You dislike Mondays? You’d have loved this one: Google and Wikipedia were censored for an hour in France, for “apologia of terrorism”.
Yesterday 17 October 2016, an ordinary Monday morning, I was searching for a document online. Using different search engines — DuckDuckGo, Qwant, Google — helps me find out more details; incidentally and in contrast with Google, alternative engines also respect my privacy since they neither log nor keep track of my search requests.
Weirdly enough, Google was timing out. I tried out a few more times, to no success. My Internet connection was fine, though, and Qwant was also responding. Even more bizarre, my Gmail account was functional. On Twitter, some people were also flagging a “Google down” situation and started asking me which my ISP is. My Internet service provider (ISP) is Orange. It turned out that the issue seemed to affect only subscribers at Orange and its low-cost subsidiary, Sosh.
Last week, just a few days after I returned 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.
Beyond this fun fact of limited importance, the topic and its relationship to my own work and interests were intriguing enough to give the event a day. I know quite a few people around me are interested in this write-up. So, I took the time to 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. Also, enriching the write-up helps me contribute to a project 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 had my own expectations about the line-up of speakers and the probable directions the discussions would head to. And I was entirely correct.
In a country deeply polarised 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.
Back in July 2014, La Quadrature du Net, Paris-based digital rights advocacy NGO, was summing up the few developments around the proposed anti-terrorism 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.
What is my post about?
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 to translate, leave a comment.
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; they 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.
I have been struggling to find a good format for this. Writing a monthly review can be challenging (length, my own time 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.
I participated in a series of events organised by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication (Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, MCC). In the Ministry’s framework for cultural and art education, three events were organised:
23 Nov 2013: a day dedicated to public domain works mashup at ENSCI Les Ateliers, an art-design school in the heart of Paris. I was a mentor this day;
25-27 Nov 2013: a 52-hour long hackathon, the first-ever such event organised by the Ministry and revolving around cultural Open Data (more than 150 datasets released by the MCC); I was invited by the Ministry to be a member of the jury;
7 Nov 2013: the closing day of the Automne Numérique culminated unveiling the hackathon winners and an announcement of new initiatives the MCC has engaged into in favour of Open Culture.
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.
RS Strategy actively contributed to this year’s edition of the Open World Forum. Our involvement encompassed chairing a whole session (from programme curation to on-site delivery) and two keynotes.
As previously mentioned, I curated the programme for and organised the Open Data track. Experts from Morocco, the French national railway company SNCF, and the French Prime Minister’s Open Data Taskforce Etalab shared views on opening governance and public sector data.
“Big Data, Bad Data” (closing keynote, with Romain Lacombe from French Prime Minister’s Taskforce Etalab and Rand Hindi from :SNIPS:), a critical look at the misconceptions ‘big data’ can endorse — and how to account for them:
What do Bahrain and Bulgaria have in common? No, it’s not the B…
Bahraini entrepreuner and activist Esra’a Al-Shaffei launched Ahwaa.org back in 2011 as an online space for LGBTQ-related discussions in the Middle East. Today, Bulgarian Kilera.org kicked off.
Kilera.org is an online forum dedicated to the LGBTQ community in Bulgaria. It was built after Ahwaa.org, in conjunction with Bulgarian LGBTQ NGO Deystvie (‘action’). Kilera (‘closet’) in Bulgarian is the slang word used to describe the period of time when LGBTQ people hide their sexual orientations and/or identity: ‘locked in the closet’. Kilera.org thus comes at a very timely moment, and I am sure it’ll really make a difference.
The situation with the LGBTQ community in Bulgaria is worrisome as homophobia is rampant and hate speech is prevalent. Thus, a 25-year old medical student was beaten to death by other young people because “he looked gay” and the young men were trying to “clean up” a famous park in the capital city of Sofia from gays. Such dreadful crackdown is one of the manifest signs of homophobia in the country: in 2009 and 2011, Bulgaria was the most homophobic EU Member State as reported by dedicated studies from the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.
The International Day Against Homophobia (May 17) was marked by new worrying studies showing that more than 1/4 of LGBTQ people have sufferred some type of physical violence in the last five years, attacks generally led by small groups of male aggressors and occurring in public places. Despite the high frequency of attacks, complaints are rarely filed as people don’t consider the police and the judiciary to be anyway willing to do something.
Although the situation seems to improve in 2012 — Bulgaria is “just” among the most homophobic EU states, not the most homophobic — 53% of the LGBTQ community members have undergone some kind of harassment or retaliation for their sexual orientation and/or identity in the last 12 months preceeding the study. Gay pride marches are also welcomed with obvious hostility.
[…] 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.
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”
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.
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?
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”.
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 Techannounced this morning that Aaron has committed suicide on January 11. May he rest in peace.
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?
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.
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: