Here’s a glimpse at relevant occurrences from around the world related to internet policymaking.
Thailand: Charges for Facebook Comments
Journalist, Pravit Rojanaphruk (for the online news website Khaosod English), and two former ministers Pichai Naripthaphan and Watana Muangsook were charged with criticizing the junta on Facebook. In the order, the Police Technology Crime Suppression Division alleged that the comments posted by Rojanaphruk on his own Facebook page, describing the “military rule and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta’s slow response to flooding in northeastern provinces’’, were illegal under sedition and computer crime laws. In addition, former ministers were charged on the same legal basis for criticizing the work of the current Prime Minister and supporting the former Prime Minister. This is a continued pattern, with many who express their support for the former government of Thailand being charged and labelled as a threat to national security based on Thailand’s Criminal Code and based on the Computer-Related Crime Act which enabled the military authorities to impose restrictions on online speech. More at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/08/09/thailand-drop-charges-critical-facebook-posts.
China: A digital “cyber-court” launched
The Hangzhou Internet Court was established to deal with cases related to the Internet, with the first case processed at the beginning of August 2017. The proceedings for the case, a copyright infringement dispute between an online writer and a web company, lasted for 20 minutes with legal representatives of parties in the case attending the court through Internet connections via video-chat. More at: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-40980004
Vietnam: The President wants tougher control on the Internet
This month, the President of Vietnam, Tran Dai Quang, insisted on policies that give government more control over the Internet, especially regarding online criticism of the Communist Party. Some activists and opponents of the regime have already been arrested for online criticism of the ruling party with the justification that they are combating threats to cybersecurity. The President stated that the online sphere has been used to undermine the current regime and its members and that there should be more control over the information posted and shared especially on social networks. With Vietnam in the top 10 countries of Facebook users and the popularity of Google’s YouTube within the country, this is a significant development. More at: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/vietnam-s-president-calls-for-tougher-internet-controls-9140766
To read more about internet policymaking and censorship in Vietnam, take a look at the IPO publication by Sarah Logan “The Geopolitics of Tech: Baidu’s Vietnam“.
Saudi Arabia: Sarahah and cyber bullying
Saudi programmer Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq, created the app Sarahah, which means “honesty” in Arabic. Users of the app can receive anonymous messages but cannot reply to them. In Saudi Arabia, this app is downloaded more than apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook. Originally, Sarahah was used as a website for the purpose of employees posting honest feedback to their employers. The app spread to India, too, with users posting their profile links on social networks such as Facebook and Snapchat. Sarahah was launched in Saudi Arabia in February 2017 and by the end of the month, there were 2.5 million users in Egypt, 1.7 million in Tunisia and 1.2 million in Saudi Arabia. Overall, now it has 300 million users worldwide. Currently, the debates regarding Sarahah mostly refer to its misuse and cyber-bullying, even though its primary role was to embrace the anonymous speech. More at: http://www.moneycontrol.com/news/technology/saudi-arabian-honesty-app-sarahah-takes-internet-by-storm-raises-concerns-of-cyber-bullying-2353903.html
MORE THAN ONE DAY TO DOWNLOAD A MOVIE
This month, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Google Open Source Research and Princeton University’s Planet-Lab and others published new research on broadband speeds. The research covered 189 countries, 39 of which are African countries. While, this report notes that for mobile internet, Kenya’s speed ranking is 14th out of 130 countries, most countries in Africa have extremely slow broadband connections. The study measured internet speed in each country by the amount of time required to download a HD movie with a size of 7.5 GB. While in Singapore this download takes 20 minutes, in DR Congo, Burkina Faso and Gabon it takes more than a day. None of the 39 African countries tested in this report achieved average speeds above 10Mbps, the speech that Ofcom, the UK’s telecommunications regulator, deems to be the minimum speed required by consumers to effectively participate in a digital society.’’ More at: http://www.businessinsider.com/internet-speeds-in-these-african-countries-is-40-times-slower-2017-8
Egypt: Reporters without borders’ website blocked
This month, websites for the organizations Reporters Without Borders and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), were blocked in Egypt. ANHRI stated that its site and that of RSF were among 127 websites blocked in the country. According toCPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour, “Egypt’s government has moved from trying to censor any criticism to trying to censor any criticism of that censorship.” More at: https://cpj.org/2017/08/egypt-should-stop-blocking-access-to-rights-organi.php
Ethiopia: Internet shut-downs
The Government of Ethiopia shut down the Internet between 30 May and 8 June. Ethio Telecom is an operator owned by the state with full control over Internet service. These shutdowns have occurred in the context of an ongoing crackdown on the press by authorities, “who are currently keeping nine of the 17 journalists recorded on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2016 prison census behind bars.’’ Recent shutdowns have occurred in other African countries such as the Congo (reportedly due to a mysterious fishing boat that damaged the country’s submarine cables), while another Internet shutdown in Cameroon lasted for 93 days. More at: http://cyberethiopia.com/2013/?p=1773
Canada VS. GOOGLE – Remove Search Results Everywhere
The Canadian Supreme Court upheld an order compelling Google to remove search results for specified websites, not just in Canada, but everywhere in the world. This ruling has sparked a debate regarding how and in what way one country can dictate content removals outside their jurisdictions . The case deals with published trade secrets, with the court considering whether Google, as a non-party facing no liability claims of its own, could be ordered to take down search results for the defendants’ websites. Many are commenting that such a “decision increases the odds that this power will be exercised on a global rather than national basis – effectively reaching out and silencing speakers on the other side of the world.” More at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/06/29/canadian-court-orders-google-to-remove-search-results-globally/
Brazil: more government control over the internet?
The Government of Brazil opened a public consultation regarding Brazil’s Internet Steering Committee and its composition, its election process, and its powers, a move which has been assessed by many as an attempt to take more control over the Internet. The Internet Steering Committee is a multistakeholder organization, the members of which belong to the government, telecom regulator ANATEL, the private sector, academia, and the IT sector. Changing the composition of this organization could have wide-reaching repercussions especially for issues such as user privacy and network neutrality. More at: https://www.cfr.org/blog/brazils-internet-under-attack-again
Peru: problems of internet access
This month, the Mozilla Foundation released a report stating that problems related to internet access in Peru are connected with high cost, poor quality connections, low availability to electricity, illiteracy and gender disparities. The report assessed the effectiveness of zero cost policies provided by operators, which “subsidize access to popular sites like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, affect Internet use’’. According to the report, largely young people use such options, while rural parts of the country still do not have a chance to get online or to have a decent speed connection. More at: http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=2441108&CategoryId=14095
Russia: New law bans anonymity
New laws adopted in Russia prohibit anonymous use of online messenger applications and ‘the use of software to allow users to circumvent internet censorship’. Owners of virtual private network (VPN) services and internet anonymizers (often used by journalists and human rights activists) cannot offer access to websites banned in Russia anymore, and Roskomnadzor (a body in charge of overseeing online and media content), can block “sites that provide instructions on how to circumvent government blocking”. Moreover, “law enforcement agencies, including the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service can now identify violators, and ask from Roskomnadzor to establish a ‘special registry of online resources and services prohibited in Russia”. The new law also annulled a previous legal provision which required bloggers with more than 3,000 unique visits per day to register in a special registry. More at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/08/01/russia-new-legislation-attacks-internet-anonymity
Turkey: ‘Click the link to report a twitter user to the police now’
Recently, 13 people in Turkey were arrested for allegedly supporting the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party through posts on social media (More at: http://www.kurdistan24.net/en/news/4a1bfc21-c274-4c98-b03e-36779d791ece). These arrests add to a long list of about 178 journalists who are currently under arrest in Turkey due to criticism of the authorities in the country. (More at: https://www.bestvpn.com/privacy-news/turkey-sham-trial-threatens-press-freedom/ ).