Six Frames Against Surveillance

Till Wäscher, School of International and Intercultural Communication & TU Dortmund

For years, privacy advocates had been speculating about a possible “Privacy Chernobyl” – a major scandal that would put the issue of surveillance on the global agenda and create a mass social movement against privacy intrusions committed by governments and corporations.[1] In the summer of 2013, this speculation became reality. Edward Snowden’s leaked documents detailing the mass surveillance activities conducted by the National Security Agency and its international partners caused – to stick to the nuclear disaster analogy – a temporary meltdown of public trust by citizens around the world.

The Snowden revelations revitalized in the public consciousness an almost forgotten genre of contentious politics – privacy activism. The main objective of this blog series is to identify, analyse, and critically assess the political communication of activists during anti-surveillance campaigns in the first year after the Snowden revelations to better understand the ways in which these issues have been framed by activists, understood by the public, portrayed by the media, and potentially acted upon in a variety of contexts.  

The series is based on the author’s dissertation on political communication tactics of the global privacy community for which he conducted 21 semi-structured interviews with activists from 14 countries. This first post in the series focuses on the core collective action frames against surveillance, articulated by the privacy activist community over the course of four campaigns: “Restore the Fourth/1984 Day” (July-August, 2013), “Stop Watching Us” (October, 2013), “The Day We Fight Back” (February, 2014), and “Reset the Net” (July, 2o14). These were largely on U.S.-centric protests; subsequent pieces in the series will explore how resistance to surveillance has been framed in other parts of the world.

Legal Frames

“Restore the Fourth” was the first attempt to organize and protest surveillance issues after the Snowden revelations. Mainly coordinated through message boards on the social news website Reddit, in more than 80 American cities (as well in Munich, Germany) people took to the streets to protest NSA surveillance. The three core demands of the “Restore the Fourth” network were to reform section 215 of the controversial Patriot Act; the creation of an oversight committee to keep checks on surveillance programs; and initiate accountability measures for public service figures involved in domestic spying activities.

Much of the communication efforts by… (click here to read the rest of this post).

Global Internet Policy Round-up: August 2017

This month, we’ve summarized relevant occurrences from around the world related to internet policymaking in the IPO’s ‘Internet Policy Roundup’. In  our August roundup, read about journalists and politicians in Thailand who have been charged for facebook comments, a new popular app in Saudi Arabia that is providing a controversial space for anonymous feedback, China’s new cyber courts,  internet shutdowns in Ethiopia, and a court case against Google in Canada that could have significant effects of freedom of information around the world. These and other story summaries in the roundup here.


Transparency in Content Moderation

Nicolas Suzor

What content are you allowed to see and share online? The answer is surprisingly complicated. Our new project, funded by the Internet Policy Observatory, and including researchers from, Queensland University of Technology, and the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, works to engage civil society organizations and academic researchers to create a consensus-based priority list of the information users and researchers need to better understand content moderation and improve advocacy efforts around user rights. (click here  to read the rest of this post)

The Internet Policymaking Landscape in Pakistan

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Usama Khilji & Saleha Zahid

As smartphones and mobile data rates have become cheaper, internet access in Pakistan has expanded rapidly and more and more Pakistanis are now online. This has increased people’s access to information, and provided a much needed platform for citizens to express opinions through criticism of state policies, dissent, and political commentary. For a state machinery like Pakistan’s that is not shy of clamping down on press freedom, the internet poses a new challenge: how can the internet be regulated, and information be controlled?

Internet governance today is a global challenge, especially with regards to the balance between civil liberties and security. This is concerning in a country like Pakistan which has faced the challenge of local terrorism since soon after 9/11. However, the government’s actions against online actors have largely targeted critics of the state rather than violent, non-state actors that use social media for disseminating hate speech.

This is the first study focused on Pakistan that attempts to map the country’s internet policymaking process, identify its stakeholders, and analyse the strengths and shortcomings of each. The main bodies for law and policy making related to the internet in Pakistan are the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom (MoITT), the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), and the National Assembly and Senate Standing Committees on Information Technology and Telecom. Further, the study looks at specific cases in internet policy making, such as the processes surrounding both the recently passed Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016, and the Internet Clearing House (ICH) issue. This research also chronicles the history of internet policymaking in Pakistan, starting with the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) Act of 2002.

Via interviews with key stakeholders, this study reveals Pakistan’s ad-hoc, reactionary, internet policymaking, as well as a state apparatus, including the bureaucracy, politicians, and the judiciary, that has little technological understanding and hence mandates orders that are ineffective, undemocratic, and draconian. The blockages of Facebook in 2010, and of YouTube in 2008 and from 2013 to 2016 are testimony to the government’s tendency toward knee-jerk reactions to perceived challenges online.

The main questions explored in this research include: what is the internet policymaking process in Pakistan? Is it democratic? How inclusive is it? Do policymakers and legislators invite and include public input? Does the process involve multiple stakeholders such as academics, technology experts, businesses, internet users, and activists? The study also explores whether the laws and policies related to the internet in Pakistan are constitutional, in line with international standards, in support of fundamental rights, and effective. The case study of the Inter Ministerial Committee for Evaluation of Websites (IMCEW) shows how a body formed by the executive was eventually found unconstitutional and disbanded on court orders.

The key findings of the report indicate that the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom lacks the trust of stakeholders, that there is consensus among the politicians related to blockage of content that is blasphemy and pornographic, and that long-term strategic plans for internet and telecom policy in Pakistan are absent. The study concludes with recommendations for a transparent policy- and law-making process that includes all stakeholders.

To read the full report, please click here.

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