Public Perception of Internet Freedom and Censorship in Pakistan

Arzak Khan, Director and Co-Founder of Internet Policy Observatory Pakistan (iPOP), discusses his research study which aims to investigate in-depth the links between internet usage and public perception towards internet censorship and policymaking in Pakistan.

The aim of this research study is to investigate in-depth the links between internet usage and public perception towards internet censorship and policymaking in Pakistan. Defending the right to freedom of expression has been a long standing tradition in many developed countries, but that has not always been the case in many developing countries where government restrictions on all traditional media are often accepted as a part of life. However, with many Pakistanis getting access to the internet for the first time and becoming connected to a global community, things may be beginning to change. Evidence from the Global South suggests that as a country’s population becomes increasingly connected to the Web, there is growing support for ending government controls and censorship. It is the aim of this project to thoroughly investigate these assumptions and uncover what demand exists for internet freedom and other internet policies.

The increasing use of the internet for democratic movements has resulted in governments around the world cracking down on the web in the form of blanket censorship. Most governments in developing countries such as Pakistan want to regulate the Internet in the way television is regulated. This includes having tighter control mechanisms in the guise of policies protecting national security, religion and society. Before the “Arab Spring,” the Pakistani government was planning on promoting the internet for socio-economic development. However, these policies have not moved forward substantially and broadband diffusion is not taking off as had been predicted. Furthermore, government censorship of the internet has been increasing with the blocking of websites such as YouTube, certain blogs, and Facebook pages. New filtering technologies and mechanisms are being put in place that block not just porn and blasphemous material but also political content and events. Anonymous proxy…

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Chinese Microblogging Governance: Flaws with September’s Online Rumor Law

Yuanyuan Dong, a lecturer at the School of Languages and Communications Studies at Beijing Jiaotong University, discusses issues with China’s September 2013 legislation which permitted imprisonment for slanderous material on microblogs shared at least 500 times or viewed 5,000 times.

Microblogging has become increasingly popular in China, and the main channel for Chinese netizens to collect and share information. By the end of October 2013, China’s microblogging population reached 530 million people. Realizing microblogging’s enormous social influence, the Chinese government has begun to exert gradual management and supervision of speech on micro-blogging platforms.

On September 9, 2013, building on existing online rumor laws, the Supreme People’s Court of PRC and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate of PRC jointly announced “The Interpretation of Issues about Applicable Laws Dealing with Criminal Cases of Using Information Networks to Slander,” (this legislation shall be henceforth referred to as the Interpretation). The main clause of this Explanation provides supplemental provisions to Article 246 of The Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China, which states that:

“Whoever, by violence or other methods, publicly humiliates another person or invent stories to defame him, if the circumstances are serious, shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than three years, criminal detention, public surveillance or deprivation of political rights.”

In the 2013 Interpretation…

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Lost and Found: Collections of Censored Posts on Sina Weibo

Ran Liu, a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, discusses China’s censorship of Weibo through an analysis of NGO ProPublica’s new “China’s Memory Hole” project.

Most netizens in China have complained about the “Little Secretary,” the censorship mechanism on the most popular Chinese microblog service Sina Weibo. Content may disappear at any minute only to be replaced by an ambiguous notice that a “post is inappropriate to display publicly.”  Users find it difficult to anticipate whether their posts will live the day as censorship logic is, while sometimes predictable, more often than not quite elusive.

Scholars are exploring the mechanisms of censorship on the Chinese Internet to better discern Chinese censorship practices. For instance, a recent study at Harvard University led by Gary King discovered that messages discussing or invoking collective actions are more likely to get censored. That is to say, “censorship is oriented towards attempting to forestall collective activities that are occurring now or may occur in the future.”[i] A new book from China Specialist Jason Ng also discusses key words blocked on Weibo.

The new project “China’s Memory Hole,” by the New York based NGO ProPublica, provides a more intuitive and interactive demonstration of China’s Internet censorship. From July 24to August 4, 2013, ProPublica tracked 100 Weibo accounts to detect censored images, collecting a total of…

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Campaign for Error Code Transparency: Q&A with Open Rights Group

CGCS sat down with Ruth Coustick-Deal from the UK-based Open Rights Group (ORG) to discuss the civil society group’s new 451 Unavailable Campaign. 

What are the Open Rights Group (ORG) and the 451 Unavailable Campaign?

ORG is a UK digital rights campaigning organisation, founded in 2005, who works to defend civil liberties and human rights in the digital sphere. We campaign on issues such as freedom of expression, privacy and open government.

The 451 project is a response to one of these threats: the censorship of the Internet. It aims to increase transparency around what is blocked online and why, and help people challenge that blocking. We created our 451 campaign to create an internationally recognised error code, for legal blocks, which is known to help provide full information on blocking and to create an international expectation of good practice and transparency. We intend to put an end to secret blocking lists and to raise awareness of online censorship.

The project is very much in the early stages but we have already been successful in obtaining court orders in the UK related to one of the copyright cases. We’ve had good support from legal professionals and as the project develops, we’ll be working further with ISPs and other stakeholders.

Has ORG implemented censorship related campaigns in the past?

ORG has campaigned on issues relating to censorship of the Internet since…

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