Global Voices Advocacy’s Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. We begin this report in Sudan, where an Internet shutdown last week marked the largest blackout of its kind since the height of citizen uprisings in Egypt in 2011.
Free Expression: Two Internets Go Dark
There was an “almost total” blackout in Sudan for 24 hours last week, in what many believe was a government response to youth demonstrations against the ruling regime. According to the Sudan Tribune, the Sudanese Embassy in the United States issued an official statement denying government involvement in the shutdown and saying that protesters set fire to a Canar Telecommunications Co. building, causing damage to national networks and ultimately leading to a blackout. U.S.-based network monitoring firm Renesys said it could not determine who was responsible for the shutdown, but suggested that government actors were the most likely source. Observing that the blackout affected all major ISPs in the country (of which Canar is one), Renesys senior analyst Doug Madory described the event as “either a government-directed thing or some very catastrophic technological failure that just happen[ed] to coincide with violent riots happening in the city.” The last Internet blackout of this magnitude took place in Egypt in 2011.
In an article that outlines threats to free expression and other fundamental rights presented by amendments to Gambia’s Information and Communication Act, Annette Theron wrote that the law “contributes to the perception of Gambia as a country which has some of the worst restrictions on the freedom of expression in the continent.”
Thuggery: Journalist Arrested for Piracy (the Real Kind)
Numerous independent media sites in Russia went dark last week to show their support for the release of photojournalist Denis Sinyakov, a detained opposition activist and friend of the controversial punk group Pussy Riot. Sinyakov was arrested along with 29 other activists, mainly affiliated with Greenpeace, who were protesting oil industry activities in the Barents Sea aboard a boat. The Russian coast guard arrested the activists, claiming they were engaging in piracy.
Surveillance: Spying Does Happen in Brazil
An interactive infographic from Agência Pública shows which companies profit from the world espionage market and how surveillance tools are used in Brazil. According to market research firm IMS Research, Brazil is one of the biggest market for video surveillance systems in Latin America. The study notes that both government actors and private companies are increasing their surveillance capabilities in anticipation of the 2016 Olympics, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro, and the 2014 World Cup, which will have games throughout the country.
According to the latest Snowden leak reported by the New York Times, the NSA has been gathering data on U.S. citizens’ social connections.
Privacy: Indian Supreme Court Balks at Biometrics
On Sept. 25, 2013, the Supreme Court of India struck down the practice of requiring an Aadhaar ID card to receive government services. A biometric identification system incorporating iris, fingerprint, and face scans, Aadhaar has been touted as a program that would allow the Indian government to carry out a range of social welfare programs—from direct cash transfers for public school teachers to mobile banking for the “unbanked” to marriage registration—with minimal obstruction from third parties and corrupt middlemen. The Delhi government, which has reportedly achieved near-universal registration, is expected to request the Supreme Court rule Aadhar “mandatory for social welfare schemes” involving subsidies and cash transfers like the Annashree Yojna scheme, which provides a monthly cash subsidy to families that meet certain residency and economic criteria.
Internet Insecurity: Peruvian Congress Skirts Civil Liberties, Public Interest
In a swift move that surprised and infuriated advocates, Peru’s Congress passed the controversial IT Crimes Act, a law that has been widely criticized as a threat to free expression and privacy in Peru. Lawmakers reportedly added new language to the act just minutes before the vote, leaving the public unable to respond to the changes. Commonly known as the Beingolea Law (named for Senator Alberto Beingolea, its original author), the law places tight restrictions on file sharing and data storage and covers a range of other areas, including data breaches, spam, and identity theft. The law must be approved by President Ollanta Humala before being put into force.
Industry: Moderate Your Own Comments, Says YouTube
YouTube introduced advanced moderation features for comments, which will enable channel owners to block users and even ban comments with certain keywords. Comments from the video owner and “popular personalities” will be put on top, but users will still be able to vote on comments.
At “Diplohack” at the Hub in Westminster, United Kingdom, diplomats and NGO representatives gathered to brainstorm how creative collaboration in the arts can enhance freedom of speech.
A remarkable though somewhat disturbing new website features photos of the faces of 1.2 billion Facebook users. Graphic designer Natalie Rojas has placed the photos in chronological order, according to the dates of people’s Facebook registration.
Publications and Studies