A U.S. judge has ruled that the Chinese search engine Baidu has the right to block pro-democracy works from its query results, dismissing a lawsuit that sought to punish the company for Internet censorship.
The lawsuit against Baidu, originally filed in 2011 by eight activists in New York, claimed that the Chinese search engine had violated U.S. laws on free speech. This was because Baidu had been censoring pro-democracy works on its search engine
for not only its users in China, but also for those accessing the site from New York.
But U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman ruled against the activists, and said requiring Baidu to include pro-democracy works in its search results would run afoul of the U.S.'s free speech laws. In his ruling, Furman compared Baidu's
blocking of pro-democracy works to a newspaper's right to exercise editorial control to publish what it wants. In Baidu's case, the company has created a search engine that favors certain political speech.
A group of activists are hoping to appeal a U.S. judge's ruling that treated the censorship on Chinese search engine Baidu as free speech.
In making the ruling, District Judge Jesse Furman equated the censorship to a newspaper exercising its editorial right to publish what it wants. But Stephen Preziosi, lawyer for the eight pro-democracy activists, said in an email Saturday that the
comparison was wrong, and that the court had a fundamental misunderstanding of how search engines work.
The appeal is planned to be filed later this week, Preziosi wrote.
UK Video on Demand censor ATVOD has called for the law to be changed to require pornography sites to carry out age checks before granting access.
It said credit and debit card operators would be forbidden from processing payments from British customers to sites that did not comply. It claimed that the matter was so urgent that it was critical the legislation is enacted during this
To back up its demand, the body commissioned market research firm Nielsen Netview to install equipment that monitored the online habits of 45,000 desktop PC and laptop users over the course of a month. The survey indicated that over the period:
6% of children aged 15 years or younger had accessed an adult website
5% of visitors to such sites had been under-18
One website alone - Pornhub - had been visited by 112,000 boys in the UK aged between 12 and 17-years-old Of the wider population,
23% of those who had used the net over the month had visited an adult site Visitors to adult sites spent an average of 15 minutes looking at them during each visit and typically clocked up two-and-a-half hours of time in total over the month
Atvod added that the survey probably underestimated the scale of the issue since smartphone and tablet use was not included in the figures.
The regulator already forces UK-based sites to carry out onerous and impractical age verification checks before explicit photographs and videos can be viewed. This can be done by requiring valid credit card details (sorry debit card holders, these
simply wont do) or other personal information that can be cross-referenced with the electoral roll or another ID database. (or used for phishing or identity theft)
Sex and Censorship, a free speech campaign group, - said the move would prove ineffective.
It won't make any difference to the sites that give all their videos away for free and sell advertising because they don't need credit card processing, said Jerry Barnett.
And some sites are already accepting bitcoin and other anonymous online payment systems. A clampdown on card payments would just accelerate this trend.
Even if implemented, this measure would have no effect on the range of content available to British consumers.
It seems strange that ATVOD aren't considering the far more practical solution of a central verification authority that is a bit more trustworthy (but not much with NSA and GCHQ snoopers) than a foreign porn site. Then for adult websites to
enforce this external age verification without being able to monitor people's personal details.
Perhaps ATVOD are happier to see websites suffocated by their impractical and dangerous rules than be allowed to thrive under a more efficient age verification scheme.
In the ATVOD press release ATVOD chair and censorship advocate Ruth Evans claimed:
We do not advocate censorship.There is nothing in the ATVOD Rules which interferes with the right to provide sexually explicit material to an adult online.
[ ...UNLESS... of course that person doesn't hold a credit car. ..OR doesn't want to provide credit card details for a quick look round. ..OR... Doesn't want to risk ID theft or phishing by typing in dangerous ID details...]
Update: As if this measure would really prevent young men from gaining access to porn
31st March 2013. Thanks to Alan
Where does ATVOD recruit idiots to work for it?
This idiocy about protecting children really pisses me off. When I was a hormonal post-pubertal lad, more than half a century ago, I had no problem finding back-street newsagents with no qualms about selling me a mucky magazine. Are today's
media-savvy young men and women going to be prevented from gaining access to porn, whatever ATVOD or control-freak parents say?
In any case, how would ATVOD ban payments? I've never yet encountered a porn site which asks you to pay directly to Filthy Films Inc. Payments are through processors like CC Bill, which guarantee discretion, so that if your vanilla other half
happens upon your Barclaycard bill he/she doesn't know that you're subscribing to Burning Bums Spanking. If they do somehow ban CC Bill, Verotel, etc. it will just be a gift to pirates with no interest in prohibiting access by young people.
Turkey has blocked Twitter after its prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, threatened to "root out" the social media network where wiretapped recordings have been leaked. These records were reported to reveal government corruption, hardly
what the government needs ahead of local elections.
Twitter as blocked by Turkey's telecommunications censor (TIB) with a statement citing court orders relating to the recordings. But the Internet Technologies Board, BTK claimed nonsense about it being to avoid the possible future victimisation
Erdogan had made repeated threats to shut down social media sites after audio recordings of his alleged conversations suggesting corruption were leaked. Two weeks ago he suggested that a total ban on sites like Facebook and YouTube were in his
thoughts. The point was dismissed days later by the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, but Erdogan then repeated his claims. We will wipe out all of these, Erdogan told thousands of supporters at a political rally.
Offsite Article: Turkey's Twitter Ban Collapse Fueled By VPNs and DNS Tricks
Friday's news that the Turkish government had banned its citizens from accessing Twitter was depressing but an opportunity to be embraced. Forewarned is forearmed, and the fact that Turks are learning how to beat censorship with VPNs and DNS
tricks better prepares them for the future.
Turkey has stepped up its efforts to block access to Twitter after many users found ways to flout its ban. Internet service providers in the country are now blocking the addresses used by the site, making it significantly more difficult to get
around the restrictions, analysts have said.
Initially, Turkish internet service providers (ISPs) were simply redirecting traffic to a government webpage by forcing the DNS servers, which send to the correct IP addresses for the site they are trying to access, to redirect away from Twitter's
Now, however, ISPs have begun blocking the IP addresses used by Twitter themselves, according to an analysis carried out by internet monitoring firm Renesys. And a Turkish government webpage confirmed the block, citing court orders.
The Turkish government reinforced its heavily criticised censorship of social media by blocking YouTube a week after it restricted access to the micro-blogging platform Twitter. The latest curbs came hours after an audio recording of a high-level
security meeting was leaked on the video-sharing website.
Several similarly incriminating recordings, allegedly showing massive government corruption and prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's direct influence on the media, have been leaked on social media in recent weeks. Erdogan has dismissed the
allegations as lies and blackmail, accusing the opposition of trying to undermine the success of his Justice and Development party (AKP) ahead of critical local elections on Sunday.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdog(an continues to double down on Internet censorship. A week after Turkish ISPs blocked Twitter Turkey's telecommunications authority has blocked YouTube . The block began to be rolled out hours after a
leaked recording published anonymously on YouTube purported to show a conversation in which Turkey's foreign minister, spy chief, and a top general appear to discuss scenarios that could lead to a Turkish attack against militants in Syria.
The fallout from the Erdogan government's censorship spree has not been limited to platforms that host embarrassing political content. When Turkish Internet users handily circumvented the original Twitter block by using Google's DNS servers,
Google's DNS was itself blocked. Now it appears that just as Turkey's ISPs are rolling out a block on YouTube, they are also blocking access to the Tor Project's website , where users can download the Tor Browser Bundle. The Tor browser is a
powerful tool in the censorship circumvention toolbox because it is exceptionally difficult to filter Tor traffic . Mirror Mirror
For users in Turkey who have already downloaded the Tor Browser Bundle, censorship circumvention should continue without a hitch. And for the users who have not yet done so, it's not too late. The Tor project's website has many mirrors:
The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTU K) has suspended the national broadcast license of Kanaltu rk TV, citing an administrative decision from years ago, a legal controversy that adds to concerns that state agencies are stepping up
a clampdown on any voice critical of the government.
The decision came as the government dragged its feet on lifting the Twitter ban, which was deemed illegal and unconstitutional by both an Ankara court and the Constitutional Court. The government's tightening grip on any form of media is of
serious concern ahead of local elections.
RTUK cited a 2010 decision of an administrative court which states the TV station cannot broadcast nationally but is allowed to broadcast regionally.
Update: ...But Erdogan still gets the country's support in elections
Erdogan's increasingly Islamist and imperialist AKP won a solid majority in voting across Turkey on Sunday, in what is seen as a referendum on his rule
In Sunday's vote across Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdog(an's increasingly Islamist and imperialistic Justice and Development AK party appeared to receive an overwhelming majority of the votes cast.
The government is supporting calls for harsher penalties for internet insults. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has backed Conservative MP Angie Bray's demands for changes to the law.
According to the Evening Standard , Grayling agreed that the legislation needed to be tightened to protect victims from malicious comments being directed at them via social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.
Offences under the Malicious Communications Act currently only carry prison sentences that are no longer than six months, because such cases are heard at magistrates' courts. The proposed amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, which will be
discussed in Parliament on Thursday, could change that, presumably by allowing Crown Court scale punishments.
Comment: If we want to live in a society without offence we will live in a society without free speech
Index is deeply concerned at the government's apparent intention to deepen the criminal penalties for grossly offensive communications sent through the internet or social media. Just last year, the then Director of Public Prosecutions Keir
Starmer put out a very sensible set of guidelines to limit the number of arrests for social media posts that may be offensive to some but did not constitute a criminal offence. Now we are going backwards. Offence is a subjective concept and if we
want to live in a society without offence we will live in a society without free speech.
Offsite Comment: Free speech will suffer if politicians get tough on offensive tweets
New Zealand's biggest telecommunications company says proposed laws to clamp-down on online abuse will inevitably abused for malicious censorship.
Speaking before MPs, John Wesley-Smith from Telecom said under the proposed laws internet firms that hosted websites or social media forums would end up removing content as soon as someone complained, to avoid potential penalties. The complaints
system would also effectively give censorship power to complainants who might be acting maliciously themselves. He said:
We are concerned that this will create unhealthy sensitiveness for online content hosts to remove any content that is complained about. This raises questions about censorship and freedom of speech.
For content that it did not control, such as third-party websites, the problem would be more pronounced and Telecom's only recourse would be to shut them down entirely, he said.
Telecom was speaking before the justice and electoral select committee which is considering a bill that would criminalise harmful digital communication . It would also create a new authority to consider complaints and issue take-down
notices, including against internet service providers.
The Chinese government has revealed an expansion of internet censorship with a new training programme for the estimated two million opinion monitors Beijing organised last year.
Training will target the whole range of state workers including law enforcement, academia and state businesses.
The training course will reportedly cost 6,800 yuan ($1,108) and graduates will receive a certificate according to one of five levels -- assistant analyst, analyst, senior analyst, manager and senior manager. The test will take three hours and
participants will be required to take a refresher course at a later date.
Once trained, monitors will supervise the posting of social media messages, deleting those that are deemed harmful. Beijing claims to have deployed advanced filtering technology to identify problematic posts, and will need to rapidly filter out false, harmful, incorrect, or even reactionary information,
according to state press agency Xinhua.
Alongside the announcement about the training course, the government emphasised its concern over the spreading of rumours, which have recently become a euphemism for political discussion, including possible corruption of senior officials
online. Those who spread rumors would be severely punished, the statement confirmed.
Amid revelations that the US National Security Agency has the ability for the mass interception of data going between servers and other computers, tech giant Google now says it will encrypt all messages sent through its Gmail email service to
restrict prying eyes from looking at private messages.
In a blog post made by head Gmail security engineer Nicolas Lidzborski, Google said that every time a user checks or sent email, it will be encryped as the data goes to and from Google's servers.
Although Google has given Gmail users the ability to sign into their accouints through an encrypted connection (known as HTTPS) since 2010, Gmail will now automatically default users to the more secure network.
In addition, every single email message you send or receive---100 percent of them---is encrypted while moving internally, the post reads. This ensures that your messages are safe not only when they move between you and Gmail's servers, but also
as they move between Google's data centers---something we made a top priority after last summer's revelations.
However, Google hasn't NSA-proofed Gmail completely. The agency still has the ability to send out National Security Letters compelling a company to release information. And the federal government hasn't been shy requesting data from Google. In a
transparency report , Google said that for the first half of 2013, it received 25,879 requests for user information from government agencies and courts.
The cross party Culture, Media and Sport Committee has published a report on Online Safety.
Conservative MP John Whittingdale, chair of the committee and pro-censorship sound bite provider for the tabloid press, said the current relatively unfettered access to adult pornography online represented a failure to protect
children. While more regulation is not necessary, he said:
Those who profit from the internet must demonstrate the utmost commitment to protecting children and should be prosecuted and penalised if they don't.
The report particularly concurs with ATVOD's suggestion that adult websites that can be viewed by children should be prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act on the grounds that such material depraves and corrupts children. But given that
millions of kids have already viewed such content, and there is no real sign of any mass child depravity, then this legal contention is provably bollox.
A selection of the committee's recommendation relating to censorship are:
8. We welcome the Government's decision to include pornographic depictions of rape in the definition of extreme pornography. It has been illegal to publish such images for many years; outlawing their possession is long overdue.
9. There is clearly a need to obtain wider international consensus and cooperation in relation to combating criminally obscene adult material and terrorist material and we urge the Government to use all the influences it can bring to bear to
bring this about within a transparent, legal framework.
10. We believe that the existing obscenity laws already proscribe the publication of adult material in ways that make it readily available to children. However, we are concerned that no prosecutions have been brought despite the proliferation of
pornography sites which make no attempt to restrict access by children. We welcome the Government's declared intention to legislate to clarify the law in this area. However, in the meantime, we urge the prosecuting authorities to use the
existing law to crack down on the worst offenders in order to put pressure on all suppliers of hardcore pornography to make greater efforts to ensure that such material is accessible only by adults.
11. The Government should seek agreement with other European Union Member States to ban on demand programme services that make pornography readily available to children. We further urge the Government to engage with other international partners,
particularly the USA, with the aim of securing a similar outcome more widely.
12. We believe that, as part of its existing media literacy duties, Ofcom has an important role in monitoring internet content and advising the public on online safety. However, we are anxious to avoid suggesting a significant extension of
formal content regulation of the internet. Among the unintended consequences this could have would be a stifling of the free flow of ideas that lies at the heart of internet communication.
13. Providers of adult content on the internet should take all reasonable steps to prevent children under 18 from accessing inappropriate and harmful content. Such systems may include, but will not necessarily be restricted to, processes to
verify the age of users.
14. We have no reason to suppose that Nominet has either the resources or inclination to police the internet. Age verification, while ideal, is not the only way of preventing children from accessing unsuitable content. However, we believe that
no .uk site should offer unimpeded access to adult pornography to children. This should be made a condition of registration.
15. Site blocking is highly unlikely to be a suitable approach for adult pornography or violent material much of which is legal (at least if it is unavailable to minors) and which is prevalent on the internet. However, blocking should be
considered as a last resort for particularly harmful adult websites that make no serious attempt to hinder access by children.
16. We welcome the introduction of whole home filtering solutions that prompt account holders with a choice to apply them. We encourage all internet service providers to offer their customers this valuable service. Ofcom should monitor the
implementation of this filtering and report back on its level of success and adoption.
18. We agree that the availability and performance of filtering solutions must be closely monitored, both for efficacy and the avoidance of over-blocking. It should also be easy for websites inadvertently blocked to report the fact and for
corrective action to be taken.
19. Websites that provide adult content should signal the fact clearly to enable filters better to take effect. A failure on the part of the operators of such sites to do so should be a factor in determining what measures should be taken against
20. Filters are clearly a useful tool to protect children online. Ofcom should continue to monitor their effectiveness and the degree to which they can be circumvented.
21. We welcome the introduction of ParentPort but believe Ofcom should seek to promote and improve it further. For example, more use could be made of it to collect data on complaints concerning children's access to adult material.
22. We further recommend that Ofcom regularly reports on children's access to agerestricted material, particularly adult pornography and the effectiveness of filters and age verification measures. Ofcom is well-placed to fulfil this role given
the work it does on its Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report.
23. We note comments on the state of, and access to, sex and relationships education. We are aware this is a politically contested subject but believe the Government should take into account the views of the young people who gave evidence to us
of the value and importance of good quality mandatory sex and relationship education as policy develops. In the mean time, teachers have many opportunities to use their professional judgement in advising children both on online safety and on
respect for each other. We believe there is scope for providing teachers with clearer signposting of the advice and educational resources that are already available.
31. Ofcom should monitor and report on complaints it receives, perhaps via an improved ParentPort, regarding the speed and effectiveness of response to complaints by different social media providers.
Offsite Comment: A barrister also asks whether hardcore porn really depraves and corrupts
The government would need to establish that viewing ordinary adult pornography is such as to tend to deprave and corrupt its audience. Whatever your views about pornography, this is a high threshold and would need to be backed up with reliable
evidence -- for example, from child psychologists and teachers.
Theresa May summoned internet giant Yahoo to an urgent meeting to raise security concerns after the company announced plans to move to Dublin where it is beyond the reach of Britain's snooping free-for-all.
By making the Irish capital rather than London the centre of its European, Middle East and Africa operations, Yahoo cannot be forced to hand over information demanded by the police and security agencies through warrants issued under
Britain's controversial anti-terror laws.
Yahoo has had longstanding concerns about securing the privacy of its hundreds of millions of users -- anxieties that have been heightened in recent months by revelations from the whistleblower Edward Snowden. The company said this represented a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy
The Guardian reported that it had been told that Charles Farr, the head of the office for security and counter-terrorism (OSCT) within the Home Office, has been pressing May to talk to Yahoo because of anxiety in Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism
command about the effect the move to Dublin could have on their inquiries. A Whitehall source explained:
There are concerns in the Home Office about how Ripa will apply to Yahoo once it has moved its headquarters to Dublin. The home secretary asked to see officials from Yahoo because in Dublin they don't have equivalent laws to Ripa. This could
particularly affect investigations led by Scotland Yard and the national crime agency. They regard this as a very serious issue.
The move to make Dublin will take effect from Friday.
YouTube is said to be working on a version of its site designed specifically for children aged 10 and under, according to new reports.
The new site would feature content specifically created for children free from inappropriate videos or comments they may stumble across on the full version.
The Information has reported the new version could help to set parents' mind at ease, according to three insiders briefed on the new development. The report states that Google has already approached developers and creators about the generation of
new child-orientated videos.
In this episode of the BBFC podcast, we talk to David Austin, Assistant Director, BBFC and Hamish MacLeod, chair of the Mobile Broadband Group about how the BBFC Mobile Classification Framework works.
An interesting but rather ludicrous episode with participants patting themselves on the back for providing a well though out framework for determining an 18 rating and then the mobile companies earnestly trying to following it.
All this while in reality sites are blocked for trivial automated reasons that appear to have nothing to do with following guidelines. I bet no one has ever read the BBFC guidelines, let alone trying to tailoring a blocking algorithm to meet them.
Russia's government has escalated its use of its Internet censorship law to target news sites, bloggers, and politicians under the slimmest excuse of preventing unauthorized protests and enforcing house arrest regulations. The country's ISPs have
received orders to block a list of major news sites and system administrators have been instructed to take the servers providing the content offline.
The banned sites include the online newspaper Grani, Garry Kasparov's opposition information site kasparov.ru, the livejournal of popular anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny, and even the web pages of Ekho Moskvy, a radio station which is
majority owned by the state-run Gazprom, and whose independent editor was ousted last month and replaced with a more government-friendly director.
The list of newly prohibited sites was published earlier today by Russia's Prosecutor General, which announced that the news sites had been entered into the single register of banned information after calls for participation in
unauthorized rallies. Navalny's livejournal was apparently added to the register in response to the conditions of his current house arrest , which include a personal prohibition on accessing the Internet.
EFF is profoundly opposed to government censorship of the Internet, which violates its citizens right to freedom of expression, guaranteed under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We are especially concerned about the
censorship of independent news and opposing political views, which are essential to a thriving civil society. Russians who wish to circumvent government censorship can continue to read these websites via the Tor Browser, which they can install
using the Tor Browser Bundle .
Google gives UK internet censors super flagger status to give high priority requests to get YouTube videos taken down.
YouTube will instantly screen any content flagged by British security officials. The censors will be able to flag multiple videos at scale rather than needing to flag each offending video.
The UK's security and immigration minister, James Brokenshire, worryingly told the Financial Times the government has to do more to deal with material that may not be illegal but certainly is unsavoury and may not be the sort of material that
people would want to see or receive.
Brokenshire also said issues being considered by the government included a code of conduct for internet service providers and companies. The government, he added, was also keen to explore options where search engines and social media sites
change their algorithms so that unsavoury content is less likely to appear or is served up with more balanced material.
Google confirmed that the Home Office had been given powerful flagging permissions on YouTube but stressed that Google itself still retained the ultimate decision on whether to remove content for breaching its community guidelines.
China will no longer be able to block certain websites and search terms now that Google has begun encrypting searches in the country.
The move is part of Google's global expansion plan to close loopholes that allow government intelligence agencies, law enforcement, and even hackers, to see users' Internet activity. As a result, China's website censoring system won't be able to
detect when users search for banned or politically charged content, such as Tiananmen Square.
Google's global encryption rollout will cripple several countries' ability , such as Saudi Arabia and Vietnam, to pinpoint users who are searching for banned terms or posting forbidden content. The only other recourse is to block the search site
This is the final step in the process, Peter Eckersley, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's technology projects director told ThinkProgress. Google started its quest to encrypt searches in 2010 when it allowed users to manually type in https
instead of http before the Web address. It's a small change, but it's going to make it vastly more difficult for spies --- NSA, Chinese government or Iranian government --- to see what people are searching for on Google, Eckersley said.
General Counsel for Automattic, the company behind WordPress, has spoken about how the DMCA process is being manipulated to stifle freedom of expression.
During a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on the limitations of copyright liability for online service providers, the blogging platform called for clear legal consequences for those who abuse the system.
Speaking during a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on Section 512 of Title 17 , Automattic General Counsel Paul Sieminski spoke about his company's experiences with the notice and takedown provisions of the DMCA. Noting that the process works
well overall, Sieminski said that shortcomings in the system negatively affect freedom of expression and adversly impact companies like Automattic.
Sieminski says that significant resources are being diverted away from product development at Automattic in order to deal with overbroad and abusive DMCA takedown notices. On the one hand the company wants to ensure freedom of speech, but
balancing that with its legal commitments under the DMCA is not an easy task:
At Automattic, we've seen an increasing amount of abuse of the DMCA's takedown process. The DMCA's takedown process provides what can be an easy avenue for censorship: simply send in a DMCA notice claiming copyrights in a piece of content that
you don't agree with. Regardless of whether you own the copyright, the service provider that hosts the content must take it down or risk being out of compliance with the DMCA.
Sieminski went on to detail several cases where the DMCA had been abused to stifle speech, including one elaborate scam in which someone tried to undermine the work of science journalists by copying their work, backdating it, and claiming
copyright in order to take down the original content. Although the journalists filed a counter-notice, it took the full 10 days mandated by the DMCA to get it put back online.
Another case involved a UK-based journalist who reported on a freely-given press statement. The source of the press release changed his mind on having it published, claimed copyright, and had the journalist's work taken down under the DMCA.
Concerned about submitting to the jurisdiction of a US court (those submitting a counter-notice are required to reveal their name and address and agree to be sued in federal court), the journalist chose to back down. His report remains censored to
As reported here on TF on many occasions, wrongful DMCA notices are sent on a daily basis, many the product of automated systems that lack the finesse to correctly identify infringement, much less consider fair use situations. Add these notices to
the millions already being sent and they often go undetected, taken down by nervous service providers wary of becoming liable for the infringements of others.
According to Automattic, a solution needs to be found. Sieminski explained:
The DMCA system gives copyright holders a powerful and easy-to-use weapon: the unilateral right to issue a takedown notice that a website operator (like Automattic) must honor or risk legal liability.
The system works so long as copyright owners use this power in good faith. But too often they don't, and there should be clear legal consequences for those who choose to abuse the system. I'd urge the Committee to add such penalties to the DMCA
to deter and punish these types of abuses.
Natalia Radzina of Charter97, a Belarusian news website whose criticism of the government is often censored, was attending an OSCE-organized conference in Vienna on
the Internet and media freedom
in February 2013 when she ran into someone she would rather not have seen: a member of the Operations and Analysis Centre, a Belarusian government unit that coordinates Internet surveillance and censorship. It is entities like this, little known
but often at the heart of surveillance and censorship systems in many countries, that Reporters Without Borders is spotlighting in this year's Enemies of the Internet report, which it is releasing, as usual, on World Day Against
Cyber-Censorship (12 March).
Identifying government units or agencies rather than entire governments as Enemies of the Internet allows us to draw attention to the schizophrenic attitude towards online freedoms that prevails in in some countries. Three of the government bodies
designated by Reporters Without Borders as Enemies of the Internet are located in democracies that have traditionally claimed to respect fundamental freedoms: the Centre for Development of Telematics in India, the Government Communications
Headquarters (GCHQ) in the United Kingdom, and the National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States.
The NSA and GCHQ have spied on the communications of millions of citizens including many journalists. They have knowingly introduced security flaws into devices and software used to transmit requests on the Internet. And they have hacked into the
very heart of the Internet using programmes such as the NSA's Quantam Insert and GCHQ's Tempora. The Internet was a collective resource that the NSA and GCHQ turned into a weapon in the service of special interests, in the process flouting freedom
of information, freedom of expression and the right to privacy.
The mass surveillance methods employed in these three countries, many of them exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, are all the more intolerable because they will be used and indeed are already being used by authoritarians countries such as
Iran, China, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to justify their own violations of freedom of information. How will so-called democratic countries will able to press for the protection of journalists if they adopt the very practices they are
criticizing authoritarian regimes for?
Private sector and inter-governmental cooperation
The 2014 list of Enemies of the Internet includes "surveillance dealerships" -- the three arms trade fairs known as ISS
World, Technology Against Crime and Milipol
. These forums bring companies specializing in communications interception or online content blocking together with government officials from countries such as Iran, China and Bahrain. Here again, the contradictory behaviour of western democracies
should be noted. France hosted two of these forums in 2013 -- TAC and Milipol. At the same time, it issued a notice
in December 2013 requiring French companies that export surveillance products outside the Europe Union to obtain permission from the General Directorate for Competition, Industry and Services (DGCIS).
The censorship and surveillance carried out by the Enemies of the Internet would not be possible without the tools developed by the private sector companies to be found at these trade fairs. Ethiopia's Information Network Security Agency has
tracked down journalists in the United States thanks to spyware provided by Hacking Team
, an Italian company that Reporters Without Borders designated as an Enemy of the Internet in 2013. Even the NSA has used the services of Vupen
, a French company that specializes in identifying and exploiting security flaws.
Private-sector companies are not the only suppliers of surveillance technology to governments that are Enemies of the Internet. Russia has exported its SORM surveillance system to its close neighbours. In Belarus, Decree No. 60 on "measures
for improving use of the national Internet network" forces Internet Service Providers to install SORM.
China has begun assisting Iran's uphill efforts to create a Halal Internet -- a national Internet that would be disconnected from the World Wide Web and under the government's complete control. An expert in information control ever since building
its Electronic Great Wall, China is advising Iran's Revolutionary Guards, the Supreme Council for Cyberspace and the Working Group for Identifying Criminal Content. Deputy information minister Nasrolah Jahangiri announced this during a recent
visit by a delegation from China's State Council Information Office.
The NSA and GCHQ, Ethiopia's Information Network Security Agency, Saudi Arabia's Internet Services Unit, Belarus' Operations and Analysis Centre, Russia's FSB and Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Service are all security agencies that
have gone far beyond their core duties by censoring or spying on journalists and other information providers
Ignoring the objections of many human rights groups
, France's parliament cavalierly adopted a Military Programming Law
in December 2013 that allows the authorities to spy on phone and Internet communications in real time without asking a judge for permission. The grounds given are vague and general, ranging from the need for "intelligence affecting national
security" and "safeguarding the essential elements of France's economic potential" to "preventing terrorism, criminality and organized crime."
In Tunisia, the government gazette announced the creation of a Technical Agency for Telecommunications (ATT) on 12 November 2013 for the purpose of monitoring communications in order to assist judicial investigations into "information and
communication crimes." Its sudden creation by decree without any consultation with civil society triggered immediate concern, as it revived memories of the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI), the symbol of online censorship under ousted President
Zine el-Abine Ben Ali. The lack of any safeguards and mechanism for controlling its activities is particularly alarming.
Dangerous monopoly of infrastructure
In countries such as Turkmenistan, Syria, Vietnam and Bahrain, the government's control of Internet infrastructure facilitates control of online information. In Syria and Iran, Internet speed is often reduced drastically during demonstrations to
prevent the circulation of images of the protests.
More radical measures are sometimes used. In November 2012, the Syrian authorities cut the Internet and phone networks for more than 48 hours. In China, the authorities disconnected the Internet for several hours on 22 January 2014 to stop the
circulation of reports about the use of offshore tax havens by members of the Chinese elite
. In Sudan, the authorities disconnected the Internet throughout the country for 24 hours
on 25 September 2013 to prevent social networks being used to organize protests.pour satisfaire to
Censors enlist Internet Service Providers
Internet Service Providers, website hosting companies and other technical intermediaries find themselves being asked with increasing frequency to act as Internet cops.
Some cases border on the ridiculous. In Somalia, for example, the Islamist militia Al-Shabaab banned using the Internet in
. As it did not have the required skills or technical ability to disconnect the Internet, it ordered ISPs to terminate their services within 15 days. Ironically, to ensure that the public knew of the ban, it was posted on websites sympathetic to
More insidiously, gender equality and anti-prostitution laws in France have increased the burden of responsibility on technical intermediaries for blocking content after being notified of it.
Article 17 of the law on gender equality
requires ISPs and hosting companies to identify and report any content inciting or causing hatred that is sexist, homophobic or anti-disability in nature.
In Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro has forced ISPs to filter content of a sensitive nature. The authorities ordered them to
block about 50 websites
covering exchange rates and soaring inflation on the grounds that they were fuelling an "economic war" against Venezuela. This did not prevent a wave of protests against shortages and the high crime rate. On 24 February, when many photos
of the protests were circulating on Twitter, the authorities ordered ISPs to block all images on Twitter
In Turkey, the latest amendments to Law 5651 on the Internet, voted on 5 February 2014, turn ISPs into instruments of censorship
, forcing them to join a new organization that centralizes requests for content blocking or removal. If they do not join and install the surveillance tools demanded by the authorities, they will lose their licence. Law 5651 also requires ISPs and
other technical intermediaries to keep user connection data for one to two years and be ready to surrender them to the authorities on demandpour satisfaire to. The law does not specify what kinds of data must be surrendered, in what form or what
use will be made of them. Experts think the required data will be the history of sites and social networks visited, searches carried out, IP addresses and possibly email subjects.
Legislation is often the main tool for gagging online information. Vietnam already has penal code articles 79 and 88 on "crimes infringing upon national security" and "propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam" but
the information and communications ministry decided to go one step further with Decree 72
. In effect since September 2013, this decree restricts the use of blogs and social networks to the "dissemination" or "sharing" of "personal" information, effectively banning the sharing of news-related or general
In Bangladesh, four bloggers and the secretary of the human rights NGO Odhika were arrested in 2013 under the 2006
Information and Communication Technology Act
, which was rendered even more draconian by amendments adopted in August. Its definition of digital crimes is extremely broad and vague, and includes "publishing fake, obscene or defaming information in electronic form."
The Electronic Crimes Act that Grenada adopted in 2013 prohibits use of "an electronic system or an electronic device" to send "information that is grossly offensive or has a menacing character." Here again, vaguely-worded
legislation is posing a real threat to freedom of information.
Permission to publish
The creation of a licencing system for news websites serves as an administrative and sometimes economic barrier and is a widely-used method for controlling online information.
In Singapore, the authorities have created a major economic barrier for online news media
. Under a measure that took effect in June 2013, news websites that post more than one article a week about Singapore and have more than 50,000 Singaporean visitors a month need a licence that requires depositing "a performance bond" of
50,000 Singaporean dollars (39,500 US dollars). The licence has to be renewed every year.
This overview of censorship and surveillance is far from exhaustive. During the coming months, we will probably learn about more surveillance practices from Edward Snowden's files, which Glenn Greenwald and other journalists have been serializing
since June 2013. The latest and perhaps most outrageous practice to come to light so far is GCHQ's "Optic Nerve"
programme, used to capture the personal images of millions of Yahoo webcam users
. It suggests that there are no limits to what the intelligence agencies are ready to do.
What forms of response are possible in order to preserve online freedom of information? We think it is essential to:
Press international bodies to reinforce the legislative framework regulating Internet surveillance, data protection and the export of surveillance devices and software. Read Reporters Without Borders' recommendations.
Train journalists, bloggers and other information providers in how to protect their data and communications. Reporters Without Borders has been doing this in the field for several years. It has organized workshops in many countries including
France, Switzerland, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
Continue to provide information about surveillance and censorship practices. That is the purpose of this report.
Turkey's desperate sounding prime minister has warned that his government could ban social media networks YouTube and Facebook after a raft of online leaks added momentum to a spiralling corruption scandal.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already increased his government censorship of the Internet, generating criticism at home and abroad about rights in the once EU-hopeful country. Erdogan told private ATV television in an interview:
There are new steps we will take in that sphere after March 30... including a ban (on YouTube, Facebook),
Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has come under mounting pressure since last week, when audio recordings were leaked in which Erdogan and his son allegedly discuss how to hide vast sums of money.
For more than 99 percent of our users, this doesn't really change anything. For the rest: we don't have a problem with explicit sexual content on the Internet ---- we just prefer not to be the source of it.
Practically since launch, Vine has been trying to figure out how to handle adult content, For example Apple forced the company to change the age limit on its iOS app to 17 or older due to the potential for sexual content. Twitter, Vine's parent
company, allows users to upload photos and has similar safeguards for explicit content in place, but does not have an age gate on its app.
The ban on sexually explicit content does not ban all nudity though. In an explainer , Vine said that nudity in a documentary or artistic context is allowed. In addition to those already-fuzzy parameters, Vine also said that nudity that is not
sexually provocative is allowed.
The Australian Federal Police, the Australian Securities Investment Commission (ASIC), and one unnamed agency have indicated to the government that they would likely seek to keep using powers in the Telecommunications Act to force ISPs to block
In April 2013, following a bungle by ASIC that resulted in accidentally blocking customer access to 250,000 websites when the agency was just seeking to block websites associated with investment fraud, it was revealed that three government
agencies had been using Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act to compel ISPs to block customer access to websites on their behalf.
Following public backlash, and amid cries of censorship and criticism over the lack of transparency over the power, the then-Labor government promised to review the power, and improve the oversight and transparency of the process.
At the time, despite the controversy, it seems that internally agencies had indicated to the government that they intended to continue using the power. A briefing document from a meeting convened by the Department of Communications in May 2013,
and published online under Freedom of Information revealed that the three agencies the department had discovered to be using section 313 indicated that they will continue to so in the future.
The heavily-redacted briefing document showed the police had used the power 21 times between June 2011 and February 2013 to request ISPs to block websites listed on the Interpol worst of child abuse websites , and would continue to do so in
The Department of Communications told ZDNet in December that it was still in consultation with government agencies on the use of the power.
Attorney-General George Brandis indicated last month that he is considering giving the power to the Federal Court to give injunctions to ISPs to force the companies to block copyright-infringing websites such as The Pirate Bay.
Virgin Media has introduced its website blocking system, to censor access to anything and everything remotely adult.
Called Web Safe, this will initially be presented as an option to new customers and will appear during the installation of a new broadband connection. They will be able to decide whether to implement the website blcoking or not.
Existing customers will also have access to the blocking system, with Virgin Media contacting the entire subscription base with instructions by the end of 2014.
As with similar schemes offered by Sky and BT, Virgin Media's Web Safe programme works at network level, and is not able to offer different options for different family members. So if the blocking is turned on, it will work across all devices that
connect to that home network.
It is too soon to say whether Virgin Media's filter system will suffer from the same issues as reported with its rivals, including the over-zealous blocking of websites. However the blocking is more simplistic than other ISPs with just a simple
Politicians and human rights groups have reacted angrily to revelations that Britain's spy agency disgracefully intercepted and stored webcam images of millions of people with the aid of its US counterpart.
GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 reveal that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target
In one six-month period in 2008, the agency collected webcam images, including substantial quantities of sexually explicit material, from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.
The Optic Nerve documents were provided by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. They show that the programme began as a prototype in 2008 and was still active in 2012.
The Tory MP David Davis said:
We now know that millions of Yahoo account holders were filmed without their knowledge through their webcams, the images of which were subsequently stored by GCHQ and the NSA . This is, frankly, creepy.
The Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert said he was:
Absolutely shocked at the revelation. This seems like a very clear invasion of privacy , and I simply can not see what the justification is.
Nick Pickles, the director of the civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said intercepting and taking photographs from millions of people's webcam chats was as creepy as it gets .
We have CCTV on our streets and now we have GCHQ in our homes. It is right that the security services can target people and tap their communications, but they should not be doing it to millions of people. This is an indiscriminate and intimate
intrusion on people's privacy.