The Netizen Report originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. James Losey, Renata Avila, Hae-in Lim, Sonia Roubini, Grady Johnson, Bojan Perkov, Ellery Roberts Biddle, and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.
Global Voices Advocacy’s Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week’s report begins in Turkey, where authorities are making moves to curb online rights in the wake of June’s anti-government protests and a major corruption scandal that resulted in a series of arrests and changes to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s Cabinet. A draft law currently before Parliament would give the Turkish government new powers to access and retain user data, and to block content deemed illegal in “emergency” situations without judicial oversight. The law would also require all Internet service providers to join a state-run association that would drive the implementation of content- and data-related policies.
With elections nearing, the government is also using existing law to extend political control online. Last week, Twitter lit up with reports that the popular video-sharing site Vimeo had been blocked temporarily in the country, the result of a federal court decision. Vimeo was used widely for sharing videos of last year’s Taksim Gezi Park protests.
Free Expression: “Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one.”
As India prepares for national elections in May, media commentators are expressing concerns about the impartiality and independence of India’s press. Getting to the bottom of media ownership is a labyrinthine task, but increasing swaths of India’s 400 TV channels and more than 80,000 publications are coming under the ownership of politicians and their affiliates, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. India’s Caravan magazine discusses how political parties abuse their media holdings by controlling coverage, citing New Yorker columnist A.J. Liebling’s famous quip, “freedom of the press is limited to those who own one.”
Filmmakers in China are turning to video sharing sites like Youku Tudou to produce films on subjects that Chinese censors consider controversial. Largely funded by major brands, short films on topics like LGBT issues are attracting growing attention.
Thuggery: Repression surges on eve of Egypt’s referendum.
Egypt’s current leadership has called on citizens to vote on a constitutional referendum that would signal public approval of the military government and its July ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi. In the weeks leading up to the vote, activists on various sides of the political debate have faced heightened consequences for their actions. Last week, activists Alaa Abd El Fattah, Mona Seif, and 10 others received one-year suspended sentences on unfounded accusations that they set fire to a campaign office of ex-presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq. Alaa was sentenced in absentia, as he is currently in pre-trial detention on a separate charge concerning a protest that took place on Nov. 26. Egyptian scholar Rasha Abdulla writes: “Activists in Egypt believe these cases and others are merely political in nature, and meant to keep prominent activists behind bars while intimidating others to keep them away from the political process.”
On Jan. 8, 2014, extremist Somali militia Al-Shabab issued an ultimatum to Somalia’s Internet service providers: Cut Internet access within 15 days—or face “serious consequences.” Three days later, the Somali minister of interior and national security urged companies to ignore the threat and condemned it, citing the right to free expression enshrined in the country’s constitution. Ironically, Al-Shabab has a major presence on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, which it relies on to disseminate its views.
Surveillance: “Safe Harbor” not enough for Europeans.
The European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs released a draft report on the NSA scandal and mass surveillance, calling on the European Commission to review data-sharing agreements with the United States and arguing that “Safe Harbour principles do not provide adequate protection for EU citizens.”
Industry: Tech giants made a “good faith effort” on human rights—but is that enough?
Five years ago, leading NGOs focusing on human rights in the digital age joined Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo to form the Global Network Initiative, a coalition effort to improve company policies and practices as they relate to human rights. Last week, the GNI released its first public report on independent assessments of the three companies—and it concludes that each is making a “good faith effort” to implement GNI’s “Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy.”
U.S. digital rights group Access praised the effort but pointed to some critical gaps in the assessment process. According to Access, independent assessors “struggled to obtain all of the necessary information about the companies’ policies and practices”—due in part to legal limitations on disclosure of national security-related data requests, but also to internal company decisions. Case studies on specific threats to user rights served as a focal point for assessment, but these studies were selected by companies themselves, rather than the assessors or the non-corporate members of the GNI, who represent some of the world’s leading experts on human rights in the digital era.
Publications and Studies
- “Time to Step Up: The EU and Freedom of Expression”—Index on Censorship
- “Tiny Constables and the Cost of Surveillance: Making Cents Out of United States v. Jones”—Yale Law Journal