The Free Internet Project

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Freedom House "Freedom on the Net" Report 2016: 67% of world live in countries with censorship

In a survey of 65 countries, Freedom House has reported that internet freedom across the world has been in a decline for the past six years, with two-thirds of internet users living under a government that has censored internet. Freedom House has ranked China, Syria, and Iran as countries with the most restrictive internet laws. 

Many countries have blocked secure messaging apps. WhatsApp was blocked most of all messaging apps, being restricted in 12 countries this year. The number of governments that restricted access to social media and communication services increased from 15 to 24. Governments have also blocked materials related to LGBT rights and photos that made fun of countries' leaders. [Download the Report]

Russia orders ban of LinkedIn due to local server privacy reqirement

Linkedin will be banned in Russia possibly within this week. In August, a Moscow court upheld a decision to block Linkedin. Critics are worried that this decision will further expand the state’s control over Russian’s citizens to the internet. Roskomnadzor, the executive body responsible for regulating media, claims that Linkedin violated Russian privacy law by not storing users' personal information in Russia. Alexander Zharov, Roskomnadzor's chief, state that many larger internet companies are in the process of complying with this law. However, larger social media companies like Facebook and Twitter have not complied with this law. [More from The Independent]

China's new cybersecurity law criticized for censorship and privacy concerns

On Monday, China passed controversial cybersecurity legislation allegedly in response to hacking and terrorism threats. The law includes provisions that require the storage personal information and important business data, making companies concerned that they will be required to hand over their intellectual property. Yang Heqing, an official on the National People’s Congress standing committee, stated that the legislation has been enacted to address China’s national security and development issues. Zhao Zeliang, a director of the Cyberspace Administration of China, stated that the law is in accordance with international trade rules.

The legislation is drawing criticism from various rights advocates. In August, Global business groups had urged Beijing to amend the legislation. James Zimmerman, the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce of China, stated that the vague provisions of the legislation could result in broad interpretations by regulation authorities.  [More from The Guardian]

Turkey blocks social media sites Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube and Facebook

On Friday, the Turkish government began using throttling, a method that renders websites unusable by slowing them down, to block major social media apps including Twitter, WhatsApp, Youtube, and Facebook. The Turkish government has a history of suppressing internet freedoms and the circulation of information. Earlier this week, the government blocked internet for users in the southeast part of Turkey. In April 2015, the government lifted a ban on Twitter, originally due to a photo of a Turkish prosecutor held at gunpoint by far-left militants being circulated on the site, only when Twitter agreed to remove all offending images and shut down accounts. These actions are not unheard of, as various countries around the world have banned social media apps. For example, Brazil once suspended WhatsApp when the company did not turn in a user’s encrypted data.  [More from Social Barrel]

Alt-R group subverts trademarks and other terms to avoid Google's censorship of hate speech and offensive terms

‘Free Speech’ trolls have created a new internet language to avoid censorship. The movement, called the alt-right, is standing up against major tech firms such as Google after they announced the launch of a system called Conversation Al. Conversation Al detects and censors words which Google has determined to be offensive. Google has defended their program as a way of taking on trolling and making the internet a safer space. However, critics of Conversation Al fear this project will kill free internet speech.

As a response to Conversation Al, the alt-right movement, led by various online communities, has created a scheme called Operation Google. Operation Google replaces offensive words with more acceptable-sounding terms in an effort to force the tech giant to self-censor.

Glossary of Hate Speech

  • Black person – Google
  • Muslim – Skittle
  • Jew- Skype
  • Transgender – Durden
  • Mexican – Yahoo
  • Liberals – Car Salesman
  • Chinese – Bing
  • Conservatives – Reagans
  • Lesbian – Fishbucket
  • Libertarian – A Leppo
  • Gay man – Butterfly

The campaign is urged to target black people on Twitter or Facebook with slurs and other offensive content. A flurry of offensive memes has followed. Among them is an image of a lynching with the caption ‘Google Hangout.’

Despite Google’s efforts to create a safe space it seems the alt-righters are determined to make censorship difficult for the tech giant. [More from The Sun (UK)]

China to use Damnu to censor live comments on video streaming sites

On Tuesday, internet security authorities in Shanghai, China declared they would be overseeing Damnu. Damnu, which means “barrage” or “bullet screen,” refers to real-time comments on online videos. All websites will be required to filter out words that violate laws, and must assign staff to review all online comments in real time. 

This is one part of the country’s aim to regulate Internet. Along with the Shanghai police shutting down and checking more than a million live broadcasting hosts, China has made spreading online rumors a criminal offense. China has also allowed online chatroom conversations to be accepted as legal evidence in courts.

David Bandurski, researcher for the University of Hong Kong’s China Media Project, has referred to the declaration as a “cat and mouse game.” He believes authorities want complete control of online information, but also seek to have increased internet activity to boost the economy.  Despite China’s effort to regulate internet activity and enhance cybersecurity, censoring live streaming content may prove to be difficult. [More from South China Morning Post]

US turns over DNS control to ICANN amid controversy

The US Department of Commerce has given control of the Internet’s domain name server (DNS) to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN is a nonprofit organization composed of stakeholders who are technical experts, government representatives, and business representatives. The attorney generals of several states have filed a lawsuit to block the transfer. However, a federal judge has denied the request for injunctive relief.

Critics of the transfer fear that it will lead to authoritarian-level censorship. Senator Ted Cruz compared the transfer to Middle Eastern countries, as well as China and Russia, “that punish and incarcerate those who engage in political dissent.” ICANN has responded to such allegations by ensuring an open internet. The Internet Governance Coalition, a group composed of companies including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Verizon, has announced their efforts to ensure ICANN remain accountable and transparent. 

More discussion on CNET

South Africa considers the Films and Publications Amendment Bill that critics claim would equal Internet censorship

South Africa's National Assembly is considering the Films and Publications Amendment Bill [text], which is intended to amend the Films and Publications Act of 1996. The bill has sparked great controversy in the Internet community. Many critics call it the "Internet censorship bill."  

What are the fears of censorship?  Part of the controversy is the section establishing an independent rating system for "digital films, digital games and certain publications." Critics argue that the provision is overly broad and could apply to every creator of videos on YouTube in South Africa, even user-generated content--thereby subjecting them to register as a distributor with the Film and Publication Board (FPB's).  Section 24A treats failure to register as a potential criminal offense subject to fine or imprisonment ("(1) Any person who knowingly distributes or exhibits in public a film or game without first having been registered with the Board as a distributor or exhibitor of films or games shall be guilty of an offence and liable, upon conviction, to a fine not exceeding R150 000 or to imprisonment for a period.").

In addition, any distributor under the FPB's jurisdiction would be required to maintain controls to prevent individuals under 18 years of age from accessing material classified as "X18," including the following verification:

  • the distributor shall keep, solely for his or her private records, a register of all instances where access was granted to a user, whose name, address and verifiable age must be noted in the register kept for that purpose.
  • the register referred to in paragraph (e) must be kept for one year from the date when distribution took place.

Critics argue this registry could chill adults from accessing legal content and constitute an invasion of privacy.  According to new reports, the Democratic Alliance, "MultiChoice, eNCA, eTV, Right2Know, Media Monitoring Africa, the SOS Coalition, the South African National Editors Forum, the National Association of Broadcasters, Google and the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC)" have all opposed the bill.   

Tokyo High Court rejects right to be forgotten claim

The Tokyo High Court reversed a district court decision that recognized a person's "right to be forgotten" to request removal of search results from a Google search of the person's name.  The Saitama District Court had recognized such a right in June 2015 for a person who had been arrested for involvement in child prostitution and pornography related crimes more than five years ago.  The Tokyo High Court found no basis in Japan's law for a right to be forgotten.

UN Human Rights Council issues nonbinding resolution on Internet access as a human right

The United Nations Human Rights Council passed a nonbinding resolution reaffirming its view that Internet access is a basic human right.  The resolution "calls upon all States to address security concerns on the Internet in accordance with their international human rights obligations to ensure protection of freedom of expression, freedom of association, privacy and other human rights online, including through national democratic, transparent institutions, based on the rule of law, in a way that ensures freedom and security on the Internet so that it can continue to be a vibrant force that generates economic, social and cultural development."

The resolution also "condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law and calls on all States to refrain from and cease such measures."  [English text]

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