The Global Digital Download is a weekly publication that aggregates resources on Internet freedom, highlighting trends in digital and social media that intersect with freedom of expression, policy, privacy, censorship and new technologies. The GDD includes information about relevant events, news, and research. To find past articles and research, search the archive database.
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Facebook’s Internet.org To Provide Educational Materials To Smartphones In Rwanda In First Pilot Project
Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg is making his first appearance at Mobile World Congress, the telecom industry’s biggest global trade show, this week, and the social network’s Internet.org organization has used the show to announce a number of new projects to help increase global Internet connectivity. The organization has announced SocialEDU, its first pilot project which will provide students in Rwanda with access to what Facebook calls “a collaborative online education experience” via mobile. Facebook and Nokia — which are both members of Internet.org — have teamed up with the African country’s government and two domestic carriers to provide free access to educational content on “low-cost” smartphones.
(CBS News, Monday, February 24, 2014)
In an interview with CBS news, Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google predicted that in the next five years, when another two billion people connect to the Internet, there will be more revolutions like the one in Ukraine. Schmidt and the head of the Google ideas office, Jared Cohen, traveled to 40 countries, including authoritarian regimes, such as China and North Korea. They concluded the Internet is a force for liberation that cannot be stopped.
(Center for Democracy and Technology, Friday, February 21, 2014)
The Snowden revelations about the mass surveillance programmes of the NSA and the complicity of other Western security agencies have generated a lot of talk about the supposed lack of trust in the Internet, current Internet governance mechanisms, and the multistakeholder governance model. These revelations have been crucial to fueling the surveillance reform effort (see CDT’s NSA surveillance reform work here). However, most commentary linking surveillance and global Internet governance conflates two important issues in inaccurate – and politically motivated – ways, driving long-standing and potentially damaging agendas related to the management of the Internet. The Snowden revelations were not just welcomed by human rights organizations seeking to limit state power to conduct communications surveillance. They have also been well-received by those who seek to discredit existing approaches to Internet governance. There has been a long-running antipathy among a number of stakeholders to the United States government’s perceived control of the Internet and the dominance of US Internet companies. There has also been a long-running antipathy, particularly among some governments, to the distributed and open management of the Internet, which has flourished without much government intervention at all. These tensions have been simmering since the first World Summit on the Information Society in 2003, when ICANN and the issue of critical Internet resources (IP addressing and the DNS) were the focus of much attention and concern. These themes of government control, and the role of the US in particular, have reoccurred ever since and continue to frame discussions currently underway in numerous fora, including the upcoming NETmundial meeting on Internet governance in Brazil.
(Wired, Friday, February 21, 2014)
AT&T this week released for the first time in the phone company’s 140-year history a rough accounting of how often the U.S. government secretly demands records on telephone customers. But to those who’ve been following the National Security Agency leaks, Ma Bell’s numbers come up short by more than 80 million spied-upon Americans. AT&T’s transparency report counts 301,816 total requests for information — spread between subpoenas, court orders and search warrants — in 2013. That includes between 2,000 and 4,000 under the category “national security demands,” which collectively gathered information on about 39,000 to 42,000 different accounts. There was a time when that number would have seemed high. Today, it’s suspiciously low, given the disclosures by whistleblower Edward Snowden about the NSA’s bulk metadata program. We now know that the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is ordering the major telecoms to provide the NSA a firehose of metadata covering every phone call that crosses their networks. An accurate transparency report should include a line indicating that AT&T has turned over information on each and every one of its more than 80 million-plus customers. It doesn’t.
(The New York Times, Friday, February 21, 2014)
President Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s head of state, has now joined Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the government’s assault on free speech. On Tuesday, Mr. Gul approved a new law, passed earlier by Parliament, that is intended to help protect Mr. Erdogan and his allies from a widening corruption scandal by tightening government control of the Internet. It would allow the authorities, without a court order, to block web pages under the guise of protecting personal privacy, and to collect users’ browsing histories. Even before Mr. Gul acted, Turkey already had tough laws blocking thousands of websites, including gay dating sites and news portals considered favorable to Kurdish militants. According to Reuters, Google reported in December that requests from Turkish authorities to remove content from its sites had risen nearly 10 times during the first half of 2012. In the first six months of 2013, Google was asked to delete more than 12,000 items, making Turkey the No. 1 country seeking to excise Google content.
(Reporters Without Borders, Thursday, February 20, 2014)
Reporters Without Borders reiterates its call for an end to government blocking of the Lakome news website, in effect since 17 October, and the withdrawal of all charges against Ali Anouzla, the editor of the site’s Arabic-language version. “The authorities are clearly stalling, both by not responding to Anouzla’s request for the censorship to be lifted and by repeatedly postponing his appearance before an investigating judge,” said Reporters Without Borders head of research Lucie Morillon. “No one will be fooled by this policy. Morocco manifestly deserves its poor position – 136th out of 180 countries – in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.” Lakome was blocked on 17 October, shortly after Anouzla, who had been held since 17 September, issued a statement saying that he was unable to take responsibility for what was posted on the site while he was in detention and therefore requested its “temporary suspension.” The authorities went far beyond what Anouzla requested because access to both the Arabic and French-language versions of Lakome has been blocked ever since. Anouzla has repeatedly sought the lifting of the blocking since his release on 25 October after five weeks in “preventive detention.”
(Electronic Frontier Foundation, Thursday, February 20, 2014)
For the last month, Venezuela has been caught up in widespread protests against its government. The Maduro administration has responded by cracking down on what it claims as being foreign interference online. As that social unrest has escalated, the state's censorship has widened: from the removal of television stations from cable networks, to the targeted blocking of social networking services, and the announcement of new government powers to censor and monitor online. Last night, EFF received reports from Venezuelans of the shutdown of the state Internet provider in San Cristóbal, a regional capital in the west of the country. The censorship began early last week when the authorities removed a Columbian news network, NTN24, from Venezuelan cable, and simultaneously published a reminder that TV stations could be in violation of a law that forbids the incitement or promotion of "hatred", or "foment citizens' anxiety or alter public order." Venezuelan Internet users on a variety of ISPs lost connectivity last Thursday to an IP address owned by the content delivery network, Edgecast. That address provided access to, among other services, Twitter's images at pbs.twimg.com. A separate block prevented Venezuelans from reaching the text hosting site, Pastebin.
(Huffington Post, Thursday, February 20, 2014)
"The cell phones you have now have more computing power than the Apollo space capsule, and that capsule couldn't even Tweet. So just imagine the opportunities you have in that sense," Fareed Zakaria, opinion writer for The Washington Post, once said in a commencement speech at Duke University. I cannot agree more with Zakaria. Twitter is a great source for news and a broad platform for discussion on different issues. I like Twitter's little blue bird logo, which represents freedom of expression. However, some want to place that little blue bird in a cage in Turkey, while speaking Turco-Tweetish, on the other hand, is a trend on the rise nowadays. According to research company eMarketer, Turkey has the highest Twitter penetration in the world. While Turkey's Internet population is 36.4 million, its Twitter users are estimated at 11.3 million, giving a Twitter penetration rate of 31.1 percent. Turkish users have further extended these numbers recently. Certainly, Twitter's importance as a tool for freedom of speech was confirmed last spring in the Gezi Park protests in Turkey, when a civil movement emerged against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Many people used Twitter to share photos and videos of what was happening in Turkey and to distribute their opinions and messages about the situation. Thus, Twitter attracted Erdoğan's attention, and he declared it a "menace."
(Index on Censorship, Thursday, February 20, 2014)
The 30 month prison sentence for Vietnamese human rights lawyer and blogger, Le Quoc Quan, was today upheld by a Hanoi appeals court. Quan, who has frequently blogged about human rights violations by the government, was convicted in October 2013 on tax evasion charges. He has been arbitrarily detained since December 2012. A crowd of hundreds wearing t-shirts in support of Quan were present outside the court, while a European Union delegation, representatives from the United States and Canada and a small group of journalists were present at the trial. This is just the latest move in the Vietnamese authorities’ ongoing attack on dissent, free speech, free press and a free internet. If you need to communicate with someone the Vietnamese government is interested in keeping an eye, it is always been useful to be careful. Phone conversations can be listened to. Meetings at houses could be watched. Protests are invariably filmed by government operatives. If you were going to, say, chat via Gmail’s chat function it should be switched to “off the record” to prevent a copy of the discussion being archived. Some unlucky people have seen their blog posts traced to the internet cafe they’ve later been arrested at. If you are a dissident you won’t be the only one the police are interested in; they’ll talk to your family, friends and employers, too. The latter they may ask to dismiss you.
Philippines Supreme Court Declares Key Cybercrime Law Provisions Unconstitutional, But Upholds Libel Clause
The February 18, 2014 ruling of the Supreme Court declaring key provisions of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (RA 10175) unconstitutional is a victory for free expression. But its declaring the provision on libel committed through the Internet constitutional retains one of the most problematic provisions of the Act. In 2012 CMFR asked for the repeal of the Act and the crafting of a less restrictive law. While crimes committed over the Internet such as child pornography need legal sanctions, the Cybercrime Act throws such a wide net it penalizes even legitimate expressions of opinion online. According to Supreme Court Chief Public Information Officer Theodore Te, the Court declared unconstitutional the RA 10175 provisions on unsolicited commercial communications (Section 4c3), real-time collection of traffic data (Section 12), and blocking access to computer sites found in violation of the Act (Section 19). It also declared the section on aiding and abetting, and attempting to commit cybercrimes (Section 5), and the section on liability under other laws (Section 7) unconstitutional with respect to certain crimes defined in Section 4 of the law, notably with respect to libel and child pornography because other laws already penalize these crimes.