Without advanced technology, authoritarian regimes would not be able to spy on their citizens. Reporters Without Borders has for the first time compiled a list of five “Corporate Enemies of the Internet,” five private sector companies that it regards as “digital era mercenaries” because they sell products that are used by authoritarian governments to commit violations of human rights and freedom of information. They are Gamma, Trovicor, Hacking Team, Amesys and Blue Coat…
…Their products have been or are being used to commit violations of human rights and freedom of information. If these companies decided to sell to authoritarian regimes, they must have known that their products could be used to spy on journalists, dissidents and netizens. If their digital surveillance products were sold to an authoritarian regime by an intermediary without their knowledge, their failure to keep track of the exports of their own software means they did not care if their technology was misused and did not care about the vulnerability of those who defend human rights.
[Iran] is developing “intelligent software” that aims to manipulate, rather than fully control, citizens’ access to social networks. Instead of blocking Facebook, or Twitter, or even Google, the regime… will allow controlled access to those services. As Iranian police chief Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam put it to Iranian local media, cheerfully: “Smart control of social networks will not only avoid their disadvantages, but will also allow people to benefit from their useful aspects.”…
…[T]he “intelligent software” announcement is itself revealing: It suggests the increasing normalization of censorship — and, more specifically, the increasing normalization of strategic censorship.
This is the highly effective Chinese model put to use by another regime: Block content if you must, but monitor content first of all. Allow your citizens to indict themselves with the freedom — “freedom” — you give them. And that is, as a strategy, very likely the future of repression — one in which access to the web won’t just be the black-and-white matter of blocked vs. not , but rather something more insidious: curtailing Internet freedom by the very illusion of granting it. As Iran’s Moghadam noted, “Smart control of social networks is better than filtering them completely.” What’s scary is that he’s probably right.
Megan Garber, The Atlantic. The Age of Surgical Censorship.
Meantime, Iran has cut off access to most Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) that its citizens use to get around government filters.
In announcing the move, Ramezanali Sobhani-Fard, head of parliament’s information and communications technology committee, told the Mehr news agency, “Within the last few days illegal VPN ports in the country have been blocked. Only legal and registered VPNs can from now on be used,” according to Reuters.
Iran is reportedly in the process of creating a “Halal” Internet, or a countrywide intranet, that is closed off from the rest of the Web.
In Vietnam, 17 bloggers and activists will stand trial [today]. This trial will be the largest of its kind in Vietnam—14 of the defendants will appear at once. They have been charged under Article 79 (“activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s government”) of the Criminal Procedure Code of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The allegations include: attending workshops on digital security; writing and linking to blog posts that are critical of the Communism Vietnamese government; calling for peaceful protests and political pluralism; and association with the Vietnam Reform Party (Viet Tan). If convicted, the defendants could face sentences ranging from five years in prison to capital punishment. Three of the accused activists—Nguyen Xuan Kim, Thai Van Tu, and Le Sy—have fled the country and the Ministry of Public Security has issued a warrant for their arrest.
2012 was a year of crackdowns on free expression in Vietnam, including the introduction of new censorship laws. But just as important as the new regulations was the ongoing harassment, intimidation, and detainment of bloggers who had spoken out against the Communist regime. Dozens of social activists were arrested, some of whom received harsh prison sentences, and many of whom have been detained for over a year without trail. In the summer, the mother of imprisoned Vietnamese blogger Ta Phong Tan died after setting herself on fire to protest her daughter’s detention on charges spreading anti-state propaganda.
Like any editor in the United States, I tweaked articles, butted heads with the sales department, and tried to extract interesting quotes out of boring people. Unlike my American counterparts, however, I was offered red envelopes stuffed with cash at press junkets, sometimes discovered footprints on the toilet seats at work, and had to explain to the Chinese assistants more than once that they could not turn in articles copied word for word from existing pieces they found online. I also liaised with our government censor…
…I was told that we could not title a coal piece “Power Failure” because the word “failure” in bold print so close to the Olympics would make people think of the Olympics being a failure. The title “The Agony and the Ecstasy” for a soccer piece was axed because agony was a negative word and we couldn’t have negative words be associated with sports. We couldn’t use the cover image I had picked out for a feature on the rise of chain restaurants, because it was of an empty bowl, and, [our censor] told me, it would make people think of being hungry and remind them of the Great Famine (a period from 1958 to 1961 when tens of millions of Chinese starved to death, discussion of which is still suppressed). Even our Chinese designers began to roll their eyes when I related this change to them, and set them to work looking for images of bowls overflowing with meat.
Eveline Chao, Foreign Policy. Me and My Censor: A reporter’s memoir of what it’s like to tell the truth about today’s China.
Chao was Managing Editor for an English-language magazine called China International Business and writes about the ins and outs of censorship in the newsroom despite, as she writes, “Business content is not censored as strictly as other areas in China, since it seems to be understood that greater openness is needed to push the economy forward and it doesn’t necessarily deal with the political issues Chinese rulers seem to find the most sensitive.”
In 2003-2004 I worked for an English-language paper in Saudi Arabia and while the censorship mechanics there are different from what Chao illustrates, her anecdotes had me nodding at their familiarity. — Michael
The internet and other social media are harder and harder to control. Smart propaganda people like they are, are going to keep finding ways to spin and doctor and frame the information that gets out. Sometimes this may include getting news out first in official media, or replacing blunt censorship with efforts to spin. But it doesn’t mean that the Party is lying down passively in front of an onslaught of free expression. And when it comes to topics that are deemed to be political threats — Tibet, Tiananmen, Falungong, multipartyism, certain issues in Party history, and things like that — then I see no prospect that the Party will change its policy of censorship and repression.
Andrew Nathan, professor of political science at Columbia University, to Index on Censorship. China will change leaders, but keep censorship.
The News: In the upcoming months China will hold its 18th Congress during which the communist party will appoint a new group of leaders. It has been expected that Xi Jinping will be become the country’s next president. However, there’s a growing mystery over where he actually is these days.
The CPJ just released a special report on how Venezuela has used a combination of legal and illegal maneuvers to break down the country’s independent, private media, including non traditional outlets, such as websites.
According to the New York based NGO, Hugo Chavez desire to control what is published in the country has extended to the Internet. Under current legislation, for example, government officials can order Internet Service Providers to restrict websites that violate controls.
From CPJ’s report:
… It curbs electronic media content according to the time of the day, with adult content reserved for shows after midnight, including violent or sexual content and soap operas—and news images of violence.
Chavez efforts to put more controls on what news outlets can publish is more a result of the President desire to curb freedom of expression and threat critics of the regime, than a candid concern about the quality of the content audiences in Venezuela are being exposed to.
FJP: El Universal and El Nacional newspapers have lost all government advertsising, another measure to put pressure on independent news outlets.