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.
The decadence and corruption associated with [Rightel’s] use outweighs its benefits. It will cause new deviances in our society, which is unfortunately already plagued with deviances.
Grand Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi in a fatwa against Rightel, a 3G mobile operator that’s bringing video calls to Iran. AL Monitor, Fatwa Issued Against 3G Internet Operator in Iran.
FJP: A second Ayatollah says the video calls “jeopardize the public chastity”.
A petition signed by some residents in the city of Qom says that services like Rightel are a part of “enemy culture” and “facilitate access to sin and decadence”.
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.
Where should freedom of speech begin and end when you are a web-based entity with a global audience? That’s the question raised by a couple of recent events, including the furor over a Reddit moderator’s creepy behavior, and now the news that Twitter has blocked an account for the first time at the request of a state government — in this case Germany, which asked the service to take action against a Twitter user posting neo-Nazi sentiments, something that is forbidden by the laws of that country. As the web and social tools become more mainstream, these kinds of battles over the limits that should apply to free speech are only going to become more frequent, but the solution to them remains elusive at best…
…Twitter has said that it will make its own judgments in such cases, as Google does — but what recourse do we have if they decide to do something we disagree with? More than anything, these kinds of cases reinforce how much influence private entities like Twitter and Google now have over what information we receive (or are able to distribute), and the responsibility that this power imposes on them.
Matthew Ingram, GigaOm. Twitter, Reddit and the battle over freedom of speech.
Important programming note as you think on this one: In the United States, at least and as Matthew points out, “free-speech protection is something that is only legally or constitutionally required of governments, not corporations.”
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.