Youth, “the Internet” and speech

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Last week, just a few days after my return from Cairo, I stumbled upon an event organised by UNESCO and whose combination of supporting countries amused me. The two-day conference, “Youth and the internet: Fighting radicalisation and extremism”, was supported by Bulgaria and Egypt. Everyone who knows me, understands the amusement. But beyond this fun fact of limited importance, the topic and its relationship to my own work and interests were intriguing enough to dedicate the event a day. I know quite a few people around me are interested in this write-up, I decided to take the time and actually expand it, in a way that it can relate to a broader work I am into: exploring excitable speech through post-colonial lenses in the Balkans and MENA as well as contributing to a project that aims to train citizens to mitigate hate speech online in South Sudan. More on the distinction between ‘hate speech’ and ‘excitable speech’ later (a research paper coming up on that).

I was having my own expectations about the line-up of speakers and the probable directions the discussions would head to. And I was quite correct.

Diversity (or lack thereof)

To start with, female participation was pretty limited. This is not a new fad, we know that female experts and researchers are less represented in general as well as in fora, conferences and the likes. But the female underrepresentation also provoked this sort of nonsense:

How can anyone, in 2015, come up with this bullshit? Which is — even more striking — in a context of work and exchange that favours, highlights, emphasises and calls for inclusion, understanding, nuanced approach and sensibility.(And I will spare you the bewilderment some male researchers and journos I talked to, expressed at Women Without Borders being represented by an elderly male.)

Anyhow, let’s skip the gender bit, for now. There was something else that bugged me: the number of non-youth speaking on behalf of youth. Why not inviting young people? I don’t mean to say that only youth can speak about youth, others have experience, empathy and knowledge to do so. But this doesn’t mean non-youth are the sole entitled to speak about challenges youth (however loosely defined this group is) faces. Inclusion and diversity also means this. I am disappointed as it is very rare to observe target groups being actually actors of happenings and discussions that concern them: if it is about education, we’ll call policy-makers, stars, journalists and perhaps teachers but we’ll rarely if ever will invite learners (pupils, students, kids) to participate and chim in.

Causes of radicalisation

The talks moved to presenting different visions and understandings of why and how radicalisation and extremism spreads online. I was wary of hearing yet again different flavours of the widespread, reductive and short-sighted vision social-networks-and-the-internet-is-guilty-of-terrorism. This happened but — thankfully — was also diversified with more in-depth and nuanced perspectives. One of the participants even mentioned that we can use the online space as a tool to combat extreme speech. Which, against a backdrop of heated debate in France around then-Intelligence Bill and the mass surveillance it enables if promulgated, was a welcome relief.

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Egypt: News websites and alternative voices

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In a country deeply polarized after three years of tumultuous change, Egyptian news websites have become very important media for free expression. This study looks at some of the pressures they are experiencing. News websites are among the most popular websites in Egypt. They represent an alternative to ‘traditional’ broadcast and print media, with their long histories of state control and supervision. Online news is a partially regulated space – freer than the traditional media but not as free from regulation as social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. But there are indications that the space for free expression on news websites may shrink in the near future, under pressure from a combination of new legislation and, reportedly, new surveillance tactics that may set precedents for the whole of the Middle East and North Africa.

Read the research report I co-authored with Mohamed ElDahshan, a joint project with ARTICLE 19:

English

Arabic: مصر: مواقع اخبارية وأصوات بديلة على الانترنت

French anti-terrorism draft law: what it says, in brief

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Back in July 2014, La Quadrature du Net, Paris-based digital rights advocacy NGO, was summing up the few developments around the proposed anti-terror draft law:

This new bill institutes a permanent state of emergency on the Internet that allows the judicial system to be largely bypassed and favours instead recourse to police and administrative systems that, besides failing to guarantee fair hearing, are largely disproportionate, ill-equipped and thus ineffective in reaching the stated goal of fighting terrorism.

As the bill was to be discussed in the Parliament, la Quadrature du Net has launched a dedicated mini-website to help inform and educate the public about everything one needs to know regarding the measures in the draft.

This post is not aimed at analysing the bill and its possible impact on civil liberties and, more broadly, digital rights in France. The parliamentary debate has kicked off on Sept 15 and will resume on Sept 16. It is urgent to have more attention drawn to this dangerous text; yet, I realised that French impaired completely ignored the ongoing fight. The post thus contains a tentative translation in English of the most important articles from the bill. Amendments have been proposed as well, but I will hopefully get to them later. If you wanna help translating, leave a comment.

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Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression (Conditions apply)

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[First published on openDemocracy.]

12 March marked the World Day against online censorship. Reporters Without Borders remained faithful to their habits and announced this year’s ‘Enemies of the Internet’. Repressive governments in the Middle East also remained faithful to their habits and continued to crack down on free speech, both online and offline.

The Algerian government for instance marked this day in a special way, by taking Jordanian Noorsat satellite TV channel Al-Atlas completely off air. Addressing each and every event of suppressed free speech is impossible; I believe however that the few examples below will suffice to highlight the unconditional disrespect for freedom of expression citizens encounter every day across the MENA region.

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Autumn 2013 Collection: MENA Digital News

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I have been struggling to find a good format for this. Writing a monthly review can be challenging (length, my own timely availability, etc.). But then, a three-month wrap-up is huge… Thus, I decided to organise the whole as follows: one part covering general developments in the region, another part covering the Mashrek (North Africa, Egypt, Lybia) and the Levant (Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq), and a third part covering the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula (Qatar, KSA, UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Yemen, Bahrain). Enjoy the read, add comments if any (always welcome!) and see you again for the Spring Edition.

Internet Governance Events

The second annual Arab Internet Governance Forum was held in Algiers on 1-3 October 2013. The Forum was under the banner of “Partners for Development”, sponsored by Mr. Abdul Aziz Bouteflika, President of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria. The Forum covered a wide range of topics, ranging from children’s protection online to 4G deployment in the region. The program unveils the absence of local representation from Algerian civil society, and particularly young people. Writing for SMEX, Wafa Ben Yassine also deplores “the lack of stakeholder participation”.

Later in October was held the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Reem el-Massry, researcher at Jordanian 7iber, addressed the biased discussions having taken place at the IGF regarding internet governance in MENA: “The weak presence of the Arab civil society allowed a one-sided official narrative to only graze the surface of repressive practices of governments in this region.”

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Egypt: Draft Law on Internet Terrorism

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Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm (AMAY) has published a transcript of the draft law on combattling terrorism on the internet in Egypt. From what I’ve been told, anti-terror law has been on the table for many years  and the battle against it was that it will inscribe the emergency laws in the criminal code. It seems here that the internet is given a significant attention, at least at the first reading. Whatever the provisions, the draft law aims at legalizing pervasive surveillance and and will be a very convenient tool for jailing bloggers and all kinds of people estimated as junta-noncompliant.

Here are the most notable excerpts after a quick read-through. My comments are in blue.

The draft law contains four chapters: Chapter One is on the general provisions; Chapter Two is on punishment; Chapter Three is on procedural provisions; and Chapter Four deals with international judicial cooperation.

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Jordan Starts Blocking ‘Unlicensed Websites’

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[First published on Jadaliyya.]

[…] the [Telecommunications Regulatory] Commission directs you to do what is required to block the websites listed in the attached document and prevent your subscribers from accessing them before the end of today, June 2, 2013. Note that the websites that don’t have a URL in the list, you will be provided with later.

What followed was a list of 304 websites.

This is the request sent by the Jordanian Telecommunications Regulatory Commission to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) on 2 June 2013, and published by Jordanian citizen media platform 7iber. The request is in line with legislation enforced back in September 2012––the Press and Publications Law. The Press and Publications Department, a state entity once formally known as thee Censorship Department, is now in charge of applying this law.

Jordan counts nearly 500 online news outlets. According to the current version of the Press and Publications Law, any such website has to register with the Press and Publications Department in order to obtain a license. Registering is reported to cost 1,000 Jordanian dinars (1,400USD). The websites listed in the blocking request are deemed “unlicensed,” meaning having neither obtained a license nor applied to obtain one. Reportedly, 102 websites remain accessible for either having obtained a license or for having applied for such within the official deadlines.

The move caused a deluge of discussions on a wide range of media channels, when Press and Publications Department director denied a fee is required to get registered and after a cement factory website was identified as listed among the websites to be blocked for allegedly manufacturing paper. As no official has offered commentary on these discrepancies, the process through which websites are selected for blocking remains obscure.

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#UAE94: Thought Trial in the United Arab Emirates

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I am finally done curating this awful thing… Five months, twelve hearings, nearly 100 defendants and countless ‘collateral’ victims detained over delirious charges. Albeit some of the defendants belonging to Al-Islah (UAE’s Ikhwan division), this is just a very badly disguised thought trial. The Storify, gathering nearly all that exists in English on the topic, covers the timespan between Jan 29, 2012 and May 20, 2013. It’ll be regularly updated:
View the story “#UAE94: Thought Trial in the UAE”

The Democratic Bahraini Regime Kills Irony Once More

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Today March 12 is the World Day Against Cyber-Censorship. Initiated by Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières, RSF) back in 2011, the Day aims “to rally everyone in support of a single Internet without restrictions and accessible to all.” RSF released a special report highlighting the “Enemies of the Internet.” The report, which presents the 2012 list of countries, has identified five State Enemies of the Internet: these are all ‘spy’ states as they conduct systematic online surveillance which results in human rights violations. They are Syria, China, Iran, Bahrain and Vietnam.

The report also emphasize the importance of advanced technology which enables authoritarian regimes to
spy on their citizens. RSF has thus compiled a list of five “Corporate Enemies of the Internet,” that is 5 privately held companies which it names ‘digital era mercenaries’ because they sell software used by authoritarian governments to commit violations of human rights and freedom of information. With no surprises, these are Gamma Group, Trovicor, Hacking Team, Amesys/Bull and Blue Coat.

I guess the Bahraini repressive regime is greedy for becoming even more famous: in celebration of its excellent rank in the top 5 of the ‘Enemies of the Internet,’ it has arrested 6 tweeps. The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights lists the names and a few details on each case. The Bahraini Ministry of Interior cheekily explained:

The General Director of Anti-Corruption and Economic and Electronic Security announced on Tuesday that a group of individuals were monitored for using social media for defamation of the King. Investigation identified six of them, in which they were referred to the public prosecution.

He said that freedom of expression in protected within the constitution and law, while urging for the best use of social media to avoid breaking the law.

I guess no comment is needed at this point…

Closed-source software recommended to Syrian activists as 100% secure…

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It is about Wickr, an app only available for iOS thus far. I remember this app made me smile when it was announced back in June 2012: it sends messages and photos that will be erased. The funny thing is that the user chooses for how long the messages/photos will last.

Nico Sell, co-founder of Wickr and one of the organisers of the DefCon, says Wickr will bring “NSA top-secret level encryption to the masses.” It seems absolutely awesome.

As operating on entirely proprietary and locked OS was not enough, Wickr also uses proprietary cryptography algorithms and its source code is closed. I’m confused about the “geek utopia” Sell depicts as follows:

Wickr has a patent pending on technology which Sell said could give people ways to safeguard anything they send or put online, even digital bytes in Internet telephone calls or posts to leading social network Facebook.

Loads of discussions (Mashable, for the non-crypto specialists and Liberationtech for the geekier) have been taking place around how much one could trust this tool. As quite a few security concerns have been addressed (see the Liberationtech messages above), I was particularly alarmed by the following in the Mashable article:

So could Wickr be used by an activist in Syria who is worried about enemy spies and Assad’s regime? Sell has no doubts — she answers that question with an unflickering “yes.”

You mean, people at risk of dying for communicating through technology could use a tool that only a small crowd knows the secrets of?
The blackbox software is good for you

Cairo Administrative Court Bans YouTube… | Une cour égyptienne veut bloquer YouTube…

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(Français ci-dessous)

This morning, February 9, the Cairo Administrative Court announced its decision to ban YouTube and “all other websites that showed the anti-Islam film” ‘The Innocence of Muslims’. The ban is for 30 days. The lawsuit was initially filed on 18 Sept 2012 by a lawyer, Mr. Mohamed Hamed Salem, in the middle of a MENA-wide turmoil the trailer provoked. The lawyer insisted on having the website removing all anti-Muslim videos as they “distort the image of the Prophet”.

Courtesy @asteris

Courtesy @asteris

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[Brevia] #NetNeutrality through Neelie Kroes’s eyes

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In an Op-Ed in Libération (in French), Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for Internet-related policies, can be found giving in to telecom operator pressure and giving up on Net Neutrality. Ms. Kroes supports the creation of a fragmented Internet, banning innovation and opening the door to unacceptable censorship.

Read more from La Quadrature du Net: English, French

The Internet according to Neelie Kroes, by @mmu_man

The Internet according to Neelie Kroes, by @mmu_man

Freedom fighter Aaron Swartz commits suicide

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I guess anyone out there has come up to know Aaron one way or the other. For me, it was when he created the RSS 1.0 specification, but more importantly after he freed an impressive amount of the JSTOR scientific publications repository. This bold action of knowledge sharing called for another copyright-prompted obscenity: he was charged with “data theft” and indicted on a wide range of charges. The prosecution continues, and Aaron was facing up to 35 years imprisonment. The thief who stole knowledge later founded DemandProgress.org, the movement that kicked off the campaign against internet censorship bills SOPA and PIPA.

MIT’s The Tech announced this morning that Aaron has committed suicide on January 11. May he rest in peace.

[Brevia] Slovenia Backs Net Neutrality

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The government adopted an Economic Communications Bill in September 2012, more importantly enforcing net neutrality. The government has also engaged into transposing the EU ‘cookie’ directive after it consistently failed enacting it (along with four other EU countries) and was referred to the European Court of Justice.

On 19 December 2012, the Electronic Communications Bill was passed by the Slovenian Parliament, and the rules are now officially published in the Official Journal on 31 December [PDF]. This makes Slovenia the second EU country — after the Netherlands — to have officially enforced net neutrality in its national legislation.

When will the EU Commissioner for the Digital Agenda wake up and resume working on enforcing this fundamental principle?

Note: for more on the Cookie Law Enforcement within the EU, check Cookiepedia out.

Cyberpunk mayonnaise: Thoughts about the cyberspace in a day without internet

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The awkward moment when you wake up and realize your internet connection is screwed up is the moment where you start thinking in a different way. Yes, in 2012, in a rich Western country, a storm can still cut the internet. In such a case, “storming the internet” takes a very clear, ground-level meaning… Well, ok, let’s get to something tasty yet nearly forgotten: being home alone and reading a book.

I get bored very easily and have a particular propensity of making myself accomplish miracles. In other words, I start a huge amount of complex tasks that I often have little knowledge about: what is more exciting than exploring immense territories of human minds and imagination? This is a rhetorical question. Coherent with myself, I’m in the situation where my third year of PhD in science coincides with the year when I have to complete my Bachelor’s in Law of the industrial property. Yeah, I know. But I spoke miracles, right.

Anyway, lyrical auto-centered swerve ends here. After 5 minutes of deep exhausting thinking, I decided that my Bachelor’s thesis should encompass not only the privatization of biological matter and genetic information – where I could thoroughly explain why biopatents are a very ugly and unnatural idea – but that I should broaden the spectrum of ugly and unnatural ideas to the basic, the fundamental one: intellectual property itself. I thus decided to include the so called “new technologies” (that is, the Internets) and software patents.

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Bookmark: “We come in peace” – the Chaos Communication Congress announced

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We come in peace, said the conquerers of the New World.
We come in peace, says the government, when it comes to colonise, regulate, and militarise the new digital world.
We come in peace, say the nation-state sized companies that have set out to monetise the net and chain the users to their shiny new devices.
We come in peace, we say as hackers, geeks and nerds, when we set out towards the real world and try to change it, because it has intruded into our natural habitat, the cyberspace. Let us explore each other’s truly peaceful intentions at this year’s Chaos Communication Congress 27C3 to be held from Monday December 27 to Thursday December 30, 2010 in Berlin, Germany.

27C3 calls for participation! The following areas are of particular interest this year:

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