journalist was held in pre-trial detention from December 5, 2017, and was finally tried for and convicted of the charges on July 11.

Khayrullo Mirsaidov. Image by Antuan Veselov. Used with permission.

Mirsaidov's lawyer was set to appeal his case before a judge on August 15, but the hearing was deferred until August 22. Dozens of rights groups and hundreds of people with ties to Central Asia and Tajikistan have joined a campaign spearheaded by Mirsaidov's friend and fellow journalist Michael Anderson to #FreeKhayrullo.

# Tajikistan: Prisoner of conscience Khairullo # Mirsaidov was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Together with 12 other human rights organizations, we demand his immediate release! #FreeKhayrullo

Anderson recently wrote a widely-shared and moving tribute to Mirsaidov, whom he had worked with on several documentaries and media development projects, on the Open Democracy website. Mirsaidov had reported on corruption in Tajikistan and other social and political topics for outlets including Tajikistan's privately owned Asia Plus website, and the German media giant Deutsche Welle.

In his essay, Anderson wrote that Mirsaidov had regularly done “what most journalists claim they do, but few of us actually do – namely, speak truth to power” and condemned the “lame response from Western politicians and governments” to Mirsaidov's persecution.

After remaining mostly silent on the case prior to conviction, the embassies of the United States and the United Kingdom in Tajikistan released statements highlighting their “grave concern” over Mirsaidov's sentencing in July.  On August 14 the British embassy issued a call to release Mirsaidov.

Why Tajikistan's government hates hashtags

Campaigns such as #FreeKhayrullo have proven effective in the past. In 2014, Global Voices’ former Central Asia editor Alexander Sodiqov was held on treason charges while conducting social research in eastern Tajikistan.

With support from university students and professors in Europe, Asia and North America, the energy of the #FreeSodiqov campaign — combined with the sheer absurdity of the charges — moved major media outlets including the BBC and the New York Times to write about the case.

Just weeks after it began, Alex was released from jail. He was later allowed to leave the country to reunite with his family in Canada, where he has been living ever since.

Journalist Michael Anderson, a good friend of Mirsaidov's, has led the #FreeKhayrullo campaign. Screenshot from video by RFE/RL's Current Time service.

#FreeKhayrullo has not yet earned the same media coverage as #FreeSodiqov, but it is growing in reach and is reminiscent in many ways.

The noise for the campaign, necessarily, is coming from outside Tajikistan. While private media outlets in Tajikistan covered both cases, they are under threat of closure from authorities if they cover sensitive issues in a way that angers the government. Civil society must also tread lightly. In recent years, Tajik lawyers have been jailed simply for representing opposition politicians in court.

Even for Tajiks living abroad there are costs to campaigning on behalf of their compatriots.

Just ask Shabnam Khudoydodova, an activist based in Europe, who has supported #FreeKhayrullo and other campaigns.

Her 10-year-old daughter recently became the subject of her own mini-campaign #FreeFatima after Tajik security agents hauled her and Khudoydodova's elderly mother off a plane leaving the country in order to punish Khudoydodova for her activism and prevent her family reuniting.

Within less than a week of the hashtag appearing, however, authorities had allowed Khudoydodova's mother, daughter and brother to leave the country.

Will it work for #FreeKhayrullo?

Mirsaidov's case is complicated by the fact that he has already been sentenced. But the international spotlight does raise the stakes for the Tajik government.

Like many of the world's lesser-known authoritarian countries, Tajikistan's obscurity affords its government some additional space to be repressive without scrutiny. By this grim logic, it is sometimes easier for a regime to make a concession regarding one miscarriage of justice in order to prevent others from gaining fresh attention.

Although online campaigns cannot prevent Tajikistan's general trajectory away from human rights, they can still secure small victories.

Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, International Media Support, Article19 and the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia are among the many groups campaining for Mirasaidov. Find them on Twitter and support the campaign using the #FreeKhayrullo hashtag.

by chrisrickleton at August 15, 2018 01:39 PM

August 14, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Facebook bans 196 pages in Brazil, attempting to rein in abuse and disinformation

An advertising campaign by Facebook, urging users to avoid “fake” accounts, seen in Chicago, US. Photo by Kevin Tao via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

On July 25, 2018, Facebook banned 196 pages and 87 profiles based in Brazil, several of which were associated with the conservative group Movimento Brasil Livre (Free Brazil Movement, or MBL), which has played a pivotal role in the rise of online conservatism in Brazil. The pages had a combined total of 500,000 followers.

Shortly thereafter, MBL published a note calling the removals “arbitrary” and accusing Facebook of exercising a political bias against “right-wing leaders and institutions”.

The move comes as Facebook continues to face condemnation and threats of regulatory restrictions in the US, India and the EU, where allegations of disinformation and political agendas promoted by fake accounts reached a tipping point in early 2018. Just last week, the company removed multiple pages associated with the right-wing conspiracy theorist website InfoWars from its platform, reasoning that the website disseminates false information and encourages hate speech, both of which stand in violation of Facebook's policies. Major platforms including Apple and YouTube took similar measures on the same day, citing a similar rationale.

This is not the first time MBL has found itself at odds with Facebook's policies. In May, Facebook partnered with two fact-checking agencies in Brazil, Aos Fatos and Agência Lupa, both part of International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN). Facebook’s move was met with a campaign by MBL, who called the move “an attack on freedom of expression”. They proceeded to discredit the agencies reputations and sharing personal posts and data off their staff in an effort to prove their “leftist bias”.

In an official statement following the removals in Brazil, the company claimed the decision to delete the accounts came after “a rigorous investigation” and that the pages and profiles were part of “a coordinated network that hide under the use of fake accounts and hide the true nature and origin of its content with the purpose of generating divisiveness and spread misinformation”. The note continues:

As ações que estamos anunciando hoje fazem parte de nosso trabalho permanente para identificar e agir contra pessoas mal intencionadas que violam nossos Padrões da Comunidade. Nós estamos agindo apenas sobre as Páginas e os Perfis que violaram diretamente nossas políticas, mas continuaremos alertas para este e outros tipos de abuso, e removeremos quaisquer conteúdos adicionais que forem identificados por ferir as regras.

The actions we are announcing today are part of our ongoing work to identify and act against ill-intended people that violate community standards. We are acting only against pages and profiles that have violated our policies, but we will continue to watch for other types of abuse, and we will remove any additional content that we identify as having violated our rules.

Who is MBL?

MBL was at the forefront of the demonstrations in 2015 calling for the impeachment of ex-President Dilma Rousseff and represents a key player in the rise of conservative, right-wing political views in Brazil over the past five years.

The movement's growth over the past four years has accelerated thanks to Facebook, where MBL has more than 2.8 million followers.

Despite having described itself as a liberal movement – which in Latin America mainly means defending minimal government – MBL has consistently taken conservative stances, for example positioning itself against the legalization of abortion and education policies regarding gender in school.

An in-depth 2015 report by Agencia Publica identified an association between MBL and the US-based libertarian organization, Students for Liberty, in what appears to have allowed Students for Liberty to receive donations from US groups including the Koch brothers.

What does Facebook have to do with it?

One especially prominent example of MBL's online disinformation tactics emerged after the March 2018 murder of Rio de Janeiro city Councilwoman Marielle Franco, who was an outspoken advocate for human rights protections and criminal justice reform.

False rumors that Franco had been involved with drug trafficking groups started to spread through the internet just a day after her death.

A crucial node in this groundswell of fake news was an article published by Ceticismo Político, a relatively small right-wing website with 25,000 followers on Facebook. MBL, with its million-strong following base, shared Ceticismo’s publication, boosting its reach into the hundreds of thousands of shares on Facebook and millions of impressions on Twitter.

At the time, Facebook banned Ceticismo Político’s page, but didn’t touch MBL’s. While MBL denied any ties with Ceticismo Político’s owners, an investigation by O Globo newspaper suggested that the groups were in constant communication with each other.

Facebook provided MBL with fertile ground for amplifying and spreading these lies. As journalist Denis R. Burgierman observed in a piece for Nexo, Facebook's technology rewards and amplifies speech that seems to spark interest — even if that “interest” is not authentic:

Só que essa estratégia é imperfeita porque o algoritmo pode ser enganado: com dinheiro, movimentos sociais podem ser falsificados. Uma maneira de fraudar o Facebook é criar um ecossistema falso: centenas de páginas e perfis que na verdade estão todos sob um mesmo comando, e que compartilham conteúdos ao mesmo tempo, para se fingir de multidão. Isso é um jeito de ludibriar o algoritmo, fabricando a sensação de que algo interessa a muita gente…

The problem is that this strategy is imperfect, because the algorithm can be tricked: with money, social movements can be faked. One way of fraud it is to create a false ecosystem: hundreds of pages and profiles, that are actually under the same command, sharing content all at the same time, to pretend a crowd is doing it. This is one way of cheating the algorithm, fabricating the feeling that a topic interests to a lot of people…

When Facebook changed its the algorithm in late 2017 in an effort to give preference to personal posts instead of commercial pages, MBL felt its engagement falling. In March, a report by O Globo newspaper revealed that the group was using an app called Voxer to share its content inside the network. Voxer created post in personal timelines as if they were spontaneous. The app was banned by Facebook after for violating its rules.

How to cheat an algorithm

After a federal prosecutor demanded the information from Facebook, the company published a list of all the usernames and pages that it banned in this recent effort on August 6. Among the pages is the same one that spread false rumors about Marielle Franco.

Pablo Ortellado, a philosopher and professor at University of São Paulo analyzed it the list as follows:

O conjunto sugere uma prática altamente sofisticada de atrair usuários com temas populares, do futebol ao funk, passando pela busca de emprego e o humor. As páginas provavelmente alternavam publicações de todos esses temas com links de notícias e desiformação…enganando os usuários e o algoritmo da plataforma. (…) E é ainda bastante provável que o Facebook tenha derrubado apenas o pedaço da rede que estava ligado com esses perfis falsos, já que a página principal do MBL ficou no ar — se isso for mesmo verdade, a rede do MBL no Facebook pode ser muitas vezes maior.

The set of pages and profiles suggests a highly sophisticated practice of attracting users with popular themes, from football or funk music to job posts and comedy. The pages were likely alternating between posting links related to these themes and links to news and disinformation…[thus] tricking users and the platform’s algorithm. […] It is also likely that Facebook took down only a chunk of the fake profiles network connected to MBL, since their main page is still available — if that is true, MBL’s network inside Facebook might be much bigger.

Since the removal of pages and profiles, several right wing outlets and personalities have accused the company of censorship.

But for Miguel Lago, political scientist and one of the founders of the NGO Nossas Cidades, the platform that “gestated MBL” is not censoring it:

O Facebook não está ferindo a liberdade de expressão de nenhum deles. É um princípio básico o de que toda argumentação deva ser bem fundamentada. A liberdade de se expressar não pode ser usada como desculpa para professar mentiras impunemente.

Facebook is not hurting freedom of expression to anyone of them. It is a basic principle that all argumentation has to be well substantiated. The freedom to express oneself should not be used as an excuse to profess lies unpunished.

While it is true that Facebook and other similar platforms enable free speech at an unprecedented scale, they are typically unable to consistently enforce their own policies related to abuse, hate speech and disinformation. With consistent enforcement, pages like those of MBL or Alex Jones’ InfoWars might never have lasted on Facebook, as moderators would have swiftly seen that they were violating the company's policies.

by Ellery Roberts Biddle at August 14, 2018 03:19 PM

August 13, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Lebanon ramps up interrogations of online activists

A July 24 demonstration against social media arrests in Lebanon. Photo by Hasan Shaaban, used with permission.

Lebanese security agencies are ramping up the interrogation and censorship of online activists and journalists over social media posts, and sparking renewed debate over the limits to freedom of speech in the country.

Over the past few weeks, at least 10 activists were interrogated by Lebanese security agencies, eight of them by the Internal Security Forces’ Cybercrimes Bureau, over Facebook and Twitter posts. This compares to 18 people summoned by the agency in the six years between 2010-2016, according to research by Social Media Exchange, a local NGO that works on internet policy.

Though Lebanese law contains protections for freedom of expression and freedom of the press, insulting the president, the Lebanese Army, religion or the flag can result in up to a three-year prison sentence and heavy fines. Slander, libel and defamation laws have also increasingly been used by politicians and representatives of big businesses to question and prosecute activists and crack down on critical online speech.

In most of these cases, the subject matter of the offending posts included calls for online activism, jokes or sarcastic comments about religious figures, and alleged criticism of the president and other politicians.

Three recent cases threatening free speech in Lebanon

Imad Bazzi

On July 17, activist and blogger Imad Bazzi was called in for interrogation by the bureau, over a post calling for online activism against the controversial Lancaster Eden Bay resort. The seaside developments project has been heavily criticized over the legally dubious manner of its construction and subsequent opening, on what is by Lebanese law designated as public land.

After initially postponing the interrogation due to surgery, Bazzi was called in once again and attended his interrogation on July 27, refusing to sign a pledge committing not to criticize Eden Bay again, he told local news channel LBCI.

Maj. Gen. Albert Khoury, the head of the Cybercrimes Bureau, told LBCI that Bazzi had been summoned based on a complaint filed by representatives of the resort, who alleged he had caused indirect damages to its reputation. Bazzi had suggested to his followers to post negative online reviews of the resort, in what Ayman Muhana, the director fo SKeyes, described as legitimate online activism.

Mohammad Awwad

Journalist Mohammad Awwad was detained and questioned by General Security on July 20 over Facebook posts reported to be critical of politicians and religious leaders.

The Daily Star quoted Awwad as saying the officials included President Michel Aoun, the head of the Higher Shiite Council, the Sunni Grand Mufti and the Maronite patriarch. Awwad claimed that he had not addressed any of these officials in his recent posts, and said he was not informed of which posts exactly he was interrogated for, nor was he told who had filed the complaint against him.

“Social media websites are the only platforms of freedom available to us. If they are that bothered by it, let them shut down the internet in the whole country,” he was quoted as saying.

Khaled Aboushy

Facebook user Khaled Aboushy was interrogated on July 24 by the Lebanese Army Intelligence over an image he shared depicting President Aoun and his two son-in-laws Gebran Bassil and Chamel Roukoz -both prominent politicians- next to the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and his two sons Bassel and current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Aboushy captioned the post “whats the difference?”

Aboushy told SKeyes he was beaten upon his arrest and held for two days, only being released after signing a pledge not to criticize Aoun or Bassil again.  

The pledges interrogators at the Cybercrimes Bureau often try to get activists to sign are widely reported to have no legal basis.

New agency, old laws

The Internal Security Forces’ Cybercrimes Bureau is the avenue through which most of these interrogations take place.

Established in 2006 to strengthen the Lebanese state’s online security capabilities in the digital age, the Cybercrimes Bureau has caused controversy over its apparent arbitrary enforcement of aged laws dating back to the 1943 Penal Code.

Many activists are being interrogated on the basis of articles 473 and 474 of that legal text, which say that anyone who ”disparages” the name of god or religion can be imprisoned for between one month and several years.

A March 2016 report by a Lebanese NGO focused on freedom of expression, the Samir Kassir Foundation’s Center for Media and Cultural Freedom (SKeyes), said the agency’s conduct often amounts to censorship of free speech.

Addressing how the Penal Code is used by the agency to target online speech, the report notes:

The law is being applied online, where the audience of defamatory speech has been multiplied by literal millions and any post, comment or even ‘share’ online can be deemed defamatory if the complainant is powerful enough and alerts the ISF

[…]

While Lebanon does not have explicit, stand-alone anti-cybercrime or anti-terrorism laws, the anti-defamation articles fulfill a similar purpose of both directly targeting activists and dissidents and, by using these cases to set an example, intimidating online journalists, bloggers and Internet users from speaking about certain subjects, thus paving the way for self-censorship and the chilling of speech.

SKeyes estimates that, over the past two years, arrests targeting activists and journalists increased threefold from 10 per year to 30.

Rights groups say the bureau’s censorship role has been particularly evident in recent weeks, with a flurry of activists being detained, forced to delete posts and sign pledges to refrain from publishing “slanderous” content again and, in one case, being prohibited from making any online statements for a month.

Jad Shahrour of the Center for the Defense of Media Freedoms in Beirut told Aljazeera that crackdowns on freedom of expression have been on the rise since Aoun’s term began in late 2016 and that 60 percent of activists interrogated by authorities were summoned following complaints from President Aoun and the FPM party, which has the largest bloc in parliament.

Online activist and comedian Charbel Khoury was briefly detained on July 20 over a sarcastic joke on the medical miracles performed by St. Charbel, a religious figure revered by many in Lebanon.

The activist was released after signing a pledge not to address religion in his posts and deactivate his Facebook account for a month. The complaint against Khoury was filed by a religious organization, the Catholic Media Center, The Daily Star reported.

In a related case, journalist with local Arabic-language daily Al-Akhbar, Joy Slim, was interrogated by the bureau over a joke she made on Khoury’s post. In a column for the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar, she wrote about what she described as a “dystopian” experience at the hand of the authorities:

لم يكن ينقص التحقيق معي في مكتب مكافحة جرائم المعلوماتية إلا كاهناً ومذبحاً. أخذ الضباط في قوى الأمن الداخلي الذين حققوا معي على عاتقهم محاولة إعادتي إلى طريق الخلاص المسيحي. من أول الأسئلة التي طُرحت عليّ في التحقيق الذي استمرّ خمس ساعات، هو إذا كنت «معمدّة» (حاصلة على رتبة العماد)، إذ يبدو برأيهم أن أحداً لا يكتب نكتةً في موضوع ديني، إلا إذا كانت تسكنه «أرواحٌ شريرة».

Only a priest and an alter were missing from my interrogation at the Cybercrimes Bureau. The ISF officers who interrogated me troubled themselves and tried to return me to the Christian path of salvation. During the interrogation that lasted five hours, among the first questions were whether I was ”baptised”, as according to them no one writes a joke about religion unless they are inhabited by ”devil spirits”.

Public outcry

On July 24, two activists were summoned on the same day as a hundreds-strong public protest that took place in downtown Beirut, against the increased crackdown on online speech, under the banner “Against Repression.”

“I was brought up in a family where we used to talk about how all the Arab writers who were being oppressed would to come to Beirut for asylum,” Mariam Majdoline, one of the organizers, was quoted as saying by The Daily Star.

“You cannot bring us up with a mentality of freedom and then try to oppress us.”

by Timour Azhari at August 13, 2018 02:08 PM

August 11, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Condemnation of independence activist draws a red line for Hong Kong's press freedom

Foreign correspondents’ club. Hong Kong government photo via HKFP.

This post is a roundup of reports published between August 4 -10, 2018 on Hong Kong Free Press. The republication is based on a partnership agreement.

A recent war of words between Hong Kong's former chief executive and the local Foreign Correspondents’ Club shows how Beijing is forcing Hong Kong journalists, both local and international, to toe its political red line.

The incident began when the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) announced on July 30 that political party leader Andy Chan Ho Tin would be giving a talk at the Club on August 14, entitled “Hong Kong Nationalism: A Politically Incorrect Guide to Hong Kong under Chinese Rule”.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China with more economic and personal freedoms than the mainland, a set-up known as “One Country, Two Systems.” In recent years, Beijing has pressured Hong Kong to pass new laws that strengthen the “One Country” part of the principle.

Soon after, a representative from the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China in Hong Kong visited the FCC and urged them to reconsider the decision.

Chan is the convener of the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP), which advocates for Hong Kong's full independence from China. Last month, the Hong Kong police society registration department issued a legal recommendation to the Security Secretary to ban the HKNP as a political party. Citing the Section 8(1)(a) of Hong Kong's Societies Ordinance, the department said this would be “in the interests of national security, public safety, public order, protection of freedom and rights of others”.

Upon reviewing HKNP's past activities and Andy Chan’s talks, police authorities concluded that HKNP was a threat to national security. The recommendation stated:

The HKSAR Government should not wait until a political movement has recourse to violence before intervening…Even if the political movement has not yet made an attempt to seize power and the danger of its policy is not imminent, the HKSAR Government should take preventive measures as HKNP’s movement has started to take concrete steps in public to implement a goal incompatible with the laws.

Police handed Chan a 900-page dossier detailing his and the party's activities and articulating their proposal to ban the group. Chan must respond to the dossier by September 4.

Announcement for lunch talk by Andy Chan. Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong website.

The visit to the FCC by China's Foreign Ministry was not necessarily an indicator of any problem. Media organizations in Hong Kong are accustomed to receiving “political advice” from Beijing representatives.

But tensions began to escalate when former Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung “CY” Chun-ying stepped in and slammed the FCC for crossing a so-called “red line”:

港獨是絕對的和清晰的紅線,因為主張香港獨立就是主張分裂國家,明顯的侵犯了中國的主權和領土完整。外國記者協會今天請陳浩天講港獨,明天請其他人講台獨、疆獨、藏獨,香港怎麼辦?

Hong Kong independence is clearly and definitely a red line. Advocating Hong Kong independence is equal to advocating the spit up of the country and is an infringement on China’s sovereignty and territorial completeness. Today the FCC invites Andy Chan to talk about Hong Kong independence, tomorrow it could invite others to talk about Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet independence. What would Hong Kong become?

In response to CY Leung's comment about the “red line”, Victor Mallett, the first vice president of FCC, reinstated the value of free speech.

Leung then issued an open letter on Facebook, in which he compared the hosting of Andy Chan to criminal and terrorist activities:

Presumably then you will defend your decision by also arguing that those who oppose Taiwan independence would be given equal opportunity to present their views. Following this logic, you most probably will not draw any line against criminals and terrorists. As I said, we ought to be gravely concerned.

He further claimed that FCC had been paying a “token rent”. In comments, his followers advocated that the Hong Kong government should take back the property.

Leung's claim was rebuked by former FCC board member Francis Moriarty as an ill-informed threat:

Leung is dead wrong about the rent…When I left the FC Board three years ago, we were paying in the vicinity of HKD $550,000 (USD $70,060) per month and were entirely responsible for the historic building's maintenance.

Chris Yeung Kin-hing, chairman of Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKAJ) saw Leung's comment as “blatant political pressure”:

Leung is essentially asking the FCC to cancel the talk by Chan and stop inviting similar guests in future, or else the lease might not be renewed or even be taken back earlier… That’s blatant political pressure.

But CY Leung’s argument has been echoed by many pro-Beijing media outlets and politicians. On August 8, a group of 30 protesters took to the street and demonstrated outside FCC in Central demanding the cancellation of Andy Chan’s talk.

FCC has resisted the political pressure and the talk is still set to take place on August 14. Nevertheless, the political pressure has taken effect on other local media outlets.

The head of the city’s public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong Leung Ka-wing said in a regular meeting on 9 of August that the broadcaster should not be used to advocate Hong Kong independence and banned live streaming of Andy Chan’s speech at FCC. RTHK programme staff union explained that the decision on whether to live-cast an event or not is usually made by section head of different program teams after internal deliberation. It is unusual for the head to hand down a decision in this manner.

More than half of local media owners in Hong Kong also serve on Beijing-appointed government bodies such as the National People’s Congress. Even though there is no law in place to prosecute media outlets for featuring political dissents, the FCC saga sends a strong signal to media owners and their news management teams on where the “red line” lies. The effects are more than chilling.

by Hong Kong Free Press at August 11, 2018 05:17 PM

August 09, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Russians are facing criminal prosecution for sharing memes online, thanks to anti-extremism laws

A meta-meme circulating on Russian social media. COP looking at MEME: “Is this a criminal case?”

Imagine you’re online and you see an amusing Game of Thrones meme likening the resurrection of one of the main characters, John Snow, to the resurrection of Christ. Chuckling to yourself, you re-post it on your social media page and promptly forget about it.

A few days later, the police raid your apartment and charge you with extremism. In addition to facing years in prison, you’re frozen out of your bank accounts.

Welcome to the reality that unsuspecting social media users across Russia are now facing as authorities ramp up their campaign against online extremism.

Though prosecutions for online posts are nothing new in Russia, this latest round has attracted special attention because many of them are based exclusively on memes. Daniil Markin, a 19-year-old resident of the town of Barnaul, was recently charged under Article 148 of the Russian Criminal Code, for “insulting the feelings of religious believers” for posting several memes on religious themes, including the aforementioned Jon Snow meme.

As a result of the charges, he has been added to a national register of extremists and had his bank accounts frozen. In an interview with Meduza, Markin said:

Я считаю, что для определенного процента людей это могло показаться оскорбительным, но не настолько, чтобы заводить уголовное дело.

I can see how for some people this could be offensive, but not so much that they could press charges.

Markin’s situation isn’t unique, not even in his city of Barnaul. In a June 23 Twitter thread, fellow Barnaul resident Maria Motuznaya described how a group of policemen came to her apartment with a search warrant, interrogated her about memes she had posted (some of which were racist, others offensive to religious sentiment) and confiscated her phone.

While Motuznaya initially laughed it off, the police taunted her, telling her that another woman had also thought it was a game until she was put behind bars for three years. Motuznaya was later charged with extremism under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code.

While the memes Markin and Motuznaya posted could easily offend religious sentiments, they did not represent a direct threat, incitement to violence, or promotion of an extremist or violent ideology. And the Russian internet is full of memes like this. So what tipped off authorities? And how did they so swiftly identify Markin and Motuznaya?

Both cases began with tips from a pair of students at a local higher-ed institute. Neither defendant knew these individuals personally. Because of this, Markin feels there’s something more to his prosecution.

Оперативники обнаруживают меня каким-либо образом, предлагают студенткам написать заявления за определенные „плюшки“ на учебе или даже финансовую помощь.

The officers find out about me somehow and suggest that these students file a complaint for extra study “perks” or even financial support.

The situation may be less of a coincidence than it seems. Pressure on police in Russia to weed out extremism has created many situations in which authorities choose a target and then seek out justification for prosecution.

Motuznaya also suggested an ulterior motive during her interrogation. She had previously made several posts about Alexey Navalny, a Russian opposition figure known for his anti-corruption campaigns. It is unclear whether this had any bearing on her arrest.

The theory of memes-as-pretext, however, seems more and more plausible. Just recently, a journalist from the city of Tuva was arrested for posting two articles in 2014 that were accompanied by photos of Adolf Hitler and Nazi youth groups. This journalist had an activist past, as she wrote on issues affecting quality of life in the city and was campaign manager for Ksenia Sobchak, a liberal candidate in the 2018 Russian presidential elections.

How are social media companies responding?

Social media companies also play a pivotal role in identifying these memes and the people who post them. Vkontakte, one of the two most popular social networks in Russia, has been under fire for “ratting out” their users to the authorities and readily giving away their personal details for prosecution. Under Russian law, administrators of social networks are obligated to gather and store users’ personal information for six months, and provide access to these materials when requested by the authorities. For years, Vkontakte has been only too eager to comply with such requests.

An avalanche of recent negative coverage of criminal cases against social media users prompted the tech giant Mail.Ru, which owns Vkontakte, to release a statement condemning the practice of jailing people for memes. Observers were quick to point out Mail.ru's hypocrisy.

As Mediazona, an independent online outlet focused on police brutality and political show trials in Russia, put it:

Vkontakte (which provides most of the assistance in criminal cases for sharing [of memes]) condemns criminal cases for sharing.

Authorities see arrests as a sign of progress — the more, the better

Why has Barnaul become such a flashpoint for these types of cases? The regional office of the Investigative Committee, Russia’s main federal investigative agency, has since 2016 been leading a campaign to tackle online extremism among young people. Nationwide, human rights experts estimate that roughly 5000 people have been arrested for sharing some type of “extremist” content online.

In July 2018, a public-service announcement video was released explaining efforts at clamping down on extremist behavior online. The announcement defined this behavior as, among other things, anything promoting separatism, religious discord, or hatred towards others on ethnic or religious grounds.

The video ends with the following appeal:

Ведь человечество — это содружество разных культур, каждая из которых интересна и духовно богата. Нет плохих или хороших, мы — единое целое.

After all, humanity is a community of different cultures, each of which is fascinating and spiritually rich. There aren’t bad or good ones, we are all one united whole.

At face value, this might be a laudable sentiment. But why the sudden interest in meme-based posts? Ilya Shepelin, a correspondent for the independent Russian news outlet Dozhd, explained it this way:

Бюрократия.

Два года назад в Алтайском крае зарегистрировали экстремистских преступлений на 10% меньше, чем следовало. 26 вместо 29. В результате «край оказался в немногочисленной группе регионов, показавших отрицательную статистику по выявлению преступлений».

Просрали цифры, получили нагоняй от федерального министерства — и ух, как взялись за работенку. Ни одной картинки с патриархом и Игрой престолов не пропускают, на всё заводят дела.

И в 2017 году край показал резкий рост «выявленных экстремистских преступлений» почти вдвое больше — на 73%. Теперь седьмое место среди регионов России. Есть чем гордиться.

Bureaucracy.

Two years ago, when the Altai region reported on extremist crimes, they registered 10% less than they should have. 26 instead of 29. As a result, “the region found itself among a small group of regions showing that instances of extremist crimes had fallen.”

They fudged the numbers and got a scolding from the federal ministry, and man, how they went to work. They don’t let a single image of the patriarch or Game of Thrones pass by, they’re pressing charges over everything.

And so in 2017 the region showed a dramatic increase of “instances of extremist crimes”, almost two times more, 73% more. Now they’re seventh among Russia’s regions. Something to be proud of.

Stuck on Russia's federal register of terrorists and extremists

The ramifications of these “extremism” charges, which fall under criminal code articles 282 and 148, continue long after one’s sentence has ended. When charged under these articles, an individual is permanently placed on the federal register of terrorists and extremists. Once on the list, one cannot withdraw more than 10,000 rubles (around 150 US dollars) at a time and cannot use their credit or debit cards.

These two consequences combine to create an unsavory third problem: being officially labeled a terrorist makes potential employers extremely hesitant to hire you. And if they do, they are obligated to jump through extra regulatory hoops just to pay taxes related to your employment.

Because of this, those on the list often find themselves punished with poverty and diminishing prospects both in terms of career and even housing. Who would rent to, much less give a mortgage to, an official terrorist or extremist?

As one human rights lawyer put it,

About a quarter of the cases of persecution “for words” under extremist and terrorist articles are criticism of the authorities, separatist propaganda, criticism of the annexation of Crimea and so on. 75% of the rest of the cases are likes and reposts on social media.

A meme of one's own

With the increase in prosecutions over meme-sharing the issue itself has of course become a meme of its own.

Below, one user employed the “Is this a pigeon?” meme to demonstrate how memes have become the basis for criminal cases:

Now it’s something like this.
Meme captions: “Me” on the man, “meme” on the butterfly.
Bottom text: Is this a criminal charge?

Another used characters from the sci-fi movie Interstellar, toying with the film’s idea about space travel and time-dilation to reference the surreal situation in Barnaul:

Background sign: Barnaul.
Bottom text: One meme here is equal to seven years.

Others went for an even more meta approach. Well-known Russian blogger and Twitter user Anatolii Kapustin wanted to draw attention to the fact that memes can lead to jail time now, and created the Twitter account “Text memes you can be jailed for”, which draws on actual memes that have triggered extremism charges and are now being assessed in court.

Kapustin describes image memes in text format, using direct quotes from court documents, as a way to post memes while avoiding criminal charges. Here are a few examples:

Image #71: A photograph showing Patriarch Kirill [note: head of the Russian Orthodox Church] blessing a room. Text: “Patriarch Kirill brought the MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) the newest anti-virus.

Image #61: An image of Stalin and Mussolini with the caption: Fascism is the most terrifying ideology of the 20th century.

Image #41. A black man with the text “You’re just a machine. An imitation of life. Can a robot write a symphony, create a masterpiece?. Below, another character, with the caption: “And you’re just a [racial slur].”

Image #33: A man holding sneakers with the caption: “For the 300th time, New Balances were created specially for Russian nationalists!”

The range of themes reflected in these memes, from despicably racist to lightheartedly irreverent, demonstrates that the authorities’ anti-meme-extremism campaign is too broadly defined to be effective at actually removing threats and incitement to violence from online platforms.

Even if the anti-extremism campaign’s goals are taken at face value, the fundamental question (here and in many other countries) remains: What role should law enforcement play in ensuring hateful and objectionable content is deleted from social networks?

In the Russian case, with authorities’ reliance on disproportionately harsh jail sentences and seemingly indefinite financial repercussions, it is clear that Vkontakte’s abdication of its role in self-moderation is hurting its users. Rather than handing over users’ data so that authorities can prosecute them for racist and “edgy” memes, the company should be more proactive in monitoring posts and taking down content that can easily be described as offensive, in a consistent, transparent and accountable way.

It wouldn’t be easy, but as the global debate over moderating social networks continues, the alternatives currently available, arrests or rampant toxicity, show that they’ve got to try.

by Christopher Moldes at August 09, 2018 08:49 PM

Netizen Report: Bangladesh protests trigger mobile network cuts, journalist arrest

Traffic in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital. Photo by Mashrik Faiyaz via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Students in Bangladesh are demanding safer roads — and directing traffic — in response to a bus collision that killed two students who were walking beside a busy road on July 29.

Protests began peacefully but turned violent on August 3 when rumors of rape and kidnapping triggered confrontations between police and protesters, with police resorting to tear gas and rubber bullets.

The rumors primarily traveled through WhatsApp groups and coincided with infiltration of protesters by the Bangladesh Chhatra League, the youth arm of Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League party.

At the same time, the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission ordered service providers to reduce mobile phone network signals so that only 2G networks were operational. This did not cut off messaging services, but it also made it impossible to share multimedia and live video, which many protesters were using in an attempt to show what actually was happening and to debunk false claims.

Among those who were sharing video online was photojournalist Shahidul Alam, who was covering the protests on Facebook Live. On August 5, plainclothes police officers abducted and later arrested Shahidul. He was beaten while in police custody and later hospitalized.

In Venezuela, journalists are under pressure, news sites are blocked and newsprint keeps disappearing

A deafening boom that interrupted a speech by Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has become the latest cause for media suppression in the country. Multiple mainstream media outlets have since reported that the sound and subsequent panic was caused by a drone carrying explosives, in what may have been at attempt to assassinate Maduro. But local accounts of the details of the incident contradict one another. Journalists have paid a heavy price for trying to find out what really happened — 11 reporters have since been arrested and forced to destroy photos and video taken at the event.

One of Venezuela’s most popular independent news sites, El Pitazo (The Whistle), was taken down for the third time in 11 months. The site is no longer accessible on any of Venezuela’s major internet service provider networks, and its owners have received no notification regarding the ban from telecommunications regulators. The news outlet has created multiple alternate domains in previous instances, but these too have been blocked.

Meanwhile, news outlets that produce print versions are struggling with chronic shortages of newsprint in the country. Caracas Chronicles blog reports that 40 newspapers have discontinued their print editions since 2013. And these days, even pro-government newspapers are finding themselves short on paper.

Iran re-routes Telegram and keeps arresting Instagrammers

The Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI) changed the routing or pathway of internet protocol addresses for the Telegram messaging app for one hour on July 30. The change sent users’ traffic to the TCI instead of to Telegram’s servers, rendering the app unusable, even when users employed censorship circumvention tools such as virtual private networks.

Targeting and arrests of Instagram users in Iran has also persisted following the May arrests of Instagram celebrities. Eight female Instagram models and 38 behind-the-camera crew members were arrested in the southern Hormozgan province on July 16.

Malaysian lawyer arrested for questioning monarchy on her blog

Malaysia’s newly-elected government made big promises to overhaul the country’s outdated and authoritarian laws affecting free speech, but these have yet to come to fruition. While there have been some improvements — news sites like Sarawak Report have been unblocked, and sedition charges against popular cartoonist Zunar have been dropped — old habits die hard. Lawyer and activist Fadiah Nadwa Fikri was summoned by the police in late July for questioning the role of monarchy in politics on her blog. Fadiah is now under probe for posting allegedly seditious online content.

Bots-for-hire in Indonesian elections

Alongside Kenya, India, Mexico, the US and dozens of other countries, social media bots and influencers-for-hire are increasingly a necessity for Indonesian political parties. In late July, The Guardian reported that bots and fake accounts were used to influence voters in the 2017 Jakarta Gubernatorial Election. Influencers used a range of tactics, from repurposing  articles to discredit opponents, to fabricating positive coverage of their candidate, to innocent posts talking about food and music in an effort to make accounts appear “authentic”. Research by CPIG (in Indonesian) on the issue, locally known as the “Buzzer Phenomenon”, highlighted the fact that there are no rules in place to curb such practices by political candidates.

It was revealed in March 2018 that Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL group, had a hand in influencing previous elections in Indonesia. Although there is no evidence that people associated with SCL were involved in the most recent elections, the group’s approach may have had some influence on tactics that were employed this time around.

Google wants to go back to China

A report by The Intercept published on August 1 cited interviews and internal documents indicating that Google may soon launch a censored version of its search engine in China. Google left the Chinese market in March 2010 following criticism for complying with the government’s censorship regime. This hasn’t changed — if anything, it has become more stringent — but Google’s priorities apparently have.

Google has offered no specific information on the move to the public, and Chinese authorities have denied that any big changes are on the horizon. US Senators have appealed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai to re-think the move and answer several questions about the company’s intentions, citing China’s human rights record.

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by Netizen Report Team at August 09, 2018 07:02 PM

August 08, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
India's biometric ID system takes more heat, after Google admits it coded helpline numbers into Android phones

Collecting an image of a man's iris for Aadhaar. Photo by Kannanshanmugam, via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY 3.0

The debate on interception of private communications in India took a new turn recently after the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) — a federal agency responsible for India's national ID database, Aadhaar — denied inputting a UIDAI helpline number in several Android user's devices.

The Aadhaar Sampark Kendra (helpline in Hindi) number, 1-800-300-1947, was intended to provide automated and agent-based support to users. But it no longer works. It was replaced with the simpler four-digit 1947 about two years back.

While there is no inherent harm in having the phone number in one's phone contacts, some Indians were unhappy that they were not asked for their consent before the number was added to their devices. While some found that it was there from the time they obtained the device, others report that the phone number appeared following a software update.

These instances have left people suspicious that UIDAI might be capable of accessing personal data from their devices.

After more than a week of discussions in many media publications and social media, Google admitted that in 2014 it had “inadvertently coded” two numbers into the Android SetUp Wizard — distress helpline number 112 and the general helpline number, 1-800-300-1947.

The Aadhaar system is now used widely for identity authentication in myriad public and private institutions, from banking to healthcare to employment. While it is not intended to be used for individual profiling, this could be an outcome of the massive use (and misuse) the system, a reality that has elevated fears of India slowly becoming a surveillance state. With a growing list of incidents of system malfunctions and personal data leaks, Aadhaar has failed to gain public trust.

In a recent attempt to prove the strength of Aadhaar to the public, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chairman Ram Sewak Sharma on July 28 shared his Aadhaar number publicly on Twitter, hoping to show that no harm could be done by revealing the same.

This impulsive step provoked hackers and developers, who soon found Sharma's cellphone number, email and physical addresses, date of birth, airline miles number, an alleged photograph with a family member, and a prank of ordering a phone in his address with a cash on delivery option.

He nevertheless continues to defend Aadhaar as being leak-proof and protective of privacy.

Despite of UIDAI's tweet asking users to not reveal their Aadhaar numbers publicly, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Electronics and Information Technology and of Law and Justice, followed the lead of Sharma and revealed his own Aadhaar number during a public meeting.

Aadhaar has been criticized largely for what technical experts say is a defective design that in many cases has made the privacy of many Indian citizens vulnerable.

by Subhashish Panigrahi at August 08, 2018 04:21 PM

August 07, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
As Malaysia's new government marks 100 days in office, is free speech still under threat?

Activists gather in support of lawyer and activist Fadiah Nadwa Fikri who was summoned by the police for allegedly posting a seditious blog article about the monarchy. Photo from Facebook page of Daniel Mizan Qayyum

As it approaches its 100 days in office, has Malaysia's new government fulfilled its promises to protect freedom of expression?

On May 9, 2018, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) party defeated Barisan Nasional (BN) which had held power for the past half century.

During the campaign period, PH released a manifesto pledging to review and potentially abolish regulations that undermine free speech. These include the Sedition Act 1948, Prevention of Crime Act 1959, Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015, Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, and the Anti-Fake News Act 2018.

Since the election, Malaysians have seen some improvements. Independent news websites such as the Sarawak Report and Medium have been unblocked. The travel ban on political cartoonist and activist Zunar, a fierce critic of former PM Najib Razak, has been lifted. But other outspoken voices are still under pressure.

Lawyer under probe for blogging about monarchy

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) warned that despite the campaign pledge of PH, “violations against freedom of expression are still occurring.”

The group cited the case of lawyer and activist Fadiah Nadwa Fikri who was summoned by the police last July for questioning the role of monarchy in politics in her blog. Fadiah is now under probe for posting an allegedly seditious online content.

CIJ advised the police and the government to stop using draconian laws while parliament is considering the repeal of these measures:

We call upon the Government to make clear its stand on freedom of expression; to condemn this investigation; and to speedily institute a moratorium on all oppressive laws pending their repeal and/ or amendment…If Malaysia is to undergo true democratisation critical, respectful discourse and debate needs to be fostered and protected.

Kua Kia Soong, adviser to the human rights group Suaram, defended Fadiah and appealed for tolerance of dissenting views:

The article written by Fadiah certainly did not constitute incitement to hatred or violence. She was expressing an opinion on an issue of public interest.

Her right to freedom of expression as a social activist and intellectual must be respected because such are the demands of pluralism, tolerance and broad-mindedness that our founding fathers and mothers wanted for our democratic society and especially now, the supposedly “new Malaysia”.

Officials ask for patience

Deputy Minister Hanipa Maidin, in Prime Minister's Department, reiterated the commitment of PH to repeal repressive laws but asked for patience as the government prepares for broader reforms in the bureaucracy:

I only hope the people can be a little more patient with us, just as we have been very patient with BN over the past 60 years…This is because there is far too much damage left by the previous regime for us and for you. This is not an excuse, but a sincere request from us.

Another official affirmed the intention of the government to remove controversial laws such as the Anti-Fake News Act and the Security Offences Special Measures Act (SOSMA).

Sedition cases against cartoonist Zunar dropped

A welcome development was the decision of the government to withdraw the nine sedition cases it filed against political cartoonist Zunar. This was confirmed by Zunar himself through his Twitter account:

Zunar was a prolific and prominent cartoonist who criticized the corruption and other abuses of the previous government. Aside from being charged with sedition, his drawings were confiscated by the police and he was prevented from leaving the country.

The Penang police also said they will return a collection of Zunar's books, t-shirts, and other artworks that they confiscated from him in 2017.

Malaysians continue to face significant challenges as they campaign for greater freedom and democracy in a society undergoing transition in governance. It is reassuring that the new government has not yet reneged on its vow to pursue legislative reforms that will strengthen media freedom and human rights protection.

But a growing number of Malaysian citizens and civil society groups are reminding the government to take decisive action. This was also the message of 36 civil society groups which signed a statement calling for the upholding of freedom of expression:

We hope this new government is in fact new, and will back up their rhetoric with committed and decisive action. In these crucial early days, as the government sets the tone for its administration, we hope to see a genuine departure from the old oppression, and a transition into a Malaysia where all ideas can be discussed peacefully and our constitutional rights exercised maturely.

by Mong Palatino at August 07, 2018 07:24 PM

August 06, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Landmark ruling in Angola acquits journalist Rafael Marques of all charges

Rafael Marques de Morais | 2015 Allard Prize ceremony | Wikimedia Commons | CC-BY-SA 3.0

A court in Luanda has acquitted journalist Rafael Marques and editor Mariano Brás of charges of insulting the Angolan state in what many considered a milestone for the country's press freedom.

Marques was charged in June 2017 after publishing an article in October 2016 alleging that then-Attorney General João Maria de Souza had engaged in corrupt dealings to acquire beachfront property where he built a residential compound. The article was published on independent news website Maka Angola, of which Marques is the founder and editor.

Mariano Brás, the chief editor of the newspaper O Crime, which published the article in print, was facing the same charges. Marques was additionally being accused of “offending an organ of sovereignty” for allegedly having offended the ex-president José Eduardo dos Santos in the same piece.

At the latest hearing on July 6, judge Josina Falcão, who was presiding the case at Luanda Provincial Court, stated that the journalists merely “fulfilled their duty to inform” and dismissed all the accusations against both men.

While this was not the first time that Marques was brought to trial for his journalistic work, it was indeed the first time that the Luanda Provincial Court acquitted him — in the previous cases, he merely had the sentence suspended.

The case was followed by various news outlets as well as activists on social media. This is one of the first highly profile court cases during the government of João Lourenço, who succeeded the long-serving president José Eduardo dos Santos in September 2017.

Angolan activist Luaty Beirão, who was present at the trial, tweeted as it unfolded, up to the moment of the sentence:

“It is the understanding of this court that truth exists in the text published by the defendant and that he did nothing more than fulfil his obligation to inform the public. We do not perceive that there was any intention to defame the plaintiff”.

1st Tweet: “It was proved during this trial that the process of land acquisition, at the origin of the article by the defendant which triggered the case which today comes to its end, is tarnished by irregularities”. Conclusion? Who committed a crime? Who should have been in the dock? The messenger?

2nd Tweet: The day of passing sentence

1st Tweet: After 3 hours of reading what seemed to be a doctoral thesis, we get to the interesting part: Mariano Brás, innocent of all charges, @RafaelMdeMorais, innocent of all charges.

2nd Tweet: “The court understands that we would be erring if, as a society that wants to evolve, we decided to punish the messengers of bad news. In taking public positions, it is necessary to become used to being scrutinized and criticized. If you cannot stand the heat, you cannot work in the kitchen”

After the hearing, Marques, who was awarded World Press Freedom Hero in 2018 by the International Press Institute, said that the court's decision was “historic”. He ensured the public that he “will continue denouncing all those who harm the country”.

A new beginning for Angola?

Some civil society organizations are hopeful that the court’s decision recognizing Rafael Marques’ innocence marks the beginning of a new era in Angola’s court press freedom.

In an interview with DW África, Alexandre Solembe, president of the Institute for Social Communication in Southern Africa in Angola, said he had no doubts that the result would have been different if José Eduardo dos Santos, the former Angolan president for several decades, was still in power.

Under the former president’s time in office, there were numerous cases of harassment of journalists and activists who were critical of the government.

Similarly, the news was welcomed by the African Federation of Journalists, an organization which brings together professionals in social communications from across the continent:

For Human Rights Watch, it was a victory for press freedom, as highlighted by the organization's researcher for Africa, Zenaida Machado:

The unexpected ruling is a victory for freedom of the press in a country where the media has been on a tight leash, with authorities often repressing coverage of cases of corruption involving government officials, through intimidation and abusive use of defamation laws. Following today’s historic court ruling, the Angolan government should now go further and seek to amend the 2017 media law so that journalists are able to do their jobs in a free environment.

The African network of reporters, RSF África, also welcomed the case, stating that it was a positive sign for investigative journalism:

by Dércio Tsandzana at August 06, 2018 06:45 PM

Iran’s telecommunications company illegally rerouted Telegram app traffic

Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot. Graphic by stephan salt for Noun Project.

Below is an edited version of an article that first appeared on the Center for Human Rights in Iran website.

In a new move aimed at tightening the state-imposed ban on the Telegram messaging app, the Telecommunications Company of Iran (TCI) temporarily rerouted Telegram app traffic on July 30, in clear violation of domestic law.

For one hour, the routing or pathway of Telegram’s internet protocol addresses changed so that users’ traffic was routed to the TCI instead of Telegram’s servers. This rendered the app unusable, even when users employed censorship circumvention tools such as virtual private networks (VPNs).

What does the border gateway protocol do?

The BGP protocol enables internet routers to find each other. For example, if you want to access the Telegram app, the best path to the app’s servers will be determined by routers that connect you to their stored IP addresses, which are updated when changes take place. As such, BGP allows routers to exchange information on how users can best access desired destinations.

Speaking to the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), internet security expert Hamid Kashfi explained that this type of “hijacking” is like changing your home address to receive mail at someone else’s residence. He explained that the method used “border gateway protocols” (BGPs), which enable routers to find one another.

“When you don’t have physical access to a target network inside the country, the easiest way to control its traffic is by hijacking internet data through BGPs,” Kashfi told CHRI.

This is not the first time Iran has resorted to illegal methods to expand its filtering policies. But this time, the move could have global implications. By altering the routing of Telegram traffic, Iran may cause other servers in the world to also update their routing. This will likely result in a spate of incorrect IP addresses that could also disrupt internet traffic in other countries.

Commenting on the development, Washington Post tech reporter Drew Fitzgerald tweeted on July 30:

The TCI hijacked border gateway protocols, which manage how data is transferred across the internet. This is not only a violation of Iran's Computer Crimes Law, it also seals the reputation of Iran’s Telecommunications Ministry as a violator of internet freedom.

Responding to this action, Iran’s Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi tweeted on July 30, “Based on reports I’ve received so far, between 4 and 6 a.m. on July 30, the TCI was engaged in changing its topology and consolidating its provincial network in Shiraz and Bushehr [cities].”

“If confirmed, the TCI’s misdeed, whether intentional or not, will trigger a heavy fine,” he added. “The matter is under investigation by the Communications Regulatory Authority (CRA) of The I.R. of Iran.”

By blocking international access to the website, the TIC committed sabotage and hacked the network in violation of articles 736 and 737 of Iran’s Computer Crimes Law, a crime punishable by up to two years in prison and a maximum fine of 40 million rials (approximately $906 USD).

Further investigations by CHRI

Research by CHRI show that on July 17, 2018, Iran also attempted to block international access to banned domestic websites by sabotaging and interfering in the data traffic, in violation of its own Computer Crimes Law.

When a user outside Iran tried to access fileniko.com, the Telecommunication Infrastructure Company (TIC) inserted code into that website that redirected users to a different website, http://peyvandha.ir/, which displays a list of websites recommended by Iranian authorities.

The list is no longer displayed because authorities have removed the filter on the website.

The responsible authority for this action was the TIC, which operates under the Telecommunications Ministry. All ministries in Iran operate under the president, who appoints the head minister.

It is unknown how many websites in Iran have been made inaccessible via this method.

Screenshot of the code inserted into the fileniko.com website.

Screenshot of the code inserted into the fileniko.com website.

Why the BGP filtering method is ineffective

Implemented less than two months after Iran blocked access to Telegram, the move appears to be designed to strengthen the ban by rerouting access requests to servers inside Iran. This method was previously used by the government of Pakistan in February 2008 when it extended its filtering to international BGP routes and redirected most of YouTube’s traffic to Pakistan.

Although this filtering method can be temporarily effective, it is also easily recognizable and can be corrected by international routers within a maximum of two to three days.

Kashfi commented: “Despite what the public might think, this kind of attack is technically very simple. In truth, it’s a deliberate mistake intended to change the main route of internet service providers.”

Asked if he thinks Iran’s action was accidental or deliberate, Kashfi responded, “Governments usually do it deliberately and then say it was accidental. Since blocking Telegram in Iran is a strategic matter, it’s very, very unlikely it was accidental.”

by Center for Human Rights in Iran at August 06, 2018 04:46 PM

Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam detained over student protest coverage

Image via the Facebook page of DRIK.

Late on the night of August 5, 2018, Bangladeshi photographer and activist Dr. Shahidul Alam was forcibly abducted from his house in Dhanmondi, Dhaka by men in plainclothes.

Alam is the founder of both the Drik Picture Library and the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute and a vocal journalist on issues related to rule of law and the public interest.

It was soon confirmed that a team of the Detective Branch (DB) of police had detained Shahidul from his residence, with the intention of interrogating him over his Facebook posts about ongoing student protests in the capital, Dhaka.

Secondary school students of different educational institutions in the Bangladesh capital have taken to the streets since July 29 demanding improved road safety and rule enforcement, after two of their classmates were killed due to reckless driving by public bus. The students are also demanding justice for the victims.

Detained for covering the student protests

Shahidul Alam has been covering the ongoing student protests in Bangladesh in his Facebook and Twitter accounts and discussing the protests on Facebook Live.

More than one hundred students were injured over the weekend as the police resorted to excessive force, including firing rubber bullets and tear gas at thousands of peaceful student protestors.

The protests took a violent turn on August 4 when rumors of student protestors being kidnapped, raped and killed began to spread online, but independent media sources at the Dhaka Tribune along with students themselves and a fact-hecking Facebook group called Jaachai (fact-check) have denounced these messages as false and debunked doctored photographs. Nevertheless, many students came out to the streets to protest the deaths. Several violent confrontations between protestors and police have ensued since. Mobs allegedly associated with Bangladesh's ruling party have also attacked demonstrators and journalists who were covering the attacks.

Emergency medical teams say they have treated more than 100 protestors who have been injured.

In an attempt to curb rapidly-spreading rumors, mobile internet speed was brought down to a minimum level (2G) shutting down 3G and 3G broadcasts.

Booked under ICT act over media comments

Alongside his social media coverage of the protests, Alam apparently angered the authorities and the ruling party after he gave a TV interview on Sunday evening with Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera where he talked about the recent situation in Bangladesh and criticized the government.

Expat blogger Rumi Ahmed posted a transcript of the interview on Facebook. Here is an excerpt:

I think what we need to do is to look at what has been happening in the streets today. The police specifically asked for help from these armed goons to combat unarmed students demanding safe roads. I mean how ridiculous is that. Today, I was in the streets, there were people with machetes in their hands chasing unarmed students. And the police are standing by watching it happen. In some cases, they were actually helping them…

According to the latest reports, the police have received a seven-day remand to question Shahidul Alam in connection with an ICT Act case filed on August 6, 2018. He was taken to the court barefoot and barely able to walk. He appears to have been beaten while in custody.

Exiled journalist Tasneem Khalil Tweeted:

The police have not yet mentioned why he was detained but referred to the case which accuses him under section 57 of the ICT Act of “abusing” an electronic platform in order to spread “lies” among the population and with the intent to “invalidate and question” the government on the international stage, damage law and order, spread “fear and terror”.

The provisions of Section 57 of Bangladesh's notoriously broad 2013 Information and Communication Technology Act of Bangladesh have been used to slap hundreds of lawsuits against journalists and online activists to curb the freedom of speech online over the past few years.

Blogger and activist Vaskar Abedin writes on Facebook:

শহীদুল আলম কোনো গুজবকে সত্যের মতো অভিনয় করে প্রচার করেননি। একজন অ্যাক্টিভিস্টের মতো করে ডেটা, ফ্যাক্ট আর নিজের তোলা ছবি নিয়ে ফেইসবুক লাইভে গেছেন। তিনি কাউকে আহ্বান জানান নাই উস্কানি দিয়ে, তিনি কেবল পরিস্থিতি বিশ্লেষণ করেছেন নিজের উপস্থিতি জানান দিয়ে। বেশিরভাগ লাইভ ভিডিওতে তিনি ইংরেজিতে কথা বলেছেন। যেসবের ভোক্তা এই আন্দোলনের মূল নিউক্লিয়াসের কেউ নয়।

অথচ তার বিরুদ্ধে তথ্যপ্রযুক্তি আইনে আন্দোলনের উস্কানিদাতা হিসাবে মামলা হয়েছে। এমন বিষয়গুলো খুব বিব্রতকর।

Shahidul Alam did not make up stories to spread rumors. Like a true activist, he presented the facts on Facebook live with his photographs and data. He did not provoke anyone or direct anyone, he just analyzed the situation explaining what he saw on the streets. He spoke in English mostly in his Facebook Live broadcasts and the target audience of which are not the people involved in the protest, but the wider (international) community.

But he was sued under the ICT act for acting as a provocateur. This is very embarrassing.

Amnesty International has released a statement which read:

Shahidul Alam must be immediately and unconditionally released. There is no justification whatsoever for detaining anyone for solely peacefully expressing their views. His arrest marks a dangerous escalation of a crackdown by the government that has seen the police and vigilantes unleash violence against student protestors.

by GV South Asia at August 06, 2018 04:44 PM

August 03, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
If Google goes back to China, it will be on the government's terms. What will that mean for human rights?

A Google music search product launch in Beijing, 2009. Photo by Keso via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

report by The Intercept published on August 1 says that tech giant Google may soon launch a censored version of its search engine in China.

Drawing on internal documents from Google and an interview with a source from the company who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the independent media outlet reported that the company is developing a customized version of its Android search application (app) for the Chinese market. Code-named “Dragonfly”, the app would automatically identify and censor websites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Wikipedia, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Global Voices and many others that are currently blocked by China's so-called Great Firewall.

Google left the Chinese market in March 2010 following criticism for complying with government censorship orders. But in recent years, under the leadership of Sundar Pichai, who became Google's Chief Executive Officer in 2015, the tech giant has tried very hard to reconnect with the Chinese market despite considerable human rights implications.

When Google left the Chinese market, executives cited concerns over human rights, censorship, and blocks on access to information. And these conditions haven't changed — China enacted a cybersecurity law in 2016 that strengthened China's already-stringent online censorship and surveillance practices and made it obligatory for foreign companies operating in China to turn over user data, including the encryption keys, upon official request.

The Intercept source says the Dragonfly project accelerated after a December 2017 meeting between Pichai and the Chinese Communist Party’s top ideologue, Wang Huning. Google staff apparently have already performed a demonstration of the app for Chinese government officials. If released, the app will have to compete with Baidu, the native search engine that presently dominates China's market.

Google may be prepared to compromise human rights principles for the Chinese market. But it will still depend on the Chinese government to grant its entry.

Internal documents also indicate that the search app will be operated by a joint venture partnership between Google and a China-based company (yet to be identified). This is a standard approach for foreign companies wishing to operate in China.

Sources for The Intercept say the finalized version of the app could be launched in the next six to nine months, pending official approval. But this may not come easily. On August 3, Chinese state-affiliated media outlet Securities Daily denounced the Intercept report and quoted a Chinese analyst saying that Google could not re-enter China in the near future.

The recent experience of tech giant Facebook in China may provide a cautionary tale to its Silicon Valley competitor. Just two days after Facebook announced plans to open an innovation center in China, its Cyberspace Administration stepped in and barred Facebook from receiving a license to operate.

It is unclear what will happen next. While Google may not be able to enter China any time soon, the Intercept story reveals a disturbing trend among United States-based tech giants that appear prepared — even eager —  to sideline human rights principles in order to grow their businesses.

The anonymous source from Google told The Intercept:

I’m against large companies and governments collaborating in the oppression of their people, and feel like transparency around what’s being done is in the public interest […] what is done in China will become a template for many other nations.

The news about Google’s plan has attracted a lot of discussion among Chinese Twitter users. Many have been critical of the move.

One Twitter user referred to the recent activities of Apple in China and its subsequent rise on the stock market, a potential motivator for other companies to enter China:

Today Apple Inc. has sprung up again. Its market value is now more than US$100 billion dollars. The key factor behind its growth was the 40% increase in i-phone sale in Chinese market in Q3. In the context of a China-US trade war, the market has been worried about the future of Apple. But the strong performance in the Chinese market in Q3 has boosted the market confidence. The market is starting to believe that Apple Inc. has found its way out of the US-China trade war with its “country specific” business strategy. This is likely the motivation behind Google’s “re-strategizing”.

Apple Inc. transferred operation of its iCloud data center in mainland China to a local, state-managed corporation called Guizhou-Cloud Big Data in February 2018. While the company stressed that it still controls the encryption keys for user accounts and had not handed these to the local partners, Chinese users still worry that their privacy may be jeopardized.

There is no question that Google would be subject to the same regulatory requirements that led them to leave China in 2010, but it seems that Google's priorities may have changed. This could significantly impede on the human rights of users in China — and potentially elsewhere, depending on how product and service infrastructures are built.

Thus far, Google has not commented on the Intercept's report.

by Oiwan Lam at August 03, 2018 08:30 PM

Killing speech softly: How the world’s biggest tech companies are quietly censoring critical expression in the Middle East

Graphic by Omar Momani for 7iber (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This post is published as part of an editorial partnership between Global Voices and Ranking Digital Rights.

Following the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January 2015, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a message reflecting on religion, free expression and the controversial editorial line of the magazine.

“A few years ago, an extremist in Pakistan fought to have me sentenced to death because Facebook refused to ban content about Mohammed that offended him.

We stood up for this because different voices — even if they're sometimes offensive — can make the world a better and more interesting place,” Zuckerberg wrote on his page.

Later that same month, Facebook agreed to restrict access to an unspecified number of pages for “offending prophet Muhammad” in Turkey at the request of local authorities.

Turkey is notorious for the number of requests it makes to internet companies to remove content for violating its local laws, but it is not the only government in the Middle East to resort to such tactic to silence critical voices.

While a number of the region’s governments sometimes make direct requests for content removal — along with exerting “soft” pressure through other means — the failures of tech giants in moderating content in the region is a much bigger and more complex problem.

Abuse of flagging mechanisms

Across the region, social media platform “flagging” mechanisms are often abused to silence government critics, minority groups or views and forms of expression deemed not to be in line with the majority’s beliefs on society, religion and politics.  

In 2016, Facebook suspended several Arabic-language pages and groups dedicated to atheism following massive flagging campaigns.

This effectively eliminated one of the few (in some cases, the only) spaces where atheists and other minorities could come together to share their experiences, and freely express themselves on matters related to religion. Across the region, atheism remains a taboo that could be met with harassment, imprisonment or even murder.

“[Abusive flagging] is a significant problem,” Jessica Anderson, a project manager at onlinecensorship.org which documents cases of content takedowns by social media platforms, told Global Voices.

“In the Middle East as well as other geographies, we have documented cases of censorship resulting from ‘flagging campaigns’—coordinated efforts by many users to report a single page or piece of content.”

Flagging mechanisms are also abused by pro-government voices. Earlier this year, Middle East Eye reported that several Egyptian political activists had their pages or accounts suspended and live-streams shut down, after they were reported by “pro-government trolls.”

“What we have seen is that flagging can exacerbate existing power imbalances, empowering the majority to ’police’ the minority,” Anderson said. “The consequences of this issue can be severe: communities that are already marginalized and oppressed lose access to the benefits of social media as a space to organize, network, and be heard.”

Failure to consider user rights, in context

This past May, Apple joined the ranks of Facebook and Twitter — the more commonly-cited social media platforms in this realm — when the iTunes store refused to upload fives songs by the Lebanese band Al-Rahel Al-Kabir. The songs mocked religious fundamentalism and political oppression in the region.

A representative from iTunes explained that the Dubai-based Qanawat, a local content aggregator hired by Apple to manage its store for the region, elected not to upload the songs. An anonymous source told The Daily Star that iTunes did not know about Qanawat’s decision, which it made due to “local sensitivities.” In response to a petition from Beirut-based digital rights NGO SMEX and the band itself, iTunes uploaded the songs and pledged to work with another aggregator.

This case does not only illustrate how “local sensitivities” can interfere with decisions about which types of content get to be posted and stay online in the region, but also shows that companies need to practice due diligence when taking decisions likely to affect users’ freedom of expression rights.

Speaking to Global Voices, Mohamad Najem, co-founder of SMEX pointed out that both Facebook and Twitter have their regional offices located in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which he described as one of the “most repressive countries” in the region.

“This is a business decision that will affect free speech in a negative way,” he said. He further expressed concern that the choice of having an office in a country like the UAE “can sometimes lead to enforcing Gulf social norm[s]” on an entire [Arab] region that is “dynamic and different.”

Location, location, location

Facebook and Twitter have offices in the UAE that are intended to serve the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), a region that is ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse, and presents a wide range of political viewpoints and experiences. When companies are pressured by oppressive governments or other powerful groups to respect “local sensitivities,” they are being complicit in shutting down expression of such diversity.

“Platforms seem to take direction from louder, more powerful voices…In the Middle East, [they] have not been able to stand up to powerful interests like governments,” Anderson said.

Take, for example, Facebook’s willingness to comply with the Turkish government’s censorship demands. Throughout the years, the company was involved in censoring criticism of the government, religion and the republic’s founder Ataturk, Kurdish activists, LGBT content and even an anti-racism initiative.

Facebook’s complicity with these requests appears to be deeply ingrained. I spoke to a Turkish activist two years ago who told me that he believed the platform “was turning into a pro-government media.” Today, the platform continues to comply, restricting access to more than 4,500 pieces of content inside the country in 2017 alone. Facebook is not transparent about the number and rates of requests it complies with.

“The biggest shortcoming in [the] ways platforms deal with takedown requests is [their] lack of understanding of the political contexts. And even if there is some kind of idea of what is happening on the ground, I am not entirely sure, there is always due diligence involved,” Arzu Geybulla, a freelance writer who covers Turkey and Azerbaijan for Global Voices said.

In conference settings, representatives from Facebook are routinely faced with questions about massive flagging campaigns. They maintain that multiple abuse reports on a single post or page do not automate the process of the post or page being removed. But they offer little concrete information about how the company does see and respond to these situations. Does the company review the content more closely? Facebook representatives also say that they consult with local experts on these issues, but the specifics of these consultations are similarly opaque.

And the work of moderating content — deciding what meets local legal standards and Facebook’s own policies — is not easy. Anderson from onlinecensorship.org said: 

Content moderation is incredibly labor intensive. As the largest platforms continue to grow, these companies are attempting to moderate a staggering volume of content. Workers (who may not have adequate knowledge and training, and may not be well paid) have to make snap decisions about nuanced and culturally-specific content, leading to frequent mistakes and inconsistencies.

For activists and human rights advocates in the region, it is also difficult to know the scope of this problem due to lack of corporate transparency. Cases like that of iTunes may be occurring more often than is publicly known — it is only when someone speaks out about being censored that these practices come to light.

 

by Afef Abrougui at August 03, 2018 07:38 PM

August 02, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Officials blame WhatsApp for spike in mob killings, but Indians say vicious party politics are at fault

Mobile phone kiosk in Bangalore, India. Photo by Victor Grigas, retouched by Wikimedia Foundation. CC BY-SA 3.0

After a spate of more than 20 mob lynchings driven by rumors spread on social media, the Indian government on July 20 threatened to punish WhatsApp for its inability to control fake news.

India's Ministry of Information and Technology issued an official statement describing WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, as an “abettor” in these crimes.

Information and Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad chided WhatsApp and told a news daily: “They cannot evade responsibly and accountability for the messages, particularly those which are leading to killings.”

This may be a first step towards the Indian government taking legal action against the Silicon Valley company. But would legal action against Facebook actually help put an end to the killings?

Many Indians say that party politics and political manipulation, when combined with a technology like WhatsApp, are the real source of the problem. Sufyan Sadiq summarized the dynamics on Facebook:

WhatsApp is a big black hole of fake news in India that's used by the mischief mongering right-wing groups more often associated with BJP that ends up in someone's killing carried out by a lynch mob. This app is still evolving as a principal KillerApp in India…

Thus far, WhatsApp has responded to criticism by purchasing full-page advertisements in Indian newspapers offering readers ways to spot fake news. The platform has also placed new limits on forwarding of messages and introduced a label for messages that are forwarded, in an apparent effort to signal to users that a message may not have been written by its sender.

Some Indians appreciated the forwarding measure, while others think WhatsApp could do much more. But many are asking why the government hasn't taken more responsibility for the lynchings, which represent a serious threat to public safety.

India's WhatsApp lynch mob crisis

Lynch mobs formed on social media have claimed the lives of at least 34 people in India since 2014. Here are cases documented thus far in July 2018:

July 1: A spate of doctored videos spread on WhatsApp led to the mob lynching of five men in Maharashtra state, who were wrongly targeted for being kidnappers. The lynch mob subsequently threatened to set fire to police officers in an effort to confirm the victims’ deaths.

July 2: Four men were attacked in Maharashtra's Malegaon district as rumors spread about a child abducting nexus. A timely intervention from officials saved their lives.

July 8: Nilotpal Das and Abhijeet Nath were lynched by a mob in Northeast India's Assam on June 8, 2018, over viral rumors spread via Facebook, WhatsApp and eventually word-of-the-mouth.

July 13: A mob of 200 attacked five friends, wrongly believing they were child kidnappers, in the southern state of Karnataka. The mob killed Mohammad Azam, a UK-educated IT professional and seriously injured two others. The mob also attacked police officials who sought to intervene.

July 21: Rakbar Khan, who was wrongly suspected of illegally transporting cows, was killed by a mob in Rajasthan that beat him with sticks.

July 25: Four men were assaulted by a mob in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh for ferrying a bovine carcass. Police intervention spared their lives.

It is difficult to determine precisely how many people have been victims of mob violence. A Wikipedia chronicle of WhatsApp-related mob violence produces 56 results on this page. Independent data journalism website IndiaSpend claims that there have been 89 incidents of lynching since 2014, affecting 290 victims and killing 34. Minority Muslims, who account for 14 percent of India's population, have been the victims of 56 percent of these crimes.

What led to this public safety crisis? It's more than just WhatsApp.

The rise of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India in 2014, which practices a unique brand of hard-line Hindu nationalism, has coincided with an increase in Islamophobia and a series of proposed (and some enacted) laws banning or limiting the consumption of beef, as the cow is a sacred animal in Hindu tradition.

Rajasthan and New Delhi have seen the murders of 50-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq who was killed for procuring beef, followed by Umar Mohammad, Rakbar Khan and dairy owner Pehlu Khan, all documented by Global Voices. Some of these incidents have been committed despite the victims possessing permits.

Like those mentioned earlier, these murders appear to have been sparked by online misinformation campaigns that often carry a strong Islamophobic bent. These appear to come from various sources, including state-sanctioned IT cells.

Dhruv Rathee, a vlogger from India, interviewed a former IT cell member for the right-wing BJP on how multiple pages on Facebook and numerous WhatsApp groups have spread fake news and misinformation campaigns to gain electoral leverage:

Writing for The Tribune of India, Aditi Tandon called mob lynching a “political tool” and said that law enforcement has become “part and parcel” of the attacks:

The violence we have seen over the past four years follows a trend. Mob lynching is a political tool being used to polarise society. Law enforcement has also become part and parcel of the attacks. Police officers who act fairly are transferred. The idea is to create a fear psychosis by unleashing the mobs on a certain community.

There are ongoing efforts to push back against these campaigns by de-bunking videos that have been falsely labeled or doctored. For years, fact-checking websites such as AltNews, SMHoaxSlayer, and BOOM have been verifying fake news to create awareness. BOOM found that one of the videos that triggered lynching of five men in Maharashtra's Dhule region was from Syria — a video of children who died of a nerve gas attack five years ago was being used to spread paranoia amongst the masses. While their efforts are critical, the scale of the problem well outweighs their capacity.

Many Indians say that the government and law enforcement agencies must take greater responsibility for the crisis, but this may be difficult to engineer, with the BJP in power.

In an opinion piece for Bloomberg, business writer Mihir Sharma points out that lynch mobs in India are not new — while WhatsApp has contributed to the problem, he says, it is not the source. He points instead to a lack of policing and political will:

It’s particularly odd that the government is demanding “accountability and responsibility” from a phone app when some ruling party politicians are busy spreading divisive fake news. How can the government ask WhatsApp to control mobs when those convicted of lynching Muslims have been greeted, garlanded and fed sweets by some of the most progressive and cosmopolitan members of Modi’s council of ministers?

The Supreme Court weighs in

One government branch that has spoken out on the issue is India's Supreme Court, which recently recommended the government enact new laws to prevent lynching and mob violence. The SC bench headed by justice Dipak Mishra asked the Indian parliament to deal with lynching as a special and separate offense and “a recurrent pattern of violence which cannot be allowed to become the new normal.” He said:

A special law in this field would instill a sense of fear of law amongst the people who involve themselves in such kinds of activities. There can be no trace of doubt that fear of law and veneration for the command of law constitute the foundation of a civilized society.

Following this, the Indian government on July 23 2018, has set up two panels to understand the need for a new law to prevent lynching.

The report will be submitted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who leads the very government that has fostered this culture of intolerance.

While Mark Zuckerberg and other technology platform founders should experiment with new ways to curb fake news and rumor-mongering on their platforms, the Indian government needs to do much more to protect public safety for all Indians. Ensuring mob justice is punished and the rule of law is enforced will save the lives of many minority communities including Muslims, Dalits, and minority tribal groups.

by Vishal Manve at August 02, 2018 02:01 PM

August 01, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Russian journalists killed in Central African Republic

Orkhan Dzhemal, 51, a veteran war reporter from Russia, killed on July 31, 2018, in Central African Republic // Screenshot from Echo of Moscow, YouTube

Three Russian journalists were killed on the night of July 30 in Central African Republic, at a checkpoint outside the country’s capital Bangui.

Veteran reporter Orkhan Dzhemal, award-winning filmmaker Aleksandr Rastorguev and cameraman Kirill Radchenko were shot and killed by unidentified assailants who emerged from the bushes at roadside when they arrived.

The attack took place amid an on-going conflict between the country’s government and various rebel groups.

Their deaths were confirmed by the Investigations Control Center (TsUR, Tsentr Upravleniya Rassledovaniyami), an investigative reporting outlet funded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil magnate currently living in exile in London.

According The Moscow Times, Russia has supplied arms and deployed training teams to aid CAR government security forces.

According to TsUR, on whose assignment Dzhemal, Rastorguev and Radchenko went to CAR, the journalists were pursuing a news tip about a group of armed Russian mercenaries sighted in the African country.

This armed group's existence has never been officially acknowledged, although numerous journalistic investigations pinpointed the so-called ‘Wagner Group’ in hotspots such as Syria and Eastern Ukraine. Although he is consistently denying the allegations, the ‘Wagner Group’ is widely believed to be funded by Evgeny Prigozhin, a powerful businessman with strong ties to Vladimir Putin, sanctioned by the U.S. for his alleged — and, again, never acknowledged — involvement in the 2016 presidential elections.

Dzhemal, Rastorguev and Radchenko were highly respected media professionals, recognized by the industry. Orkhan Dzhemal was a renowned war reporter, his career stretching back to the early years of Russia’s independent press. Alexander Rastorguev was praised for his vivid chronicle of Russia’s failed anti-Putin opposition surge in his 2013 documentary “The Term” (Srok.) Kirill Radchenko worked as a TV reporter in war zones such as Syria.

by RuNet Echo at August 01, 2018 01:40 PM

July 28, 2018

Joi Ito
Resisting Reduction: A Manifesto

Designing our Complex Future with Machines

While I had long been planning to write a manifesto against the technological singularity and launch it into the conversational sphere for public reaction and comment, an invitation earlier this year from John Brockman to read and discuss The Human Use of Human Beings by Norbert Wiener with him and his illustrious group of thinkers as part of an ongoing collaborative book project contributed to the thoughts contained herein.

The essay below is now phase 1 of an experimental, open publishing project in partnership with the MIT Press. In phase 2, a new version of the essay enriched and informed by input from open commentary will be published online, along with essay length contributions by others inspired by the seed essay, as a new issue of the Journal of Design and Science. In phase 3, a revised and edited selection of these contributions will be published as a print book by the MIT Press.

Version 1.0

Cross-posted from version on PubPub where there are interesting comments and feedback. Please link to and comment there.


Nature's ecosystem provides us with an elegant example of a complex adaptive system where myriad "currencies" interact and respond to feedback systems that enable both flourishing and regulation. This collaborative model-rather than a model of exponential financial growth or the Singularity, which promises the transcendence of our current human condition through advances in technology--should provide the paradigm for our approach to artificial intelligence. More than 60 years ago, MIT mathematician and philosopher Norbert Wiener warned us that "when human atoms are knit into an organization in which they are used, not in their full right as responsible human beings, but as cogs and levers and rods, it matters little that their raw material is flesh and blood." We should heed Wiener's warning.

INTRODUCTION: THE CANCER OF CURRENCY

As the sun beats down on Earth, photosynthesis converts water, carbon dioxide and the sun's energy into oxygen and glucose. Photosynthesis is one of the many chemical and biological processes that transforms one form of matter and energy into another. These molecules then get metabolized by other biological and chemical processes into yet other molecules. Scientists often call these molecules "currencies" because they represent a form of power that is transferred between cells or processes to mutual benefit--"traded," in effect. The biggest difference between these and financial currencies is that there is no "master currency" or "currency exchange." Rather, each currency can only be used by certain processes, and the "market" of these currencies drives the dynamics that are "life."

As certain currencies became abundant as an output of a successful process or organism, other organisms evolved to take that output and convert it into something else. Over billions of years, this is how the Earth's ecosystem has evolved, creating vast systems of metabolic pathways and forming highly complex self-regulating systems that, for example, stabilize our body temperatures or the temperature of the Earth, despite continuous fluctuations and changes among the individual elements at every scale--from micro to macro. The output of one process becomes the input of another. Ultimately, everything interconnects.

We live in a civilization in which the primary currencies are money and power--where more often than not, the goal is to accumulate both at the expense of society at large. This is a very simple and fragile system compared to the Earth's ecosystems, where myriads of "currencies" are exchanged among processes to create hugely complex systems of inputs and outputs with feedback systems that adapt and regulate stocks, flows, and connections.

Unfortunately, our current human civilization does not have the built-in resilience of our environment, and the paradigms that set our goals and drive the evolution of society today have set us on a dangerous course which the mathematician Norbert Wiener warned us about decades ago. The paradigm of a single master currency has driven many corporations and institutions to lose sight of their original missions. Values and complexity are focused more and more on prioritizing exponential financial growth, led by for-profit corporate entities that have gained autonomy, rights, power, and nearly unregulated societal influence. The behavior of these entities are akin to cancers. Healthy cells regulate their growth and respond to their surroundings, even eliminating themselves if they wander into an organ where they don't belong. Cancerous cells, on the other hand, optimize for unconstrained growth and spread with disregard to their function or context.

THE WHIP THAT LASHES US

The idea that we exist for the sake of progress, and that progress requires unconstrained and exponential growth, is the whip that lashes us. Modern companies are the natural product of this paradigm in a free-market capitalist system. Norbert Wiener called corporations "machines of flesh and blood" and automation "machines of metal." The new species of Silicon Valley mega companies--the machines of bits--are developed and run in great part by people who believe in a new religion, Singularity. This new religion is not a fundamental change in the paradigm, but rather the natural evolution of the worship of exponential growth applied to modern computation and science. The asymptote of the exponential growth of computational power is artificial intelligence.

The notion of Singularity--that AI will supercede humans with its exponential growth, and that everything we have done until now and are currently doing is insignificant--is a religion created by people who have the experience of using computation to solve problems heretofore considered impossibly complex for machines. They have found a perfect partner in digital computation--a knowable, controllable, system of thinking and creating that is rapidly increasing in its ability to harness and process complexity, bestowing wealth and power on those who have mastered it. In Silicon Valley, the combination of groupthink and the financial success of this cult of technology has created a positive feedback system that has very little capacity for regulating through negative feedback. While they would resist having their beliefs compared to a religion and would argue that their ideas are science- and evidence-based, those who embrace Singularity engage in quite a bit of arm waving and make leaps of faith based more on trajectories than ground-truths to achieve their ultimate vision.

Singularitarians believe that the world is "knowable" and computationally simulatable, and that computers will be able to process the messiness of the real world just like they have every other problem that everyone said couldn't be solved by computers. To them, this wonderful tool, the computer, has worked so well for everything so far that it must continue to work for every challenge we throw at it, until we have transcended known limitations and ultimately achieve some sort of reality escape velocity. Artificial intelligence is already displacing humans in driving cars, diagnosing cancers, and researching court documents. The idea is that AI will continue this progress and eventually merge with human brains and become an all-seeing, all-powerful, super-intelligence. For true believers, computers will augment and extend our thoughts into a kind of "amortality." (Part of Singularity is a fight for "amortality," the idea that while one may still die and not be immortal, the death is not the result of the grim reaper of aging.)

But if corporations are a precursor to our transcendance, the Singularitarian view that with more computing and bio-hacking we will somehow solve all of the world's problems or that the Singularity will solve us seems hopelessly naive. As we dream of the day when we have enhanced brains and amortality and can think big, long thoughts, corporations already have a kind of "amortality." They persist as long as they are solvent and they are more than a sum of their parts--arguably an amortal super-intelligence.

More computation does not makes us more "intelligent," only more computationally powerful.

For Singularity to have a positive outcome requires a belief that, given enough power, the system will somehow figure out how to regulate itself. The final outcome would be so complex that while we humans couldn't understand it now, "it" would understand and "solve" itself. Some believe in something that looks a bit like the former Soviet Union's master planning but with full information and unlimited power. Others have a more sophisticated view of a distributed system, but at some level, all Singularitarians believe that with enough power and control, the world is "tamable." Not all who believe in Singularity worship it as a positive transcendence bringing immortality and abundance, but they do believe that a judgment day is coming when all curves go vertical.

Whether you are on an S-curve or a bell curve, the beginning of the slope looks a lot like an exponential curve. An exponential curve to systems dynamics people shows self-reinforcement, i.e., a positive feedback curve without limits. Maybe this is what excites Singularitarians and scares systems people. Most people outside the singularity bubble believe in S-curves, namely that nature adapts and self-regulates and that even pandemics will run their course. Pandemics may cause an extinction event, but growth will slow and things will adapt. They may not be in the same state, and a phase change could occur, but the notion of Singularity--especially as some sort of savior or judgment day that will allow us to transcend the messy, mortal suffering of our human existence--is fundamentally a flawed one.

This sort of reductionist thinking isn't new. When BF Skinner discovered the principle of reinforcement and was able to describe it, we designed education around his theories. Learning scientists know now that behaviorist approaches only work for a narrow range of learning, but many schools continue to rely on drill and practice. Take, as another example, the eugenics movement, which greatly and incorrectly over-simplified the role of genetics in society. This movement helped fuel the Nazi genocide by providing a reductionist scientific view that we could "fix humanity" by manually pushing natural selection. The echoes of the horrors of eugenics exist today, making almost any research trying to link genetics with things like intelligence taboo.

We should learn from our history of applying over-reductionist science to society and try to, as Wiener says, "cease to kiss the whip that lashes us." While it is one of the key drivers of science--to elegantly explain the complex and reduce confusion to understanding--we must also remember what Albert Einstein said, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."1 We need to embrace the unknowability--the irreducibility--of the real world that artists, biologists and those who work in the messy world of liberal arts and humanities are familiar with.

WE ARE ALL PARTICIPANTS

The Cold War era, when Wiener was writing The Human Use of Human Beings, was a time defined by the rapid expansion of capitalism and consumerism, the beginning of the space race, and the coming of age of computation. It was a time when it was easier to believe that systems could be controlled from the outside, and that many of the world's problems would be solved through science and engineering.

The cybernetics that Wiener primarily described during that period were concerned with feedback systems that can be controlled or regulated from an objective perspective. This so-called first-order cybernetics assumed that the scientist as the observer can understand what is going on, therefore enabling the engineer to design systems based on observation or insight from the scientist.

Today, it is much more obvious that most of our problems--climate change, poverty, obesity and chronic disease, or modern terrorism--cannot be solved simply with more resources and greater control. That is because they are the result of complex adaptive systems that are often the result of the tools used to solve problems in the past, such as endlessly increasing productivity and attempts to control things. This is where second-order cybernetics comes into play--the cybernetics of self-adaptive complex systems, where the observer is also part of the system itself. As Kevin Slavin says in Design as Participation, "You're Not Stuck In Traffic--You Are Traffic."3

In order to effectively respond to the significant scientific challenges of our times, I believe we must view the world as many interconnected, complex, self-adaptive systems across scales and dimensions that are unknowable and largely inseparable from the observer and the designer. In other words, we are participants in multiple evolutionary systems with different fitness landscapes4 at different scales, from our microbes to our individual identities to society and our species. Individuals themselves are systems composed of systems of systems, such as the cells in our bodies that behave more like system-level designers than we do.

While Wiener does discuss biological evolution and the evolution of language, he doesn't explore the idea of harnessing evolutionary dynamics for science. Biological evolution of individual species (genetic evolution) has been driven by reproduction and survival, instilling in us goals and yearnings to procreate and grow. That system continually evolves to regulate growth, increase diversity and complexity, and enhance its own resilience, adaptability, and sustainability.5 As designers with growing awareness of these broader systems, we have goals and methodologies defined by the evolutionary and environmental inputs from our biological and societal contexts. But machines with emergent intelligence have discernibly different goals and methodologies. As we introduce machines into the system, they will not only augment individual humans, but they will also--and more importantly--augment complex systems as a whole.

Here is where the problematic formulation of "artificial intelligence" becomes evident, as it suggests forms, goals and methods that stand outside of interaction with other complex adaptive systems. Instead of thinking about machine intelligence in terms of humans vs. machines, we should consider the system that integrates humans and machines--not artificial intelligence, but extended intelligence. Instead of trying to control or design or even understand systems, it is more important to design systems that participate as responsible, aware and robust elements of even more complex systems. And we must question and adapt our own purpose and sensibilities as designers and components of the system for a much more humble approach: Humility over Control.

We could call it "participant design"--design of systems as and by participants--that is more akin to the increase of a flourishing function, where flourishing is a measure of vigor and health rather than scale or power. We can measure the ability for systems to adapt creatively, as well as their resilience and their ability to use resources in an interesting way.

Better interventions are less about solving or optimizing and more about developing a sensibility appropriate to the environment and the time. In this way they are more like music than an algorithm. Music is about a sensibility or "taste" with many elements coming together into a kind of emergent order. Instrumentation can nudge or cause the system to adapt or move in an unpredictable and unprogrammed manner, while still making sense and holding together. Using music itself as an intervention is not a new idea; in 1707, Andrew Fletcher, a Scottish writer and politician, said, "Let me make the songs of a nation, I care not who makes its laws."

If writing songs instead of laws feels frivolous, remember that songs typically last longer than laws, have played key roles in various hard and soft revolutions and end up being transmitted person-to-person along with the values they carry. It's not about music or code. It's about trying to affect change by operating at the level songs do. This is articulated by Donella Meadows, among others, in her book Thinking in Systems.

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Meadows, in her essay Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System, describes how we can intervene in a complex, self-adaptive system. For her, interventions that involve changing parameters or even changing the rules are not nearly as powerful or as fundamental as changes in a system's goals and paradigms.

When Wiener discussed our worship of progress, he said:

Those who uphold the idea of progress as an ethical principle regard this unlimited and quasi-spontaneous process of change as a Good Thing, and as the basis on which they guarantee to future generations a Heaven on Earth. It is possible to believe in progress as a fact without believing in progress as an ethical principle; but in the catechism of many Americans, the one goes with the other.6

Instead of discussing "sustainability" as something to be "solved" in the context of a world where bigger is still better and more than enough is NOT too much, perhaps we should examine the values and the currencies of the fitness functions7 and consider whether they are suitable and appropriate for the systems in which we participate.

CONCLUSION: A CULTURE OF FLOURISHING

Developing a sensibility and a culture of flourishing, and embracing a diverse array of measures of "success" depend less on the accumulation of power and resources and more on diversity and the richness of experience. This is the paradigm shift that we need. This will provide us with a wealth of technological and cultural patterns to draw from to create a highly adaptable society. This diversity also allows the elements of the system to feed each other without the exploitation and extraction ethos created by a monoculture with a single currency. It is likely that this new culture will spread as music, fashion, spirituality or other forms of art.

As a native Japanese, I am heartened by a group of junior high school students I spoke to there recently who, when I challenged them about what they thought we should do about the environment, asked questions about the meaning of happiness and the role of humans in nature. I am likewise heartened to see many of my students at the MIT Media Lab and in the Principles of Awareness class that I co-teach with the Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi using a variety of metrics (currencies) to measure their success and meaning and grappling directly with the complexity of finding one's place in our complex world.

This is brilliant, sophisticated, timely. Question, what do you want to do with this manifesto? Socio-economic political cultural movement? To begin with, who do you want to read this? In what spaces?I know people who are working on this on the political side. I am interested in the arts and sciences ie buildable memory cultural side.

Don't know if people would agree with my conclusions here, but I've been working on developing my music in relation to housing issues around the Bay Area recently.I believe that it's important for us to develop a sensibility for diversity not just as an abstract exercise, but in ways that reflect our day to day lives. We're in need of new visions of how we plan to co-exist with one another, and I do think that artists have the ability to pave the way here in very real ways.

I'm also heartened by organizations such as the IEEE, which is initiating design guidelines for the development of artificial intelligence around human wellbeing instead of around economic impact. The work by Peter Seligman, Christopher Filardi, and Margarita Mora from Conservation International is creative and exciting because it approaches conservation by supporting the flourishing of indigenous people--not undermining it. Another heartening example is that of the Shinto priests at Ise Shrine, who have been planting and rebuilding the shrine every twenty years for the last 1300 years in celebration of the renewal and the cyclical quality of nature.

In the 1960s and 70s, the hippie movement tried to pull together a "whole earth" movement, but then the world swung back toward the consumer and consumption culture of today. I hope and believe that a new awakening will happen and that a new sensibility will cause a nonlinear change in our behavior through a cultural transformation. While we can and should continue to work at every layer of the system to create a more resilient world, I believe the cultural layer is the layer with the most potential for a fundamental correction away from the self-destructive path that we are currently on. I think that it will yet again be about the music and the arts of the young people reflecting and amplifying a new sensibility: a turn away from greed to a world where "more than enough is too much," and we can flourish in harmony with Nature rather than through the control of it.



1. An asymptote is a line that continually approaches a given curve but does not meet it at any finite distance. In singularity, this is the vertical line that occurs when the exponential growth curve a vertical line. There are more arguments about where this asymptote is among believers than about whether it is actually coming.

2. This is a common paraphrase. What Einstein actually said was, "It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience."

3. Western philosophy and science is "dualistic" as opposed to the more "Eastern" non-dualistic approach. A whole essay could be written about this but the idea of a subject/object or a designer/designee is partially linked to the notion of self in Western philosophy and religion.

4. Fitness landscapes arise when you assign a fitness value for every genotype. The genotypes are arranged in a high dimensional sequence space. The fitness landscape is a function on that sequence space. In evolutionary dynamics, a biological population moves over a fitness landscape driven by mutation, selection and random drift. (Nowak, M. A. Evolutionary Dynamics: Exploring the Equations of Life. Harvard University Press, 2006.)

5. Nowak, M. A. Evolutionary Dynamics: Exploring the Equations of Life. Harvard University Press, 2006.

6. Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings (1954 edition), p.42.

7. A fitness function is a function that is used to summarize, as a measure of merit, how close a solution is to a particular aim. It is used to describe and design evolutionary systems.

by Joichi Ito at July 28, 2018 01:52 PM

July 27, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Russia and Sudan join the ranks of countries looking to outlaw ‘fake news’

Fake newsstand. Image by freie-presse.net via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

While media and technology experts in the west have thrown themselves into the fraught and potentially impossible task of figuring out how to identify and reduce the impact of so-called “fake news”, governments around the world are also taking measures against the scourge.

But what counts as “fake”? It depends on who you ask.

On the heels of recent legislation in Malaysia, Philippines, Brazil and France, the latest draft laws on “fake news” come from Sudan and Russia.

Our partners at SMEX reported earlier this week on Sudan’s newly approved Law on Combating Cybercrimes, which would impose steep fines and/or up to one year in prison for “anyone who uses the internet, or any means of communications, information or applications to disseminate any news, rumor or report, knowing it is fake, to cause public fear or panic, threaten public safety and offence the reputation of the State.”

The government says they also want to regulate online publishing. Dr. Sami Abdelhalim Saeed, a specialist in legal reforms in Sudan who spoke with SMEX, emphasized that even with relatively low internet access levels in Sudan, “social media plays a major role in criticizing government policies, and online platforms allow the journalists to publish articles banned by security services in newspapers.”

Meanwhile, the State Duma in Russia — a country that has distinguished itself in many regions as a industrial-strength creator of fake news — is considering a bill that would outlaw inaccurate posts on social media platforms and any website with more than 100,000 daily visitors.

The law would require websites to take down factually inaccurate posts within 24 hours of them being notified of their existence, or face fines of up to 50 million rubles, about USD $800,000.

This would put the onus on websites and social media companies to determine what is inaccurate. Given the stakes, it is highly likely that companies and websites would err on the side of caution and censor all material that might fall afoul of the law, in an effort to avoid fines.

The proposed law is only in the lower house of parliament at the moment. But if it were to pass, it would give the Russian government an even stronger hand in decided what counts as “fake news”.

Israel backs off cyber bill — but this won’t change much for Palestinians

Last week, the Netizen Report focused on a bill before legislators in Israel, that would have required social media platforms to remove “terror inciting’’ content from the internet. The bill was unexpectedly blocked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who told media that the law could “damage freedom of speech,” and that he blocked its passage “in order to ensure the right of the citizens of Israel to freely express criticism on the internet.” Although originally proposed in an effort to force Facebook and other social media platforms to remove content that Israel deems “incitement”, the bill later was expanded to apply to all websites.

Palestinians already face a disproportionate amount of censorship and legal threats in response to online criticism of Israel and online advocacy for basic human rights protections. Palestinian free speech and human rights advocates expected this law to make things even worse for their communities, but do not expect its failure to generate any positive change.

As students protest, state orders a five-day internet shutdown in Manipur, India

The government in the state of Manipur, India suspended internet services from July 20-25, in what it described as an effort to curb the spread of “provocative” messages on social media. Local experts say that the suspension was triggered by rising tensions between police and student protesters led by the Manipur University Student’s Union. The New Delhi-based Software Freedom Law Centre’s internet shutdown tracker has confirmed 92 regional internet shutdowns thus far in 2018.

Indian student jailed over a WhatsApp message sent by another user

A university student in Madhya Pradesh, India has been in pre-trial detention for five months, for being the administrator of a WhatsApp group where an “objectionable” message, sent by another user, was reported to police. The student, Junaid Khan, has been charged with sedition, and with violating India’s IT Act. His family says he was not the administrator of the group at the time the message was sent, and that he had been given this status as a default — not by his own choosing.

Fake news-peddling ‘Macedonian teenagers’ were actually adults linked to US politicians

A joint investigation by the global journalists’ network Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and BuzzFeed News revealed that the first among the infamous networks of disinformation websites from the Macedonian city of Veles were not started by “Macedonian teenagers,” as was widely reported surrounding US elections in 2016, but by several adults connected to right-wing politicians in the US. They’ve also inspired some teen copycats, who later claimed no political affiliation.

Without establishing a direct link to the Veles phenomenon, the investigative reporters also discovered that a Russian operative who specialized in running “troll factories” had a working visit to Macedonia in 2015, at the height of its political crisis, during which Macedonia’s Russia-supported right-wing populist government was grappling with deep popular discontent over corruption.

Indonesia blocks Tik Tok for porn and other ‘inappropriate content’

On July 3, the Indonesia communications ministry blocked the Chinese video-making and sharing app Tik Tok – globally the most downloaded app in the first quarter of the year – while promising to unblock it once it removed all pornography, blasphemy and other inappropriate content. A week later, it had unblocked the app after it said the app agreed to censor content. In the lead up to Indonesia’s national children’s day, the app encouraged users to create educational videos for kids.

Turkey blocks Blogspot, briefly

The internet censorship analysis group Turkey Blocks confirmed numerous user reports that the Google-owned blogging platform Blogspot — a leading platform in Turkey — was blocked by major internet service providers in Turkey on July 24, leaving millions of blogs inaccessible for subscribers. Access to the platform was restored as of July 25. Turkey’s ICT authority, which oversees internet blocking orders, provided no public information on the matter.

News site censors articles implicating Philippine Senate President in rape cover-up

Philippines new site Inquirer.net has removed multiple articles from its site that reported on Philippine Senate President Vicente Sotto’s alleged attempt to cover up accusations of rape of a local actress in the 1980s. In response, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines issued a statement, saying: “…this humiliating self-censorship  betrays not only the spirit in which the Inquirer was founded, it  betrays a profession whose practitioners have fended and continue to fight off all attempts to muzzle it.”

Threats against free speech continue under Malaysia’s new government

This statement by CIJ highlights the continuing threats against free speech even after the victory of the opposition last May. The statement cites the sedition case filed against a lawyer-activist who blogged about the relationship of the monarchy and the political elite in Malaysia.

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by Netizen Report Team at July 27, 2018 03:04 PM

July 25, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Attack by municipal guards signals rising threats against journalists in Ukraine

A member of the Municipal Guard attacks a journalist with teargas. Photo by Tomikage via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The year 2018 has thus far been a difficult one for journalists in Ukraine.

On June 4, 2018, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir issued a public statement condemning Ukraine's Spokesperson of the General Prosecutor, who had published a list of “traitors” against the state, which included two independent journalists. Désir called the move “unacceptable and dangerous” and urged authorities to intervene ensure that all state authorities uphold protections for media freedom.

A recent incident in which journalists were assaulted by city Municipal Guard workers suggests that the problem of state authorities and contractors seeking to stifle media activity may be widespread. In the city of Odessa, a dispute arose between a local law firm and several members of the Municipal Guard, a team of security workers who operate independent of law enforcement institutions, at the order of Odessa's city administration.

Three journalists came to the site of the dispute on July 13, where 40 municipal guard workers had come to remove several iron parking posts, at the city's behest. Conflict arose between the municipal guard workers and the law firm staff, who said that the parking posts belonged to their company.

Municipal Guard workers openly attacked the journalists with teargas and rubber clubs. The video below shows some of what happened next. The editor-in-chief of Unsolved Crimes newspaper was attacked by the municipal guard while filming. Vitaly Tkachenko, of Obshestvennyi Priboi newspaper, was hit in the chest and face several times by municipal guard employees.

Municipal Guard worker Grazevich Alexander shouts at the camera:

F*ck off from here, why are you filming me?! I will break your camera now and your face too!

Denis Razdorozhny, the inspector of the security department of the Municipal Guard, tells the journalists:

The boys were instructed to do everything by blood or in a normal way!

Journalist Miroslav Bekchiv, of Obshestvennyi Priboi newspaper, was forced into a car and eventually brought to the police station. While in the car, he was beaten and threatened by Yuri Savchenko, the first deputy head of the Municipal Guard of Odessa City Council, and Evgenyi Miroshnichenko, the deputy head of the Municipal Guard.

In the video, Yuri Savchenko can be heard saying:

Get the motherfucker into the car.

Evgenyi Miroshnichenko then says:

Listen you, fucking shit! I'm not going to take you to the police station, but will sort things out in a different manner! I'll take you to another place from which nobody comes back!

Bekchiv was later taken to a hospital, where doctors said that he had sustained traumatic brain injuries, signs of suffocation and eye burns.

On July 18, 2016 the Primorsky Court of Odessa placed two employees of the Municipal Guard, Oleinik Pavel and Gratsevich Alexander, under provisional house arrest. Both of them were informed before by the prosecutor’s office that they will likely be charged for under laws against “unlawful acts committed by officials by prior conspiracy” and “threat of murder, violence or destruction or damage to the property of a journalist”, both of which fall under Ukraine's penal code.

Though disturbing for Odessa residents, the incident did not come as a surprise — this not the first time the Municipal Guard has taken such measures.

While the Municipal Guard is licensed to perform security guard activities and is financed by Odessa's taxpayers, it has no relation to law enforcement bodies of Ukraine. According to the law, it has no other rights, except to provide security. It has no right to dismantle property. But in this case, city officials deployed the Municipal Guard to do just that.

The story shed additional light on the worsening state of security for journalists in Ukraine. According to data from the National Union of Journalists in Ukraine, not a single prosecution resulted from the 90 attacks on journalists that took place in 2017. As the community waits to learn the fate of Miroslav Bekchiv, who remains in serious condition, questions of how to protect media workers in the face of heightened threats are looming large.

by Kanykei Tursunbaeva at July 25, 2018 09:40 PM

Ghanaians challenge their government over a telco monitoring program, claiming privacy violations

A computer lab at the University of Ghana. Photo by SandisterTei (Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0).

Ghanaian citizens and political advocates took their government to court over plans to implement a so-called “Common Platform”, a technical system that would allow regulators to monitor revenues accrued by telecommunication companies operating in the country.

Challengers say the system will monitor more than just revenues, warning that it will allow for easy government snooping on calls and messages.

Officials say they want to implement the system in order to monitor telecommunication companies in Ghana and ensure they are paying the right amount of taxes. The platform is owned and operated by a third-party company, Kelni GVG.

In July, two petitioners, Sara Asafu-Adjaye and Maximus Ametorgoh, appealed to the Human Rights Court in the capital, Accra, to hear their case. They argued that the system would infringe upon fundamental rights to privacy. The petitioners work in the technology and design sectors.

They urged the court to “prevent the Ministry of Communications and other defendants from allowing a third party, Kelni GVG, to have access to their private data.”

If and when it is implemented, the Common Platform will be operated by Kelni GVG, under contract with the government.

The company will have the ability to connect with communication systems of telecommunications companies and access their revenue patterns, in what appears to be an effort to increase tax revenues from the telecommunications and internet sector.

When the third party connects its monitoring system node to the network of the telecommunication companies, they have access to both revenue accrued and all the data of subscribers including the content of voice calls and text messages.

In June 2018, the Ghanian Chamber of Telecommunications corroborated the petitioners’ point, explaining that the Common Platform “has the capacity to actively or passively record, monitor or tap into the content of any incoming or outgoing electronic communications traffic such as voice.”

Multiple other groups have spoken out against the plan, including Occupy Ghana and the IMANI Centre for Policy and Education, which raised concerns about the privacy dimensions of the plan, and the business interests of government and corporate actors who will benefit from the Kelni GVG contract. Parliamentarian Ras Mubarak has also threatened to sue the government and telcos if the deal goes through.

Before the High Court, on 10th July 2018, Asafu-Adjaye and Ametorgoh argued that the “intended connection to the Common Platform is in breach of Act 864 and ultimately the applicants’ fundamental human right to privacy of their correspondence and communication, as protected by Article 18 (2) of the 1992 Constitution.”

In support of the argument, Don Derrick responded to Ametorgoh's Facebook post:

This is good. We all need to be concern about privacy. if they want access to revenue, they can get that with an API [Application Programming Interface] but if they want full access to data, communications, financials and logs, that is a very nasty move. I am with you Maximus. Keep up with the Good work.

On Facebook, Gyebiba Ebony raised the question of what constitutes the privacy infringement with the Common Platform and compared this to a breach of privacy by some social media platforms.

In response, Ametorgoh explained that the Common Platform will connect to “all the nodes of the network instead of just the billing system node”:

They can intercept the content of the communication. The system is not supposed to have the capability to intercept or access the content.

[In contrast,] You decide what you post on social media. It’s called “social” media. If you share private content here, that’s up to you. You can’t even share some kinds of images here.

But the Human Rights Court in Accra, Ghana dismissed the petition raised by Asafu-Adjaye and Ametorgoh.

In the ruling, the court indicated that the two Ghanaians did not provide any real evidence to back their claims of privacy breach if the Common Platform should be implemented and that their argument was based merely on public sentiments and debates.

Franklin Cudjoe, a major supporter of Asafu-Adjaye and Ametorgoh's petition and the executive director of IMANI, indicated that the telecommunication companies did acknowledge that the Common Platform, when implemented, has the tendency to breach customer privacy and that the court ignored this evidence in its the ruling.

Emmanuel Kyeremanteng Agyarko, a member of parliament, argued that the tendency of a platform to cause a breach of privacy does not mean it will, by all means, breach privacy.

The Common Platform is likely to be implemented regardless of the final hearing because the court indicated that the State could suffer irreparable damage if an injunction is granted.

The petition submitted by Asafu-Adjaye and Ametorgoh was dismissed as of July 10, 2018. But opposition from civil society and even some legislators can be expected to continue.

by Kofi Yeboah at July 25, 2018 06:03 PM

Social media users are trying to combat harassment in Pakistan — but will state institutions do their part?

“No More Silence.” A demonstration by Eunice McFarling of the US Air Force, as part of the Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month in April, 2016. Photo by Denise M. Nevins, released to public domain.

In most countries around the world, gender-based harassment is an old problem. But in the digital era, with hashtag movements such as #MeToo, and social media platforms where evidence of harassment can go viral, the balance of power between harassers and their targets appears to be shifting.

A recent example comes from Pakistan, where video showing a man following and harassing a group of women went viral on Facebook and Twitter, leading to public condemnation and ultimately to his arrest.

In 2016 in the Kalash Valley, in the Chitral region of northern Pakistan, Aimal Khan began following a group of women and filming them with his phone. He made derogatory comments towards them, and continually asked them to pose for pictures with him, despite their refusal and their threats to report him to police. Khan even claimed that he himself was a police officer.

While it is not clear when the video was made, Khan posted it on YouTube on 19 July 2016. Two years later, a Facebook page named ‘Islamabadians’ uploaded the video on the social networking website and it went viral. People started tagging the police, urging them to arrest the man. On 19 June, 2018 the Chitral Police responded saying they were trying to track his location.

In the meanwhile, another video surfaced where Aimal Khan was seen apologizing for the incident. On 22 June, he was arrested by the Chitral police, who sent women police officers to carry out the arrest. Police also clarified that Khan was not a police officer, as he had previously claimed.

Online, people expressed support for the arrest.

But questions were also raised, specifically in reference to the laws under which Khan was taken into custody.

To the dismay of many, Aimal Khan was released on bail soon after. He is awaiting trial.

Global Voices spoke to the District Police Officer Chitral Mr. Furqan Bilal, who said:

Aimal Khan was released on bail soon after as he was charged under a bailable Section of the Law. In the First Information Report Aimal Khan has been charged under Sections 354 (assaulting a female), 419 (cheating by personation), 294 (engage in obscene act in public places) and 341 (wrongful restraint) of the Pakistan Penal Code instead of Pakistan Electronic Cyber Act. His trial is to be held soon.

Activists are concerned about the laws used in the First Information Report. Although Pakistan's Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act covers harassment of this nature, and could have been brought to bear in Khan's case, the law was not passed until August 2016, after the incident in Chitral had already occurred.

Nighat Dad, a law and technology expert who runs the non-profit Digital Rights Foundation and contributes to Global Voices, explained to Global Voices that the Pakistan Penal Code in itself does not have any provisions for video-linked incidents related to harassment.

Dad also spoke about social media playing a major role in Aimal Khan’s arrest, pointing to the impact of public outcry around the matter and its likely effect on the police response. She noted that the immediate arrest sent “a good message for the masses” but that it would be up to law enforcement and judicial institutions to carry the issue forward and ensure that justice is served.

Such incidents are not new. In July 2017, Meenah Tariq of Lahore went to Hunza Valley in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan for sightseeing. She was harassed by some young men along the way. Since she did not know of a means to lodge a complaint against them, she took their pictures and launched a social media campaign that soon went viral.

In Tariq's case, it appears that state institutions responded in a meaningful way. When Hunza Assistant Commissioner Anas Goraya learned of her experience, he set up a help line in Hunza to deal with such cases.

Tariq shared the outcome of the story on Facebook, where she described how difficult it was to share her story online — and endure the wave of harassment that followed — and the subsequent feeling of vindication she experienced after learning about the help line:

How many times have you been told it is useless to complain? It is useless to speak up, nothing will ever change? Here is proof that this isn’t always the case. Here is proof that we do need to keep speaking up about issues we face, having these conversations, sparking dialogue even when it’s difficult.

Aimal Khan's arrest following public outcry on social media is a good sign. But in this case, the question remains: will justice prevail?

by Advox at July 25, 2018 01:49 PM

July 21, 2018

Joi Ito
My email and task management protocol

November 2010
November 2010, before I "settled down" with a "real job."

The last blog post I wrote was about how little time I have to do email and the difficulty in coping with it. Often when I meet new people, they quickly take a look at my blog and read the top post, which in this case is a whiny post about how busy I am - fine, but not exactly the most exciting place to start a conversation. The fact that I haven't written anything really interesting on this blog since then is a testament to the fact that I haven't solved my "busy problem", but I thought I'd give you an update on the somewhat improved state of things.

After the last post, Ray Ozzie pointed out in the comments that I was looking at the problem the wrong way. Instead of trying to allot partial attention to doing email during meetings, he suggested I should instead figure out how to effectively process email where the input and output flows are balanced. I took his feedback to heart and have embarked on trying to make my inbox processing more efficient. In case it is useful for people, here are a few protocols that I've instituted.

While I don't get to inbox zero every day, I get to near inbox zero at least once a week. I feel that I'm mostly on top of things, and if I'm unable to do something or meet someone, it is because I really am unable to do it, rather than just accidentally missing it. This feels much better.

My next step will start after the new year, when I'll start scheduling exercise, learning and "mindfulness pauses" into each day and pushing my bar for saying "yes" to requests much higher to try to make room for this.

So far, I've implemented the following steps, which you, too, might find effective:

NRR

My signature file says, "Tip: Use NRR to mean No Reply Required - thank you!", and I've tried to make it a "thing" for my associates to let each other know when you are sending a message that doesn't need a reply. This cuts down on the "thanks!" or "OK!" type emails.

Sanebox

I use Sanebox which is a service that sorts your email behind the scenes into various folders. Only people who you have written email to in the past or people or domain names that have been "trained" end up in your inbox. You train Sanebox by dragging email into different folders to teach it where they should go or you can program domains, or certain strings in the subject line to send the message to a particular box. I have four folders. "Inbox" which is where the important messages go, "@SaneLater" where email from people I don't know go, "@SaneBulk" where bulk email goes and "@SaneBlackHole" where things go that you never want to see again.

Help

Gmail has a nifty feature that allows you to give access to your inbox to other people. Two people have access to my inbox to help me triage and write replies. They also keep an eye on "@SaneLater" for messages from new people who I should pay attention to. Requests requiring actions or replies that are substantial go to Trello. (More below about Trello.) Information requests, requests that need to be redirected to someone else, or meetings that I can't possibly attend get processed right in my inbox. Email that needs a reply but won't take more than a few minutes ends up getting converted into a ticket in Keeping and assigned to whoever should be involved. (More on Keeping below.)

Slack

We have a Media Lab Slack channel and any interaction that can be settled on Slack, we do on Slack and try not to create email threads.

Trello

Trello is a wonderful tool that allows you to track tasks in groups. It's organized very much like a "Kanban" system and is used by agile software developers and others who need a system of tracking tasks through various steps. Trello lets you forward email to create cards, assign cards to people to work on, and have conversations on each card via email, a mobile app and a desktop app.

I have two "boards" on Trello. One is a "Meetings" board, where each meeting request starts life in the "Incoming" list with a color coded tag for which city the request is for or whether it is a teleconference. I then drag meetings requests from "Incoming" to "Someday Soon" or "Schedule" or "Turn Down."

The cards in "Schedule" are sorted roughly in order of priority, and my team takes cards from the top of the list and starts working on scheduling them in that order. Meetings where we have suggested dates and are awaiting confirmation go to the "Waiting For Confirmation" list, and cards that are confirmed end up in "Confirmed" list. If for some reason a meeting fails to happen, then its card gets moved to "Failed/Reschedule", and when meetings are completed, they end up in "Completed." At least once a week, I go through and archive the cards in the "Completed" list after scanning for any missing follow-up items or things that I need to remember. I also go through "Incoming" and "Someday Soon" lists and make more decisions on whether to schedule or turn down meeting requests. And I try to check the priority ranking of the "Schedule" list.

In addition to the "Meetings" board, I have a "To Do" board.

The To Do boards has a similar "Incoming" list of things that others or I think might be something worth doing. When I've committed to doing something, I move it to the "Committed" list. When something isn't done and instead gets stuck because I need a response from someone, it moves to a "Waiting" list. Once completed, it goes to "Completed" and is later archived after I've given myself sufficient positive feedback for having completed it. I also have "Abandoned" and "Turn Down" and "Delegated" lists on this board.

Keeping

Keeping is a tracker system very similar to what a customer support desk might use. It allows you to convert any email into a "ticket" and you can create an email address that is also the email address for the ticket system. More people have access to my ticket system than my inbox. Once an email becomes a ticket, everyone on the team can see the ticket as a thread, and we can put private notes on the thread for context. Keeping manages the email exchange with the "customer" so that anyone can take care of responding to the inquiry, but the people who are assigned to the email have it show up as "open" in their personal list. When a thread is taken care of, the ticket is "closed" and the thread is archived. Threads that are still not finished stay "open" until someone closes it. If someone replies to a "closed" thread, it is reopened.

Keeping is a Chrome and Gmail plug in and is a bit limited. We recently started using it, and I think I like it, though some of us use a desktop mail client which limits features you can access such as assignment or closing tickets. Keeping also has a bit of a delay to process requests which is annoying when we're triaging quickly. Keeping also can be redundant with Trello, so I'm not positive it's worth it. But for now, we're using it and giving it a chance to settle into our process.

You can book me

I've found that 15-minute office hours are an effective (but tiring) way of having short, intense but often important meetings. I use a service called youcanbook.me. It lets me take a block of time in my calendar and allow people to sign up for 15-minute slots of it via the website, using a form that I design. It automatically puts the meeting in my Google calendar and sends me an email and tracks cancellations and other updates.

Editors

I have a number of people who are good at editing documents ranging from email to essays and letters. I use Google docs and have people who are much better than me copy edit my writing when it is important.

by Joichi Ito at July 21, 2018 03:32 PM

July 19, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Activist Naïm Touré sentenced to prison over Facebook post in Burkina Faso

Screenshot from a video of Naim Traoré explaining his case via Droit libre TV on YouTube

Activist Naïm Touré appeared before the criminal chamber of the High Court of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso on 27 June 2018, where he was convicted on multiple charges related to a Facebook post, including “demoralizing the defense and security forces.” Here is an excerpt of what Touré wrote on Facebook in June 2018:

À toutes les forces de défense: restez là assis seulement bras croisés. Vous risquez fort de tous trépasser ici dans l'exercice de vos fonctions sans que ces politicards que vous protégez nuit et jour ne lèvent le petit doigt pour vous assister en cas de problème comme c'est le cas de votre collègue feu Mdl Yassia (Paix à son Âme). Donc je dis et le répète que le politicien de la majorité actuelle MPP n'a rien rien à foutre de vos putaines de vie.

To all the the defense forces, please make sure you stay put with your arms crossed for a while. otherwise you are likely to be killed while on duty and none of these politicians who you protect day in and and day out will lift a finger to assist you in case of a problem as was the case of your colleague Mdl Yassia, killed in combat (may he rest in peace). So I say it all over again: the politician of the current majority party MPP do not give a damn about your freaking life.

At the end of the proceedings, the public prosecutor called for one year of imprisonment. On 3 July 2018, the final verdict was made public: Touré was sentenced to 2 months in prison without appeal  for “provocation without any ensuing consequences”.

He was arrested and remanded in custody by the national police force on 14 June 2018 for expressing outrage on his Facebook page concerning the fate of a policeman who was injured during an anti-terrorist operation and who, one month later, was still waiting for a medical evacuation.

The Ouagadougou-based website netafrique.net summarized the charges against him as described by one of his attorneys, Prosper Farama:

Il lui est reproché trois infractions : la première, il aurait participé à une opération de démoralisation des forces de défenses et de sécurité (FDS) par une publication sur sa page Facebook. La 2e infraction, c’est d’avoir proposé aux FDS de former un complot contre la sûreté de l’Etat. La 3e ; c’est incitation de troubles à l’ordre public

He is accused of three offenses: first, participating in an attempt to demoralize the defense and security forces (FDS) via a post on his Facebook page; second, making a proposition to the FDS to conspire against State security; third, inciting disorderly conduct.

At the trial, which involved about ten attorneys, Touré pleaded not guilty, according to Armand Kinda on infowakat.net:

Pour l’accusé, son poste en date du 13 juin sur le réseau social facebook n’avait pas pour but de « participer à une entreprise de démoralisation des Forces armées nationales » comme l’estime le procureur du Faso. Selon les explications données par Naïm Touré à la barre, « ce poste a été fait pour informer l’opinion et pour dénoncer l’attitude des autorités (actuelles) qui ont une lenteur administrative », en ce qui concerne le retard constaté dans la procédure d’évacuation du pandore blessé pendant l’opération de démantèlement du réseau de terroristes le 22 mai 2018 à Rayongo où le gendarme François De Salle Ouédraogo y a perdu la vie.

Touré affirmed that the post dated 13 June on Facebook wasn’t meant to represent any participation in an attempt to demoralize the national Armed Forces” as judged by the public prosecutor. Touré explained before the court that “this post was created to inform the public and to denounce the attitude of the (current) authorities, and their slow-reacting administration,” regarding the delayed evacuation procedure of a cop who was injured during an operation to dismantle a terrorist network on 22 May 2018 in Rayongo, where the police officer François De Salle Ouédraogo lost his life.

Human rights activists and many of Touré's contacts on social media have shown support regarding his legal situation. Burkina resident Rodolphe Somd likened what Touré wrote on Facebook to an exchange between colleagues or friends about the situation in their country:

Des zélés en quête de postes de nomination ont induit nos autorités en erreur. Bien au contraire de mettre Naïm en prison, on aurait dû le remercier du fait qu'il desarme consciemment ou inconsciemment toutes entreprises des fds [Forces de sécurité] allant dans ce sens. Bien entendu son poste anticipe voire dejoue tout projet allant dans ce sens en ce qu il éveille un peu plus la vigilence des autorités sur un probable coup de force. Alors libérez ce morpion qui ne constitue aucune menace contre la sureté de l'Etat… Or facebook est un autre cabaret où ce qui s y dit ne devrait pas avoir plus d importance…

A few zealots seeking political appointments have led our authorities astray. Rather than putting Naïm in prison, they should thank him for neutralizing any plotting along those lines on the part of the fds [Security forces], whether he did so consciously or not. It’s clear that his post preempts and may frustrate any such plans given that it has caused the authorities to become somewhat more vigilant regarding a probable coup de force. So just free this little pest who represents no national security threat… Facebook is another world where what is said should not be taken seriously…

For local media examining the content of Touré's post (which was shared 525 times on Facebook), it was difficult to comprehend the accusations made against him.

The Burkina news site Kelgueka says that such accusations ought to be ridiculed since it would take much more than that for the military to rebel:

De telles accusations pour des militaires déjà en rébellion, c’est l’hilarité. Quand aux causes des révoltes ou rébellions dans les armées, au Burkina comme ailleurs, elles sont pareilles pour la majorité des cas. En 2011 , les mutineries avaient été suscitées par l’humaine condition. Blaise Compaore recevant la troupe s’était rendu à l’évidence de la misère de celle-ci. Chez Ouattara en côte d’Ivoire, les révoltes ont eu pour cause essentielle les impayés de soldes.

Récemment au Sahel, les bruits des mécontentements étaient liés à la non tenue d’engagements pris par l’autorité en lien avec les conditions de vie et de travail dans cette mission périlleuse de la lutte anti terroriste. Jusqu’à preuve du contraire, outre la gestion de l’armée et très rarement les manipulations occidentales pour des visées politiques, l’armée ne s’est jamais mise en situation de révolte par le fait de l’opinion publique.

To make such accusations when the soldiers have been on the brink of rebellion for so long is just ridiculous. The reasons for military revolts and rebellions are in most cases the same in Burkina Faso as everywhere else. In 2011, the mutinies were provoked by the human condition. Blaise Compaore received the troops and was forced to acknowledge the miserable state they were in. In Côte d’Ivoire, the main reason for the revolts was unpaid salaries.

Recently, in the Sahel, the rumors of discontent were linked to the non-respect of commitments made by the authorities relative to the living and working conditions in the perilous struggle against terrorism. Until it can be proven otherwise, apart from the management of the army and, very rarely, Western manipulation to political ends, the army never revolts because of public opinion.

Touré was arrested several days before the second Summit of the African League of Bloggers and Cyber-activists for Democracy, hosted by the organization Africtivistes, in the capital of Burkina Faso.
In his opening remarks, Cheikh Fall, the coordinator of Africtivistes, explained that Ouagadougou was chosen to host the second summit three years after the first edition because of “the role that activists have played there in various socio-political crises, such as their resistance to the military coup in September 2015.”
He then discussed the difficult situation that activists find themselves in on the African continent, citing pressure, exile, and prison as part of the difficulties that African activists face.
He made sure to highlight the case of Touré, directly addressing the President:

Cette tribune est pour nous, Monsieur le Président, une occasion pour vous demander au nom de tous les Africtivistes pour une clémence pour toutes ces personnes notamment Naim Touré du Burkina Faso…

For us, Mr. President, this platform is a chance to ask you, in the name of all Africtivistes, for clemency toward all the activists currently under arrest, in particular Naïm Touré from Burkina Faso…

Luandino Vieira, a writer based in Sénégal,  argued that arresting a Burkinabe icon of cyber-activism while activists from all over the continent are meeting in Ouagadougou simply creates disorder:

Alors qu’ on va réunir la crème des cyberactivistes africains, avec l’onction du gouvernement burkinabé, ça fait désordre d’arrêter une des icônes du cyberactivisme burkinabè. Naïm, n’a jamais été pris à défaut sur les informations qu’il a livrées. Que lui reproche-t-on donc de dire les choses avec un certain ton. On veut le domestiquer. Or, du peu que je sais de lui, c’est peine perdue. Les autorités burkinabè devraient plutôt le considérer comme un allié et en tant que lanceur d’alerte le protéger au lieu de chercher à le museler. Libérer Naïm Touré !

While the most prominent African cyber-activists will be meeting soon, the arrest of an icon of Burkinabe cyber-activism shows the duplicity of the Burkinabe government and will only create disorder. Naïm was never proven wrong about the information he shared. Why then should he be criticized for adopting a certain tone? They want to bring him to heel. But from what little I know about him, it’s a lost cause. Rather than arresting an icon of Burkinabe cyber-activism, the authorities should consider him as an ally and as a whistleblower – protect him instead of trying to muzzle him. Free Naïm Touré!

Touré's case has inspired a great deal of support from African civil society. Safiatou F. Lopez Zongo, the president of the National Cooperation Framework of Civil Society Organizations (Cadre de concertation national des organisations de la société civile in French), recalls that freedom of expression is a constitutional right:

Je viens d’apprendre l’arrestation du cyber-activiste NAÏM TOURÉ et sincèrement, je suis dépassée, le pouvoir creuse sa tombe chaque jour un peu plus et c’est désolant. La liberté d’expression est un droit Constitutionnel dans notre pays, chers Mogho puissants du moment, libérez le petit NAÏM TOURÉ. C’est tout simplement un abus de pouvoir et tôt ou tard le pouvoir sera entre les mains d’autres personnes et ça risque d’être compliqué pour certains d’entre vous. …

Alors, si consciencieusement vous savez que le peuple est déçu, il n’y a qu’une seule chose à faire, changez votre fusil d’épaule, au lieu de la chasse aux sorcières, travailler à gagner du crédit auprès du peuple qui vous a fait confiance…

I just learned of the arrest of the cyber-activist Naïm Touré and honestly, it is beyond me, the powers that be continue to dig their own graves and it’s devastating. Freedom of expression is a constitutional right in our country. Dear, powerful monarchs of the moment: free little Naïm Touré. This is a plain abuse of power. Sooner or later that power will be in the hands of others, and things could get complicated for some of you…

So, if upon reflection you realize that the people are disappointed, there is only one course of action to take: change tack. Instead of conducting a witch-hunt, work to earn the respect of the people who have put their trust in you….

Burkinabe Facebook user Paz Hien remembers what Naïm Touré once confided to him:

Un jour, Naïm Touré m'a dit ceci : “les gens me guettent. Certains mêmes me l'ont dit ouvertement qu'à la première occasion ils vont me mâter. Mais ça ne m'inquiète pas. Plus ils me menacent, plus je suis engagé. Et s'il arrivait que je meurs un jour, svp ne trahissez pas la lutte. Souvent certains pensent que je suis contre eux, et finalement ils se rendent compte que c'est pour eux que je me suis battu car moi je n'y gagne rien directement. Nous avons un devoir d'honnêteté mon frère”.

Ces propos sonnent en moi depuis hier!
LIBEREZ NAÏM TOURE.

One day, Naïm Touré said to me, “I am being watched. Some people have even told me outright that at the first chance they get, they’ll take me down. But that doesn’t worry me. The more they threaten me, the more committed I become. And if someday I die, please don’t give up the struggle. Often, people think that I am against them, but since I don’t stand to gain anything directly, they end up realizing that it’s for them I’m fighting. We have to be honest, brother. These words resound in me since yesterday! FREE NAÏM TOURE.

This is the third time that Naïm Touré has appeared in court for posts on his Facebook page.

The first case against him was filed in 2016, for a separate attempt to attract the attention of authorities to the case of an injured military serviceman, the Chief Warrant Officer Moussa Nébié, alias Rambo. He was prosecuted again in 2017 for “public injury and defamation” of the then-special counsel to the National Assembly president, Elisée Antoine Zong Naba.

by Abdoulaye Bah at July 19, 2018 09:34 PM

Access denied: How Uganda’s social media tax is turning news and information into luxury goods

A demonstration against the social media tax on July 11, 2018. Photo shared widely on Twitter.

Ugandans took to the streets of Kampala on July 11 to demand an end to a tax scheme that has upended communication, information and payment methods for mobile users across the country. Petitioners are also challenging the constitutionality of the tax in court.

Imposed on July 1, the new law forces Ugandans to pay a daily tax on “over the top” (OTT) mobile apps including — but not limited to — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Viber, LINE, Snapchat, Skype, LinkedIn, Tinder and Grindr.

The law also places a 1% tax on the use of mobile money, which is now the required method for recharging SIM cards.

Taken together, these new policies will make it more costly for Ugandans—especially those living in poverty—to communicate and perform everyday tasks using their mobile devices.

President Yoweri Museveni says the tax on social media is intended to curb online gossip and increase public revenues. What he doesn’t acknowledge is that the tax will do much more than limit conversation.

  • The social media tax costs too much. For Uganda’s poorest residents, it raises internet connection costs by 10%.

  • The social media tax violates net neutrality. It creates a two-tiered system in which accessing the “whole internet” is more expensive than accessing “some internet.”

  • The social media tax leaves Uganda’s poorest residents with less access to information.

  • The social media tax turns the right to free speech on major internet platforms into a privilege, available only for those who can afford to pay.

 

This tax costs too much

Ugandans now literally encounter a paywall each day when they set out to use any of the 58 OTT applications identified in the regulation. If they wish to proceed, they must pay a fee of 200 Ugandan Shillings (USD $0.05).

With Uganda's average GDP per capita at USD $604, daily use of social media or messaging apps could eat up three percent of the average Ugandan's annual earnings. This comes on top of the cost of a mobile phone handset, a talk/text/data plan, and the 1% tax on recharging SIM cards.

According to the Uganda-based Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), the tax will cause Uganda’s poorest residents to see their internet connection costs increase by 10%. Using just 1GB of data will now cost nearly 40% of their average monthly income.

It remains to be seen to what extent the new tax will drive down internet use and access in Uganda, where internet penetration was estimated to be at nearly 22% in 2016, according to World Bank data.

An MTN vehicle in Uganda, November 28, 2005, CC BY 2.0

A violation of net neutrality

The tax also squarely violates network neutrality, the principle that service providers should treat all internet traffic equally, and not block or throttle access to online content and services.

Uganda does not have legal protections for net neutrality, and both the government and telcos have violated the principle in the past, with tiered pricing and social media blocking.

In addition to censoring social media during elections (at the government’s behest), telcos have offered special packages that give users access only to WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, for a rate lower than that of a full data plan. Although it is not technically zero-rating, the package has a similar effect: it offers some savings to users who use only these applications. At the same time, it makes the “whole internet” more expensive than just “some internet”, and pushes users with limited budgets towards dependency on these particular applications.

While the new tax violates net neutrality, it simultaneously eliminates the benefits of packages like these — this particular offer was priced at 200 USh per day, but with the new tax, the cost officially doubles. For people who were able to pay the price of the special package, but not much more, the tax may mean they’ll be cut off from these services altogether.

Limiting access to information (to those who can afford it)

The original rationale for the tax was described by President Museveni as follows:

I am not going to propose a tax on internet use for educational, research or reference purposes… these must remain free. However, olugambo (gossip) on social media (opinions, prejudices, insults, friendly chats) and advertisements by Google and I do not know who else must pay tax because we need resources to cope with the consequences of their olugambo.

Museveni’s categorization of social media use as a luxury activity exposes significant gaps in the government’s understanding of how people use and depend upon these technologies.

As any experienced user in the region knows, WhatsApp is not just a place where people chat and gossip idly. In Uganda (similar to many countries in Africa and Latin America) WhatsApp is a key platform for distribution of community information, news, and public alerts during emergencies. Poorer Ugandans who cannot afford the tax will thus be excluded from these already-existing networks of information and news distribution. While they can build new methods for information exchange, this requires time, labor and know-how that are hard to come by, especially for people living in poverty.

Ugandans showed their opposition to the country's new social media tax at a gathering on July 6, 2018.

The popularity, versatility and usability of apps like WhatsApp and Facebook — combined with discounted offers of service, as mentioned above — also mean that for many people (in Uganda and across the globe), these services are the only online service they know how to use.

As Ugandan activist and Global Voices author Prudence Nyamishana wrote:

The tax ignores a critical lack of digital literacy, particularly among poor Ugandans. When I interviewed women living in Bwaise, a slum in Kampala, I learned that for them, WhatsApp and Facebook are the internet. These are the only platforms they know how to use. So with the new tax, they will be cut off altogether.

Many Ugandans are now using VPNs to circumvent the tax, but the government is also threatening to block these services.

Turning free speech into a privilege

While the government seems to be eager to increase tax revenues coming from the telecommunication sector, Ugandan activists are questioning the government’s real intentions, particularly in light of Uganda’s recent history of online censorship.

Voters line up at a polling station in Nyendo Masaka, Uganda, on February 18, 2011. Photo by Peter Beier. Copyright Demotix.

During the last presidential election in February 2016, the Uganda Communications Commission forced operators to block access to social media services. Over the past few years, authorities arrested several users over posts critical of the government and President Museveni, under the 2011 Computer Misuse Act.

‘’For Ugandans, the social media levy isn’t just another tax’’, wrote Ugandan journalist Lydia Namubiru for Quartz Africa. ‘’It is the latest in the government’s efforts to punish and discourage online expression’’.

Government stands by tax, telcos silent

After promising to review the new measures last week, the Ugandan government is still standing by its decision to tax the use of OTT services. A bill to amend the 2018 Excise Duty Act, which was submitted to the parliament on July 18, provides for a reduction of the tax on mobile money withdrawals from 1% to 0.5%, but offers no change to the social media tax.

In the meantime, service providers operating in the country have been mostly silent. While one small operator, Smile, offered to pay the tax on the behalf of its customers for three months (in a likely attempt to attract more business), the three biggest providers, MTN Uganda, Airtel India and Africell only released a notice to the general public announcing the implementation of the new taxes.

“The telcos are not reacting because they are protecting their own interests,” Prudence Nyamishana told us. “Being oligopolists, they can behave the way they want without putting people at the centre of their interests.”

With the absence of a strong and independent regulator to defend the interests and rights of users, Ugandan activists are left on their own to fight this tax. While the Uganda Communications Commission, which regulates the telecommunication industry, is  ‘’independent’’ on paper, all members of its board are appointed by the ICT minister and approved by the government. In addition, a bill proposed by the government and approved by the parliament last year eliminated a system of parliamentary checks and balances on the ICT minister’s supervision of the communications sector.

With these regulations in place, the UCC can only obey government orders, and this is best reflected in the commission's support of the social media tax. Ibrahim Bbossa, the UCC’s consumer affairs manager told local media that the government is ‘’right’’ and ‘’has been insightful’’ in implementing this tax because ‘’voice tax is about to disappear’’. The commission also ordered operators to block VPNs to prevent users from bypassing the paywall.

This tax will not prevail without a fight

The day after the tax was implemented, petitioners filed a court case against the government, arguing that the tax violates citizens’ rights to freedom of speech and access to information, as defined by the Ugandan Constitution of 1995. These rights are also protected under international treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Uganda is a signatory to both documents.

Online, #Notosocialmediatax campaigns have coalesced on both Facebook and Twitter, with major celebrities and some political leaders calling on the government to reconsider the tax. And in the streets, protests have drawn huge crowds of supporters — and police, who have used teargas and violence to break up demonstrations.

Citizen are awaiting a response to the amendment proposed on July 19, and petitioners are awaiting a court date to challenge the law’s constitutionality.

by Afef Abrougui at July 19, 2018 08:10 PM

Netizen Report: Israeli legislators look at new laws that would stifle speech and surveil the public

Memorial for the victims in Gaza held outside the Palestinian embassy in Bucharest. Picture taken from @RomaniaPalestineSolidarity on Facebook.

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Israeli legislators are pushing multiple bills that would further restrict speech by activists and journalists critical of its policies in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory.

The first bill would place restrictions on the filming and photographing of Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), prescribing a five-year prison term against anyone convicted of “filming, photographing, and/or recording soldiers in the course of their duties, with the intention of undermining the spirit of IDF soldiers and residents of Israel.” If a court ruled that the photographer's intention was to “harm [Israeli] state security,” the penalty would extend to ten years in prison.

The “Prohibition Against Photographing and Documenting IDF Soldiers” would also criminalize the dissemination of the photos or footage on social networks and mainstream media.

The second bill would streamline processes for government officials to demand that social media platforms remove online content considered “incitement to violence,” and is set to be approved by the Knesset.

A third proposal, the Cyber Security and National Cyber Directorate Bill, would create a government unit tasked with identifying and monitoring cybersecurity threats. The bill would give this unit the authority to access (hack into) private or organizational devices and extract data from them, without prior court approval.

According to Nadim Nashif, executive director of the Arab Centre for the Advancement of Social Media (7amleh), located in Haifa, the unit’s authority to hack into devices and confiscate data has “always been enforced against Palestinians.” Nashif says the government is now trying to legitimize and codify these practices into the law.

Ugandans take to the streets — and the courts — to reverse social media tax

Protesters hit the streets of Kampala on July 11, demanding an end to Uganda’s so-called “social media tax,” which puts a levy on the use of 58 different websites and applications, including WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook. Demonstrators reported that police broke up protests using teargas and physical force, and that several protesters were arrested. Petitioners have also taken the government to court over the tax, arguing that it violates Uganda’s constitution and human rights commitments.

Popular singer Bobi Wine has been a leading voice in the protests on the street and on Twitter, where he tweeted:

Iran airs video of forced confessions by Instagram detainees

On July 9, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting TV network aired video of a series of forced confessions by three high-profile Iranian Instagram users who have been in detention since early May 2018 for posting videos of themselves engaging in “illicit activities” such as dancing. The arrests and subsequent confessions have sparked a broad public outcry.

Kenyan man arrested for calling government leaders ‘devil worshippers’

A man was arrested under Kenya’s new cybercrimes law over a Facebook post in which he described a local legislator as a “devil worshipper.” According to County Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) Zachary Kariuki, the post also suggested “County Senator Ledama ole Kina had allegedly sold his soul to the ‘devil’ and that the MCAs were executive’s bark dogs.”

US court jails man for failing to unlock his phone

After they stopped William Montanez for a minor traffic violation, police in the US state of Florida searched Montanez’ car and found and seized a small amount of marijuana and two mobile phones, which they later presented in court, along with a search warrant. When the judge asked Montanez to unlock the phones, he refused to do so and was promptly jailed for 180 days. TechDirt blogger Tim Cushing described the incident as a “fishing expedition” that could end with Montanez spending “an indefinite amount of time in jail without ever having been convicted of a crime.” His lawyer is appealing the case.

Ecuadorian tweep suffers a third suspension for satire

The satirical Twitter account Crudo Ecuador (currently @CrudoEcuador4), well known for commentary and mockery of now-former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, was suspended for the third time by Twitter this week. The account’s administrator, who spoke with local NGO Usuarios Digitales, shared a screenshot of the notification sent by Twitter, which indicated that the account had been suspended for “demonstrating characteristics consistent with automation” (or bot activity), despite the account being run by a real person, who posts original messages. The suspension may be part of Twitter’s effort to purge bots and other false accounts.

Honduras goes after hate on social media

Legislators in Honduras are considering a proposed law on cybersecurity and hate speech that would obligate website operators to block or moderate “illegal content” and “discriminatory expression” on their sites. Failure to follow the law could result in fines of up to USD $42,000. UN Special Rapporteur David Kaye and Inter-American Commission for Human Rights Special Rapporteur Edison Lanza have asked the Honduran government for further information about the law, and Access Now is encouraging followers to tweet about the harms the law could bring for free expression.

Why does my iPhone crash every time I type ‘Taiwan’?

It has been less than five months since Apple handed ownership of its mainland China data center to the state-owned company Guizhou-Cloud Big Data. Last week, a peculiar bug in iPhone software raised suspicion among Apple users that the company is bowing to requests from the Chinese government. According to cybersecurity researcher Patrick Wardle, certain iPhone models with a Chinese language setting and China location setting were experiencing device crashes when they typed “Taiwan” or received messages with the Taiwanese flag emoji. Apple has released the latest iOS version  11.4.1 to fix the problem.

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by Netizen Report Team at July 19, 2018 07:52 PM

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