#IMWeekly: October 21, 2013

Belgium
A new measure proposed by European lawmakers could require American companies to get clearance from European officials before “complying with United States warrants seeking private data.” A vote on the new measure, which was proposed in response to recent revelations about American spying by the NSA, is scheduled for October 21.

France
Le Monde reported that the NSA collected 70.3 million French telephone records during a 30-day period. In response, the French government summoned the US ambassador to demand an explanation for the NSA operation and to renew requests that the US cease its surveillance and enter into talks regarding protection of personal data. The report in Le Monde was co-written by Glenn Greenwald, the same reporter who originally revealed information about NSA surveillance based on leaks from Edward Snowden.

Mexico
A new report by Der Spiegel found that the NSA has been systematically eavesdropping on the Mexican government for years, including hacking into the public email account of former president Felipe Calderon. A statement by the Mexican foreign ministry condemned the US surveillance operation, calling it “unacceptable, illegitimate, and against Mexican and international law.”

Morocco
On October 19, the Moroccan government began blocking a number of websites and social media platforms, including Lakome, one of the country’s main independent media outlets. Lakome was believed to be the primary target of the government’s blocking efforts, as the site’s editor, Ali Anouzla, was arrested on September 17 after publishing an article containing a link to a video by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Many journalists and advocacy groups have called for Anouzla’s release.

Pakistan
Pakistani activists are using Twitter to voice their opposition to a three-month ban of messaging apps—including Viber, WhatsApp, Tango, and Skype—implemented by Pakistani’s Sindh provincial government (the province includes Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city).

#imweekly is a regular round-up of news about Internet content controls and activity around the world. To subscribe via RSS, click here.

#IMWeekly: October 15, 2013

Belgium
European Union lawmakers are ramping up efforts to more aggressively regulate European cloud computing. While these efforts could make computing more complicated for businesses and individuals, lawmakers believe they are necessary to protect the privacy of European users from spying by the US and other foreign nations.

Brazil
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced via Twitter that the Brazilian government will develop a secure e-mail system in order to protect its internal communications from foreign spying. The announcement is part of a notable recent trend among countries and global organizations trying to undermine US management and control of the Internet. Rousseff has been a vocal critic of US web surveillance in the wake of recent revelations regarding US spying. Brazil has also been named as the host for next year’s Internet Governance Summit.

Uruguay
At this year’s Internet Governance Summit in Montevideo, Uruguay, the directors of the major organizations responsible for developing and administering Internet standards and resources—ICANN, the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Architecture Board, the World Wide Web Consortium, and all five of the regional Internet Address registries—moved to break from US dominance of Internet governance.  The group released a statement that called for “accelerating the globalization of ICANN and IANA functions, towards an environment in which all stakeholders, including all government, participate on an equal footing.”

United States
Earlier this month, Freedom House released its annual report on global Internet freedom: Freedom of the Net 2013: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media. The report, which looks at 60 countries, found Internet freedom to be on the decline, citing an increasing number of laws controlling Internet content and more aggressive efforts by governments to arrest social media users and online activists. The report also found, however, that Internet activists are becoming better organized and better able to resist efforts toward further regulation. Iceland ranked highest among countries surveyed in terms of Internet freedom (followed by Estonia, Germany, the US, and Australia), while Iran, Cuba, and China ranked at the bottom among countries deemed “not free.”

#imweekly is a regular round-up of news about Internet content controls and activity around the world. To subscribe via RSS, click here.

#IMWeekly: September 23, 2013

Bangladesh
Late last month, Bangladesh’s Ministry of Law approved several amendments to the country’s ICT Act that, among other changes, make posting “fake and obscene” material online illegal. Human rights activists, worried that the amendments will lead to an increase in politically motivated arrests of bloggers and others (earlier this year, the government established a special committee to identify Internet users deemed to be “anti-Muslim”), are urging Parliament not to approve new version of the Act.

Brazil
Brazil is considering requiring Internet companies to host data collected locally on servers located in Brazil. The proposed amendment to the country’s draft Marco Civil bill is widely seen as part of a backlash against PRISM and other US surveillance programs. The amendment is intended to protect the privacy of Brazilian Internet users, but some experts are worried that, because Brazil currently lacks specific data protection laws, a new local data storage policy may actually put privacy at risk.

India
The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India, is blaming social media for instigating religious riots in the town of Muzaffarnagar earlier this month. The riots, in which at least 50 were killed and tens of thousands displaced from their homes, were sparked by the murder of three young men involved in a dispute about the harassment of a young woman. They escalated quickly, allegedly inflamed by local politicians intent on manipulating religious tensions for their own gain. Last week, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister stated at a press conference that social media was used to spread misinformation and hate speech and called for censorship to prevent further bloodshed.

#imweekly is a regular round-up of news about Internet content controls and activity around the world. To subscribe via RSS, click here.

#IMweekly: September 3, 2013

Azerbaijan
The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology of Nakhchivan, an Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan, has ordered Internet cafes throughout the area to shut down. Human rights activists speculate that the order may be part of an attempt to curb online dissent in advance of Azerbaijan’s October 9 presidential elections. Bloggers and journalists throughout the country who are critical of the government have faced arrests, hacking, and blackmail attempts over the past year as part of a broad crackdown on online freedom of expression.

Gambia
Recently passed legislation in Gambia amending the Information and Communication Act to include a prohibition against the spread of false news and the jail terms of up to 15 years. Speaking about the new legislation, Gambia’s head of Civil Service and Minister of Presidential Affairs warned, “If you cannot say anything good about the country, then you should keep quiet.”

Syria
As the conflict in Syria continues, the country’s Internet connectivity is experiencing a number of changes. Internet access in Aleppo, the country’s largest city, went completely dark on August 29. Renesys explored the country’s international service providers and noted that Aleppo appears to be served almost exclusively by Turk Telecom via a land-based cable link, while the rest of the country is served by a small handful of other providers via three undersea cables.

United States
Last week we reported on Internet.org, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s new venture to bring Internet access to the global masses. As it turns out, the previous owner of the Internet.org domain had no idea to whom he was selling it.

#imweekly is a regular round-up of news about Internet content controls and activity around the world. To subscribe via RSS, click here.

The Pursuit of Open Government

Countries in the Middle East and North Africa historically held statistical data about their populations close. But in recent years, Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, Morocco, Libya, Djibouti, and Jordan have joined regional open data pioneers Palestine and Iraq in releasing detailed data sets to the public or directly to organizations.

While this offers promise to researchers, students, journalists, and citizens who seek detailed information about life in the region, open government involves more than posting data online. Countries around the world are talking about open government, and people are creating useful tools and uncovering important stories with open data. But legislative obstacles, fear, and gaps in access to information communication technology can reduce or even detract from the benefits of open government.

The United States and United Kingdom launched open data portals between 2009 and 2010, spearheading an open government data movement. Kenya launched a portal in 2011, and Sri Lanka and Canada unveiled updated versions of their portals this June.

More than 50 countries have joined an Open Government Declaration. This June the G8 countries passed an Open Data Charter pledging to develop and implement open data policies. Experts praised this initial step but cautioned that cumbersome licensing or inability to enforce policies, among other concerns, could hinder the charter’s effectiveness.

The Open Knowledge Foundation compiled a census that evaluates data from 60 countries (at the time of writing) on seven conditions: existence online, open licensing, public availability, machine readability, digital availability, recency, and bulk availability. The census deems less than one-quarter of datasets truly “open.”

The Knight Foundation recently awarded $3.2 million in grants to develop online tools that facilitate citizen-government information sharing. The city of Oakland, California developed a process to involve citizens in allocating the city’s budget; this includes a website with data and visualizations.

The buzzwords transparency and accountability often accompany pronouncements about open government data. But the concepts do not always operate hand-in-hand. Availability of mass-transit data yields an animation of how people in New York use the subway. Availability of procurement data enables an interactive database to map connections between people, companies, and government contracts in Slovakia. Both provide useful insights, but one offers greater utility to citizens who want to keep their government honest.

Governments continue to speak of the benefits of open data, but too often the conversation focuses on “opening up uncontroversial data sets and the method of distributing these data sets” instead of letting journalists and citizens freely access public data and use it to question public servants, writes Index on Censorship’s Mike Harris. He cites excessive classification of documents in the United States, broad exemptions in Rwanda’s freedom of information law, and a threatening environment for journalists in Azerbaijan as examples of governments paying lip service to open data.

Even if governments provide access to their data and incorporate data analysis into their decision-making, the digital divide reminds users to consider the representativeness of that data. If the Centers for Disease Control uses Google searches to monitor flu trends, what happens to communities that do not have Internet access or to people who do not own a computer?

Democracy draws strength from the participation of an informed citizenry, and the Internet offers tools to realize new levels of civic engagement. But as long as governments allow data to remain hidden or people who pursue that data to be intimidated, openness remains an aspiration.