Fragmented Internet: National Interest or Human Rights Violation?

//Fedor Smirnov, a participant in the 2015 Annenberg-Oxford Summer Institute and ICT practitioner in Russia, discusses internet fragmentation and privacy in Russia with key insights from AnOx speakers.

Fragmentation of the internet, triggered by Snowden’s revelations, is a key issue for internet governance researchers and practitioners alike. As Professor Milton L. Mueller argued during the 2015 Annenberg-Oxford Summer Institute, there are two types of fragmentation: unintentional technical incompatibility and intentional limitations of access, latter of which raises concerns in both academic and civil societies. Today’s internet is generally open, interoperable and unified, but governments across the world strive towards greater control of the net. Some threats to internet freedom are of technical nature (threats to Domain Name System, DNS), others political (internet censorship and blocking), and others still economic (breakdown peering and transit agreement) and legal (local privacy regimes). Over the past few years, Russia has taken many steps towards more fragmented internet access, particularly by introducing blacklists, requiring bloggers registration, and holding discussions about a “disconnected Runet’  (a scenario when .RU top level domain may be separated from the global DNS).

Russia is not the first country to implement data localization requirements. Along with countries like Vietnam, Brazil and India, Western democracies such as Germany, France, and Canada are heading towards a fragmented internet as well.[1] Russia’s tendency towards fragmentation resulted in the Russian Data Localization Law (242-FZ) that took effect September 1, 2015. The law, which pushes Russia further down a data localization trajectory, stipulates that digitalized personal data of Russian citizens  should be recorded, systematized, and stored using databases located within national territory. Websites that break the law will be added to a special register, which will enable Russian government-controlled communication regulator Roskomnadzor to block those who are non-compliant.

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The Internet Policymaking Landscape in Pakistan

// Usama Khilji, a research associate at Bolo Bhi, discusses Bolo Bhi’s recent study analyzing internet policymaking in Pakistan which makes suggestions for crafting ideal internet policy. Click here to learn more about Bolo Bhi.

Internet policymaking in Pakistan has been an uphill task for all stakeholders involved, a process whereby the government justifies proposals for greater control over internet activity with language about security and counter-terrorism while other stakeholders, especially civil society and technology-related businesses, mobilize campaigns to resist such attempts. Through our research on the internet policymaking landscape in Pakistan,  our team at Bolo Bhi  has interviewed key internet policymaking stakeholders to identify the main drivers of Pakistan’s incoherent internet policy: these issues include lack of expertise on technology related matters in the government, a lack of transparency in policymaking processes, ad hoc censorship policies, and failure to have a multi-stakeholder forum where input from stakeholders is taken for the laws and policies under consideration.

The near three-year YouTube ban in Pakistan epitomizes this tense relationship and the push and pull between government, civil society, the private sector, and other actors. The website was banned to appease violent protestors after a video that was deemed blasphemous appeared on YouTube in September 2012 The lifting of the ban has become an ego tussle between Google and the Pakistani government; with academia and civil society criticizing the restriction of access to the website.

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China’s Internet Governance under the Leadership of Xi Jinping

//Dr. Jian Xu, a visiting scholar with the Center for Global Communication Studies and the Center for the Study of Contemporary China, analyzes the government’s role in China’s internet governance and law-making, with a special focus on policy developments under Xi Jinping’s ruling.

Since Xi Jiping began his presidency in November 2012, the Chinese government has tightened their control of media — rather a surprise to those who expected political and judiciary reform.  In April, the New Yorker journalist Evan Osnos called Xi “the most authoritarian leader since Mao,” in regards to his treatment of internet governance, among other issues.  This blog post focuses on the role of the state in governing the internet, and does not focus on the roles other actors (corporate entities and civil society) play in internet governance. It will discuss various restrictions on the internet under Xi’s leadership, including key policies, regulations, and events, as well as the impacts of such actions.

Immediately after Xi took office, China started expanding its oversight of the internet. In December 2012, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress issued the Decision on Strengthening Network Information Protection, new rules requiring internet users to provide real identity information to internet service providers (ISPs) while signing a service agreement for internet access. The Decision also requires internet service providers to work more closely with the government’s internet regulations and censorship, including deleting politically sensitive postings, reporting those who post such material to relevant authorities, and providing necessary technical support to the government. On the surface, the Decision appears to protect users’ security and information. However, because a real name (or pseudonym) is required to access the internet, netizens are afraid to post critical information online.

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