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Keep track of Berkman-related news and conversations by subscribing to this page using your RSS feed reader. This aggregation of blogs relating to the Berkman Center does not necessarily represent the views of the Berkman Center or Harvard University but is provided as a convenient starting point for those who wish to explore the people and projects in Berkman's orbit. As this is a global exercise, times are in UTC.

The list of blogs being aggregated here can be found at the bottom of this page.

May 24, 2016

EchoDitto
Links for 2016-05-23 [del.icio.us]

May 24, 2016 07:00 AM

May 23, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Ghanaian Minister Vows Not to Ban Whatsapp, Skype and Viber Calls
An MTN vehicle in Uganda, November 28, 2005, CC 2.0

An MTN vehicle in Kampala, Uganda. Photo by futureatlas. (CC Generic 2.0)

Increased use of Whatsapp, Skype, Viber and other mobile apps for calls in Ghana is decreasing the revenues made by telecommunication companies. There have been many calls to by telecommunications companies in Ghana asking the National Communications Authority to restrict subscribers from using the Internet for calls.

One such call recently went viral. In an article published by CitiFM Online, Chief Executive Officer of MTN Ghana, Ebenezer Twum Asante said:

In as much as Sim Boxing is illegal and we must all fight very hard to stop it, there is a much bigger issue with over the top calls generated through the internet media. So when you make a whatsapp call you are making the call through the internet and bypassing the traditional channel. If you compare that one to Sim Boxing, my position is OTT [over-the-top content] is more expensive. I think we must apply the same level of seriousness to OTT calls since it has a bigger revenue threats”.

The term “OTT” (Over-The-Top) describes Internet-based (typically third-party) applications that allow mobile phone users to communicate using messaging, voice and/or video over Internet protocol technology, rather than the more traditional methods of call and text over telephone networks. Skype, WhatsApp and Viber are among just a few examples of technologies that ride “on top” of a user's data plan, meaning that they typically cost less than (they're often free) similar services provided by a telecom operator.

Asante's statement stirred up a lot of discomfort among mobile phone and social media users in Ghana. Maximus Ametorgoh, a digital marketing lead and Managing Director for Pop Out, wondered how such a regulation would be implemented:

I don't understand this call for regulation of selected OTTs because they affect cellular calls… Government is expected to monitor the activities of these OTTs? How? What should the regulation entail?

Theo Acheampong, an economist, pointed out on his Facebook page that telecommunication companies needs to prepare to meet the disruptive technologies that are going to be developed to challenge the traditional way of making calls:

Our telcos are beginning to sound like sore losers. Why must Over-The-Top (OTT) calls made through social media networks such as WhatsApp be redirected through the traditional channels just for revenue making purposes? Isn't the cost of providing the service covered by the internet bundles consumers buy to access these apps and programmes; therefore, why must they pay an extra dime? Methinks the telcos need to smell the coffee because the traditional ‘voice game’ is over, and with it, the monopoly profits they used to make. It's all about data! Welcome to the world of disruptive technologies! The consumer is KING…

As a result of the social media uproar, Asante spoke to the media to clarify what he meant by regulating OTT calls. He said:

We have never mentioned anywhere that OTT should be banned. We do not stand for that, we are rather interested in all the things we need to do to expand internet usage including the medium of OTT.  The only thing that we raised was around regulation. Regulation should not be equated to a ban. With regulation, all that we are saying is that, just as a company like MTN is regulated by the NCA, so should we also have all the OTTs; the major ones also regulated so that whatever you do on that platform it will be within the laws of Ghana.

In response to this call, the Minister for Communications, Dr. Edward Omane Boamah, who spoke at the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day in Accra assured Ghanaians that, the government is not considering any ban on internet calls. He stated that:

The other focus of today’s discussions is on OTT Services, of which there was a lot of media discussion last week. The reality of today’s telecommunication Industry is that consumers are in control. Consumers love innovation, flexibility, efficiency, comfort, and more often than not, low-cost alternatives and will always seek them out to enhance their livelihoods.

Our mandate should be to seek a balanced approach such that all stakeholders in this industry have their needs fulfilled. It is also imperative for us to learn from other countries and understand why they have or have not encouraged this trend of affairs.

But in all this, I wish to state emphatically that Government is not and has not in any way considered a ban on OTT services. We believe that as an emerging trend, the regulator, together with operators and consumers should find a middle ground which befits our peculiar situation.

To this end we wish to reiterate that we recognise the media as development partners and as such, we need your support in communicating accurate and verified messages to the public.

In a tweet posted by Joy FM, one of Ghana's most popular radio stations, indicated that:

Nene Odonkor (@nenedonkor) responded to the tweet saying:

Maxwell Atiah (@maxwell_atiah) pointed out the reason why there should not be a ban on the internet calls:

Many social media users are urging the telecommunication companies to develop innovative ideas and provide quality Internet services to boost their revenue instead of asking government to restrict Internet calls.

by Kofi Yeboah at May 23, 2016 02:42 PM

Venezuela: Research Confirms Censorship of News Platforms, Currency Websites
Homepage for IPYS "Navegar con Libertad" (browse freely) portal.

Homepage for IPYS “Navegar con Libertad” (browse freely) portal.

A recent study conducted by the Institute for Press and Society (IPYS) in Venezuela has confirmed that at least 43 different websites are being blocked in the country, shedding new light on the filtering practices of the Venezuelan government.

The research focused on documenting incidents surrounding web access and net neutrality, zeroing in on the treatment of national networks during the 2015 elections. The organization measured connection speeds and blocking over 48 days (from November 25, 2015, to January 14, 2016) and gathered 6.4 million data points. They found that 44% of the websites blocked are related to the black market of currency, while 19% are media-related, 12% are blogs that are critical of the ruling party, and 9% are related to gambling. Some URL shorteners, anonymization and circumvention tools and hosting services were found to be blocked as well.

The study also confirmed that all local Internet service providers using DNS (domain name system) blocking, technique through which domain name servers respond incorrectly to requests for a particular domain. When a website is blocked via DNS, the server will reply incorrectly or will deny the request when that website is called upon. The study did not find evidence of other kinds of technical censorship, including IP blocking or keyword blocking. However it is important to keep in mind that the study is a pilot test of only a small proportion of websites that are currently unavailable in the country. Previous research has indicated that roughly 1500 websites were blocked in Venezuela at some point during 2015.

What is the Domain Name System?

At its core, the Internet is a network of computers that can send messages between one another. Every computer and website connected to the Internet has an Internet Protocol (IP) address — a seemingly random set of numbers. The Domain Name System links each IP address to a website URL, allowing users to enter an easy-to-remember name rather than having to remember and type in a long string of numbers.

For example, if a user wants to visit our website, she can type globalvoices.org into her browser. This tells her computer to send a request to a domain name server that will then find the corresponding IP address and thus give the user access Global Voices. When a website is blocked using the DNS, the server will either deny the request or send back the wrong information.

In 90% of cases, the websites in the study were being blocked consistently across all five of Venezuela's largest ISPs. All appeared to constitute some violation of the notoriously broad Law on Social Responsibility on Radio, Television and Electronic Media, suggesting that the websites were blocked in compliance with an administrative measure under the aforementioned law. More specifically, the Institute inferred that the websites are considered to promote disobedience of the law, disavow authorities, or “foster unrest” within society.

The study also indicated that the mobile service company Movistar had the most websites blocked, among them  websites that were not blocked by the state-owned telecom CANTV. This could be a consequence of Venezuela's Law on Social Responsibility, wherein ISPs can risk being issued a penalty if they don’t comply with their obligations regarding forbidden content.

While the government’s practices regarding Internet blocking are not exactly a secret (this is a government that issued a web blocking order on national television back in 2014), the specific procedures, reasons, and particular websites currently blocked, along with all telecommunications information, is considered a “state secret”. This terminology was used in a 2014 Supreme Court ruling in response to a request for information concerning online censorship filed by Caracas NGO Espacio Público. However, it is known that the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL), a body that responds to the Executive branch, has issued procedures against at least nine ISPs for allowing access to certain websites. In a handful of other cases, such measures have been public, such as in the case of the Colombian news channel NTN24, which after providing coverage of the 2014 protests was blocked by all providers following an order issued by CONATEL.

IPYS is currently developing a system for monitoring the limitations to Internet access and net neutrality in Venezuela, drawing from the lessons learned in this pilot study. The entire report (in Spanish) and the original data is available on their website.

by Marianne Diaz at May 23, 2016 02:09 PM

The Iranian State Versus Kim Kardashian
Kim Kardashian takes on Tehran. Photo edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Kim Kardashian takes on Tehran. Photo edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Kim Kardashian has become the Iranian state's newest enemy. Tehran made this announcement in the wake of arrests of eight Instagram models—a campaign that began earlier this year, when Iranian authorities launched a series of operations they called “Spider.”

Accounts were blocked and the models arrested and put on trial. The most well-known of the models on trial, Elham Arab, had appeared on a popular Iranian television program called Honeymoon.

A photo posted by Elham Arab (@elhamarab__) on

 

The case of Elham Arab and the other models has received international attention. Her public apology was broadcast on Iranian state television, and it's also accessible on a new Instagram account called Elham Arabofficial.

“All people love beauty and fame. They would like to be seen, but it is important to know what price they will pay to be seen.”

Kim Kardashian and Instagram Are ‘Threats’ to Iranian Society

Mostafa Alizadeh, the spokesman for Iran's Organized Cyberspace Crimes Unit, has claimed that Instagram and Kim Kardashian are conspiring to influence Iranian society.

IranWire reports:

“Ms. Kim Kardashian is a popular fashion model so Instagram’s CEO tells her, ‘make this native,’” Alizadeh said. “There is no doubt that financial support is involved as well. We are taking this very seriously.”

Telegram Users Respond to the Kardashian Threat

One of the images shared widely on Telegram originated in a tweet from Omid Memarian, where he shared an image of prominent figures who have been labeled enemies of Iran's revolution. The image begins with Uncle Sam in 1978 and ends with Kim Kardashian in 2016.

The evolution of enemies of the revolution! Having survived the onslaught of Popper and Soros, it's now facing #Kardashian. What a transformation!

enemies of iran

1978: Uncle Sam

1988: Salman Rushdie

1997: Karl Popper

2004: George Soros

2016: Kim Kardashian

The following cartoon also made the rounds on Telegram, showing a young man eating ice cream. In the cartoon, his mother says she wants him to find a wife.

sweetie its time we found you a wife

“Dear son, it's time to find you a wife.”
“No I prefer Kim [a flavor of ice cream in Iran].”

Given Kim Kardashian's reputation for her ample posterior, it's perhaps no surprise that many young Iranians have started sharing on Telegram the following picture of a plump tomato:

tomato

گوجه ی #کیم_کارداشیان پروژه ی #نفوذ گوجه ای یکی از ابزار های رخنه به جوانان توسط کارداشیانِ #جاسوس کشف شد

#Kim_Kardashian tomato – the tomato #influence project – one of the tools to influence the youth discovered by the #spy Kardashian.

Another image shared widely on Telegram shows a manipulated photo featuring Kim Kardashian, US President Barack Obama, and her husband, Kanye West. In the photo, the color of Kardashian's sweater has been changed from the original color. This kind of manipulation is often the work of Iran's censors. This led many to question whether this Telegram post originated with Iranian authorities.

kim obama kanye

عکس لو رفته از یکی از جلسات کیم کارداشیان با رییس‌جمهور آمریکا برای #نفوذ در بین جوانان ایران

Photo leaked from a meeting with Kim Kardashian and the president to discuss influencing Iran's youth.

The original image was shared by Kim Kardashian on Instagram:

#FBF POTUS

A photo posted by Kim Kardashian West (@kimkardashian) on

Another message shared on Telegram sarcastically complains about the influence of Kim Kardashian. The message expresses the wish that more young women would dress like parliament member Fatemeh Alia instead of Kim Kardashian. Fatemeh Alia is famous for her strict hejab and hardline stance.

Women in Iran's Parliament. Photo from Dar Sahn.

Women in Iran's Parliament. Photo from Dar Sahn.

جوانان ما به جای فاطمه آلیا، کیم کارداشیان را الگوی خود قرار داده اند،خب این #غلط_است_دیگر

Our young people are copying Kim Kardashian instead of Fatemeh Alia. #That_is_just_wrong

Telegram users are also sharing a cartoon published on IranWire showing the Iranian version of Godzilla: Kim Kardashian.

Haji send in the back up our youth are dropping like flies

Haji! Haji! We need backup. Our youth are dropping like flies.

Iran's Cyber Army Sees All

It's tempting to laugh at the absurdity of making an enemy out of Kim Kardashian and Instagram. It is funny. Yet, the crackdown on hair salons and Instagram models has very real effects. It follows a pattern of control over cultural expression and women's appearance that dates back to the start of Iran's cultural revolution.

In the early 1980s, women were followed on the street by militia members. They were arrested for showing a single strand of hair. At the gate to the universities, their fingernails were checked for traces of nail polish. Guards sniffed at them to make sure women students wore no perfume.

Women have continually pushed the limits of physical and cultural expression in Iran. They have challenged the restrictions against them at every turn.

Hadi Ghaemi of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran states:

“This kind of stifling and intimidation will only deprive Iranians of the cultural and artistic vitality that is rightfully theirs and further alienate the country’s youth.”

“The Revolutionary Guards’ assault on Iran’s fashion industry testifies to the fear of hardliners who try to control every aspect of people’s lives and squash any visible challenge to their narrow world view.”

The intention of these types of actions against young women in Iran is to remind families of their need to control their daughters. No one is safe. Nothing is private. There is no place for personal expression.

It's not actually a laughing matter at all.

by Advox at May 23, 2016 01:57 PM

May 21, 2016

May 19, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Two of Egypt’s Leading Human Rights Defenders Face Legal Challenge
Gamal Eid (left) and Hossam Baghat. Images shared by IFEX network.

Gamal Eid (left) and Hossam Baghat. Images shared by IFEX network.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Two human rights defenders in Egypt are scheduled to appear before Cairo’s criminal court on Monday, May 23 in a case that could have broad implications for journalists and activists throughout the country.

The court will determine whether or not to freeze the assets of both Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information and a legal attorney specializing in media freedom. Bahgat and Eid are two of the country’s most influential voices in pushing to uphold rule of law and enforce Egypt’s commitments to international human rights doctrine. Both lead organizations that, despite increasingly difficult circumstances and regulatory efforts undercutting civil society activities, have managed to stay afloat and continue defending journalists and human rights activists both on and offline. Both have been banned from travel outside of Egypt since February 2016.

Although the judiciary has released little information about Monday’s hearing, it has been linked to a 2011 case in which numerous foreign NGOs were prosecuted for receiving and using foreign funds without a license. Neither Bahgat nor Eid were formally charged at that time.

In a statement on the case, Human Rights Watch’s Middle East director Nadim Houry said:

The Egyptian authorities have moved beyond scaremongering and are now rapidly taking concrete steps to shut down the last critical voices in the country's human rights community.

The case comes at a time when the need for lawyers like Eid and Baghat seems overwhelming. At least 33 journalists have been detained in Egypt over the past four weeks alone, most of them while attempting to cover political protests. Most, but not all, have since been released. Among those still held are Yanair news website journalists Amr Badr and Mahmoud al-Sakka, who have been committed to 30 days’ detention, and El-Fagr news website photographer Ali Abdeen, who was sentenced two years in jail after being convicted of inciting illegal protests, obstructing traffic, and publishing false news. The Egypt-based Journalists Against Torture Observatory and the Committee to Protect Journalists are following their stories and publishing the most up-to-date information on their cases.

Ethiopian netizen may serve five years in prison on “terror” charges

Ethiopian blogger and activist Zelalem Workagegnehu was sentenced by the Federal High Court of Ethiopia to five years and four months in prison following his conviction for “supporting terror” by helping to facilitate a course on digital tools and safety. He was initially charged in October 2014, and has spent over a year in jail. He and co-defendants reported experiencing extensive torture in detention, and were forced to sign confession letters. Zelalem is expected to appeal the decision.

Social media is back on in Uganda, off in Iraq

The blackout on social media in Uganda finally ended on May 15 after a ban “for security reasons” during the days following President Yoweri Museveni’s inauguration ceremony. During the shutdown, only people using VPNs – and the State House of Uganda – were able to circumvent the blackout.

Iraq followed Uganda’s lead in shutting down its Internet, though not for security reasons. The shutdown, which occurred in all regions of the country, coincided with official exams for secondary and high schools, which has led some to believe the blackout was intended to prevent cheating. It lasted for approximately three hours.

New tool helps Russians make friends, target victims

A facial recognition tool called FindFace has become popular in Russia, allowing users to photograph people in a crowd and identify them with 70% reliability by comparing these images to profile pictures on the Russian social network Vkontakte. The software has considerable implications for the invasion of privacy, and has already been used to uncover the social media profiles of female adult film actors in order to harass them. In early April, a young artist named Egor Tsvetkov highlighted how invasive the technology can be, photographing random passengers on the St. Petersburg subway and matching the pictures to the individuals’ Vkontakte pages, using FindFace. “In theory,” Tsvetkov told Global Voices, “this service could be used by a serial killer or a collector trying to hunt down a debtor.” Currently the app’s creators say the technology can work with any photographic database, but it does not work with Facebook.

China targets “inappropriate” video platforms, provocative banana-eating

Chinese censors have turned their sights to video, targeting live-streaming platforms that show unauthorized broadcasts of shows, vulgar language, “inappropriate” clothing, and even eating and posing with bananas in a “provocative” manner.

Models arrested for Instagram posts in Iran

Eight people were arrested in Iran for posting their photos online. Among them were multiple models who posed with their hair uncovered on Instagram. Mehdi Abutorabi, who managed a publishing tool called Persian Blog, was also detained. Modeling is technically illegal in Iran, and the country’s laws require all women cover their hair.

Kenyan blogger disappears after withstanding terror charges

Kenyan blogger and photographer Msingi Sasis has gone missing after being arrested last year while taking photos of Galleria Mall in Nairobi at night. He was held on “suspicion of terrorism” and then released with no charges. He later reported experiencing loss of his livelihood and emotional and physical turmoil resulting from his arrest.

Bulgarian environmental activist lands in court for Facebook posts

A Bulgarian environmental activist is facing trial for insulting the head of a copper mining company on Facebook. The case could illustrate the fragility of free expression in the country, according to Global Voices’ Nevena Borisova, as social media may be covered within Bulgaria’s criminal code penalizing defamation or insult.

Mozambique is spying on its people (without a warrant)

The government of Mozambique is extensively spying on its citizens, according to an investigative report by local news oulet @Verdade, listening to their phone calls, reading text messages, email, chat, and monitoring their social media activity and web browsing activities. The monitoring was carried out using a technical system reportedly built by the Chinese technology company ZTE Corporation, and has been managed by military command.

Leaked NSA newsletters go public

The Intercept released a new batch of documents (originally made public by Edward Snowden) that includes 166 editions of the internal newsletter of the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate, SIDtoday.

New Research

 

 

Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email

 

 

Ellery Roberts Biddle, James Losey, Sherif Mansour and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

by Netizen Report Team at May 19, 2016 08:47 PM

Mexico Launches National Transparency Platform
PNT-INAI-Captura de pantalla

Screenshot of Mexico's new National Transparency Platform.

Mexico's National Transparency Platform is a new tool that helps promote the right of access to public information and transparency in Mexico. The platform portal allows anyone with Internet access to obtain government information already available, or request data that is not yet available.

The National Transparency Platform launched on May 6, 2016, by the National Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data Institute, which is charged with guaranteeing the fundamental right of access to public information in Mexico. This portal was created as a result of controversial reforms of the country's constitutional law on transparency (see past reports on Global Voices Advox), which now includes new legal obligations for political parties and unions to ensure the transparency of their information, among many other issues.

Óscar Guerra, one of the seven commissioners of the National Transparency Platform, commented:

Esta plataforma es el mejor ejemplo de la aplicación de las tecnologías de la información al servicio y exigencia de los derechos de las personas. Será un referente para todas aquellas naciones que pretenden desarrollar soluciones electrónicas similares para facilitar y garantizar su derecho de acceso a la información.

This platform is the best example of the application of information technology in the service and exercise of the rights of individuals. It will be a reference point for all those nations that seek to develop similar electronic solutions to facilitate and ensure the right of access to information.

None of this, however, means that accessing government information in Mexico has actually improved. Since 2002, when the now-defunct Federal Institute for Access to Information and Data Protection (IFAI) was created, there was a portal called INFOMEX through which all people with Internet access (regardless of their place of residence or their citizenship) could request information free of charge from federal agencies. Those who accessed the portal could even appeal to the IFAI when their requests were not met or when the information provided did not correspond with their requests. Perhaps the best example of the usefulness of such a system was in 2015, when a citizen requested and gained access to the investigation file on the Ayotzinapa case, in which 43 students were victims of a mass disappearance and probable murder.

Among the innovations that characterize the new platform is a feature that allows users to verify themselves in order to gain access by using social-network accounts like Twitter and Facebook. The platform also was designed to be accessible to people with special needs. In its next stage, the platform will be accessible from smartphones and tablets using a mobile app.

Once fully operational, the National Transparency Platform is intended to be a powerful ally in the fight against corruption in Mexico. But its effectiveness in practice remains to be seen.

by J. Tadeo at May 19, 2016 04:26 PM

May 17, 2016

Ethan Zuckerman
From disastrous decisions to decentralization: a mostly spontaneous talk for Data & Society

My friends at Data and Society ran an excellent conference today in NYC. A speaker dropped out at the last minute and I got asked less than 48 hours ago to give a talk… a very specific talk. Here’s what I came up with, more or less.

I’m pinch hitting here, as we had a speaker who couldn’t join us, so I apologize for an unpolished talk without slides. To make my life easier, our friends at Data and Society asked me to tell a story I’ve told before. As I thought about it, I realized I wanted to tell that story very differently. So here’s a story that starts with one of the most embarrassing moments of my professional career and ends up on one of the most experimental and difficult projects I’ve ever worked on. Basically, it’s a story about the gap between ambitions, intentions and the compromises we make to bring ideas to life.

Twenty years ago, in 1996, I was 23 years old, and somehow was the chief tech guy for Tripod.com, which thought it was a lifestyle site for recent college graduates, but was actually one of the world’s first user-generated content sites. By 1999, we were hosting free webpages for 15 million users, which made us the 8th biggest website in the world. But in 1996, we were trying to figure out how to pay for the massive bandwidth bills we’d suddenly incurred by letting thousands of people publish whatever they wanted on our server.

Advertising was the business model everyone else was using on the internet, and so we joined in – we put banner ads on top of the pages users hosted with our service. Great! Until we got a call from one of our ad sales guys, who giving a demo to the Ford motor company, and found a Ford banner on top of a page enthusiastically and visually celebrating the joys of anal sex. (Lesson one – don’t let ad guys give live demos. Lesson two – don’t ever program a “show me a random page” button, no matter how easy it would be to implement.)

Ford was understandably upset, and so my boss demanded I do something. And while I should have figured out how to minimize the amount of pornography we were hosting on the site, my immediate reaction was to figure out how we could somehow distance ads from user generated content. I designed a navigation window that featured Tripod branding, links to our edited content, and an ad, and used a just invented javascript function, window.open(), to open a new window on top of the browser window the user’s page lived in.

Yes, I invented the pop-up ad. And yes, I’m very, very sorry.

In reflecting on my sins, I’ve publicly decried advertising as the original sin of the web. Not all advertising – I have a soft spot for advertising targeted by user intent, like ads matched to search engine queries. But the ads we use to support the services we use everyday, our social networks and webmail, are almost necessarily going to fail – they’re trying to distract us from seeing our our friends’ baby pictures or hear about the weekend’s debauchery. And so these ads have become deeply surveillant, encouraging us to use whatever data we can glean about the context they’re shown in, and anything we can learn about a user’s demographics, psychographics and behavioral data in the desperate hope that we might click on them. And I fear that the rise of surveillant ads may be slowly training us all to expect to be surveilled at all time, a development that’s dangerous for us as citizens, not just as consumers.

But it’s way too easy to beat up on advertising. It’s a really tough problem to figure out how to support services that require network effects to be effective. Facebook wouldn’t be the useful behemoth it is today if it were a hundredth or a tenth the size. It’s useful because there’s the reasonable assumption that anyone you know will be on the service, even if they use it fairly rarely. it’s the universality that makes it so useful, and universal services require near-zero cost of entry.

Yes, we eventually could have supported Tripod with paid subscriptions… and Facebook could and should offer a non-surveillant, paid service for power users. Gmail should agree not to surveil the email of anyone paying for disk space. YouTube shouldn’t track the users who pay for ad-free RedTube. But there’s got to be a way for me to be findable by my high school friends, even if I don’t want to use the tool everyday. For the activist in Egypt to put up a webpage calling people out into the streets in a way where she doesn’t need to pay with a credit card and reveal her identity. Advertising is problematic solution, and it’s led us some troubling places. But I’m starting to worry about a bigger problem.

The mistake we made with Tripod was deeper than the pop-up ad. In retrospect, I feel like our whole business model – the business model I spent two years persuading my boss to adopt – is starting to destroy the web, this strange and beautiful creature I’ve been in love with for the past 22 years.

What Tripod did was take something that was possible for technically sophisticated users – to put up a webpage – and make it possible for orders of magnitude more users. and that was a good and important thing to do, much as letting people share photos and videos with each other, or send 140 character messages to each other is a Good Thing. But the way we did it sucked. We took the great genius of the web – the idea that everything could live on its own box, but be connected to everything else by the wonder of the hyperlink – and replaced it with a single server, controlled by a single company. This made it vastly easier for someone to put up a webpage without learning how to install apache and to write HTML, but it also meant that we had control over what you wrote. If you wanted to share your enthusiastic love for anal sex, too bad, because Tripod banned almost all nudes, and enforced the ban aggressively, with a combination of automation and human filtering. And so if you find yourself with certain types of speech – wanting to share information on breastfeeding on Facebook, for instance – you’re going to face the complicated reality that our digital public spaces are owned and controlled by corporations that we have little control or influence over.

A few years ago, cyberutopians of my generation, people who weren’t dumb enough to believe that the internet would automatically make the world a better place, but were dumb enough to believe that the values and tendencies of the internet would lead us towards a better world, started to find ourselves in crisis. One of the great hopes we’d had was that the internet inherently fights centralization. That barriers to entry are so low that there will always be competitors, always be options. When Amazon is eating all retail, Facebook all communication, Google all discovery, it’s hard to believe this anymore. And so it’s time to stop being so enthusiastic and uncritical about the internet and to start thinking hard about the downsides of this approach we’ve adopted.

My friend Rebecca MacKinnon encourages us to think of ourselves as citizens, not just as consumers, and to demand basic rights on these platforms. Others have proposed that we start thinking about how we regulate these platforms as if they were utilities, recognizing that they provide essential services and that we need to ensure everyone can access them. I want to suggest something even more radical.

I think the future of the web – the future I want for the web – comes from radical decentralization. The really radical version of Tripod – impossible at that point in time, but maybe possible now – would have been building tools that helped people publish their own content on their own servers they control under their own rules.

Here’s what I’m working on now – in all the classes I teach, students turn in their work on blogs. But I control those blogs, and at the end of the semester, I end up controlling their work. What I want is a system in which students have their own blogs, share the appropriate posts with me for the semester so I can aggregate them into a class site, but they end up owning their words and coming away from their time with a portfolio of work on their sites. This is not a new idea – The University of Mary Washington has a project called A Domain of One’s Own where there are accounts on a shared wordpress install. But I’m trying to solve this problem in a ludicrously convoluted way

I’m trying to build a system where my students use a tool that’s as beautiful and easy as Medium, but stores the data on multiple places all over the web using IPFS, the IP file system. Rather than keeping an index of the students in my classes and where those blogs are located, the system uses the bitcoin blockchain to register contracts about where I can find their writings for class. I’m building this in an insanely complicated way because the same architecture lets me build a distributed but compatible version of Twitter – if I decide I don’t want Twitter having control over my tweets anymore, I can start publishing my own twitter-like feed on a website I control, then register contracts that say that’s where my tweets live. If you use a compatible client, and you decide to follow me on Twitter, your client will check the blockchain to see if I’ve registered a contract to publish my updates off twitter and then subscribe to that RSS feed. If not, it will look for me on Twitter and subscribe to that feed. Basically, I’m trying to build a system with as few centralized points of control as possible, in the hopes of making it both easy for anyone to publish and disseminate information, and difficult for anyone intentionally or inadvertently to act as a censor or gatekeeper.

But it’s really hard. We didn’t design Tripod centrally because we were censorious control freaks. It’s way, way easier to build a single, central database than to distribute a directory of users across a distributed hash table. The sort of system I’m describing is probably 1000 times less efficient than existing centralized systems. That inefficiency has consequences, of cost, and for the environment. And there are enormous problems with managing content in a system like this one – it may not be possible to demand deletion of content in a truly distributed system, so what do we do with truly offensive content, like revenge porn.

And yet, it’s probably what we need to do. Because giving control over public spheres to private companies isn’t just a bad idea for us as citizens – it’s an impossible set of responsibilities for the corporations in question, and they’re already starting to strain under the load. And so we need to start thinking about how we build systems that aren’t just new and innovative, but that are architected in ways that support the generativity and creativity of the web in the long term. This isn’t a brave new world – it’s a rescue mission. It’s a return to the past, to the way the web used to work. And while building a decentralized web didn’t work the first time around, because the easy solutions won out against the right ones, we can do it right now, because we understand the dangers of centralization. We’ve seen how the story plays out.

To be clear, I’m not the only one trying to build these new systems. From the bitcoin libertarians to the openhearted cyberhippies like Brewster Kahle, people are building new ways to publish, discover and pay each other for content in ways that don’t require a gatekeeper standing in the middle of these transactions. But we need a much bigger group of people taking on this challenge, deciding to build a web that works in a way that empowers rather than imprisons us. As you’ve figured out, I’m not very smart – I’m the dumbass that thought that pop-up ads were a good solution to internet pornography. I need you, whether you’re motivated by curiosity, by ideology or by opportunity, to join me and take on this task. It’s hard to do, but it’s also right.

by Ethan at May 17, 2016 09:30 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Ugandans Are Finally Back on Social Media After Days-Long Blackout

In the days following President Yoweri Museveni's inauguration ceremony, Ugandans were slowly able to access social media again after the Uganda Communications Commission ordered the sites blocked for “security reasons.”

Facebook thumbs down

Facebook thumbs down.

The blackout began on the evening of May 11, 2016, and Internet service providers announced that access to sites like Facebook and Twitter was supposedly restored on May 13. Some customers, however, reported that problems using social media persisted until Sunday, May 15.

Josiah Kato, for example, commented on leading telecom MTN Uganda's Facebook page at 3:12 a.m. on May 14 asking why he could not access messaging app WhatsApp. MTN replied, contradicting their earlier announcement that “all social media had been restored,” saying “the social media shut down by Government is still on.”

Currently, Ugandans are able to access social media sites normally.

President Museveni was sworn into office on May 12 for his controversial fifth term after winning more than 60% of the vote in elections in February 2016. The country's political opposition claims that the election was rigged, and international observers and human rights groups have also expressed concern over the election process.

The main opposition party, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), and other activists have been challenging Museveni's victory with a series of protests they've dubbed the “defiance campaign.” Social media has played a key role in the movement's organization.

During the forced shutdown, only people using virtual private networks (VPNs) were able to access social media sites. Those who are less tech savvy were locked out. Ugandans also used VPNs to circumvent a four-day social media blackout during the February elections.

The State House of Uganda, however, didn't seem to have an issue getting around the block. The account of the official residence of the president posted photos of African leaders arriving to attend the Museveni's inauguration on its Facebook page at 7:27 pm local time on May 11, two and a half hours after the social media blackout reportedly began.

State House

Uganda State House Facebook Page was active even after the blockage.

One Facebook user commented on the post:

This is laughable indeed , I wonder whom u expect to read this since u ordered for the shut down of social media

by James Propa at May 17, 2016 01:52 PM

EchoDitto
Links for 2016-05-16 [del.icio.us]

May 17, 2016 07:00 AM

May 16, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
The Government of Mozambique is “Spying on its Citizens”, According to @Verdade
Esquema do sistema de escutas implementado em Moçambique. Imagem do jornal @Verdade

Scheme of the surveillance system implemented in Mozambique. Image from @Verdade.

Earlier this month, Mozambicans learned that their government has been “listening to [their] telephone calls, reading [their] text messages (by SMS, email, WhatsApp, Viber…) and monitoring [social media activity] and Internet sites that they visit.”

The revelations published by independent media outlet @Verdade (a partner of Global Voices) on 4 May also described how authorities intercepted and monitored communications between Mozambican citizens using a technical system that was reportedly built by ZTE Corporation, a Chinese company.

ZTE installs Mozambique’s intrusive interception system with access to all communications

The surveillance scheme was introduced during the term of ex-president Armando Guebuza, and cost the government around 140 million US dollars. The son of the ex-president was the intermediary in the deal:

O comando nacional de intercepção de informação foi adquirido pela Casa Militar, entre 2012 e 2014, e instalado pela empresa chinesa ZTE Corporation. Mas o negócio “militar” não foi feito directamente pelo Estado. A empresa privada Msumbiji Investment Limited, empresa da família Guebuza onde o filho do antigo Presidente, Mussumbuluku Guebuza é administrador executivo (CEO), intermediou o negócio que custou cerca de 140 milhões de dólares norte-americanos, aos cofres públicos, dos quais oito por cento foram pagos em comissões.

The order to intercept information was secured by the military command between 2012 and 2014, and installed by the Chinese ZTE Corporation. But the “military” deal was not done directly by the state. The private company Msumbiji Investment Limited, the company of the Guebuza family where the son of former president, Mussumbuluku Guebuza, is the CEO, mediated the deal which cost around 140 million US dollars to public funds, eighty percent of which was paid in commissions.

The system, which has access to all voice communications and data passing through fixed and mobile phone networks, is managed by the military command which facilitates the process. Interceptions do not need prior judicial authorization, much less the agreement of the telecommunications companies. The system also conducts tracking of all communications via email or social networks.

A informação capturada pelo sistema em tempo real, é listada no projecto que estamos a citar, vai desde a mais simples chamada telefónica ou mensagem de texto (SMS) de todos os milhões de usuários das redes de telefonia móvel, passando pelas mensagens de todos o tipo de correios electrónicos (sejam de POP3, SMTP ou IMAP4) ou mesmo os emails trocados pelos diversos fornecedores online (gmail, yahoo, live). O sistema captura também os dados trocados através das aplicações de bate-papos, dos mais populares até aos menos conhecidos, acede às comunicações por Voz através de Protocolo de Internet (VOIP acrónimo em inglês), acessa aos dados trocados por FTP ou TELNET e também permite a recolha das comunicações trocadas nas redes sociais (facebook, twitter, google plus e até pelo youtube).

The information captured by the system in real time, listed in the project we are discussing, goes from the simplest telephone call or text message (SMS) of all the millions of users of mobile telephone networks, to the messages of all types of electronic mail (whether POP3, SMTP or IMAP4), and even the emails exchanged by various online providers (Gmail, Yahoo, live). The system also captures the data exchanged over chat applications, from the most popular to the least known, accesses voice communications over internet protocol (VOIP), accesses data exchanged on FTP or TELNET, and permits the tracking of communications exchanged via social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and YouTube).

by Advox at May 16, 2016 03:00 PM

Kenyan Blogger and Photographer Goes Missing
Kenyan blogger and street photographer Msingi Sasis. Photo from his Twitter account.

Kenyan blogger and street photographer Msingi Sasis. Photo from his Twitter account.

Kenyan blogger and street photographer Msingi Sasis has gone missing. Msingi was arrested last year while taking photos of Galleria Mall in Nairobi at night. He held at a police station in Nairobi on “suspicion of terrorism” and then released with no charges or further challenges.

Several media outlets reported on his arrest. Despite the fact that he was simply taking photographs, an activity that sometimes triggers police harassment, Msingi was then left with a reputation of being a “terror suspect”.

Before disappearing, he wrote on his Facebook page on May 6 about how his arrest and ‘terrorism suspect’ label have destroyed his career and livelihood:

Ever since I was arrested as a ‘terrorism suspect’ one year ago my life has been shut down and I have become practically jobless.

It has become near impossible for me sell any art or get any meaningful work as almost no one, both individuals and organisations, are willing to do a financial transaction or even be involved with a ‘terror suspect’.

A ‘terror suspect’ is what my life has been in the past one year. Being a ‘terror suspect’ means I have not been able earn a living at all. Not being able to earn a living has ment I that I have fallen into and have been accumulating multiple debts.

I have suffered this silently and alone, until this point. I have to tell everyone who found any insight and inspiration in my work goodbye.

This week auctioneers siezed [sic] everything in my studio. Every valuable thing they placed their hands on. All my cameras, computers, printers, other equipment, and anything that can quickly be sold including hard drives that had every work I have ever created. It's all gone.

I have also defaulted on my rent for many months now and have been issued with an eviction notice which has already expired. What ever was left by the auctioneers in the form of clothing, furniture, and other personal items will be detained by the owner of the property and their agent to recover defaulted rent.
In the next few hours I will be homeless.

I am also shutting down Nairobi Noir. Now to find a place where I can sleep on these street I have come to know. Hope for me that somewhere along the way I will get on my feet again. This is the life of an artist as a ‘terrorism suspect’.

People following his case have taken to Twitter and Facebook to offer help. Colleague Janice Kihanya commented:

am sooo sorry.People,I know Msingi personally and his work is breathtaking.He has been published here and abroad.He lives in the same estate as I and technically me n him are in the same business and he is kind with his knowledge.Please,if there is someone that can help him please do.He was arrested a while back for taking pictures in public and his cameras confiscated.

Mohamed Haji linked Msingi's experience to the ‘war on terror’:

Sadness never ceases in our country. This is where the foreign war called war on terror has taken us.

Artist Ralf Rafee empathized with his situation:

Another bright mind & talented artist being silenced. Being myself under fire and extreme pressure for my own work, I can fully adhere to what he is saying. At this rate, where Kenya is going, I am close to a similar ordeal myself. Msingi Sasis, whereever you are now, I hope you will survive this!

Boniface Mwangi, a Kenyan photographer, tweeted that Msingi had gone missing:

Archer Mishale asked what could be done to help:

Upon reading Msingi's post, Rand Pearson, editor of UP Nairobi online magazine and a colleague of Msingi's, wrote:

The undeserved harassment, defamation of his name, and resulting loss of livelihood was bound to take its emotional and physiological toll. Msingi had mentioned to people close to him that he was depressed and borderline suicidal, which makes his disappearance even more alarming.

But there is something else that Msingi’s disappearance represents, and it is not a commentary on the corrupt wheels of justice or his Facebook post; it is the very attitude we hold for art, beauty and the people who create it.

It’s easy to conclude through my experience and observations in running UP Magazine, that Kenya can at times be ‘no country for artists’. They do so at their own risk, own reward, or their own peril.

by Ndesanjo Macha at May 16, 2016 02:30 PM

Chinese Censors Crack Down on ‘Illegal’ Live-Streaming, Including Erotic Banana Eating

A London-based YouTuber named Phil Watson uploaded a video of himself erotically eating a banana outside Chinese Embassy in London to protest Beijing's latest censorship targeting “suggestive” live-streaming.

Live-streaming talk shows, many featuring women, have become more and more common in the last few years in China. On average, viewers spend about 135 minutes daily watching such shows.

A total of 60 percent of the viewers are younger than 22-years-old and 77 percent are male. Popular hosts can make up to 10,000 yuan (about $1,500) per month, mostly from tips they receive from fans, though the platforms themselves generate income through advertising and partnerships with gaming companies too.

Authorities began cracking down on “illegal” content in February 2016, targeting live-streaming platforms. In this case, illegal content can include unauthorized live-streaming of TV dramas or news reports, vulgar language, “inappropriate” clothing (hosts who appear on camera in their underwear or in sleeveless tops, for example) and eating and posing with bananas in a “provocative” manner.

As it is impossible to pre-screen live-streamed content, China's public security bureau has set up police branches at the office of major live-streaming platforms to oversee what is being broadcasted.

One local newspaper, New Express, published a follow-up feature story on May 5 exploring how exactly the web censors review live-streamed content. In one single company, there are about 80 people working around-the-clock shifts to censor broadcasted material. All of the live-streamed content are reviewed by automatic sound and image detectors before passing through the human censor team.

Each member of the team has to review more than 60,000 screenshots from the live-streamed content per hour. The team manages to take down illegal content within 20 seconds after the live-stream has started, according to the New Express story. The article didn't specify if the censors were company employees, police agents or subcontracted workers.

Platforms that don't meet authorities’ censorship standards will be fined or even taken offline.

by L. Finch at May 16, 2016 08:13 AM

Ethiopian Blogger and Activist Sentenced to Five Years and Four Months
Photo-based graphic of Zelalem Workagegnehu by Melody Sundberg. Image used with permission.

Photo-based graphic of Zelalem Workagegnehu by Melody Sundberg. Image used with permission.

After a long trial driven by controversy the Ethiopian Federal High Court sentenced young Ethiopian blogger and activist Zelalem Workagegnehu to five years and four months in prison.

Zelalem is a human rights advocate and a scholar who regularly contributed to the diaspora-run website DeBirhan.

He is expected to appeal the decision.

Currently Zelalem is being held in Kilinto prison in the capital Addis Ababa.

However, his family and friends fear he will be transferred to Ziway prison, some 160 kilometers south of the Ethiopian capital.

Zolaman

On April 15, the Ethiopian Federal High Court acquitted two of Zelalem's co-defendants Yoantan Wolde and Bahiru Degu, who spent more than 600 days incarcerated on terrorism charges critics allege were politically motivated.

Zelalem Workagenehu, however, was found guilty of “supporting terror” for an alleged link to Ginbot 7 Movement, a pro-democracy political party founded by Professor Berhanu Nega and labelled as a “terrorist organisation” by the Ethiopian government in 2010.

He was charged with conspiring to overthrow the government (he helped facilitate a course on digital security) and disseminating false information (he wrote regularly for diaspora-run websites that remain one of the true sources of reliable information on events in Ethiopia).

The judge reportedly said he was guilty of recruiting members to start an Arab-Spring-like revolution in Ethiopia and co-facilitating a digital security course that the state prosecutor understood as “a course to terrorize Ethiopia.”

Zelalem along with nine others were accused under Ethiopia's Anti-Terror Proclamation, which was adopted in July 2009. State officials defend the law, saying it is modelled on existing legislation in countries such as the United Kingdom.

Zelalem was initially charged in October 2014, along with a group of nine other defendants that included Internet users, opposition politicians, and activists. So far, seven people in this group have been acquitted after spending more than a year in jail.

Zelalem and his co-defendants told the court that they had experienced extensive torture in detention.

While in detention, Zelalem was forced to sign confession letters. As a result of beatings and torture, Zelalem says he is now suffering from a severe eye pain.

by Tedla D. Tekle at May 16, 2016 12:28 AM

Development Seed
The Value of User Research

To build a successful product, you must deeply understand your users and their needs. Unfortunately, when timelines are tight, user research is often what gets dropped or simply forgotten about, right when it is needed the most. Doing even a little bit research up front can avoid costly delays later in the process, saving time and resources, resulting in a better product.

We recently put this theory to the test while working with the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) on their OSM Analytics prototype. HOT came to us to help them better understand what their users really wanted and needed, to inform what they should build, from the beginning. Because of their short timeframe, we condensed our research process, conducting user research, iterating and then testing to verify assumptions, within a weeks time.

For our initial UX research phase, we spent an intensive day with the team at HOT helping them think through their measurable goals for the product, the kind of people they hoped would use their tool, and finally, the kind of content that would achieve their goals as well as those of their users. Doing this type of analysis up front, not only ensured that we were all driving towards the same goal, but also focused us on features and design decisions that were right for the product, instead of suggesting whatever is new and flashy. The result by the end of the day—a simple, testable prototype.

Image

The second step of the process was to get our prototype in front of real users. Testing is invaluable because it provides the project team with fast feedback, allowing them to make more informed changes early on. For OSM Analytics, we tested our prototype and verified our assumptions by using our preferred method, moderated usability testing. We asked a number of relevant users to perform tasks on the prototype, to ensure that what we built matched their expectations. Their responses quickly showed us what worked and what didn’t within the product, allowing us to fix big issues and more confidently continue building. Also, hearing directly from users how they’d like to use the tool, gave us and the HOT team insight into what future phases of the product should look like.

Image

Within the week we had for this project, we not only gained an understanding of HOT’s users wants and needs, but also learned what worked for the product and what didn’t. This all allowed us to iterate our way to a more user centered design showing the value of doing UX research and testing, no matter the timeline.

If you haven’t tried OSM Analytics yet, check it now. Join in or watch further development of the tool on GitHub.

by Development Seed at May 16, 2016 12:00 AM

May 13, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Bulgarian ‘Green’ Activist Faces Lawsuit Over Facebook Post
Borislav Sandov. Personal archive photo, used with permission.

Borislav Sandov. Personal archive photo, used with permission.

In February 2016 Bulgarian eco-activist Borislav Sandov was convicted of “insulting” the director of a copper mining company in a Facebook status update, after he published allegations that the mine had poisoned the waters around the Bulgarian city of Panagyurishte.

The case has drawn attention to the potential fragility of political speech and freedom of expression in Bulgaria. The trial for the next instance is set for May 30.

Borislav Sandov is known in Bulgaria for his leading role in key environmental protests in recent years. Sandov, who is also a scientist and a member of the Bulgarian political movement known as The Greens, published a post on his Facebook page in which he called Lachezar Tsotskorkov, the executive director of one of the biggest mining companies in Bulgaria, a “poisoner oligarch.” The post goes on to explain what he describes as a “legal saga” between The Greens and the company, which is called Asarel Medet.

The post prompted Tsotsorkov to sue Sandov for insult and defamation. He has accused Sandov of disgracing his name. In February, the Bulgarian court of the city of Panagyurishte ruled that Sandov had not committed an act of defamation but was guilty of insult.

Some local voices are expressing support for Sandov as the trial continues onto the next judiciary instance. French ambassador in Bulgaria Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes made a gesture of support on Twitter by saying “I am Borislav Sandov.”

The Bulgarian daily Capital quoted Sandov’s lawyer Kalin Angelov after issuing the verdict in the first instance.

Борислав Сандов беше оправдан по повдигнатите срещу него обвинения за клевета, а именно – че през 2014, мината на г-н Цоцорков на два пъти е отравяла водите на реките около Панагюрище. Съдът прие, че към момента на писането на статуса, е имало достатъчно основания да се смята, че това е било така. Смятам това за успех”.

Borislav Sandov was found innocent of accusations against him for defamation and in specific – that in 2014 Tsotsorkov’s mine twice has poisoned the waters around the Bulgarian city of Panagyurishte. The court concluded that at the moment of writing the status, there had been enough grounds for one to think he was correct. I think this is a success”.

The court ruled that Sandov “humiliated” the honor and dignity of Tsotsorkov, as the insult was made public and distributed via other means, including Facebook. A subsequent analysis by Capital quotes legal expert Kalin Angelov, who commented on the case:

Г-н Цоцорков се е обидил чрез своята ПР служителка. Именно тя е следяла профила на г-н Сандов и именно тя е преценила кое е обидно и кое не. Това опосредено “обиждане” е стряскащото в присъдата.

Tsotsorkov was insulted by his PR employee who has followed the Facebook profile of Sandov and she evaluated which content was “insulting” and which was not. This mediated “insulting” is also dismaying in the sentence.

Sandov suggested that the suit may have been filed in an act of revenge. Previously, he and fellow Green party members led research and legal battles surrounding Tsotsorkov's alleged intentions to make investments that could double the size of the Asarel Medet. The mining mogul lost these challenges in three instances.

Borislav Sandov (on the right) during eco protests

Borislav Sandov (on the right) during eco protests. Personal archive photo, used with permission.

Capital Daily also quoted Boyko Boev, Bulgarian media law expert based in London, who said that “persons participating in events in the public interest may expect reactions on the Internet in relation to their deeds.” He was also quoted explaining that determining the defendant's motive is also a factor in defamation cases. If the statement is related to the professional activity of a person, with the good-will goal to help society, then there should be a higher degree of tolerance by the court. One can assume that this level of tolerance should be applied the case of Borislav Sandov, who most agree is speaking out about a topic of public interest, as it concerns natural environment and public health.

The fact that Sandov's post appeared on Facebook is important too, as many people view the platform as a place where anyone can write anything with impunity. Boev added that:

“Не е ненормално да има дела, които са предмет на публикации във Facebook.Законът никъде не казва, че Facebok е място, където всеки може да пише каквото си иска”.

It is not abnormal to see trials centered around messages posted on Facebook. The law does not state anywhere that Facebook is a place where anyone can write whatever he or she wants.

According to the Bulgarian criminal code, defamation or insult may be distributed via print media “or other means.” Social media in this case are considered to fall into the latter category. Capital reminded readers that in 2014 a woman was ordered to pay a fine of EUR 1.200 and two compensations of over EUR 3700 over allegedly defamatory messages that she posted on Facebook. The woman in the case had posted a message on Facebook in which she accused her former employer of incorrect behavior.

Borislav Sandov. Personal archive.

Borislav Sandov. Personal archive.

The proceedings were against Sandov as an individual, who at the same time is a representative of a political party, as Sandov himself pointed out in a statement for Global Voices. He added that it is the first time that a party representative is being sued, although individually, for an activity on social media. Explaining the justification of his speech, Sandov also told Global Voices that:

“Говорим за публични фигури във връзка с които е позволени да си остър по отношение на речта”

We are talking about public figures about whom one is allowed to be sharp in terms of speech.

In a blog post entitled “Insult or a criticism: to the discussion”, the well-known Bulgarian expert in media law Nelly Ognyanova also reflected on the case:

Осъществена е намеса в свободата на изразяване по отношение на политическо слово. Политическо слово според практиката на ЕСПЧ е налице, когато става дума за важни обществени дебати в съвременното общество в най-широк смисъл, включително за опазване на околната среда, за защита на животните, за здравословен начин на живот [ECHR, VGT v. Switzerland, Application no. 24699/94, Judgment 21 June 2001]

Interfering with freedom of expression is an act that relates to political speech. Political speech according to the practice of European Court of Human Rights is constituted by important public debates in the contemporary society in the largest sense, including in relation to the preservation of the environment, protection of animals, for healthy way of life [ECHR, VGT v. Switzerland, Application no. 24699/94].

Ognyanova also added:

Политическото слово има най-висока степен на защита според международните стандарти и може да бъде ограничено на много малък брой основания, свързани с демократичните принципи на управление и с ценностите на демократичните общества.

Political speech has the highest level of protection according to international standards and it can be limited to a very few number of arguments, related to the democratic principles of government and the values of democratic societies.

In the same article analyzing Sandov's case, Capital Daily says that in some countries the judiciary system is already keeping apace with new developments in technology. In the UK for example, the prosecutor's office has received instructions on how to handle trials that are related to public interest issues as they are impacted in online speech, such as cases related to a danger to public security.

While clarifying whether such cases could occur in future, Sandov is now awaiting his next court hearing.

by L. Finch at May 13, 2016 08:47 AM

May 12, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Facebook and Twitter Disappear in Uganda Amid Election Tensions
"We are all Ugandans....voting should not divide us." Poster in Uganda, 2012. Photo by pixelthing via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“We are all Ugandans….voting should not divide us.” Poster in Uganda, 2012. Photo by pixelthing via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Last week, Uganda's minister for information and national guidance banned media houses from covering opposition protests, and the executive director of the Uganda Communications Commission warned that the ban “may be extended to social media.” This appears to have come to fruition.

On May 11, the Uganda Communications Commission ordered telecommunications service providers to block access to major social media sites, in anticipation of the inauguration of incumbent President Yoweri Museveni on May 12.

Musveni will begin his fifth term in office after winning more than 60 of the vote on February 18, 2016. The election results were called into question by both the leading opposition party and international observers.

On of the evening of May 11, Ugandan users began reporting that they couldn't access social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

The country's major telecommunication companies, like Airtel Uganda and MTN Uganda, confirmed the shutdown in notices to their customers:

Dear Customers, as per UCC directive Social media has been temporarily blocked however all our other services are available. We regret any inconveniences caused.

Twitter user @JZiras shared this communication from Roke Telkom, which said the blackout was due to “security reasons”:

Opposition leader Kizza Besigye and other opposition figures have been under house arrest for much of the time since February. They have relied on social media to organize what they're calling a “defiance campaign” of protests.

Mapping “disputed” areas could become a crime in India

Maps that label geographic areas of conflict as “disputed” territories in India could put one behind bars for seven years with a roughly $15 million penalty if a recently proposed bill becomes law. The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill 2016 would make it illegal to “depict, disseminate, publish or distribute any wrong or false topographic information of India including international boundaries through internet platforms or online services or in any electronic or physical form.” If approved, it could land entities like Wikipedia, Open Street Map, and Google Maps in trouble for showing areas of conflict like Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh near the China border as disputed, which many of them currently do.

Nepal gives Canadian man the boot over controversial tweets

Canadian citizen Robert Penner was arrested and charged with disrupting social harmony with critically worded tweets; it’s the first reported arrest of a person in Nepal over messages sent on Twitter. Penner’s visa was canceled and he was forced to leave the country. Though it’s unclear which tweets triggered his arrest, BuzzFeed reports that authorities received pseudonymous tweets reporting Penner for “doing politics” and violating immigration rules. Penner is a vocal critic of Nepal’s new constitution, which went into effect in September 2015 and which two Nepali ethnic groups argue could lead to their political marginalization.

Russian social mediaite convicted of promoting “separatism” online

A Russian regional court sentenced social media user Andrey Bubeyev to two years and three months in prison over charges of promoting extremism and separatism online. Bubeyev reposted two pieces of content connected with the crisis in Crimea. He is already serving a year in a penal colony for other social media posts and possession of ammunition supplies.

Iranian blogger-techie released from prison

Iranian blogger Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki was freed on bail May 4, 2016. Maleki was arrested in December 2009, six months after Iran's disputed presidential elections, and was immediately incarcerated at the notorious Evin prison, serving 376 days in solitary confinement before his trial finally began in 2010. This led to a 15-year sentence on charges of “spreading propaganda against the regime,” “membership of the Internet group Iran Proxy, and “insulting the Iranian supreme leader and the president.” He went on a hunger strike this past April to protest his imprisonment.

In a May 6 tweet, Maleki shared a recent photo with a poetic comment:

With every departure there is a return. Even when weak and ill we must stand and smile. We must go on…

Will Australia loosen up its copyright regime?

Australia’s Productivity Commission, a government agency designed to give independent advice to the government, issued a report arguing the country’s copyright protection is “cast too widely and lasts too long.” In the report, the commission argues in favor of adopting fair use, saying “Australia’s copyright arrangements are weighted too heavily in favor of copyright owners, to the detriment of the long-term interests of both consumers and intermediate users.” The report goes against the grain of previous policy lines taken by the Australian government, led by Attorney General George Brandis, to expand copyright laws in the country.

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Mahsa Alimardani, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Weiping Li, Hae-in Lim, James Propa, Elizabeth Rivera and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

by Netizen Report Team at May 12, 2016 05:05 PM

Ethan Zuckerman
Life, Only Moderately Messed Up, part 2: Getting Help

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post, “Life, only moderately messed up: understanding (my own) high-functioning depression” that was widely shared and appreciatively received. This is a somewhat overdue update to that post, and intended very much in the same spirit, both as a way to process some challenging experiences in my life through writing, and as a way to signal to people that I’m someone they can talk with about these issues.

pills

Writing that post two years ago is one of the most important things I’ve done, because it’s opened conversations with friends, family and students that would not have happened otherwise, allowing people to approach me to talk about depression and allowing me to share my experiences with them and add them to my support structure.

The TL:DR; of that post is as follows:
– I’ve been a high-functioning depressive most of my adult life
– I wanted to come out as someone living with depression so friends would know and help me cope, and so students and others could approach me to talk about these issues
– High functioning depression is hard to recognize because it often isn’t externally visible, leading people to live with it, instead of seeking treatment.

It’s that last point I want to talk about here.

Part of the reason I wrote that post was to make it more likely that I’d seek counseling or try antidepressants the next time I felt moderately depressed. That’s not what happened.

In October of 2015, my wife Rachel told me that she wasn’t happy in our marriage and that we needed to seek counseling. We did, but by late November, it was clear that our problems weren’t easy ones to fix, and that we were in for a rough road ahead. Other factors intervened – my promotion process at MIT took a major step backward, and I started thinking seriously about leaving MIT. I left the board of an NGO I’d spent a huge amount of time and energy advising in a way that was deeply hurtful to me. With these things happening all at once, the days growing shorter and the winds colder, I found myself – almost overnight – in a very dark place.

In my previous post, I wrote, “…I am deeply fortunate that my depression is something that’s not life threatening. But that’s allowed me to gloss over long stretches of my life when I’ve not been my best, where daily life is a heavy lift.”

This time, and all of a sudden, my depression was life threatening. I started experiencing long bouts of suicidal ideation, detailed thoughts about how I might end my life. I wasn’t especially scared that I was going to act on these impulses, but intense thoughts of suicide are no fun at all, and I recognized that they were a symptom I needed to address before they wore me down and turned into something more dangerous.

And so I got help. My physician got me on an SSRI and, when the first one came with some unpleasant side effects, got me on another one very quickly. A very dear friend, hearing me talk about suicide, gave me the best intervention I could imagine. She told me:

“I love you.
You have been here before and you know you’re not always going to feel this way.
If you decide you need to go, talk to me so that your decision doesn’t end up ruining the lives of the people you love.”

I’m not sure it’s the best generic speech to talk someone off a ledge, but it worked well for me. And, critically, she introduced me to her therapist, who’s the first counselor I have felt understood where I was coming from, that I didn’t want to regress to childhood and heal decades of hurt, but needed some acute, immediate help in coping with the challenges of my life.

I got better quickly. Within a month, I was able to help Rachel through a challenging trip to Texas to visit a sick relative. Within two months, I felt significantly better than I had before my life started to go off the rails in October. By March, I found myself coming to the realization that SSRIs and therapy are probably part of the toolkit – along with walking, weightlifting, and a marvelous circle of friends around the world – that helps me harness my quirky brain (and we ALL have quirky brains) in productive and healthy directions.

I was high functioning before. I am higher functioning now. And that’s important, because life inevitably includes circumstances that are beyond your control.

On April 1st, Rachel asked me for a divorce. We are now in the process of moving her and Drew to a new house and diving our books, our art, and the physical and financial detritus of 23 years together. More importantly, we’re doing so in a way that we hope to break the script of most divorces. We’re committed to staying good friends, to spending time together with our son, and to keeping our many friends in the Berkshires and elsewhere from having to choose between the two of us. We’re trying very hard to stay on the same side, the side that recognizes that people grow and change, and that sometimes you continue to love someone but need not to be partnered with them. It’s hard work, and we don’t always get it right. But I’m starting to have the previously inconceivable thought that there’s life after losing the partner I’ve shared my entire adulthood with, and that the new life that follows divorce could be as wonderful as the life that preceded it.

But here’s the key bit: I would not have been able to handle this divorce if I were still moderately messed up. I would not have the resilience I’ve been able to display, the ability to be kind to someone who’s (understandably, necessarily and unintentionally) hurt me so badly. I would not be able to act with grace, to be the father my son needs me to be, to keep listening to and supporting my students at a time when I need so much support. I would not have survived this transition if I had not – at my darkest moment last year – gotten the help I needed.

And so I have a request. If you read my earlier post on high-functioning depression – two years ago, today or any time in between – and it resonated for you, please get help. Maybe that’s drugs and therapy, which worked for me. Maybe it’s yoga or running or weightlifting. Maybe it’s meditation, or prayer or co-counseling. Maybe it’s a practice of talking with a friend every day about how you’re feeling. What I’m asking is that you don’t continue accepting a reality in which you are high functioning, but far from as whole and resilient as you could be.

I’m asking you not to do what I did for 25 years.

Not just because it’s such a fucking waste of time to lose so many days to that feeling of fighting your way through a vat of molasses to get through the tasks of the day. Not just because being sad and scared and lonely slowly erodes your sense of self and prevents you from seeing yourself as the marvel you are. But because life is going to kick you in the gut sometime, and being able to weather that blow and get up again is hard to do even when you’re whole.

We don’t get to choose what happens to us. We do get to choose how we react to it. And we can choose to prepare ourselves for that kick in the gut, to make sure we’re as strong and graceful as resilient as we are capable of being.

As with my previous post, this isn’t meant as a cry for help – I’m doing pretty well, thanks very much. My family, many of my friends, my students and staff have been wonderful about helping me through this transition… as has my beloved ex, which is something I couldn’t have imagined being part of a divorce. I wanted to share these thoughts because I’m so grateful for the dozens of people who came out of the woodwork to counsel me through my divorce, to tell me that it will get better. I wanted to share with my friends so they know it’s okay to talk to me about what’s going on, that I’m okay – and Rachel’s okay, and Drew too. And I wanted to invite you – whether I know you or not – to reach out if you need someone to talk to about these issues.

by Ethan at May 12, 2016 01:03 PM

May 11, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Ukrainian Activists Leak Personal Information of Thousands of War Reporters in the Donbas
Images from Wikimedia Commons/UTR News, CC BY 3.0, and Luis Prado/the Noun Project. Images edited by Tetyana Lokot.

Images from Wikimedia Commons/UTR News, CC BY 3.0, and Luis Prado/the Noun Project. Images edited by Tetyana Lokot.

Earlier this week, the Ukrainian activist website Mirotvorets (“Peacemaker”) published a spreadsheet listing what appear to be the names and details of thousands of journalists who have received accreditation to report in the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DNR”). The database was published on May 7 with little publicity, until a Facebook post on Tuesday by Anton Gerashchenko, a Ukrainian lawmaker and an advisor to Ukraine's interior minister, Arsen Avakov. The release of this list, titled “7901scoundrels,” has prompted the condemnation of both Ukrainian and foreign journalists and media organizations around the world (including the OSCE RFoM and CPJ), as well as the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Mirotvorets, the site that released the list of DNR-accredited reporters, bills itself as the “Center for Research of Signs of Crimes Against the National Security of Ukraine, Peace, Humanity, and International Law.” The site, allegedly run by volunteer activists, doxes (publishes personal information on) individuals that are deemed to be working against the interests of Ukraine or what they call the peaceful world, such as Russian soldiers and volunteers fighting in the Donbas and (as previously detailed by RuNet Echo) Russian fighter pilots in Syria and their families.

According to Gerashchenko, unnamed hackers acquired this spreadsheet a month before it was published by Mirotvorets. Along with a list of accredited journalists, the hackers also modified the webpages of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics to include Ukrainian symbols. Gerashchenko says the hackers managed to acquire 7 terabytes of information from the separatist servers, with the 1.25-megabyte spreadsheet of accredited journalists being only a small part of the larger hack.

The May 7 post on Mirotvorets came with the following reasoning for the decision to publish the list:

Cегодня этот список журналистов в наших руках. Не знаем, какие последствия будут после публикации этого списка, но знаем наверняка: публиковать его необходимо исходя из того, что эти журналисты сотрудничают с боевиками террористической организации.

Today this list of journalists is in our hands. We do not know what consequences will come after the publication of this list, but we know this for sure: it is necessary to publish this list because these journalists are cooperating with the militants of a terrorist organization.

The Mirotvorets activists made these allegations without presenting any specific proof, also making several “strange observations” about the list of reporters. For instance, the activists wondered why “non-Russian outlets” like CNN, BBC, or AFP had journalists with Russian names. They also reasoned that, because many of the accredited foreign journalists had Ukrainian phone numbers, this (somehow) pointed to their crossing the border into occupied territories illegally from Russia, and not from Ukraine. It remains unclear how the activists arrived at these conclusions or what information they have to support such claims.

The spreadsheet with the reporters’ data itself has six fields of information: the journalist’s name, employer, phone number, e-mail, period of accreditation, and special notes. While we cannot verify all of the information in the list, RuNet Echo contacted numerous journalists on the list who verified that the information corresponds with email addresses and telephone numbers provided to accrediting officials. For many journalists in the spreadsheet, the leaked information is not sensitive, but in some cases there could be consequences, as many perceive the doxed list to be intended as a blacklist that could trigger harassment and present other obstacles to their work in Ukraine.

Journalists React

The reaction of the media community to the leak was one of disbelief and anger. A number of Ukrainian and international journalists signed and released an open letter, addressing the leak and stressing that the journalists who worked in the occupied territories were instrumental in providing crucial information about the events of the conflict and covering incidents like the MH17 tragedy.

Ми особливо наголошуємо, що акредитація не означає і ніколи не означала співробітництво журналістів з будь-якою стороною конфлікту. Акредитація – це форма захисту і безпеки журналіста.
Нагадуємо, що, за даними українських та міжнародних медіа-організацій, тільки у 2014 році у полоні бойовиків побували майже 80 журналістів, українських і закордонних, багато з яких зазнали тортур. Акредитація була єдиним, хоч і мінімальним, механізмом захисту журналістів від тортур чи потрапляння в полон.
Після звинувачень у «роботі на терористів» та оприлюднення персональних даних, номерів телефонів та емейлів журналістів, їм почали телефонувати та писати з погрозами, а від деяких українських політиків уже пролунали заклики вважати цих журналістів «ворогами України» і взагалі закрити їм можливість працювати.
Подібне ставлення до журналістів є прямим порушенням української Конституції, Закону України «Про захист персональних даних», порушенням Європейської конвенції прав людини, і є ганебним і абсолютно неприйнятним в цивілізованій і нетоталітарній державі, якою є Україна.
Ми вимагаємо від сайту «Миротворець» негайно видалити з вільного доступу інформацію про персональні дані відповідних журналістів.

We want to especially stress that accreditation doesn't mean and has never meant that journalists are colluding with any of the sides of the conflict. Accreditation is a form of protection and security for the journalist.
We remind you that according to data from Ukrainian and international media organizations, in 2014 alone almost 80 journalists, both Ukrainian and foreign, were captured by the militants, with many of them undergoing torture. Accreditation was the only, though minimal, mechanism of protecting journalists from captivity or torture.
After being accused of “working for the terrorists” and having their personal data, phone numbers and emails made public, they started receiving phone calls and emails with threats, and some Ukrainian politicians have called for these journalists to be labeled “enemies of Ukraine” and to prevent them from working in the country completely.
This kind of attitude towards journalists is in direct violation of the Ukrainian Constitution, the Law of Ukraine “On Protection of Personal Data,” the European convention on human rights, and is shameful and completely unacceptable in a civilized, non-totalitarian state that Ukraine currently is.
We demand that the “Mirotvorets” website immediately remove from public access information about personal data of the aforementioned journalists.

RuNet Echo asked several of the journalists whose names were on the list for their reactions to the leak and how it reflects the overall attitude towards correspondents working in war zones.

Ian Bateson, an independent journalist based in Ukraine, said the Mirotvorets leak was based on false assumptions about the role foreign journalists had played in eastern Ukraine:

This list reduces all journalism to propaganda. It assumes writing about separatist controlled eastern Ukraine is somehow supporting the groups that have seized control of it which is a view that has no place in a democratic Ukraine. Foreign journalists have played a key role in publicizing information about what was going on in eastern Ukraine because we were the only ones who could get in. We put our lives on the line to do that and now as repayment get labeled as collaborators with our our personal details shared for all to see. Journalism has never been so thankless.

Evgeny Feldman, a photographer and reporter for the Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, says the actions of Mirotvorets are counter-productive and display ignorance about the work journalists do in conflict zones:

Необходимость подчиняться требованиям вооруженных людей — печальная, но неизбежная сторона реальности в работе журналиста на войне. Ты не снимаешь человека с оружием, не спросив разрешения. Ты не снимаешь то, что запрещено снимать. Ты получаешь все документы, увеличивающие безопасность твоей работы – в том числе аккредитации, что СБУ, что “ДНР”. Ты пересекаешь границу «ДНР» легально, со стороны Украины, подвергаясь унизительным бессмысленным допросам, попыткам депортации, снятию с поездов посреди ночи. Ты соблюдаешь другие неприятные или неудобные меры обеспечения безопасности — носишь тяжелый бронежилет, возишь с собой жгуты и всякое такое, клеишь на машину буквы TV и держишь двери открытыми, когда едешь по простреливаемой дороге, останавливаешься на ней же, если видишь сломанную машину коллег.
Задача журналиста — найти возможность работать честно, лавируя между этими необходимыми и неизбежными ограничениями. Мне кажется, что я сумел это сделать, снимая как ключевые точки собственно войны, так и сложную жизнь мирных жителей. Более того, имея все эти возможные разрешения и не нарушая установленные ограничения, я сумел помочь нескольким украинским солдатам, попавших в плен — тем, кого заставили пройти на «параде» в Донецке и тем, кого принудили к работам в Иловайске: о ком-то узнали родные, кто-то попал в списки на обмен, кого-то улучшили условия. Это, пожалуй, главная моя профессиональная гордость за те 5 с лишним лет, что я в профессии. Сегодня сайт «Миротворец» выложил «утекшие» от «ДНРовцев» данные журналистов, аккредитованных в Донецке. Как я писал выше, бумажки — неизбежное условие, обеспечивающее возможность работать там. Хочется добавить, что сайт «Миротворец» задает глупейшие, идиотские вопросы о том, почему у журналистов украинские номера телефонов и почему у журналистов CNN русские имена. Публикация сайта показывает, насколько его авторы не имеют представления о специфике рискованной работы журналистов на войне.
Утечка этих данных со стороны собиравших их в Донецке показывает крохотную часть этих рисков, которые приходится принимать мне и моим коллегам.

The need to comply with the demands of armed individuals is a sad, but unavoidable part of the reality of working as a journalist in war zones. You do not film or photograph a person with a gun without asking permission. You do not film or shoot what you’re forbidden to shoot. You get every document that increases the safety of your work—including accreditation from both SBU (Ukraine’s security service) and “DNR.” You cross the border with “DNR” legally, from the Ukrainian side, where you’re subjected to humiliating and senseless questioning, deportation attempts, removal from trains in the middle of the night. You adhere to other unpleasant or inconvenient security measures, like wearing a heavy bulletproof vest, carrying a first aid kit and tourniquets everywhere, sticking the letters TV on your car, keeping the car doors open when you’re taking the road where there’s active fire and stopping on the same road if you see a colleagues’ car has broken down.
A journalist’s task is to find a possibility to work honestly, navigating between these necessary and unavoidable restrictions. I like to think I was able to do that, capturing both the key points of the war itself and the difficult lives of the civilians. Moreover, having obtained all of these permissions and without violating the restrictions imposed, I was able to help several Ukrainian soldiers who were captured—those who were made to march in the “parade” in Donetsk and those who were forced to do labor in Ilovaysk: someone’s relatives found out they were there, someone else got into the exchange lists, someone else’s living conditions were improved. This is probably my main professional point of pride during the five plus years I’ve been in the profession.
Today the “Mirotvorets” website published the “leaked” “DNR” data on journalists accredited in Donetsk. AS I said above, paperwork is an unavoidable condition that allows us the opportunity to work there. I’d like to point out that the “Mirotvorets” website asks the dumbest, most idiotic questions about why the journalists have Ukrainian phone numbers and why CNN reporters have Russian names. The website’s publication demonstrates that its authors have no idea about the specifics of the risky work journalists do in war zones.
The leak of this data on the part of those who collected it in Donetsk is testament to only a small part of these risks that my colleagues and I have to accept and deal with.

Simon Ostrovsky, a reporter for VICE News who has filmed dozens of dispatches from eastern Ukraine and Crimea since the beginning of the crisis, was also concerned with the misunderstanding of the work of a war zone correspondent:

It's completely stupid to claim that journalists are facilitating terrorism simply because they have been issued credentials by one of the factions in a war. Journalists should cover both sides of the war and in order to do so they need the permission of the armed men on all sides of the conflict in order to operate in the areas they control. The assertion the hackers made that all the journalists entered the area held by the separatists illegally is also unfounded. It is possible to enter Ukraine through an official border crossing controlled by Ukraine and then to enter the areas under control of the Russia-backed separatists. I should know. I've done it enough times.

The rhetoric coming out of Ukraine both from activists and government officials is unfortunately starting to mirror more and more their nationalist counterparts in Russia who want to blame the media and outside forces for internal problems that they're not willing to address themselves.

Ukrainian and foreign journalists have almost universally criticized the decision to publish the personal details of reporters who worked in the Donbas war zone, as well as the efforts of Anton Gerashchenko (a state official) to publicize and promote the leak. While Mirotvorets says the leak reveals those collaborating with separatist officials, it provides no conclusive evidence of this claim and, in essence, really only attempts to shame those who were doing the valuable, underappreciated work that journalists do in hot spots all around the world—reporting from an area where information is hard to come by and where numerous journalists have been injured, kidnapped, and even killed.

Kyiv Prosecutor's Office in Ukraine has opened a criminal investigation into the website's actions.

by Tetyana Lokot at May 11, 2016 08:41 PM

Draft Law Would Prohibit Showing ‘Disputed Areas’ on Maps of India
An anti-Russian satirical map produced by a Japanese student during the Russo-Japanese War, photographed by Harmon 2004, Public Domain.

An anti-Russian satirical map produced by a Japanese student during the Russo-Japanese War, photographed by Harmon 2004, Public Domain.

Maps that label geographic areas of conflict as “disputed” territories in India could put one behind bars for seven years with 1B Indian Rupees (US$15M) penalty if a recently proposed bill becomes law.

The controversial bill, also known as Geospatial Information Regulation Bill 2016 would make it illegal to “depict, disseminate, publish or distribute any wrong or false topographic information of India including international boundaries through internet platforms or online services or in any electronic or physical form.”

If approved, it could put large corporations like Google (with its Google map), free and open source projects like Wikipedia and Open Street Map, and several other organizations in trouble for showing areas of conflict as disputed. Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Arunachal Pradesh near the China border are two well-known examples of such areas.

The Indian government ruled by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been quite critical of the depiction of the PoK and China border in Arunachal Pradesh.

If passed in the parliament as law, it could prevent Indians and foreigners, government employees and people traveling in ships and aircrafts that are registered in India, to acquire geospatial imagery or data. To acquire such data, one needs to obtain permissions from the security vetting authority.

In recent years, the Indian government has targeted numerous foreign publications including Al Jazeera for showing distorted maps of India that excluded parts of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and even another state Arunachal Pradesh. While the bill does not explicitly mention these efforts, it seems to fall in line with these previous attempts to control the free flow of geospatial information.

news article about the proposed bill published on the portal MediaNama explains how the potential law could affect map portals like Open Street Map and Google Maps, taxi, e-commerce and public safety sites and many other services that allow marking and sharing coordinates. “Most digital photographs contain location meta-data, and by sharing your photos online, you’re adding to a repository of data related to man-made phenomenon,” suggests the same article. Open data advocates also have published list of 25 different services, seven major news portals, and 14 nonprofits that would be affected if the bill is approved.

The Open Data community of India also has come up with a campaign “SaveTheMap” to draft a request to the government to not pass the bill. The draft request states:

Request for comments / suggestions on draft “The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016” To regulate the acquisition, dissemination, publication and distribution of geospatial information of India which is likely to affect the security, sovereignty and integrity of India, a draft “The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016” has been prepared. Copy of the draft “The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016” is attached herewith for comments/suggestions. The comments/suggestions on the draft Bill may be forwarded to the Joint Secretary (Internal Security-I), Ministry of Home Affairs, North Block, New Delhi at email id: jsis@nic.in within 30 days.

There has been a lot of discussion with hashtag #GeoSpatialBill and humorous comments on social media:

Many have already started tweeting with the hashtag #savethemap:

Twitter user Prasanto Roy explained the implications of geospatial bill for various companies including Google, Uber and Open street maps:

Here's what other experts have to say:

Arup. R writes in Geospatial World:

This Act needs to be dropped. In its attempt to cover all bases it has been made so broadband and all encompassing that it may actually impede the progress of work on Geospatial systems and therefore on key Government programmes and projects. The Act does not take into account the fact that with the advent of the Cloud, Data as a Service, Software as a Service and Platform as a Service there is no need for ‘persons’ to possess data. They can just access data, do their work and retain only the final results. This Act does not, in fact cannot, even begin to comprehend the paradigm shift in geospatial technologies which makes it a non-starter.

India does need a Geospatial Information Act, but it has to be an enabling and encouraging Act that makes for faster and better implementation of programmes, not a regressive and punitive Act as the proposed one.

Devdutta Tengshe writes about the overreaching ambit of Geospatial bill on Medium:

Worst of all, it (the bill) is trying to implement Security by Obscurity, which is expecting the country to become secure by hiding information from its citizens. This is dangerous, because the real mischief creators, be they terrorists, Foreign government agencies, or domestic criminals, will most likely have access to kind of data from foreign sources, and will not even think about getting permits and licenses from these Indian Authorities.

Cyber law expert Pavan Duggal told The Wire:

The draft legislation has the intrinsic problem that it has been given extra-territorial applicability in terms of jurisdiction. It is applicable to any person anywhere in the world. We have historically seen that such jurisdiction does not work well in practical terms. What if global players do not want to take your licence or subject themselves to your jurisdiction?

Duggal further spoke about how the law could impact the growth of e-commerce and m-commerce in India.

Under this law, Google Maps will be illegal without a licence, which means that all mobile or e-commerce applications working on Google Maps will also become illegal. The licence will also only be applicable to the concerned person. So if I am a taxi aggregator like Ola or Uber, I will have to get a separate licence over and above what Google Map has.

Indian Express calls the Geospatial bill a death note for Cartography:

The draft Geospatial Information Regulation Bill of 2016 is so perfectly ridiculous that one can only hope that it falls off the map before it can be tabled in the House. Publishers the world over have learned, to their bewildered amusement, that India censors maps of itself. Now, to strike fear into their anti-national gizzards, the government has invoked an official map censor, a babu-led organisation whose prior permission will be required to publish geospatial information, which is newspeak for maps. Failure to correctly depict the borders of India could attract a fine of up to Rs 100 crore, before the poor offending bozo is dragged away to the cooler for seven years. With this draft, the government has embarked on a journey without maps, which must rapidly become directionless.

Not the first time around?

Meanwhile, this clearly isn't the first time that services such as Google Maps have come under the federal scanner in India. In 2014, India's prime investigation agency Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had launched a probe into Google Maps’ irregularities in Mapathon 2013 and had accused the company of running the competition without procuring proper governmental permissions. But the agency had called off the case citing lack of ‘adequate evidence to corroborate the allegations’.

by Subhashish Panigrahi at May 11, 2016 08:36 PM

Social Media Blocked in Uganda Ahead of President Museveni's Inauguration
800px-Yoweri_Museveni,_President,_Uganda_(6923079355)

H.E Yoweri Museveni. Photo from Wikipedia

Ugandans will soon watch incumbent President Yoweri Museveni be sworn into office for his controversial fifth term after he won over 60% of the vote in elections in February 2016. With the inauguration ceremony coming up on May 12, the Uganda Communications Commission ordered on May 11 that access to social media within the country be blocked.

This is déjà vu for Ugandans, who experienced a forced shutdown of social media for four days during the February 18 election, in which opposition leader Kizza Besigye took 35% of the vote. The political opposition claims that the poll was rigged; international observers and human rights groups have also criticized the election process.

Besigye and other opposition figures have been under house arrest for much of the time since February, and have relied on social media to organize what they're calling a “defiance campaign” of protests. Besigye was only able to file a legal challenge against the election results with the help of former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi.

The court eventually ruled that Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, had been rightly elected, and May 12 was chosen for his swearing-in. In preparation, major roads have been blocked off and the army was heavily deployed around the capital city of Kampala. Besigye was also arrested yet again as he tried to make it to town to be inaugurated by his party in an alternative ceremony.

As of the evening of May 11, some Ugandan users were reporting that they couldn't access social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

The country's major telecoms, like Airtel Uganda and MTN Uganda, confirmed the shutdown in notices to their customers:

Dear Customers, as per UCC directive Social media has been temporarily blocked however all our other services are available. We regret any inconveniences caused.

Twitter user @JZiras shared the communication from Roke Telkom, which said the blackout was due to “security reasons”:

Last week, the country's minister for information and national guidance banned media houses from covering opposition protests, and the executive director of the Uganda Communications Commission had warned that the ban “may be extended to social media.”

During the February shutdown, many users were still able to access social media using virtual private networks (VPNs). Hoping to avoid a repeat of that scenario, Ugandan technology news site Tech Jajja reported, relying on unconfirmed reports, that Internet service providers “have been asked to even block not just social media and mobile money but also the Internet in general if the worst comes to the worst.”

Netizens who are still able to access social media have started to sound the alarm.

Others are encouraging fellow Ugandans to download VPNs now, while the Internet is still working. Trevor Mugabi, a digital marketer, tweeted:

ZeroBrain injected a little humor into the situation, wondering what physical threat the Internet bundles that people subscribe to in Uganda could pose to the inauguration:

And technologist Neil Blazevic hunkered down for the block:

by Advox at May 11, 2016 08:33 PM

May 10, 2016

Ethan Zuckerman
Lessons from Letterlocking: a serendipitous academic encounter

Here’s a quick experiment – I’ve been publishing stories on FOLD and replicating the text here on this blog. But FOLD now supports embedding – let’s see how well my blog supports it… Otherwise, please feel free to go read this story on FOLD.cm

by Ethan at May 10, 2016 07:21 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Russian Court Sentences Internet User to Two Years Behind Bars for VKontakte Reposts
Andrey Bubeyev. Photo from VKontakte solidarity page.

Andrey Bubeyev. Photo from VKontakte solidarity page.

A court in Tver region, Russia, has sentenced Andrey Bubeyev, a local social media user, to two years and three months in prison on charges of promoting extremism and separatism online.

According to a reporter with Meduza news outlet, who was present at the court hearing, the extremism and separatism charges Bubeyev faces stem from two pieces of content the Internet user reposted on his page in VKontakte (a Russian social network similar to Facebook). One repost was an image of a toothpaste tube with the words “Squeeze Russia out of yourself,” and the other was a republishing of an article by another author titled “Crimea is Ukraine.”

In his last word in court, the defendant stressed that Russia's Constitution allows its citizens “to read and gather information freely.” When asked by Meduza to comment on the verdict, Bubeyev reportedly said: “This is a circus.”

The prosecutors initially asked for a three-year prison sentence for Bubeyev. The Internet user is already serving another sentence on extremism charges: in August 2015 he was sentenced to one year in a penal colony for other social media posts and illegal possession of ammunition supplies. In March 2016, Russian human rights organization Memorial recognized Bubeyev as a political prisoner.

Bubeyev's verdict is the latest in a string of cases in Russia where Internet users have been charged under “anti-extremist” legislation and given real prison terms or community service for posting or reposting content on social media.

by Tetyana Lokot at May 10, 2016 04:37 PM

Canadian Man Forced to Leave Nepal Over Controversial Tweets
Ethnic Groups in Nepal. Image via Wikimedia commons. Public Domain

Ethnic Groups in Nepal. Image via Wikimedia commons. Public Domain.

Robert Penner, a Canadian man who currently finds himself mired in controversy over a series of provocative tweets, left Nepal after the Nepalese Supreme Court postponed his appeal hearing this week.

Penner, a principal scientist with Cloud Factory, was arrested on May 2 by Nepalese police and charged with disrupting social harmony with critically worded tweets.

It is not clear which tweets triggered Penner's arrest. BuzzFeed reported that government authorities received pseudonymous Tweets requesting that they “investigate Penner for violating immigration rules and ‘doing politics’ in Nepal.” Penner was arrested a few days later.

The New Constitution

Nepal's long-awaited new constitution went into effect in September 2015. The new constitution was meant to close the rift between the “people of the hills,” who hold most of Nepal's political power, and the “people of the plains” the Madhesis, who share ethnic and cultural links with people across the border in India. Madhesi activists say they're fighting to defend their own dignity and establish their right to inclusion in the broader national context. The new constitution defines the majority-Hindu nation as a secular republic divided into seven federal provinces. The Madeshis and Tharu ethnic minorities, however, have argued in public demonstrations that the proposed boundaries of the new provinces could lead to their political marginalisation.

Penner is a vocal critic of the new constitution, especially what he calls its “citizenship inaccuracies”, and he's drawn attention to the issue by posing questions and arguing on Twitter. In doing so, he's earned himself many supporters and detractors.

Akhilesh Upadhyay, the chief editor of the Kathmandu Post tweeted:

Writer Prawin Adhikari wrote:

Penner's appears to be the first reported arrest of a person in Nepal over messages posted on Twitter. There have been arrests due to Facebook posts and comments, including one case in which a journalist was arrested for allegedly violating the Electronic Transactions Act.

Crackdown on Criticism of the Constitution

Penner also tweeted extensively about the arrest of prominent Nepalese journalist Kanak Mani Dixit by the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), the government's highest anti-corruption body. Dixit was released on May 2, the same day Penner was arrested.

Robert Penner. Image from Flickr by Peter Hall. CC BY -SA

Robert Penner. Image from Flickr by Peter Hall. CC BY -SA

Sara Shneiderman, an assistant professor in anthropology at the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia, and Ajay Pradhan, a senior policy adviser and manager at Treaty Related Measures, Indigenous, and Northern Affairs Canada wrote in an op-ed:

Both Mr. Penner and Mr. Dixit appear to have been arrested on the basis of personal vendettas held against them by powerful scions of the ruling establishment. They join many more across the country who, in recent months, have been subject to patterns of arbitrary force or detention – for expressing their views about the new constitution, for instance, or running afoul of earthquake relief regulations – by police who seem to act with impunity in the service of vested interests rather than following due process.

Not everyone is standing by Penner, however.

Subhash Ghimire, the chief editor of the English daily newspaper Republica, tweeted:

Mahendra Limbu Lawoti, a professor at Western Michigan University wrote on Facebook:

Nepal is a country where the head of a leading human rights organization instigates the government to take action against an individual utilizing basic human rights to express himself and an editor of a leading English daily who supports the state denying freedom of expression!!!

Arresting and then pressuring Penner to leave the country has generated a significant controversy, but it's not the first time in history that Nepal has forced a foreigner to leave under such circumstances. In 1977, David Holmberg, a professor of anthropology at the Cornell University, was asked to leave the district where he was working during the Panchayat era.

Though there's no clear national consensus about Penner's case, it has raised many concerns about the state's attitude on free expression.

Nepal's former ambassador to Denmark, Vijay Kant Karna, tweeted:

Noted writer Khagendra Sangroula also wrote on Twitter:

Oligarchy ousted Robert Penner from the country. Will now deport social network also! Robert Penners keep on pestering bro, do it now!

On May 10, 2016 the Kathmandu Post reported that the Supreme Court summoned the defendants and the petitioner to discuss a stay order in Penner’s case within three days.

by Sanjib Chaudhary at May 10, 2016 01:40 PM

Uganda's Defiance Campaign Will Not Be Televised
Electronic media houses in Uganda such as this one, Voice of Tooro FM, might lose their licenses for broadcasting opposition's Defiance Campaign. Creative Commons photo (CC BY 2.0) by the U.S. Mission Uganda.

Electronic media houses in Uganda such as this one, Voice of Tooro FM, might lose their licenses for broadcasting the opposition's Defiance Campaign. Creative Commons photo (CC BY 2.0) by the U.S. Mission Uganda.

Less than a week since Ugandans celebrated World Press Freedom Day, Minister for Information and National Guidance Jim Katugugu Muhwezi has banned media houses from covering opposition protests, which their organizers are calling a “defiance campaign”. The demonstrations are organised by Kizza Besigye, the leader for the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), the country's main opposition party.

Addressing members of the press, the minister said the ban on the live coverage of FDC's activities will be implemented by the Uganda Communications Commission as well as the police, and that any electronic media houses covering the opposition's campaign will lose their broadcast licences. He did not say anything about coverage by print media.

The executive director of the Uganda Communications Commission, Godfrey Mutabazi, warned social media users saying, “The ban may be extended to social media, if it is used as an alternative tool for propagating [the] defiance campaign.”

Meanwhile, the defiance campaign organizers plan on using weekly prayers and public demonstrations to demand an independent audit of the 2016 presidential results. The controversial elections, which took place on February 18, saw President Yoweri Museveni win his fifth term in office with 60.75% of the vote, while Kizza Besigye took 35%. Besigye and his supporters claim that the election was rigged. International observers and human rights groups also criticized the election process.

A local court has ruled that that the defiance campaign is illegal. The court ruled that carrying out the defiance campaign with the aim of obtaining control of government stands in violation of the Ugandan constitution. It should be noted that the objective of the campaign is not to directly overtake the government, but rather to challenge election results through public protests. The Uganda Law Society has criticised the ruling, arguing that the court only heard from one party to the issue, the Attorney General. The FDC says that it will not respect the court order.

The online community has reacted to the ban using two Twitter hashtags, #PressBan and #UgandaMediaGag.

Some Twitter users pointed out the irony of the ban's timing, while others were keen to see the media's next move:

Others simply mocked the government's decision:

Referring to the minister's threat to online journalists, this Twitter user wrote:

Finally, US Mission Uganda was bemused by the move:

by Prudence Nyamishana at May 10, 2016 01:24 PM

Ethan Zuckerman
That’s _Professor_ Bozo to you, Pal

Something odd about teaching at a university – everyone wants to call you Professor, or Doctor. I am always flattered by the upgrade, but I sometimes feel a little miffed. There’s lots of people who teach at universities who haven’t earned the doctorate, and lots of people who teach without being professors: lecturers, research scientists, graduate students. I enjoy telling people that I’m neither a professor or a doctor and that they should call me “Ethan”.

I guess I have one less thing to be miffed about.

MIT announced today that I have been promoted to Associate Professor of the Practice of Media Arts and Sciences, active July 1st. And while I make jokes about it, I’m deeply proud to take on the professor title. I love all facets of my work – the research, the software development, the writing and public speaking, the teaching and the advising – but I am especially proud of the work I’ve done the past five years in the classroom and working one on one with students. Many of my favorite people at the Media Lab hold the Research Scientist title, but I wanted the Professor title so as to recognize how much of my work is about students and their work.

Plus, I’m greying rapidly, and I look good in tweed.

IMG_3803 (1)

(Am I looking professorial yet?)

I am deeply grateful to MIT as a whole and to the Media Lab in particular for making it possible to take on this new role. MIT is especially open to recognizing those of us who’ve taken unconventional roles towards academic careers, and I am grateful for their flexibility. I owe special thanks to Pattie Maes, Mitch Resnick, James Paradis and Ed Schiappa, who’ve been tireless advocates on my behalf, to the wonderful reviewers who wrote letters on my behalf, and to Joi Ito, who has supported everything I’ve done and tried to do at the Media Lab. But the biggest thanks are reserved for my students and staff, past and present, who’ve helped me see that teaching is what I should be doing – thank you all more than I can say.

by Ethan at May 10, 2016 01:01 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
#LeyTelecom: Mexican Supreme Court Ratifies Geolocation and Retention of Metadata
eye

Photo: Pixabay under Creative Commons Public Domain license.

We regret that the Second Chamber of the Supreme Court has ignored international standards in the ratification of data retention

The Second Chamber of the Supreme Court of Mexico ruled on May 4, 2016 that it is constitutional for telecommunication companies to keep a record of users’ private communications for a period of two years, as stipulated by the Federal Telecommunications and Broadcasting Law (Ley Telecom or Telecom Law) passed in 2014. The decision endorses the indiscriminate retention of metadata and allows authorities to use real-time geolocation of mobile devices without adequate judicial oversight. According to Mexican NGO R3D: Digital Rights Defense Network, this puts the privacy and security of all citizens at risk.

During the first months of 2014, before the Telecom Law was approved, several protests were organized against various parts of the bill. Among them, the march #NoMasPoderAlPoder (No More Power for the Powerful) and a human chain spanning 7 km across the Mexican capital, as well as the digital campaign #EPNvsInternet, which referred to Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN). International organizations, activists and writers also issued a statement against the telecom bill. These acts of opposition succeeded in that the most controversial provisions of the bill were excluded in the final version of the law. However, the Telecom Law has entered into force with Articles 189 and 190 which include sections related to data retention and real-time geolocation, reasons for which R3D pursued an injunction against the law.

After postponing the debate for two weeks, the Court finally denied the injunction on May 4, 2014, thus ratifying Articles 189 and 190. However, according to R3D's press release, the battle in defense of privacy is far from over:

[…] en los próximos meses demandaremos al Estado Mexicano ante la Sistema Interamericano de Derechos Humanos con el objetivo de revertir este grave atentado contra la privacidad y seguridad de todas y todos los mexicanos.

[…] In the coming months we will sue the Mexican government before the Inter-American Human Rights system with the objective of reversing this serious infringement of the privacy and security of each and every Mexican.

While R3D notes that the details of the Court's judgement have yet to be disclosed, it appears that international justice, particularly the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, will have the final word on the subject.

by Advox at May 10, 2016 04:28 AM

May 09, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
In Bangladesh, Extremists Use Social and Mainstream Media Data to Target Victims
Some of the secular writers killed in recent years in Bangladesh. From top left clockwise: Faisal Arefin Dipan, Shafiul Islam, Oyasiqur Rahman Babu, Rajib Haider, Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das.

Secular writers killed in in Bangladesh between 2013-2015. From top left clockwise: Faisal Arefin Dipan, Shafiul Islam, Oyasiqur Rahman Babu, Rajib Haider, Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das.

Since 2013, Bangladesh has witnessed a series of brutal killings of secular intellectuals by religious militants. As assailants have targeted an increasingly diverse set of people — from bloggers to academics and publishers, to gay rights activists and religious minorities — people have begun to look critically at the different entities involved.

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, UNESCO organized a seminar in Bangladesh where the focus was on use of social media to resonate ‘false information’. The speakers expressed their worries about the use of social media to spread religious extremism and hatred as well as to infringe on individual freedom. Indeed, observers have begun pointing fingers at the government, mainstream media and social media, identifying specific ways in which each of these entities has contributed to the problem.

Although the government is harsh on any views hurting religious sentiments, authorities have made little effort to stop these threats. Police always seem to arrive at the crime scene just moments after a murder has been committed and the perpetrator has fled.

As for media, most of the deceased bloggers were openly threatened via social media before their killings, and violent extremist groups regularly claim responsibility for their deaths on Facebook or Twitter as well. Mainstream media regularly report on these incidents, but often publish personal information about targeted individuals that can increase their vulnerability to threats by militants.

Recent cases

In the latest murder, Nikhil Joarder, a tailor, was hacked to death on 30 April and the attack was claimed by the Indian sub-continent division of ISIS on social media. Nikhil belonged to a very ordinary family. At first, people could not fathom how he could be a target of an international extremist organisation. But the attack may be linked to a comment that Joarder made in 2012:

At the time, a complaint was filed against Joarder for allegedly making derogatory comments about the Prophet Mohammed. Joarder was then arrested and released after spending a few weeks in jail. Three locals have been detained in the murder case.

In another example, Facebook user Noyon Chatterjee, who allegedly operates using a fake (and importantly, Hindu) identity openly shared the social media identities of professors and individuals on his website. When individuals are exposed in this way, they can easily fall prey to extremists.

And social media is being used by militants not only to track and gain support, but also to incite mob violence. In September 2012, Bangladesh saw a string of violent attacks on Buddhist monasteries, shrines, and houses of Buddhist inhabitants in Ramu Upazila in Cox's Bazar District in Bangladesh by local mobs. The agitated mobs destroyed 12 Buddhist temples and monasteries and 50 houses in reaction to an image depicting the desecration of a Quran on the timeline of a fake Facebook account under a Buddhist male name. In both this and the previous case, individuals with malicious intentions posed as religious minorities as part of their effort to incite hatred and violence against religious minority groups.

It also appears that extremists are tracking such information with the support of other netizens. In an article titled In Bangladesh, Call Facebook for Murder, writer Sudip Roy charted the activities of a Facebook page right after the killing of two LGBT Activists. The page celebrated the killings, and netizens took part in it, constantly providing information.

The following documentary “Razor's Edge”, produced by anonymous blogger “Nastiker Dhormokotha” (religious talk of an atheist), is the winner of jury’s award in the Citizen Journalism category at the Deutsche Welle BOBs awards 2016. This reveals the life-threatening situation the secular bloggers are facing in Bangladesh.

What are the ethics of reporting on people under threat?

Blogger Haseeb recently wrote in Sachalayatan about the arrest of a young girl under the controversial section 57 of the ICT Act for a Facebook post allegedly defaming Allah and the Quran:

নিখিল চন্দ্র কেন ৪ বছর পরে টার্গেটে পরিণত হলেন সেটার প্রাথমিক কারণ হল তিনি কিছু বলেছেন (বা বলেননি কিন্তু ছড়িয়েছে তিনি বলেছেন) এবং সেই তথ্যটা জায়গামতো পৌঁছে গেছে। এই হত্যার দায়ভার প্রথমত জেএমবি হলেও জেএমবি কীভাবে তথ্যটা পেল সেটা ভেবে দেখার অবকাশ আছে।

The primary reason Why Nikhil Chandra became the target 4 years later, is because she said something (or allegedly spread that he said) and the information has traveled to the right place. Though extremists are responsible for this killing, how the information reached to them remains to be explored.

He also added:

আজকে পত্রিকায় প্রকাশিত একটি খবর যেখানে নিখিল চন্দ্রের মতোই একজনের গ্রেফতারের কথা প্রকাশিত হয়েছে যিনি (অভিযোগকারীদের দাবি) ফেসবুকে ধর্ম “অবমাননা” হয় এরকম মন্তব্য করেছেন।… এই নিউজটা পড়ে নিখিল চন্দ্রের কথা কীভাবে জেএমবি পর্যন্ত পৌঁছাতে পারে সেটার একটা ধারণা পাওয়া যেতে পারে। নিউজের প্রথম লাইনে গ্রেফতার হওয়া তরুণীর নাম (ডাকনামসহ) এবং বয়স উল্লেখ করা হয়েছে। সেই সাথে তিনি কোন জেলার কোন উপজেলা থেকে গ্রেফতার হয়েছেন সেটার তথ্য। দ্বিতীয় প্যারাতে আরও এক লেভেল নেমে সেই উপজেলার কোন এলাকা এবং সেটা “নিজের বাড়ি” উল্লেখ করে তরুণীর বাবার নাম উল্লেখ করা হয়েছে। অর্থাৎ খবর থেকে এখন এই তরুণীকে খুঁজে বের করা কোন সমস্যা হবার কথা নয়। এই তরুণীর বাসা খুঁজতে আরও একটু সহযোগিতা করার জন্য তৃতীয় লাইনে থানার নামও দিয়ে দেয়া হয়েছে। সাংবাদিক, পুলিশ (বা সরকার) ছাড়াও এখানে আরেক পক্ষের খবর পাই আমরা। স্থানীয় জনতা নাকি সেই তরুণীর বাড়ী ঘিরে রেখেছিল পুলিশ আসাতক। ফেসবুকে একটা মন্তব্য করায় একজন নাগরিকের জীবন এভাবে সবাই মিলে সারাজীবনের জন্য বিপন্ন করে তুলল।

Today, a similar news story was published saying that (like Nikhil Chandra) a person has been arrested, accused of (according to complaint) making a Facebook comment which can be treated as “contempt” of religion. If you read the news, you can have an idea how the extremists learned about Nikhil Chandra. The first line of the news provides the name and age of the girl who was arrested (including nickname). Also, it includes information about the district and sub-district she was arrested in. The second paragraph even points out the local area, mentions her father's name, and notes that they own the house. Now from the news, anyone can locate the girl. To make it even easier to find this young woman's home, the news includes the girl's local police station as well. Other than journalists and the police (or the government), we get to know about a third side. Local people surrounded the house before the police came in. Just for a comment on Facebook, a citizen's life is placed in danger for a lifetime, by everyone around her.

Indeed, the practice of discretion and verification of sources often seems to be missing within the journalist community. Social and mainstream media have failed to prioritize privacy and important ethical considerations when handling.

Critics have also suggested that journalists focus too much on identity rather than humanity. As a Dhaka Tribune Editorial emphasized:

Whether you support LGBT rights or you do not, the one thing that we must all agree on is that there can never be any justification for murder, and that those who are guilty of such savage slaughter are enemies of the state and of everything that is decent in humanity.

Can Facebook do more to help?

In 2015, the Bangladesh government blocked Facebook for 22 days citing threats to public security. The ban was lifted after government officials met with Facebook representatives and urged them to monitor or filter content that could be seen as provoking religious sentiment and conspiracies against the government.

It is clear that police and government authorities could do much more to mitigate threats and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes. It is also clear that mainstream media could take greater care to omit key private information about individuals who have faced threats or legal challenges concerning their online speech. But the responsibilities of social media platforms in this milieu, and Facebook in particular — as it is the most popular social media platform in Bangladesh — are more difficult to define.

In April 2016, Facebook stated that it had complied with Bangladeshi government requests for the personal data of specific users who had violated local laws. Facebook administrators provided some data related to 16.67 percent of requests made by the government between July and December 2015, according to the company's latest Global Government Request Report. As per the report, the Bangladesh government made 12 requests seeking information on 31 Facebook users during the period. Within this time, Facebook restricted access to 4 pieces of content alleged to violate local law regarding blasphemy, pursuant to a request from the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission.

While these measures may help mitigate threats and the proliferation of hateful messages and incitements to violence, these likely represent only a small fraction of cases in which people used Facebook to issue threats or incite violence against others.

While all entities discussed here could take greater care to protect the privacy and safety of individuals facing threats from such groups, it is above all incumbent on the Bangladesh government to uphold the rule of law and protect public safety by working to prevent such attacks and to bring their perpetrators to justice.

by Palash Ranjan Sanyal at May 09, 2016 01:20 PM

Iranian Blogger Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki Freed on Bail
Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki. Picture uploaded to Twitter after his 2016 release on bail.

Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki. Picture uploaded to Twitter after his 2016 release on bail.

Blogger Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki was freed on bail May 4, 2016. Maleki went on a hunger strike in April to protest his imprisonment.

In a May 6 tweet, Maleki shared a recent photo with a poetic comment:

With every departure there is a return. Even when weak and ill we must stand and smile. We must go on…

Maleki was arrested in December 2009, six months after Iran's disputed presidential elections. He was immediately incarcerated at the notorious Evin prison, serving 376 days in solitary confinement before his trial finally began in 2010. This led to a 15-year sentence on charges of “spreading propaganda against the regime”, “membership of the Internet group Iran Proxy”, and “insulting the Iranian supreme leader and the president.”

Maleki blogged under the nickname Babak Khorramdin, the name of an ancient Persian freedom fighter from Azerbaijan (Maleki is an ethnic Iranian Azeri).

In April, Global Voices and Global Voices Advocacy reported on Maleki's case here.

After just a few days on bail, Maleki is already working to raise awareness about Mahmood Beheshti, another political prisoner now on a hunger strike in Iran.

What concerns me is the indescribable faith and the strength shown by #Mahmood_Beheshti who is so committed to his path.

For more recent Global Voices coverage about Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki:

by Mahsa Alimardani at May 09, 2016 01:17 PM

May 08, 2016

May 06, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Russian Internet Experts Push ‘Real Name’ Policy for Comments on News Websites
If online comments are not anonymous, users can bear the full brunt of responsibility, Russia's Internet experts say. Images edited by Tetyana Lokot.

If online comments are not anonymous, users can bear the full brunt of responsibility, Russia's Internet experts say. Images edited by Tetyana Lokot.

Russian Internet users may soon be required to register with a state services portal in order to post comments on news websites.

Under this newly proposed policy, users would be required to register with Russia's Unified Identification and Authentication System (ESIA), a move that would shift the responsibility for the comments away from media outlets and onto users. This would relieve news websites of some of the burdens of moderating and policing comments on their sites. But it also could prohibit readers from posting comments anonymously.

Introducing such a shift in responsibility would necessitate a change in existing Russian legislation. A decree of the Russian Supreme court from 2010 currently holds officially registered online media outlets responsible for any comments their readers leave on their pages or forums, including those that promote social, national or religious hatred, if such comments are still available to readers after Roscomnadzor requests they be deleted or edited. Shifting the blame to registered users would require new legislative norms.

The commenter registration initiative is the brainchild of the Institute for Internet Development (IDI), a non-government agency headed by Putin's Internet advisor German Klimenko, and is part of the Internet development “roadmap” the agency is preparing for Russian president Vladimir Putin. The initiative will be discussed in the State Duma (Russian parliament) in mid-May by experts from the Communications Ministry, state censor Roscomnadzor, industry representatives, media outlets and lawmakers.

Twenty-six million Russians are currently registered in the state Unified Identification and Authentication System, and most of them use their passport data to register in the system. IDI's Aleksandr Mikheyev, the author of the idea, told Izvestia newspaper that the system would be voluntary for media outlets.

Мы хотим дать возможность читателям СМИ авторизоваться через любые соцсети или портал госуслуг. Это касается только комментариев и должно быть на добровольной основе для СМИ.

We want to give the readers of the media websites the possibility to identify themselves through any social network or through the state services portal. This only relates to comments and should be voluntary for the media outlets.

Given the voluntary nature of the suggested “real name” policy, it's likely that some news websites might choose to require ID (some, like Rambler&Co, are doing it already), while others might stick with the current system and bear the brunt of responsibility for the comments. But even if it's optional, the policy could still change how Russian Internet users are engaging with each other on news websites, especially if the most popular platforms choose to require user ID.

Deputy head of the State Duma committee on information policy Vadim Dengin told Izvestia he thought introducing user registration and minimizing anonymous comments would protect the interests of journalists, who he thought would be subjected to “less baseless criticism.”

Мы должны идти к тому, чтобы верификация пользователей была повсеместной. В повседневной жизни есть паспорт, и человек показывает его почти везде, и в интернете должно быть так же. Тут нечего бояться. Это правильный шаг. Мы прекрасно это понимаем.

We should strive to make user verification ubiquitous. In everyday life, everyone has a passport, and a person shows it almost anywhere, so it should be the same on the Internet. There's nothing to fear here. This is the right step. We understand this perfectly.

However, Russian digital rights activists from RosKomSvoboda questioned Dengin's logic on who the new norm might protect and expressed concerns that users who identify themselves in comment sections might face the same kinds of penalties, including fines and even prison sentences, under “anti-extremist” legislation that social media users have already been subjected to for posting content online.

С одной стороны, за СМИ хочется порадоваться, если с них снимут ответственность за людей, к которым они не имеют никакого отношения и зачастую позицию их не разделяют, с другой — это лишит пользователей права анонимности, ведь кроме обычных троллей и «хейтеров», своё мнение порой высказывают люди, которые опасаются за свою безопасность, в том числе и по причине наличия законов, не всегда правомерно наказывающих за высказывания.

On the one hand, we'd like to be happy on behalf of the media, if they will no longer be responsible for people who they don't have anything to do with and whose opinion they often do not share. On the other hand, this will leave users without the right to anonymity, since, apart from the regular trolls and ‘haters,’ some of the people who express their opinions may fear for their safety, in no small part because of the laws that don't always adequately sanction them for their speech.

The Russian government's increasing efforts to minimize user anonymity online have been complemented by a growing number of Internet users prosecuted for extremism-related crimes. According to a report from the Center of Economic and Political Reforms, the number of Russian citizens prosecuted under Article 282 of the criminal code (inciting hatred or enmity, or abasement of human dignity) has grown three-fold since 2011. Prosecutions under parts 1 and 2 of Article 280 of the criminal code (public calls for extremist and separatist activity, including public calls made using the media or Internet) has also grown considerably. The Center's experts credit the proliferation of “anti-extremist” sentences to the “vague” nature of the legal norms and note that the Russian notion of “extremism” has no clear equivalent in international law.

by Tetyana Lokot at May 06, 2016 01:38 PM

Development Seed
Ecuador: Post-Earthquake drone imagery now on OAM

Post-earthquake drone imagery is now available on OpenAerialMap. These images were collected by local drone operators coordinated by the UAViator network, mostly by the Instituto Geográfico Militar, the Universidad de Cuenca, and the Voluntarios UAV-ECU. Thanks to Francisco Ruiz for helping coordinate. All of the imagery is very-high resolution, and available for tracing in OSM.

Image

Drone pilots around the world stand ready to help respond to disasters. OpenAerialMap is a platform for drone and satellite operators to easily share openly licensed imagery. OpenAerialMap is a managed in partnership by the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, Development Seed, Azavea, Stamen, and other humanitarian tech partners.

You can contribute by mapping now. If you are new to OSM mapping, get started with these great training videos from our friends at Missing Maps.

Start mapping now

by Development Seed at May 06, 2016 12:00 AM

May 05, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: LGBT News Site Editor is Latest Victim of Attacks on Bangladeshi Intellectuals
Xulhaz Mannan. Image courtesy of PEN International.

Xulhaz Mannan. Image courtesy of PEN International.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Three progressive thinkers were murdered in Bangladesh's capital Dhaka last week, including Xulhaz Mannan, the editor of Bangladesh's first LGBT news outlet, an online magazine called Roopbaan. Authorities believe Mannan and his friend Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, a theater activist, were killed by three assailants who entered Mannan’s building claiming that they had to deliver a package. The intruders attacked Mannan and Tonoy with machetes, signs of trained killers, leaving both of them dead on the spot.

This attack came two days after university professor Rezaul Karim Siddiqui was hacked to death in public, in a northern region of Bangladesh. It is unknown who perpetrated the attack on Siddiqui. Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent claimed responsibility for the attack on Mannan and Tonoy, but this cannot be confirmed.

Mannan, who also worked with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), launched Roopbaan in 2014 to promote greater acceptance of LGBT communities, who face widespread discrimination in Bangladesh. The 35-year-old had also organized an annual Rainbow Rally since 2014, which was cancelled this year after police received threats against the group.

Prime Minister Hasina Sheikh has blamed the opposition, saying that they are orchestrating the attacks to destabilize the country and upset her secular rule. She also has been critical of those who write about religion and “offend religious sentiments” but maintains that anyone “killing another person in response to what they have written is not Islamic.”

Since 2005, at least 23 bloggers, publishers, editors and activists have been killed and scores of others attacked or threatened with death for expressing progressive and secular views online. These bloggers and intellectuals were not advocating or perpetrating violence, but rather writing critical texts concerning the complex political climate in Bangladesh and promoting the protection of human rights.

Ethiopians face dire consequences for participating in digital culture

The Ethiopian Federal High Court convicted Zelalem Workagenehu under the country’s Anti-Terror Proclamation, and will issue his sentence on May 10. Workagenehu was arrested along with Yonatan Wolde and Bahiru Degu for applying to attend a training session on digital communication, social media and leadership, which the government has described as a “training operation to terrorize the country.” All three were arrested and spent more than 600 days in prison without facing trial. Degu reported experiencing extensive torture during his first few months in detention, including beatings and being forced to remove his clothes and drink his own urine. Wolde and Degu were acquitted of the charges and released from prison, but were re-arrested shortly afterwards and forced to spend another night in prison before being released the next day and told they would remain under observation. Their relatives say they were told by the state security officers that “they would be killed if they made any moves.”

Mexico’s Supreme Court says “stalker law” is constitutional

The Second Chamber of Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation ruled on May 4, 2016 that the controversial Telecom Law, nicknamed the “Ley Stalker” (“Stalker Law”) does not violate the nation’s consitution. The law requires telecommunications companies to retain records of users’ metadata for two years and provide unrestricted access to state authorities without any requirement for judicial oversight. The law, which came into effect in August 2014, has come under criticism from digital rights groups for being invasive of privacy. The Mexico City-based NGO Network for Defense of Digital Rights (R3D) now plans to challenge the Supreme Court ruling before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Russian activists sound alarm on Telegram security flaws

Two Russian opposition activists reported their Telegram messenger accounts were remotely hacked through the app’s SMS login feature, suggesting the app is not as secure as the company claims. They believe the Russian government was involved in the hack. Security researcher Frederick Jacobs pointed to similar attacks on Iranian accounts earlier this year, critiquing the safety implications of text message logins.

Myanmar activists tackle online hate, work to educate

As Internet connectivity has increased in Myanmar over the past six years, social media users have seen a rising tide of anti-Muslim sentiment on social platforms. In response, activists in have launched a campaign to confront hate speech that aims to educate Internet users on how to identify and respond to hate speech, and how to engage in constructive debates online.

WhatsApp says bye bye Brazil, again

Brazilian judge ordered Internet service providers to block access to WhatsApp in the country for 72 hours, citing the company’s alleged failure to comply with an order to assist police in a drug investigation. The block was lifted the next day. If you think this sounds familiar, you’re not wrong: A judge also ordered WhatsApp to be blocked in 2015 for a period of about 12 hours before the decision was overturned by an appeals court.

Iranian cartoonists released from prison

Two popular Iranian Web cartoonists who were jailed for their artwork were released from prison since our last report. Hadi Heidari, who was arrested for a cartoon marking the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, was freed from prison on April 26. Cartoonist Atena Farghadani was also released on May 3, after her sentence was reduced from 12 years to 18 months.

US House passes bill restricting email surveillance

The US House of Representatives passed a bill requiring authorities to obtain a warrant before acquiring data and emails stored in the cloud. The legislation received widespread report in the House and was co-sponsored by over 300 members and was passed in a vote of 418-0, however it must pass through the Senate before it goes before President Obama to be signed into law.

Deutsche Welle announces winners of Best of Online Activism Awards

Bloggers and online activists from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, China, Egypt, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ivory Coast, Spain, Turkey and Ukraine were given jury prizes and people's choice awards for their online work, ranging from political satire blogs to online environmental activism networks. Among the winners was Global Voices author Ramy Raoof, who earned the people's choice award in the “Tech for Good” category for his work disseminating digital security advice and information via Twitter. Raoof thanked supporters with a message on his Facebook page, suggesting that the award reflected the increasing “importance of our right to privacy in the light of the authorities’ efforts and security surveillance practices to breach our privacy…and [interfere with] our ability to communicate, express, organize, and seek knowledge.”

New Research

Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email

 

Ellery Roberts Biddle, Juan Arellano, Marianne Diaz, Sam Kellogg, Weiping Li, Rezwan and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

by Netizen Report Team at May 05, 2016 07:34 PM

Joi Ito
Reinventing Bookkeeping and Accounting (In Search of Certainty)

Accounting underlies finance, business, and enables the levying of taxes for raising armies, building cities, and managing resources at scale. In fact, it is the way that the world keeps track of almost everything of value.

Accounting predates money, and was originally used by ancient communities to track and manage their limited resources. There are accounting records from Mesopotamia dating back more than 7,000 years, listing the exchange of goods. Over time, accounting became the language and information infrastructure for trade. Accounting and auditing enabled the creation of vast empires, such as those built by the Egyptians and the Romans.

As accounting scaled, it made sense to go from counting sheep, bushels of grain, and cords of wood, to calculating and managing resources using their exchange value in terms of an abstract unit: money. In addition to exchange, money allowed for recording and managing obligations. So where earlier bookkeeping just kept records of promises and exchanges between individuals (Alice lent Bob a goat on this date), money opened up a new realm of accounting by dramatically simplifying the management of accounts and allowing markets, companies, and governments to scale. However, through the centuries, this once powerful simplification has a resulted in a surprising downside-a downside made worse in today's digitally connected world.

Defining Value

While companies today use enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to keep track of widgets, contractual obligations, and employees, the accounting system-and the laws that support it-require us to convert just about everything into monetary value, and enter it into a ledger system based on the 700-year-old double-entry bookkeeping method. This is the very same system used by the Florentine merchants of the 13th century and described by Luca Pacioli, the "father of accounting," in his book Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Proportionalità, published 1494.

When you take, for instance, a contract that pays out $1 million if it rains tomorrow, and put it into your accounts, you will be required to guess the chance of rain-maybe 50 percent-and value that asset at something like $500,000. The contract will actually never pay out $500,000; in the end, it will either be worth zero (no rain) or $1 million (rain). But if you were forced to trade it today, you'd probably sell it for something close to $500,000; so for tax and management purposes, you "value" the contract at $500,000. On the other hand, if you are unable to sell it because there are no buyers, it might actually be valued at zero today by regulators interested in liquidity, but then suddenly valued at $1 million tomorrow if it rains.

Basically, a company's accounts are an aggregate of cells in various ledgers with numbers that represent a numerical value denominated in some currency-yen, dollars, euros, etc.-and those numbers are added up and organized into both a balance sheet and an income statement that show the health of the company to management and investors. They are also used to calculate profits and the amount of tax owed to governments. This balance sheet is a list of assets and liabilities. If you looked in the assets column, you'd have a number of items that you would be reporting as having value, including things like printing presses, lines of code, intellectual property, obligations from people who may or may not pay you in the future, cash in various countries' currencies, and best guesses on things like the future prices of a commodity or the value of another company.

As an auditor, investor, or trading partner, you might want to drill down and try to test the assumptions that the company is making and see what would happen if those were incorrect at the time they were recorded, or turned out to be wrong sometime in the future. You might also want to understand how buying another company would change your own company based on the way your obligations and bets interacted with theirs. You could rack up millions of dollars in auditor fees to "get to the bottom" of any number of assumptions. The process would involve manually reviewing the legal contracts, and also the assumptions made in every cell of every spreadsheet. That's because standard accounting is a very "lossy" process that reduces complex and context-dependant functions and transforms them into static numbers at every step. The underlying information is somewhere, but only exposed with a lot of manual digging.

The modern complex financial system is full of companies that have figured out ways to guess when investors and the companies themselves have made mistakes in their assumptions. These companies bet against a company with inaccurate pricing or take advantage of the gap in information to convert this into financial returns for themselves. When these mistakes are duplicated across the system, it can cause fluctuation amplification that also allows companies to make more money both as markets rise, as well as fall, if they can successfully predict those fluctuations. In fact, as long as the whole system doesn't collapse, smart traders make more money on fluctuation than on stability.

Just like rodent exterminators aren't excited about the idea of rodents being completely eliminated because they would no longer have jobs, those financial institutions that make money by "making the system more efficient and eliminating waste" don't really want a stable system that isn't wasteful.

Right now, the technology of the financial system is built on top of a way of thinking about money and value that was designed back when all we had were pen and paper, and when reducing the complexity of the web of dependencies and obligations was the only way to make the system functionally efficient. The way we reduce complexity is to use a common method of pricing, put elements into categories, and add them up. This just builds on 700­-year­-old building blocks, trying to make the system "better" by doing very sophisticated analysis of the patterns and information without addressing the underlying problem of a lossy and oversimplified view of the world: a view where everything of "value" should be as quickly as possible recorded as a number.

The standard idea of the "value" of things is a reductionist view of the world that is useful to scale the trading of commodities that are roughly of equal worth to a large set of people. But, in fact, most things have very different values to different people at different times, and I would argue that much-if not most-things of value can't and probably shouldn't be reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet. Financial "value" has a very specific meaning. A home clearly has "value" because someone can live in it and it's useful. However, if no one wants to buy it and no one is buying similar homes on the market, you can't set a price for it; it is illiquid and it is impossible to determine its "fair market value." Some contracts and financial instruments are nonnegotiable, may not have a "fair market value," and may even have no value to you if you needed money (or an apple) RIGHT NOW. Part of the confusion comes from the difficulty of describing legal and mathematical ideas in plain English, and the role of context and timing.

One example is exchange rates. My wife moved to Boston from Japan several years ago, but still converts prices into yen. She sometimes comments on how expensive something has gotten because the value of the yen has diminished. Because most of our earnings and spending are in dollars, I always have to remind her, the "value" in yen is irrelevant to her now, although not irrelevant to her mother, who is in Japan.

We have become accustomed to the notion that things have a "price," and that "price" is equivalent to its "value." But an email from you to me about a feeling that you had about our last conversation is probably valuable to me at a particular time and probably not valuable to most people. A single apple is worth a lot more to a hungry person than the owner of an apple orchard. Context is everything.

"Can't Buy Me Love" - The Beatles

The economics notion of consumers making financial decisions to maximize "utility" as a kind of proxy for happiness is another example of how the notion of a universal system of "value" oversimplifies its complexity-so much so that the models that assume that humans are "economically rational" actors in a marketplace simply don't work. The simplest version of this model would mean that the more money you had, the happier you would be, which Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton argue is true up to about $75,000 a year in annual income.[1]

Today, we have the technology and the computational power to create a system of accounts that could retain and deal with a lot of the complexity that the current system was designed to avoid. There is, for example, no reason that every entry in our books needs to be a number. Each cell could be an algorithmic representation of the obligations and dependencies that it represents. In fact, using machine learning, accounts could become sophisticated probabilistic models for what might happen depending on how things around them change. This would mean that the "value" of any system would change depending on who was asking, their location, and the time parameters.

Today, when a bank regulator conducts a stress test, it gives a bank a scenario-changes in the credit markets or the prices of certain things. The bank is then required to return a report on whether it would crash or remain solvent. This requires a lot of human labor to go through the accounts and run simulations. But what if the accounts were all algorithmic, and instead you could instantly run a program to provide the answer to the question? What if you had a learning model that could answer a more important question: "What sets of changes to the market WOULD make it crash, and why?" That's really what we want to know. We want to know this not just for one bank, but the whole system of banks, investors, and everything that interacts.

When I'm buying something from a company-let's say a credit default swap from your company, AIG-what I would want to know is whether, when the day comes to pay the obligation, in the unlikely chance that the AA mortgage-backed bonds that I was betting against defaulted, would your company be able to pay? Right now, there is no easy way to do this. However, what if all of the obligations and contracts, instead of being written on paper and recorded as numbers, were actually computable and "visible"? You'd immediately be able to see that, in fact, in the scenario in which you'd have to pay me, you'd actually have no money since you'd written similar contracts to so many people that you'd be broke. Right now, even the banks themselves can't see this unless an internal investigator thinks to look for this ahead of time.

Rethinking the Fundamentals of Accounting

With cutting edge cryptography like zero-knowledge proofs and secure multiparty computation, there are ways we might be able to keep these accounts open to each other without compromising business and personal privacy. While computing every contract as a cell in a huge set of accounts, every time anyone asked a question it would exceed even today's computing capacity. But with machine learning and the creation of models, we might be able to dampen, if not stabilize, the massive amplifications of fluctuations. These bubbles and collapses occur today, in part, because we are building our whole system on an oversimplified house of cards, with the handlers having an incentive to make them fragile and opaque in order to introduce inefficiencies they can exploit later to make money for themselves.

I think the current excitement about Bitcoin and distributed ledgers has created a great opportunity to take advantage of its flexible and reprogrammable nature, allowing us to rethink the fundamental system of accounts. I'm much more interested in this than in apps for banks, or even new ideas in finance, which will address some of the symptoms without taking a shot at eliminating one of the root causes of the impossibly complex and outdated system that we've built on a 700 year old double-entry bookkeeping method-the very same system used by the Florentine merchants of the 13th century. It feels like we are using integers when we should be using imaginary numbers. Reinventing accounting should be more like discovering a new number theory than tweaking the algorithms, which is what I feel like we've been doing for the last several hundred years.

--

Originally posted on PubPub.ito.com. Please read and post comments there.

References

[1]Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton. "High Income Improves Evaluation of Life But Not Emotional Well-Being". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (2010).

by Joi at May 05, 2016 01:06 PM

May 04, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
‘I Was Forced to Drink My Own Urine’: ‘Freedom’ For Netizens After 647 Days Locked Up, But Not For All
Photo-based graphic of Zelalem Workagegnehu by Melody Sundberg. Image used with permission.

Photo-based graphic of Zelalem Workagegnehu by Melody Sundberg. Image used with permission.

On April 15, 2016, the Ethiopian Federal High Court acquitted two men, Yoantan Wolde and Bahiru Degu, who spent more than 600 days incarcerated on terrorism charges that critics allege were politically motivated. Zelalem Workagenehu, a third man, was not so lucky. He was convicted and will be sentenced on May 10. (On April 26, the public prosecutor submitted a sentence aggravation statement to the court, and Zelalem was asked to file a sentence mitigation letter on his part.) Zelalem is a human rights advocate and a scholar who regularly contributed to the diaspora-run website DeBirhan.

All three were accused under Ethiopia's Anti-Terror Proclamation, which was adopted in July 2009. State officials defend the law, saying it is modeled on existing legislation in countries such as the United Kingdom.

Yonatan Wolde and Bahiru Degu were released after spending 647 days—almost two years—in prison, demonstrating a disturbing trend in Ethiopia where prisoners of conscience are locked away for long periods without a trial.

In what seemed to be a show of brute force, plainclothes security officers re-arrested Yonatan and Bahiru shortly after they left prison on April 18. The two men were held overnight at Maekelawi (Central) Prison, before being released again and warned that they're still under observation.They were also told by the securities “They would be killed if they made any moves,” their relatives say.

Zelalem was initially charged in October 2014, along with a group of nine other defendants that included Internet users, opposition politicians, and activists. So far, seven people in this group have been acquitted after spending more than a year in jail, after which they signed what they now say were false confessions, in order to escape further torture.

The charges against Zelalem include leading a terrorist organization (which is how the government came to define Ginbot 7, a pro-democracy political party founded by Berhanu Nega), conspiring to overthrow the government, and disseminating false information through reports on websites run by the diaspora. For instance, one of Zelalem's coauthors on the De Birhan Blog was also implicated in the case.

The case was later reduced to two charges: recruiting members to start an Arab-Spring-like revolution in Ethiopia and co-facilitating what the government says was a “training operation to terrorize the country.” (Zelalem says it was actually a training camp to build digital communication, social media, and leadership.)

Yonatan and Bahiru were charged with applying to the participate in Workagenehu's training camp, and suspected of joining Ginbot 7. (They denied these accusations.)

In his ruling, the judge reportedly said that applying to or participating in such training exercises was not illegal and so Yonatan and Bahiru should be acquitted. Despite their two years behind bars, Yonatan and Bahiru aren't entitled to any form of compensation. It's not yet clear if they intend to press the matter in court.

Bahiru Degu, who attended his former co-defendant's trial last week, struggles the most among the three men. He told the court he experienced extensive torture during the first three months of his detention:

I was forced to get naked and was regularly beaten. Due to the severity of the beating, I was unable to control my bowels [sic]. I was forced to drink my own urine.

Like Bahiru Degu, Zelalem Workagenehu and Yonatan Wolde also told the court about the severity of the torture committed against them in prison, saying guards were trying to force them to sign false confessions. A recent report published by Human Rights Watch revealed that Ethiopian investigators and police do abuse journalists and opposition activists, in order to extract confessions:

Police investigators at Maekelawi use coercive methods on detainees amounting to torture or other ill-treatment to extract confessions, statements, and other information from detainees. Detainees are often denied access to lawyers and family members. Depending on their compliance with the demands of investigators, detainees are punished or rewarded with denial or access to water, food, light, and other basic needs.

by Tedla D. Tekle at May 04, 2016 02:14 PM

Iranian Cartoonist Atena Farghadani Goes Free on World Press Freedom Day
Atena Farghadani with her mother, Saedeh Zeynali. From the Facebook page of journalist Atefeh Eghbal

Atena Farghadani with her mother, Saedeh Zeynali. Image: Facebook

The Iranian activist and cartoonist Atena Farghadani has been released from Evin Prison. On April 26, Global Voices reported that her sentence had been reduced from 12 years to 18 months. On World Press Freedom Day, May 3, she was released.

The cartoonist's May 3 release was a popular subject on social media throughout Iran and the international human rights community, including this tweet by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran:

Atena Faraghdani has been freed.

Persian readers can find out more here: آتنا فرقدانی از زندان اوین آزاد شد+تصویر

For past coverage on Global Voices of Atena Farghadani's case:

by Advox at May 04, 2016 02:11 PM

Development Seed
Modeling Solutions to Energy Access Problems

MIT-Comillas’ Reference Electrification Model (REM) determines the most cost-effective strategy to provide energy access in areas that lack it. We are collaborating with the MIT-Comillas Universal Energy Access Group [1] to build modern mapping platforms that put this data in the hands of policymakers, energy planners, and entrepreneurs to better connect rural communities.

The basic input data for REM are fuel costs, solar irradiance, grid extent and reliability, consumer demand and infrastructure costs. It then uses a deep learning-based computer vision system that the MIT-Comillas team developed to locate buildings in satellite imagery. With this infrastructure information and geodata, REM generates detailed engineering designs, providing recommendations on the best ways to connect rural communities through a combination of grid extensions, microgrids, and stand-alone systems.

We are working with the MIT-Comillas team to make these unique and valuable insights more accessible. Lightweight web maps can easily get these localized plans to regional power authorities and development organizations in the field. Further opening the data can show where off-grid approaches are viable intermediary solutions for electrification, motivate essential policy decisions, and encourage off-grid energy providers to work in the places they can have the greatest impact.

Example REM outputs for the Vaishali district in Bihar, India.

REM enables users to perform sensitivity analyses to external factors like demand level, grid reliability, fuel and technology cost, and cost of non-served-energy. In this example, you can see how the model projections change with the price of diesel. As diesel prices rise, it becomes more and more cost efficient to connect people to the existing grid (this is because many of the solar-and battery-powered microgrids also use diesel for backup power). But even with high diesel prices, there are some areas that are better served through off-grid power models. We built this map using Mapbox GL. Mapbox GL uses your computer or phone’s powerful graphics card to quickly process huge amounts of data. This enables us to take complex model results and render them on the fly into a highly detailed, interactive web map based on input from the user. The extremely efficient vector tiles that Mapbox GL uses for geodata makes the tool usable even on slower Internet connections.

1.1 billion people still lack access to electricity and frequently use dirty kerosene lamps for lighting. Nearly 3 billion rely on harmful biomass fuels for cooking, and these activities contribute to air pollution that kills millions of people per year. Expedited electrification will decrease risks of respiratory disease, improve income generation prospects, and enable children to study longer.

Immediately extending the existing grid isn’t always the right answer. Depending on complex geographic and economic factors, it may be more cost-effective and sustainable to build microgrids and stand-alone systems instead. If the grid’s reach eventually extends to these areas, connecting grid-compatible off-grid solutions may encourage infrastructure reuse and promote a cleaner generation mix as well. Satellite imagery, machine learning, powerful modeling tools, and modern mapping technology can empower infrastructure planners to design off-grid electricity solutions that are viable, cost-effective, and can better serve communities.

Acknowledgements

Ongoing funding for REM development is provided by the Tata Center for Technology and Design and MIT.

  1. The MIT-Comillas Universal Energy Access Research group currently works with policymakers, NGOs, and private companies in India, Rwanda, and Uganda to explore paths towards universal electricity access. Given the multivariate objectives inherent in sustainable development, the group is investigating how regulation and advanced planning tools have the potential to enable game-changing technologies and business models for electrification.

by Development Seed at May 04, 2016 12:00 AM

May 03, 2016

EchoDitto
Links for 2016-05-02 [del.icio.us]

May 03, 2016 07:00 AM

Development Seed
Announcing Gippy v1.0

We’re happy to announce the beta release of Gippy v1.0.0b1. Gippy is a python library to process geospatial raster data (like satellite sensor data) fast and efficiently, regardless of image size, or the size of your machine. We’ve had a lot of success building tools for easily processing Landsat imagery. Gippy gives us the processing engine that will allow us to quickly expand these capabilities to process other open datasets, such as Sentinel-2 and MODIS.

Building upon the previous 0.3 version, we’ve added documentation, automated testing, and additional functionality to create a 1.0.0 release. Gippy is open source and released under an Apache license.

Open-source, powered by open-source

Gippy automatically handles several issues common to geospatial raster data, such as handling of nodata values and managing very large datasets by breaking up processing into pieces. Gippy doesn’t reinvent the wheel, instead encapsulating functionality from GDAL for reading and writing to files, and CImg for doing image processing. It is also reasonably lightweight, requiring only GDAL system libraries and a reasonably modern C++ compiler.

Features

Gippy is built for processing remote sensing data. It intelligently manages band numbers and handles nodata values in a smart way. It also supports process chaining and piecewise processing. It comes with a range of operations and algorithms out of the box, including:

  • arithmetic, logical, exponential and other operations
  • dynamic creation and applying of masks
  • algorithms for mosaicing multiple images in any combination of projections
  • statistics, spectral correlation and covariance
  • cloud detection algorithms ACCA and F-mask for Landsat7
  • multiple indices (NDVI, EVI, LSWI, NDSI, NDWI, SATVI, MSAVI-2)
  • arbitrary linear transforms
  • RX Detector, a multispectral anomaly detection algorithm

Referencing bands

With Gippy there’s no more having to worry about trying to identify band numbers in your data. Gippy allows algorithms to be written to target specific types of bands (e.g., red, nir, lair). When a GeoImage, the main class that is used, is opened or created bandnames can be assigned by setting the bandnames keyword to open. Bands can be referenced via band index or the band name and can be iterated over as a collection.

from gippy import GeoImage

geoimg = GeoImage.open(filename, bandnames=(['red', 'green', 'blue']))

red_arr = geoimg['red'].read()

There’s nodata around these parts

To make identification and customization even easier in Gippy, nodata results can even be set for each raster band, or entire image. Gippy also processes nodata values so that they stay as nodata pixels, even if the actual nodata value is changed when written to an output file. Given that “no data” values are extremely common in geospatial data and are often used to mask out invalid pixels or highlight missing data due to sensor issues, like broken scan line corrector mirrors, it is helpful that they are taken care of automatically.

Process chains and image chunking

In order to efficiently do piecewise processing, Gippy chains together operations (e.g., +, -, log, abs) and applied the chain at one time, when the data is requested (upon a read or save operation).

For example, to convert a landsat-7E TM+ image from radiance to top of the atmosphere reflectance, where theta is the solar zenith angle and sundist is the earth-sun distance:

green_toa = img['green'] * (1.0 / ((1812.0 * numpy.cos(theta)) / (numpy.pi * sundist * sundist)))

The 1812.0 is the exoatmospheric solar irradiance for the green band, as given in the Landsat handbook. This green_toa band can then be further processed, but none of the calculations anywhere in the chain will be performed until a read is requested through the read() or save() functions.

# get a numpy array of the byte scaled green TOA reflectance
green = green_toa.autoscale(1, 255).read().astype('byte')

Next steps

Improving Gippy is just the start. We are working on developing a suite of building blocks, we’re calling sat-utils, to provide easier ways to query, download, and process imagery into a variety of both visual and scientific products. Look out for more on this in the following weeks.

In the meantime, check out the Gippy repo and documentation, and report any suggestions or problems. If you are at FOSS4G-NA, stop my my talk on Gippy today and say hi to Alireza and me.

by Development Seed at May 03, 2016 12:00 AM

May 02, 2016

EchoDitto
Echo Named “Official Webby Honoree” for Greenpeace USA

We’re excited to share that the 20th Annual Webby Awards has recognized our work with Greenpeace USA as an Official Webby Honoree. The Greenpeace USA website was recognized as among the best work from nearly 13,000 entries submitted to the awards this year.

Meeting and collaborating with the Greenpeace USA team was our favorite part of this work. Congratulations and thank you Nicole, Ben, and team — it has been a joy to work with such a remarkably smart and driven group of colleagues looking to change our world for the better. We’re humbled to share this honor with you.

At Echo, we’re privileged to partner with great organizations like Greenpeace to create digital products that put users first, motivate with content, make technology human, and support our clients’ ambitious goals—truly important goals like creating a green and peaceful future, providing hungry families with food, cleaning our oceans of debris, and educating our young people. Ultimately helping organizations reach these high marks is our measure for success.

When we first started working with Greenpeace USA on the vision for their new website, we knew we had amazing content — stories, photos, videos — that deserved attention and could be used to build relationships with users and motivate them to action. We also knew the experience needed a stronger narrative through-line and more focused attention on putting the user at the heart of Greenpeace USA’s story. Working together, our teams determined users’ needs, their unique motivations, and their behavioral pathways through the site. We used metrics and insights from Greenpeace research to create a messaging architecture and experience narrative for the site that aligned to key performance indicators and conversion goals.

The project was light and lean. We conceived of and launched the site in four months, using a week-long ideation and product design session to dive into the mindset of users, to ideate feature sets and content, and to define the user experience. After we wrapped up that work, we moved quickly into prototyping and in-browser design, enabling us to push further as we moved from static ideas into to dynamic production. This represents the web product development at its best — launching well researched and conceived products quickly to market where they can be shaped in the hands of real end-users through a cycle of build-test-learn. At Echo, we always recommend this adaptive, iterative approach to product design and development.

Thank you again to the amazing team at Greenpeace USA for inviting us to partner on this great work. And thank you to our friends at Teal Media for joining us in this work and bringing wonderful creativity to shaping the visual direction of the experience.

About the Webby Awards: Hailed as the “Internet’s highest honor” by The New York Times, The Webby Awards is the leading international award honoring excellence on the Internet, including Websites, Advertising & Media, Online Film & Video, Mobile Sites & Apps and Social. Established in 1996, The Webby Awards received nearly 13,000 entries from all 50 states and over 70 countries worldwide this year. The Webby Awards is presented by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (IADAS).

by Graziella Jackson at May 02, 2016 03:58 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Is Telegram Really Safe for Activists Under Threat? These Two Russians Aren't So Sure.
Is Telegram really safe for activists in repressive environments? Image by Kevin Rothrock.

Is Telegram really safe for activists in repressive environments? Image by Kevin Rothrock.

On April 29, two Russian opposition activists reported that their Telegram messenger accounts had been hacked remotely. Georgy Alburov, a leading member of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, and Oleg Kozlovsky, the director of the Vision of Tomorrow Center in Moscow, believe unauthorized access to their accounts was obtained through tampering with the app's SMS login feature. They suspect the Russian government was involved in the hack.

Who had their Telegram hacked last night? Me. I wonder, how is this possible? Hijacked text messages with MTS’ assistance?

Here's what it looks like. @Telegram, can you deal with this?

What Happened Exactly?

The activists note that, according to the messages they received, the unauthorized access attempts on April 29 were made from the same IP-address in New York. Alburov also noted that the hackers used an unofficial, little-known Telegram command line client, TelegramCli, to access their accounts.

While both activists eventually received suspicious login notifications, they did not receive any notices of password changes or authentication requests, and only learned about access attempts because Telegram alerted them that a new device had accessed their accounts.

So how did the hackers gain access to Telegram?

Alburov and Kozlovsky appealed to the Telegram support service, and received a reply saying their accounts were accessed through text-based authorization, which allows users to connect new devices to Telegram accounts simply by entering a verification code received via text message. Because neither Alburov nor Kozlovsky had enabled two-step verification on their accounts, the hackers were able to gain entry.

Who Is Behind the Attack?

The question remains: How did the hackers get the text message without the account owners seeing it? Kozlovsky grilled the technical support staff at MTS, one of Russia's largest cell service providers, and discovered that text-message delivery for his SIM card was switched off for several hours during the night his Telegram account was hacked. Though an MTS spokesperson later denied any “intentional” activity aimed at disabling services, Kozlovsky believes the provider is directly implicated in the incident. The activist summarized his findings in a Facebook post attempting to recreate the events:

События развивались следующим образом:
В 2:25 ночи отдел технологической безопасности МТС отключает мне сервис доставки SMS-сообщений.
Через 15 минут, в 2:40, кто-то с Unix-консоли по IP-адресу 162.247.72.27 (это один из серверов анонимайзера Tor) отправил в Telegram запрос на авторизацию нового устройства с моим номером телефона.
Мне было отправлено SMS с кодом, которое доставлено не было (сервис для меня отключен).
В 3:08 злоумышленник вводит код авторизации и получает доступ к моему аккаунту. Telegram присылает мне автоматическое уведомление об этом (которое я прочитаю только утром).
В 3:12 аналогичным образом с того же IP-адреса (т.е. через ту же сессию Tor) взламывается аккаунт Жоры Албурова.
В 4:55 отдел технологической безопасности МТС вновь включает мне сервис доставки SMS.
Причину отключения и включения сервиса МТС мне назвать отказалось, предложив написать письменный запрос.

Here is how the events unfolded:
At 2:25am the technical security department of MTS disables the text message delivery service for my number.
15 minutes later, at 2:40am, someone uses a Unix console via the IP-address 162.247.72.27 (this is a Tor anonymizer exit node) to send Telegram a request to authorize a new device to work with my phone number.
I was then sent a text message with the code, which was not delivered (since the service was disabled for me).
At 3:08am the hacker enters the new authorization code and gains access to my account. Telegram sends me an automatic notification of this (which I will only see in the morning).
At 3:12am Zhora Alburov's account is hacked in a similar fashion from the same IP-address (and through the same Tor session).
At 4:55am the MTS technical security department reactivates the text-message delivery service for my number.
MTS refused to name the cause of disabling and reactivating the service to me, and suggested I send a written request for information.

What remains unclear is how the hackers were able to intercept the text message containing the new authorization code. According to Vladislav Zdolnikov, a technology expert working with the Anti-Corruption Foundation, the attack could have been orchestrated by Russia's State Security Service (FSB) together with MTS, to gain access to the activists’ conversation logs. Zdolnikov speculates that the text message could have been intercepted using a SIM-card clone or directly at the SMS gateway belonging to MTS, as part of the company's collaboration with the authorities through the SORM system.

Нет никаких сомнений, что эта целая спецоперация была организована и частично выполнена именно ФСБ. Ни у какой больше организации нет возможности ночью отключать и включать услугу SMS через отдел технической безопасности федерального оператора связи.

There are no doubts that this whole special operation was organized and partially executed by FSB. No other organization has the capability to disable text messages at night through the technical security department of a federal communication operator.

SORM, which stands for “System for Operative Investigative Activities,” is Russia’s comprehensive communications surveillance system that has been in place since 1996 to enable wiretaps of telephone connections. Over the years, it has evolved to allow broader access to electronic communications, including the installations of black boxes with Russian ISPs to gain access to Internet traffic.

Earlier in April, several Russian journalists, including Roman Shleynov who worked with OCCRP on the Panama Papers investigation, and Oleg Kashin, said they received security warnings from Google about possible state-sanctioned attempts to hijack their email accounts. In September 2015, an editor and a journalist at the newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that their email inboxes had been hacked by persons who obtained unauthorized duplicates of their SIM-cards from cell service providers.

How Can Telegram Users Protect Themselves?

Responding to the news of the hack, Bellingcat contributor Frederick Jacobs drew attention to similar cases of exploiting the SMS login feature to attack Telegram accounts in Iran earlier this year, and critiqued the safety implications of text message logins.

SMS are trivial to intercept for your telecom provider. And in almost all countries, they are actively cooperating with the state to help intercept text messages and phone calls. […]
If a single SMS enables you to get access to a user’s account and data, you designed your system with a backdoor that any serious adversary can exploit.

Telegram's founder Pavel Durov reacted to the news by calling on the app's users in “troubled countries” to use two-step verification as a precaution.

Jacobs, however, believes that users in repressive environments should be even more cautious and would do well “always to use end-to-end encryption” and “verify fingerprints for important communications,” to avoid the dangers of engaging with spoofed accounts.

by Tetyana Lokot at May 02, 2016 01:39 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
It’s Open Season on Online Hate Speech in Myanmar
Source: No-Hate Speech Project / Facebook

Source: No-Hate Speech Project / Facebook

Activists have launched a page on Facebook dedicated to addressing the rising number of hate-speech cases in Myanmar. The “No-Hate Speech Project,” available in both Burmese and English, went live in March 2016 with the goal of educating Internet users in Myanmar about dealing with hate speech on social media.

We believe it [is] wrong to deny any group or individual the right to speak out because we oppose their views. Silencing some while favoring others is not a recipe for building tolerance. So we will offer to platform and fairly examine and discuss the ideas and opinions of all.

It is important to understand that not all hate speech is deliberate or intended as such: It is also important to realize that sometimes hate speech comes from an honestly felt fear of the unknown.

Myanmar's semi-civilian military-backed government, which has ruled since 1962, implemented some reforms related to freedom of expression in 2010, such as removing media censorship and unblocking various websites. Last year, the electoral defeat of the country's military-backed political party helped cement many of these democratic reforms.

Over the past six years, during Myanmar's political transformation, Internet connectivity rose from 0.2 percent in 2010 to 12.8 percent in 2015.

But the improvement in digital infrastructure was also accompanied by a disturbing rise in hate speech. In particular, anti-Muslim statements flooded social media, which some analysts believe has contributed to the escalation of communal violence across the country.

Some ultra-nationalist groups, such as Ma-Ba-Tha led by radical Buddhist monks, publicly incited hatred against the Muslim minority, especially the Rohingya ethnic group.

A report published in 2015 by the PEN Myanmar association of writers revealed that hate speech is more pervasive than previously reported. The study also found that hate speech targets not only Muslims, but also members of the political opposition, human rights activists, other ethnic minorities, and even ordinary Internet users who have expressed negative attitudes about the government.

Myanmar is an ethnically diverse country, but Myanmar Buddhists constitute the majority of the population. The Rohingya Muslims, meanwhile, are a stateless people who the government considers to be illegal immigrants.

According to some analysts, Myanmar's 2008 constitution does not provide a clear and consistent legal framework against discrimination. But interfaith community leaders organized a nationwide conference on April 26, 2016, to demand the drafting of a comprehensive legal framework to combat hate speech. The organizer of the conference, Aung Naing Win, said:

We want to work with law enforcement to take action against those who use hate speech, and we want to empower our community through education to positively engage for peace. […]

Our idea is that our religious leaders, civil society leaders, lawyers and the government will work together to create a law [on the issue].

Reviewing a Hate Speech Post

The No-Hate Speech Project functions by identifying an original post that contains hate speech elements and then discredits the hateful statements by countering with facts and alternative viewpoints. Since the project launched in March, it has responded to hate speech that targeted Muslims, women, ethnic rebels, and foreign workers.

After finding hate speech posts on social media, they re-post the offending content on their own Facebook page, accompanied by debunking reviews and explanatory commentary. For example, one of the project's posts uploaded on March 31 countered a racist photo that described a place as an “Islam-free area.” Here's how the group responded to that anti-Islam post:

On February 13, a Facebooker named Soe Naing posted a photo of a sign reportedly to be found outside a village in the Irrawaddy Delta that declares it to be off limits to Muslims. […]

Under the photo, Soe Naing wrote: “The sign impressed me. Give me a “Like” if you agree every area should be Islam-free”.

At the time this post was spotted by this monitor, it already received 8289 Likes; 4234 shares and 517 comments.

Most of the comments were supportive. One named Paingshinme Nalonethar (translated as “Ownerless heart”), wrote: “It would be better if the whole country sticks to this practice. Congratulations Migyaingai.”

Those who argued against the prevailing comments included Htay Ko who stated: “I think you guys are so happy with this -but Buddha would be morose to learn how this contradicts his teachings.

Posts like this can clearly lead to conflict rather than harmony and may incite hatred.

Soe Naing has a total of 4914 friends and 21688 followers on Facebook.

Our Anti-Hate Speech Project is working carefully with colleagues to investigate the background to this sign, whether it actually exists, and if so who put it up.

Grassroots Movement Against Hate Speech

The No-Hate Speech Project is not the only group in Myanmar trying to tackle online animosity. As hate speech cases became more frequent, several initiatives have emerged to battle intolerance and discrimination directed at religious minorities. Last year, young people started a to promote diversity by encouraging inter-ethnic friendship among youths. On Facebook, there's also a group called Panzagar, which introduced “flower-speech” Facebook stickers.

This year, some Facebook users started using the hashtags #‎Say_No_to_Racism‬ and #‎2016_OnlineCampaign‬ to fight hate speech. Many social media users have made posts to the one below, which is the work of activist Moe Thway, who appeals to the public for support against racism.

My name is Moe Thway
I am not a racist.

‪#‎Say_No_to_Racisim‬
‪#‎2016_OnlineCampaign‬

Anyone who is against racism please upload this status.
Join our campaign all.
We need public awareness!!!

13082690_1726200707636746_2856895813292085258_n

Viral Facebook photo uploaded by Panzagar. The text at the bottom reads: “Each religion teaches us to practice peace and love. Don't let your religion have a bad image because of you.”

by Advox at May 02, 2016 03:05 AM

Development Seed
See you at FOSS4GNA

We’re headed down to Raleigh for FOSS4G NA - North America’s largest annual conference on Open Source Geospatial Software. We are big supporters of open geo, so we can’t wait for a week of stellar presentations and fascinating hallway conversations with hundreds of other open geo geeks.

You can see some of what we’ve been working at two sessions, both on Tuesday at 5:40pm.

  • Anand will demonstrate tools that we’ve developed for geographic analysis on vector tiles. This allows users to interact with the underlying data in vector tiles and perform sophisticated analytics instantly in their browser. (302C - Tuesday @ 17:40)

  • Matt will present the latest release of GIPPY, a python toolkit for fast, distributed processing of large remote sensing data sets. (304 - Tuesday @ 17:40)

Also look for Drew, Marc, and myself. Hit any of us on twitter if you want to meet up.

NB: We had a serious team discussion on whether to decline to attend FOSS4G NA in order to register our outrage over the new North Carolina law that encourages discrimination. The law runs counter to our values and isn’t conducive to the type of events we want to attend. The FOSS4G NA conference organizers have handled the situation remarkably well as has the City of Raleigh, which in the end, influenced our decision to attend.

by Development Seed at May 02, 2016 12:00 AM

April 28, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: In Chad, You Can Rock the Vote, But Watch Your Back
Image: OSCE Parliamentary Assembly / Flickr / CC 2.0. Edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Image: OSCE Parliamentary Assembly / Flickr / CC 2.0. Edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

State authorities in Chad took several stringent measures to control media during the first round of presidential elections this month, including disconnecting the Internet and blocking SMS messages. The election was conducted under heavy surveillance, according to Reporters Without Borders, and it is not the first time these measures have been deployed (Authorities tried to block access to Facebook in February in response to demonstrations over the gang-rape of a teenage girl.)

Brazilian Lawmakers to Vote on Cybercrime Bill

The Brazilian Chamber of Deputies will soon vote on proposed cybercrime legislation that threatens to have a deleterious effect on free expression and privacy. Among other things, the new proposals would give police warrantless access to IP addresses, require websites and mobile apps to monitor content, and would criminalize improper computer-system access that could present a “risk of misuse or disclosure of data.”

India Wants WhatsApp Group Administrators to Tell Them What’s Up

Local authorities in India, including the governments of Jammu and Kashmir, are responding to the rollout of end-to-end encryption on WhatsApp by demanding that administrators of WhatsApp groups register with the local magistrate. Officials also say they plan to hold group administrators accountable for “irresponsible remarks” or “untoward actions” by group members, according to TechDirt.

Mexico’s Controversial ‘Telecom Law’ Reaches the Supreme Court

In late April, Mexico’s Supreme Court will discuss the constitutionality of articles 189 and 190 of the “Justice Collaboration” chapter in the country’s Telecom Law. Some of the language in these articles states that telecommunication companies must maintain records of users’ metadata for a period of two years, and grant the proper authorities unrestricted access to these archives. This section of the law functions completely outside the court system, requiring no warrants or judicial oversight on data requests. There’s also no clarity about who the “proper authorities” might be. The law includes no requirements on how personal data is to be protected or used once it is collected by authorities. The Supreme Court is reviewing these articles after a protection motion, or writ of amparo, was filed by the organization R3D: Network in Defense of Digital Rights with the support of various organizations defending digital rights, the freedom of expression, and transparency, such as Article 19 and FUNDAR.

Enormous Data Leak Exposes 93.4 Million Mexicans’ Voter Records

A database of 93.4 million Mexican voter records—containing names, addresses, occupations, voting codes, and additional information—was revealed to be unprotected and easily accessible online on April 14. MacKeeper security researcher Chris Vickery discovered the database hosted publicly on an Amazon cloud server and contacted the US and Mexican governments, as well as Amazon, though the data remained online for another eight days. During that time, the personal information of roughly 70 percent of Mexico’s population was accessible to anyone, anywhere, unprotected by encryption or even a password, violating the privacy and potentially endangering millions of Mexican citizens. It remains unclear who leaked the data in the first place, how it was acquired, and why it was placed on a publicly-accessible server for all to see. As databreaches.net pointed out, Mexico has now joined Belize, Greece, Israel, the Philippines, and Turkey in having a majority of its population’s personal data leaked.

Viber Announces (Unverified) End-to-End Encryption: ‘Trust Us.’

The messaging app Viber announced end-to-end encryption for its 700 million users worldwide, which will be rolled out in stages. As an Israeli company owned by a Japanese conglomerate, Viber presents a “powerful example of the futility of legislating encryption,” like the bill now under consideration in the US Congress. However, unlike WhatsApp, Viber has not published any details about how its encryption is implemented, so the security of its protocols and implementation have not been verified by anyone outside the company (a best practice in ensuring the trustworthiness of the software’s security).

Cyber-Independence for Iraq’s Kurds

Iraq’s Kurds have declared independence in cyberspace through the establishment of a new generic top-level domain name, .krd. According to Hifa Afandi, who helped obtain the new domain name, “Those who have imprisoned us within these geographical boundaries do not have the same leverage in cyberspace. In the Internet, we choose our own borders.” Iran is the only country so far to object to the new domain name, citing the risks of “serious political conflicts” as a result.

The Physicist Who Said No to Iran’s Military Research

The #FreeOmid hashtag (for jailed physicist Omid Kokabee) trended on Twitter on April 21, before news broke that the American musician Prince had died. Iranians and Internet users throughout the world drew attention to Kokabee’s health, which has deteriorated after five years in prison without proper medical attention. The physicist was arrested in 2011 while trying to board a flight back to the US, where he was finishing a post-doctoral position. Kokabee was incarcerated for refusing to work on Iran’s military research. He underwent kidney surgery on April 20, though human rights advocates are worried his health will not recover, given Iran’s mistreatment of political prisoners.

New Research

Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email

Mahsa Alimardani, Mary Aviles, Sam Kellogg, Hae-in Lim, Kevin Rothrock, Elizabeth Rivera, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

by Netizen Report Team at April 28, 2016 03:55 AM

Development Seed
Modeling Solutions to Energy Access Problems

MIT-Comillas’ Reference Electrification Model (REM) determines the most cost-effective strategy to provide energy access in areas that lack it. We are collaborating with the MIT-Comillas Universal Energy Access Group [1] to build modern mapping platforms that put this data in the hands of policymakers, energy planners, and entrepreneurs to better connect rural communities.

The basic input data for REM are fuel costs, solar irradiance, grid extent and reliability, consumer demand and infrastructure costs. It then uses a deep learning-based computer vision system that the MIT-Comillas team developed to locate buildings in satellite imagery. With this infrastructure information and geodata, REM generates detailed engineering designs, providing recommendations on the best ways to connect rural communities through a combination of grid extensions, microgrids, and stand-alone systems.

We are working with the MIT-Comillas team to make these unique and valuable insights more accessible. Lightweight web maps can easily get these localized plans to regional power authorities and development organizations in the field. Further opening the data can show where off-grid approaches are viable intermediary solutions for electrification, motivate essential policy decisions, and encourage off-grid energy providers to work in the places they can have the greatest impact.

Example REM outputs for the Vaishali district in Bihar, India.

REM enables users to perform sensitivity analyses to external factors like demand level, grid reliability, fuel and technology cost, and cost of non-served-energy. In this example, you can see how the model projections change with the price of diesel. As diesel prices rise, it becomes more and more cost efficient to connect people to the existing grid (this is because many of the solar-and battery-powered microgrids also use diesel for backup power). But even with high diesel prices, there are some areas that are better served through off-grid power models. We built this map using Mapbox GL. Mapbox GL uses your computer or phone’s powerful graphics card to quickly process huge amounts of data. This enables us to take complex model results and render them on the fly into a highly detailed, interactive web map based on input from the user. The extremely efficient vector tiles that Mapbox GL uses for geodata makes the tool usable even on slower Internet connections.

1.1 billion people still lack access to electricity and frequently use dirty kerosene lamps for lighting. Nearly 3 billion rely on harmful biomass fuels for cooking, and these activities contribute to air pollution that kills millions of people per year. Expedited electrification will decrease risks of respiratory disease, improve income generation prospects, and enable children to study longer.

Immediately extending the existing grid isn’t always the right answer. Depending on complex geographic and economic factors, it may be more cost-effective and sustainable to build microgrids and stand-alone systems instead. If the grid’s reach eventually extends to these areas, connecting grid-compatible off-grid solutions may encourage infrastructure reuse and promote a cleaner generation mix as well. Satellite imagery, machine learning, powerful modeling tools, and modern mapping technology can empower infrastructure planners to design off-grid electricity solutions that are viable, cost-effective, and can better serve communities.

Acknowledgements

Data preparation resources for the REM runs shown were supported by the MIT Tata Center for Technology and Design.

  1. The MIT-Comillas Universal Energy Access Research group currently works with policymakers, NGOs, and private companies in India, Rwanda, and Uganda to explore paths towards universal electricity access. Given the multivariate objectives inherent in sustainable development, the group is investigating how regulation and advanced planning tools have the potential to enable game-changing technologies and business models for electrification.

by Development Seed at April 28, 2016 12:00 AM

Learning to Ask the Right Questions

Building a successful product means knowing your users and building your product with them in mind. Unfortunately, many times this is overlooked. As a result, product teams make assumptions and their products end up unintentionally being geared toward them, instead of the end user. This problem can easily be solved though by simply by integrating user experience (UX) practices such as personas, and user testing. To demystify and simplify these integral processes and encourage others to integrate them into their work, we’ll dive into why they’re important, what they are and how to you can implement them, here and within future blog posts.

If you don’t have an understanding of your users and their lives, how do you know what technology they have, what kind of internet may or may not be available or even if they have a need for the tool you’re building? People’s lives, wants and needs are all so different that knowing exactly what will serve those needs is incredibly hard without asking your audiences the right questions.

Being able to ask and get meaningful answers to these questions doesn’t have to be hard or time consuming: it just involves integrating research, care and empathy into each and every project. Here at Development Seed, we do this by building purposeful UX design practices into our projects up front, so that we’re thinking about and building for our users throughout the life of a project. Because we have a great understanding of our users from the beginning, it saves us time from potentially having to rebuild large parts of the product down the road. Also, knowing what our users want allows us to make informed design decisions, making this process easier and more staightforward.

Of course every project that we do is different but the two UX practices we feel are the most integral, and would like to cover, are personas and user testing.

Personas - Personas are archetypes of who the users of your platform will be. There are many different methods for figuring out who your users are and/or who they should be, from google analytics to ethnographic research. Whichever you choose, building personas allows you to more deeply consider the lives of your users, be empathic and think about things from their perspective, making your product better geared toward them.

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User Testing - User testing is asking a relevant user to do tasks on a product and seeing how they perform. Whether you do it through a platform like usertesting.com or use other methods like moderated usablity testing as we do, any testing is good testing. Not only are you able to collect both qualitative (preferential) and quantitative (raw numerical) data, giving you the best insight into what needs to be changed, but also seeing first-hand how users interact and react to your product is invaluable.

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Over the next month watch for our posts that will dive deeper into these processes, using our own Development Seed site as an example. Want to join the process? We’ll be looking for people to participate for a half hour sometime during the month of May. Just fill out the following survey, http://ds.io/uxing-devseed, so that we can learn a little about you before we dive into the specifics.

by Development Seed at April 28, 2016 12:00 AM

April 27, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Mexico’s Controversial ‘Telecom Law’ Is Now in the Supreme Court’s Court
Ojos

Image: Pixabay / Public Domain

The Second Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) in Mexico will soon discuss the constitutionality of Articles 189 and 190 of the Federal Telecommunications and Broadcasting Act (known simply as the “Telecom Law”), which went into effect in August 2014. These articles state that, among other things, telecommunication companies must maintain records of their users’ metadata for a period of two years, and grant unrestricted access to the proper state authorities.

As defined by the NGO Derechos Digitales (Digital Rights), metadata is information that puts into context other data, such as the information we exchange when we communicate. FayerWayer Magazine adds that the stored metadata makes it possible to know many of the behaviors and habits of a user, including:

Nombre y domicilio del suscriptor
Tipo de comunicación -voz, datos, conferencia- y servicios- suplementarios, de mensajería o multimedia- empleados
En telefonía móvil: datos para conocer el origen y destino de las comunicaciones
Fecha, hora y duración de la comunicación
Fecha, hora y ubicación de la primera activación del equipo
Datos de identificación y características técnicas de los equipos
Geolocalización digitalizada

The subscriber’s name and address
The type of communication (voice transmission, voicemail, conference) and additional services employed, such as messaging or multimedia.
Data about the origin and destination of mobile communications.
The date, time, and duration of communication.
The date, time, and location of the first service activation.
Identification data and technical characteristics of the device.
The geographical position of the lines.

In 2014, when the telecom law was passed, it was billed as a much-needed reform of the telecommunications sector, which continues to be dominated by monopolies. To date, authorities have not discussed in depth why the two articles in question were included, beyond justifying them for vague reasons of “security”.

At the time, the Network in Defense of Digital Rights (R3D) filed a writ of amparo (a legal instrument that aims to defend fundamental rights and counter arbitrariness) against the legislation's “Collaboration With Justice” articles, arguing that they violate human rights. Other organizations dedicated to defending digital rights, free expression, and transparency (such as Article 19 and FUNDAR) also supported the amparo.

R3D later published a paper titled “Frequently Asked Questions About the Unconstitutional Nature of Articles 189 and 190 of the LFTR,” noting that the content of the articles violates citizens’ right to the inviolability of private communications and the right to protection of personal data. The organization also says “there is an absence of clarification about who constitutes the competent authorities.”

The following video is part of R3D’s informational materials developed to show the importance of what the court will discuss:

La conservación masiva e indiscriminada de metadatos nos asume a todos como presuntos delincuentes y nos pone en mayor riesgo […]

En otros países la retención de metadatos ya fue prohibida. En abril de 2014, el Tribunal de Justicia de la Unión Europea invalidó su ley de retención de datos argumentado que “constituye una injerencia de gran magnitud y especial gravedad en los derechos fundamentales al respecto de la vida privada…”

It is thus possible to deduce things like your personal relationships, your political and religious preferences, or health status.

Metadata conservation assumes we are all criminal suspects and puts us at greater risk.

In other countries metadata retention has already been prohibited. In April 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union overruled its data retention law arguing that it “constitutes an interference of a large magnitude and is particularly serious with respect to the fundamental rights to privacy…”

The Supreme Court was scheduled to settle the amparo on Wednesday, March 20, 2016, but a resolution was postponed, as announced by Ivan Martinez, an advocacy writer for R3D:

Court postponed decision regarding the amparo of @r3dmx another week.

Don’t let your guard down! Stalker Law. Telecom Law.

In preparation for the hearing, more than a dozen national and international organizations for the defense of digital rights have urged the court to protect the right to privacy and reject the constitutionality of the telecom law. A joint statement from these groups says Mexico faces a “historic opportunity”:

La SCJN posee una oportunidad histórica para establecer un precedente de protección a la privacidad en México y replicar las tendencias internacionales en el tema. Por el contrario, en caso de validar la vigilancia sin controles que facilita la Ley de Telecomunicaciones, la SCJN estaría enviando un mensaje sumamente peligroso de que todo se vale con el pretexto de proteger la seguridad, incluso medidas que, lejos de proteger la seguridad, la comprometerán aún más, sobre todo en el contexto de crisis en materia de derechos humanos por el que atraviesa el país.

The Supreme Court has a historic opportunity to set a precedent for privacy protection in Mexico and to replicate international trends on the issue. On the other hand, in the event that it validates the surveillance without limitations that is facilitated by the Telecommunications Act, the Supreme Court would be sending a very dangerous message that anything goes on the pretext of protecting safety, including measures that, far from protecting safety, would endanger it even more, especially in the context of crisis in the matter of human rights that is faced by this country.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation says the indiscriminate and massive retention of data allowed by the Telecom Act is “a serious state interference and full-scale invasion of privacy in the communications of millions of Mexican citizens,” arguing that judicial oversight in such policing measures is a necessity:

A dos años de la reformas de la Ley Telecom, el estado mexicano no se ha puesto a la altura de sus compromisos internacionales en materia de derechos humanos en el entorno digital, al poseer un instrumento legal que abre la puerta de manera desproporcionada a la vigilancia de las comunicaciones de una población entera e incluso autoriza el acceso a los datos retenidos sin autorización judicial.

Two years after the Telecom Law was reformed, the Mexican state has still not caught up to its international human rights obligations; mandatory data retention is an unnecessary and disproportionate measure that affects the privacy rights of millions of Mexicans. The Telecom law also allows warrantless access to the retained metadata, contrary to international human rights standards. Determinations related to communications surveillance must be made by a competent judicial authority that is impartial and independent.

Using the hashtag #LeyTelecom (Telecom Law), Internet users have discussed the controversial legislation on Twitter:

How can the government obtain your information and what can it do with it? We explain the capabilities of the Telecom Law.

No to the retention of metadata allowed by #Mexico with the Telecom Law because it facilitates control and surveillance.

Twitter users also shared the hashtag #LeyStalker (Stalker Law) to characterize the law as invasive and spy-like.

Happy day. I hope you are all working on behalf of the world you want to see.
Especially one that respects privacy, @SCJN. Follow @r3dmx #LeyStalker <3

Concerns about granting the Mexican government greater spying powers are especially high, in light of the 2015 leaks, which revealed that several of the country's state institutions are some of the Italian company Hacking Team‘s biggest buyers of surveillance technology in the world. (And much of this equipment was purchased to intercept communications illegally.)

There are also worries that officials will abuse any new surveillance powers and put citizens at risk, if the court upholds the law's constitutionality. Carlos Brito, the director of Advocacy at R3D, says this danger is real, pointing to the federal police in Mexico currently being investigated for kidnapping and extortion:

These people can access metadata and geolocation through the #TelecomLaw? Yes. The Stalker Law authorizes them to.

Following the same logic, others online have recalled the recent cyberattack on the National Electoral Institute's database, which resulted in the massive leak of 93.4 million voters’ information.

Beware – INE's database with 93.4 million registrations is on Amazon… and they still want to retain metadata.

According to the public policy analyst and Internet law specialist Gisela Pérez de Ancha:

En un país con un serio déficit democrático y en el que funcionarios públicos son los principales responsables de agresiones a periodistas y disidentes, la medida [prevista por la Ley Telecom] podría ser utilizada fácilmente para perseguir voces incómodas dentro del marco de la legalidad formal.

In a country with a serious democratic deficit and in which public officials are primarily responsible for attacks on journalists and dissidents, the measures [allowed by the Telecom Law] could easily be used to pursue uncomfortable opinions within the framework of formal legality.

In their collaboration for Nexos Magazine, Luis Fernando García, the director of R3D, and Ana Gaitán Uribe, a lawyer for R3D, asked Mexicans to think about the risks of handing so much power over to people who have inspired such little confidence:

Es entendible que demandemos mayor seguridad ante el miedo de ser víctimas de un delito, pero debemos preguntarnos si dichas medidas realmente nos hacen estar más seguros, rescatar a más víctimas, atrapar a más criminales. O si, por el contrario, fomentan un clima de opresión en el que nuestra expectativa de privacidad se erosione. Preguntémonos, también, cuál es el daño que se ocasionaría cuando las personas equivocadas tienen un fácil acceso a todos nuestros datos sensibles. Particularmente en un país en donde la diferencia entre el Estado y la delincuencia es frecuentemente inexistente.

It is understandable that we demand greater security in the face of the fear of being victims of crime, but we must ask whether these measures really make us safer, rescue more victims, catch more criminals. Or if, on the contrary, they foster a climate of oppression in which our expectation of privacy erodes. We should ask ourselves as well, what's the harm that would be caused when the wrong people have easy access to all of our sensitive data. Particularly in a country where the difference between the state and crime is often nonexistent.

Mexico has to wait until Wednesday, April 27, 2016, for the court to announce its decision. If the court upholds the legislation, R3D says it's prepared to take the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

by L. Finch at April 27, 2016 11:29 AM

Xulhaz Mannan, an LGBT Activist in Bangladesh, Is the Latest Victim in a String of Brutal Killings
Xulhaz and Tonoy. Image from their Facebook profiles.

Xulhaz and Tonoy. Image from their Facebook profiles.

Two more progressive thinkers have been hacked to death in Bangladesh's capital Dhaka.

Thirty-five year-old Xulhaz Mannan was the editor of Bangladesh's first LGBT magazine, and worked with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and as a protocol officer for a former US Ambassador to Bangladesh. He was murdered along with his friend Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, who was a theatre activist.

The gruesome murders come two days after university professor Rezaul Karim Siddiqui was killed in a northern district of Bangladesh. This month, four progressive Bangladeshis have been hacked to death, allegedly at the hands of Islamist militants.

Since 2005, at least 23 bloggers, publishers, editors and activists have been killed and scores of others attacked or threatened with death for their progressive and secular views. These bloggers and intellectuals were not advocating or perpetrating violence. They were writing about the complex, political climate in Bangladesh and promoting the protection of human rights.

The latest attacks

According to local reports, on April 25, at around 5pm, a man posing as a deliveryman arrived at Mannan's building, pretending to deliver a package. As Mannan took him inside, a few more of his accomplices entered the house and they lethally attacked Mannan and Tonoy with machetes, signs of trained killers, leaving both of them dead on the spot. The attackers fled after firing blank shots from their guns, shouting Naraye Takbir, Allahu Akbar” [Shout it out: God is great]. On their way out they fought off a security guard and a policeman who arrived on the scene.

Mannan's LGBT magazine Roopbaan was launched in 2014 to promote greater acceptance of LGBT communities, who face widespread discrimination in Bangladesh. Mannan had been arranging an annual Rainbow Rally since 2014. It was cancelled this year after police received threats against the group; four LGBT activists were even briefly detained.

Bangladesh's untouchable Islamic militants

In a tweet sent twenty hours after the attack, the local militant organisation Ansar Al Islam claimed responsibility. The group claims to be Bangladesh's unit of al-Qaeda in the Indian Sub-Continent. The tweet claimed the victims were “promoting homosexuality in Bangladesh since 1998 with the help of their masters, the US crusaders and their Indian allies.”

Bangladeshi Islamist militants have been blamed for more than a dozen murders of secular bloggers and online activists since 2013. Many of these killings have been claimed on the Internet or on social media by accounts believed to be linked to ISIS, Ansar Al Islam or Ansarullah Bangla Team.

Bangladesh's Minister of Home affairs Mr. Asaduzzaman Khan has tried to distance the situation in his country from international militant organisations like ISIS and Al Qaeda. He maintains that home-grown militants are behind the attacks and claims that local militant groups might share the ideology of international militant organisations or may be imitating them.

The Prime Minister Hasina Sheikh has blamed the opposition, saying that they are orchestrating the attacks to destabilize the country and upset her secular rule. She recently was critical against the writers who write about religion and “offend religious sentiments” and added that anyone “killing another person in response to what they have written is not Islamic”.

People, as usual, showed their frustration and anger online and protested the murder:

Moshiul Alam asks who is next in an oped in Bangla Daily Prothom Alo:

ব্লগার থেকে পুস্তক প্রকাশক, তারপর নিরীহ সেতারবাদক। এরপর কে? যে ছবি আঁকে? নাটক-সিনেমা বানায়? গল্প-উপন্যাস লেখে? কিংবা স্রেফ বই পড়ে?

From bloggers to publishers to this innocent Sitar player. Who is next? A painter? Film director? A novelist? Or merely a reader?

Blogger, lawyer and activist Rayhan Rashid is critical of virtual activists who aren't coming out on the streets to protest:

ব্লগার মরছে, একটিভিস্টি মরছে, প্রকাশক মরছে, শিয়া মরছে, ধর্মান্তরি মরছে, ভিন্নধর্মী মরছে, বিদেশী মরছে, সাধু মরছে, সন্নাসী মরছে, সেতারবাদক মরছে, শিক্ষক মরছে, সংস্কৃতি কর্মী মরছে, অধিকার-কর্মী মরছে। যথারীতি প্রতিবার আমরা আবেগ ভরা বাক্যবাণ ছুঁড়ে দিচ্ছি ইথারে আর ফেসবুকে।

Bloggers, activists, publishers, shias, apostates, atheists, Hindus, foreigners, priests, saints, sitar players, professors, cultural activists, rights activists, none are being spared. And after every killing, we are venting only in Facebook and elsewhere online.

What are the militants thinking?

Blogger Nijhoom Majumdar read the documents published by the radical groups and analysed their ideology and threats. He writes in an explanatory post:

ওরা তাদের এই বইয়ে পরিষ্কারভাবে বলে দিয়েছে যে এই “ম্যান মেইড” (তাগুতি) আইন বা গণতন্ত্র ওরা মানে না এবং এটিকে তারা ধ্বংস করবেই। ধ্বংস করে ওরা খিলাফাহ প্রতিষ্ঠা করবে। ওরা কোরান ও হাদীসের থেকে সেগুলোর কম্পাটিবল আদর্শ থেকে আইন বানাবে এবং এবং বাংলাদেশের মাটিতে ওরা এটা করবেই। [..]

আনসার আল ইসলাম কোরান শরীফের বিভিন্ন সূরা বিশেষ করে সূরা তওবা, সূরা আহজাব ও সূরা বাকারার নানাবিধ আয়াত দিয়ে স্পস্ট দেখিয়ে দিয়েছে যে বর্তমান সময়ে যারা নবী, রাসূল কিংবা আল্লাহ সম্পর্কে প্রশ্ন উত্থাপন করে কিংবা সমালোচনা করে তাদের জন্য একটাই “ঔষধ” আর সেটির নাম হচ্ছে “তরবারী”। [..]

এই বই পড়ে বুঝতে পারলাম যে এই যে কয়েকটি অল্প দলে দলে ভাগ হয়ে এই ব্লগার, লেখক, শিক্ষক, ম্যাগাজিনের সম্পাদকদের হত্যা করা হচ্ছে এই পুরো নিয়মটি তারা ফলো করছে নবীর সময়কার “আবু রা’ফে” কে যে পদ্ধতিতে হত্যা করা হয়েছে সেই পদ্ধতিতে। এই পদ্ধতিতে একটি দলে ৪ থেকে ৫ জন থাকে। এরা অনেকদিন ধরে টার্গেটের বাড়ী রেকি করে, খোঁজ খবর নেয় এবং একদিন সুযোগ বুঝে ছুরি বা তলোয়ার নিয়ে কোপায়। [..]

এইরকম খুন যে তারা আরো করবে সেটি তারা তাদের ওয়েব সাইটে লিখে দিয়েছে পরিষ্কার ভাবে। হতে পারে সেটি লেখক, কবি, সাহিত্যিক, ব্লগার, সমাজ কর্মী। যে কেউ। এইসব খুন, খিলাফাহ প্রতিষ্ঠার জন্য এই নৃসংসতা সব কিছুরই একটা যুক্তি তারা দিয়েছে। সেটি হচ্ছে- মৃত্যুর পর তারা আল্লাহর কাছে “কোন মুখ” নিয়ে দাঁড়াবে কিংবা নবীর সামনে কিভাবে দাঁড়াবে যদি নবী বা আল্লাহ তাদের জিজ্ঞেস করে যে দুনিয়ায় তারা কেন আল্লাহর আইন প্রতিষ্ঠা করতে পারেনি। আর তারা এইসব ব্যার্থতার দায় নিয়ে পরকালে “জাহান্নামী” হতে চায় না, সে কারনেই তারা দুনিয়ায় এসব করছে।

They have stated their ideology clearly in that book that they do not accept democracy or man made (Taguti) rule of law. They will do anything to destroy these and establish a Caliphate. They will make laws in line with the Quran and Sunnah and establish their writ in Bangladesh. [..]

Ansar Al Islam misconstrues a few chapters in the Quran, claiming that for those who question the prophet Mohamed, other prophets and God or criticise them, there is only ‘medicine’ for them – that is the ‘sword’ or machetes.

I also understood from their book that the way they kill bloggers, writers, professors or magazine editors is copied from how Abu Ra'af was killed during the prophet's time. In that tactic each team consists of four to five assailants. They take regular surveillance of the target's life, gather intelligence and attack with machetes or swords.

They have stated on their website that they will kill more people: writers, poets, artists, bloggers or activists. They have provided their reason for these killings and establishing a Caliphate with violence. They say they have to answer God and the prophet if they fail to establish God's rule. They don't want to go to hell for their failures, so they are doing all this in their lifetime.

A tremendous loss for the LGBT community:

Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim nation, criminalises homosexuality. The colonial-era British anti-sodomy law punishes gay sex with hefty fines and prison sentences of ten years to life in jail.

Xulhaz Mannan was well-known and well regarded in the gay community in Dhaka. He was openly gay and fearless. Pakistani columnist Sabrina Toppa recalls her conversation with Xulhaz:

We talked at length about why it was so important for Roopban, Bangladesh's first LGBT magazine, to be underground, to be in Bangla, to be low in subscription numbers as long as the people who needed it found it, why no journalist needed to report on the difficulty of creating an LGBT magazine if it meant imperilling the lives of all the members involved. Xulhaz was a pragmatist, but fundamentally open to the world, regardless of its prejudice and hostilities

Xulhaz was optimistic in an interview to the Guardian:

In a country where the whole concept of sex and sexuality is a taboo, we are learning to navigate our ways by highlighting ‘love’ as the center of all, as a human right that can't be denied, hoping for better, and may be ‘faster’, acceptance.. some day!

The LGBT magazine Roopbaan, had not been condemned by the government and received some support from foreign embassies. The community had been careful to protect their identities; but it seems Xulhaz was exposed too soon.

Singer Armeen Musa writes:

Can they silence our outrage, our protests, our cries,
By making sure one by one we will die ?
It's 4:30am.
And I know you're awake.
Wondering who could be next.
Is it I?

by L. Finch at April 27, 2016 09:34 AM

Imprisoned Iranian Cartoonist Hadi Heidari Goes Free
Hadi Heidari announced his release from Evin Prison with a cartoon on his Instagram account

Hadi Heidari announced his release from Evin Prison with a cartoon on his Instagram account.

Iranian cartoonist Hadi Heidari has been freed from prison. The artist announced his release on Tuesday, April 26, in a post on Instagram, where he also thanks his friends and supporters from standing by him during his incarceration.

سلام بر آزادى! | به لطف خداوند بزرگ پس از گذراندن ايام حبس، امشب از زندان اوين آزاد شدم. از همه شما دوستاني كه در اين مدت مهر و لطف خود را شامل حال بنده و خانواده ام كرديد بى نهايت ممنونم. اميدوارم لايق محبت هايتان باشم.

Hello to freedom! By the grace of God, I was released from Evin Prison tonight after serving time. Thank you all for the kindness. I am extremely grateful to all my friends who supported me and my family during this time. Thank you. I hope I am worthy of your kindness.

Heidari gained international attention for his cartoon marking the November 2015 attacks in Paris, which left more than 120 people dead. Shortly after the publication of the cartoon, he was arrested.

Hadi Heidari's cartoon 'France cried' captured the emotions following the November 13 Paris Attacks. Image from Heidari's Facebook.

Hadi Heidari's cartoon “France cried” captured the emotions following the November 13 Paris Attacks. Image from Heidari's Facebook page.

Heidari's release marks the end of only his most recent problems with the Iranian authorities. He was first arrested in 2009 in the wake of presidential elections and again in December 2010.

That said, Heidari is no stranger to controversy. His cartoon, The Blindfolded Men, published in Shargh News, also landed the newspaper's publisher in prison in 2012. Some saw the cartoon as an insult to the veterans of the Iran-Iraq war. The day after the cartoon was published, Heidari was summoned to testify in court. (The newspaper and the publisher were ultimately acquitted of all charges.)

Global Voices reported on Heidari's arrest in 2015 here.

Iran still has artists locked up, though. For instance, Atena Farghadani, another cartoonist, remains in prison. On Monday, April 25, she heard that her 12-year sentence has been reduced to 18 months. She is scheduled to be freed from prison in mid-May.

by L. Finch at April 27, 2016 09:31 AM

Development Seed
Alley Lyfe

Even though a few months have passsed since our move to Blagden Alley, we’ve only just finally unpacked the last of the boxes. I’m sure you can relate.

We miss the garage, but our new place really feels like home. Come on by for a visit. If you come late in the day you might catch us on the deck enjoying the grill that we got as an office warming gift from one of our favorite clients. Here are a few photos of our new home, as only the talented Tatiana can capture.

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by Development Seed at April 27, 2016 12:00 AM

April 26, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
A University Professor Is Hacked to Death, Another Victim of Deadly Intolerance in Bangladesh
We Want Justice for Professor AFM Rezaul Karim Siddiquee Poster: Facebook

“What he wrote will be investigated. But someone said he only played sitar.” We Want Justice for Professor AFM Rezaul Karim Siddique. Poster: Facebook

Rezaul Karim Siddique, 58, an English professor at Rajshahi University, was found hacked to death near his home on Saturday, April 23 in Rajshahi, a northern district of Bangladesh. His death is the second targeted killing purportedly at the hands of Islamist militants this month.

Siddique was waiting for a bus to take him to campus when two or three people attacked him from behind and stabbed him in the neck. He died at the scene.

Online portal At Tamkin, which is aligned with the Amak news agency belonging to militant organization ISIS, claimed that a group called Dawatul Islam carried out the attack because Siddique “used to call people to embrace atheism.”

Bangladeshi Islamist militants have been blamed for a number of murders of secular bloggers and online activists since 2013, including the most recent killing of secular activist Nazimuddin Samad in Dhaka.

Siddique is the fourth university professor to be murdered at Rajshahi University within the last 12 years. He was a writer, sitar player and was involved with several cultural organisations. He lead a cultural group called Komol Gandhar and edited a biannual literary magazine. He also set up a music school at Bagmara, a former bastion of an outlawed Islamist group called Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).

The danger of free-thinking in Bangladesh

Siddique joins the growing list of intellectuals, bloggers and foreigners who have lost their lives in similar killings, using sharp weapons and targeting the head or neck.

According to police, in each of these attacks unidentified assailants hacked the victim to death with machetes or cleavers. Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent reportedly claimed responsibility for the the murder of the bloggers, and ISIS said it was behind the killings of the two foreigners, Italian aid worker Cesare Tavella and Japanese national Kunio Hoshi. Bangladeshi security officials, however, claim that local Islamist groups were behind the murders and that messages from ISIS and Al Qaeda were meant to cover the trail and confuse investigations.

The response of the government to the recent murders leaves much to be desired. As a non-religious parliamentary democracy, Bangladesh has no Sharia or blasphemy law, and anyone who identifies as atheist has the same rights as other citizens in the Muslim-majority country. Under the country's penal code, though, a person with “deliberate” or “malicious” intention of “hurting religious sentiments” can be prosecuted.

Addressing the murder of law student Nazimuddin Samad earlier in April, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan scolded the victims in an interview with US news channel CNN: “The bloggers, they should control their writing. Our country is a secular state. … I want to say that people should be careful not to hurt anyone by writing anything — hurt any religion, any people's beliefs, any religious leaders.”

And on the eve of Bengali New Year, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stated that it is not at all acceptable to write something hurting religious sentiments of others.

Police have only arrested some individuals, including members of a banned group called the Ansarullah Bangla Team, for involvement in a few of these murders. In December 2015, two people were convicted and sentenced to death for the 2013 killing of blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider. Haider was hacked to death on the street at the height of the Shahbag Square protests demanding the death penalty for war crimes committed during Bangladesh's liberation from Pakistan in 1971.

But no one else has been prosecuted for the killings of six other men, all of whom were targeted for their secular thinking.

As per the latest reports, police have arrested a student relating to the killing of Professor Siddique.

‘Why did they murder him so brutally?’

These killings have sparked outrage at home and abroad, with international rights groups demanding that the government bring the assailants to justice, and to protect freedom of speech and the safety of people of all sects within the country.

Will the home minister say this time that we have to investigate what the professor wrote as he edited a literary magazine titled “Komol Gandhar”?

One of Siddique's former students and Editorial Assistant at PoribortonMojaffor Hossain, speculated in a Facebook note why Siddique was targeted:

তার কোনো ব্লগ বা ফেসবুক অ্যাকাউন্ট ছিল না। অল্প কিছু কবিতা, ছোটগল্প আর চলচ্চিত্র রিভিউ লিখেছেন। বিশেষ কোনো পত্রিকাতে সেগুলো প্রকাশিত হয়নি। তার কোনো লেখা ধর্মীয় বিদ্বেষমূলক না। সামাজিক বক্তব্যধর্মী লেখা লিখতেন। আর সিটিজেন কেইন, বাইসাইকেল থিপ, পথেরপাঁচালি-চোখের বালি-মেঘে ঢাকা তারা, অমৃত কুম্ভের সন্ধানে, সিনডার লিস্ট– এসব ক্লাসিক ছবি নিয়ে লিখেছেন। তাহলে এভাবে নির্মমভাবে খুন করা হল কেন? অন্তত আমার কোনো উত্তর জানা নেই।
রেজাউল করিম স্যারের মোটাদাগে দুটি সমস্যা ছিল। আমাদের সমাজে ‘চিহ্নিত’ সমস্যা।
এক. তিনি অন্যায়ের সঙ্গে আপোশ করতেন না।…
দুই. তিনি খুব সংস্কৃতিমনা ছিলেন। …

He did not have any blog or Facebook account. He wrote a few poems, short stories and movie reviews. They were not published in reputed newspapers nor were they writings containing religious hatred. His writings had social meaning. Others were written about classic films like Citizen Kane, Bicycle Thief, Pather Panchali, Chokher Bali, Meghe Dhaka Tara, Amrita Kumbher Sandhane and Schindler's List. Then why did they murder him so brutally? I, at least, do not know the answer.

Largely, Rezaul Karim Siddique had two issues, which are identified as “problems” in our society.
One, he would not compromise with wrongdoing.
Two, he was a very cultural person.

Professor Rezaul Karim Siddique. Photo: Facebook

A boycott of classes has been called by the Rajshahi University Teachers Association over the killing:

Students of Rajshahi University carried out a protest march condemning the killing of an RU professor.

On Facebook, writer Nazrul Islam blasted the timidity of some in condemning Siddique's murder:

বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের একজন শিক্ষক খুন হলেন। ছাত্ররা চুপ, ছাত্র সংগঠনগুলো চুপ, শিক্ষকেরা চুপ, শিক্ষক সংগঠনগুলো চুপ।
একজন সেতার বাদক খুন হলেন। সাংস্কৃতিক সংগঠনগুলো চুপ, সম্মিলিত সাংস্কৃতিক জোট চুপ।
একজন সম্পাদক খুন হলেন। লেখকেরা চুপ। সবাই চুপ, কোথাও কোনো শব্দ নাই। …
যে কোনো কথা বলার আগে নিশ্চিত হতে হবে, খুন হওয়া ব্যক্তিটা কি নাস্তেক ছিলো নাকি মানুষ ছিলো? তারপর বাকি কথা সাজানো যাবে
তদন্ত করে দেখা হোক

A university professor was murdered. Yet, the students are silent; The student associations, the teachers, the teachers’ association — everyone is silent.
A sitar player was murdered. Yet, the cultural organizations, their leaders — all are silent.
An editor was murdered. Yet, writers are silent. Everyone is so quiet, not a single voice anywhere…
Before saying a single word, does it have to be checked whether the victim was an atheist or a human? And then the rest can be sorted.
Let's investigate this.

by L. Finch at April 26, 2016 09:59 AM

Iranian Cartoonist Atena Farghadani's Prison Sentence Reduced From 12 Years to 18 Months
Atena Farghadani stands trial on Tuesday May 18 for charge that include insulting members of parliament and spreading propaganda against the system. Image taken from the 'Free Atena' Facebook page.

Atena Farghadani stood trial in 2015 for charges that included insulting members of parliament and spreading propaganda against the system. Image taken from the “Free Atena” Facebook page.

Activist and cartoonist Atena Farghadani is set to be released from prison in Iran after an appeals court reduced her sentence from 12 years to 18 months.

On April 25, Journalism is Not a Crime, an organization that documents persecution of Iranian journalists, reported that she will be freed on May 11, 2016, according to her lawyer.

In 2015, Farghadani went on trial in Iran for a cartoon about access to contraception. In it, she portrayed members of Iran's parliament as animals. At the time, the country's parliament was voting on a bill to limit access to voluntary contraception.

She was tried in what is called a Revolutionary Court, which are known to hand down harsh sentences for minor offenses.

In June 2015, Farghadani was convicted on charges of spreading propaganda against the system, insulting members of parliament through paintings, and insulting the supreme leader, and sentenced to 12 years in prison. At the time, Hadi Ghaemi of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran commented, “The peaceful expression of dissent remains a red line in Iran. Cross it and you risk prison time.”

According to Human Rights Watch, Farghadani may have been a particular target because of her connection to the families of political prisoners who died in prison following Iran's flawed presidential elections in 2009.

Throughout her custody, Farghadani has faced violence at the hands of authorities. According to a report from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran (see pdf):

On 10 January 2015, Ms. Atena Farghdani was summoned to branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court, where she was arrested and subsequently beaten in front of her parents. Upon Ms. Atena’s protest, she was taken to a court room, where she was insulted and beaten again, this time allegedly in front of a court judge. […] Of the two months in detention, she reportedly spent 20 days in solitary confinement and was also subject to a harsh bodily search and mistreatment. She also allegedly engaged in a hunger strike to protest her prison conditions, lack of access to defense lawyer and contacts with family members.

According to a different UN report, she was also “reportedly forced to take virginity and pregnancy tests,” which Iranian authorities justified as a response to “allegations of sexual assault against her on some websites.”

Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Ann Telnaes urged vigilance to ensure Farghadani is released:

For past coverage on Global Voices of Atena Farghadani's case:

by L. Finch at April 26, 2016 09:57 AM

April 24, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Azerbaijan's Hunger Games: Independent Media on the Brink
Meydan.tv homepage. Screenshot taken on April 24.

Meydan TV homepage. Screenshot taken on April 24.

A strategically-placed oil-producing state in the Caucasus, Azerbaijan hosted the European Games last year, and despite some of the worst authoritarianism in the ex-Soviet region retains healthy relations with the West.

But for what remains of its independent press and beleaguered opposition, life in the country is much more reminiscent of the “Hunger Games” film and book series than any glitzy sporting event.

Most recently, on April 20, the state prosecutor's office launched a criminal investigation targeting Meydan TV, a dissident media outlet founded by former political prisoner Emin Milli and operating from headquarters in Berlin.

The probe alleges the outlet is guilty of illegal profiteering and large-scale tax evasion according to the lawyer representing it Elchin Sadigov.

A day later, on April 21, the prosecutor's office named 15 individuals in the criminal investigation launched against Meydan TV, some of whom are journalists based in Azerbaijan.

While no one has been officially charged, a number of Meydan TV reporters are facing travel bans and have been questioned.

Along with the Azeri service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), multimedia Meydan TV is one of the few outlets providing regular coverage of the Azeri rights crackdown from inside the country.

The outlet's founder and leader Emin Milli spoke out against the charges on Meydan TV:

Bir daha bəyan edirik ki, Azərbaycan hökuməti bu cür absurd cinayət işi ilə söz azadlığına, jurnalist fəaliyyətinə əngəl törədir və demokratiya mühitini boğur. Meydan TV rəhbərliyi irəli sürülən ittihamları rədd edir və bundan sonra da fəaliyyətini dayandırmayacaq.

We declare yet again, by opening this absurd criminal investigation the government of Azerbaijan is creating barriers to freedom of speech, and journalism activity, as well as suffocating democratic environment. Meydan TV rejects all the allegations and has no intention to stop its work.

Disclaimer: the author of this post is former English language editor of Meydan TV and a regular contributor to the website.

No let up

Such heavy handed probes into the activities of independent journalists marks a return to normalcy following the release of 14 political prisoners ahead of President Ilham Aliyev's visit to Washington DC to attend the Nuclear and Security Summit.

Aliyev inherited the presidential throne from former communist boss and father Heydar, and has shown even less regard for freedom of expression and other basic human rights.

As the country's economy suffers under the strain of low oil prices, the regime has looked ever more like the brutal game designers envisioned by American author Suzanne Collins, and later turned into a series of popular films.

Meydan journalists have faced scaled-up persecution since 2014 — the year when global prices for Azerbaijan's main export shrank by half — with detentions, impromptu tax inspections, and other forms of harassment in the last two years.

According to the Index on Censorship's senior advocacy officer Melody Patry:

Meydan TV and its staff have been ruthlessly targeted by Azerbaijani authorities. The charges invoked against Meydan TV are of similar nature to the charges that were used to send [other] journalists and government critics to prison. This investigation confirms the government has no intention of changing its approach toward independent media and free expression in the country.

by Arzu Geybullayeva at April 24, 2016 04:59 PM

April 23, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Malaysia Will Likely Force ‘Political Blogs’ and News Websites to Register With the Government
Bloggers in Malaysia brace themselves for state-mandated registration. Image edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Bloggers in Malaysia brace themselves for state-mandated registration. Image edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Malaysia’s Communications and Multimedia Ministry has formally proposed legal amendments to the Attorney General that would require the country's political blogs and online news portals to register with the government. Minister Salleh Said Keruak denies that the legislation amounts to censorship, arguing that the proposal is designed to preserve the Internet as a tool for promoting Malaysia's economic growth, and meant to protect the country against internal divisions brought about by misleading information published online, he says.

Human rights groups and media freedom advocates denounced the proposal as a curtailment of free speech, saying the move reverses the government's earlier stated commitment to promoting Internet freedom.

Critics of Malaysia's ruling political party say the push to force political blogs to register with the state is a desperate tactic meant to silence dissent. Since last year, the government has struggled against a corruption scandal that's sparked mass protests across the country. Internet users, including bloggers, are some of the prime minister's most vocal detractors, accusing him of ill-gotten gains in several dubious transactions. State censors have already blocked a handful of news websites for reporting allegedly ”unverified” information about the corruption issue.

Many bloggers who fear the proposed amendments recall recent comments by the communications minister, who said Internet freedom is a privilege, not a right, and is something the government can curtail.:

…freedom of speech and the expressing of one’s opinion is almost taken for granted. What we sometimes forget, however, is that this must be treated as a privilege rather than an absolute right. And privileges, if abused, can sometimes be withdrawn.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, critics rallied around the hashtag #BiarlahBlog (Let Blogs Be), standing against mandatory registration for political blogs in Malaysia. The legislation's opponents say the amendments don't specify what constitutes a “political blog,” and warn that the new restrictions could be widely damaging to Internet use in Malaysia. Twitter users are calling on the government to reconsider its plan, and instead conduct public consultations, before trying to revise the amendments any further.

Below are some of the points raised by activists, journalists, lawyers, teachers, and bloggers about the issue:

by Kevin Rothrock at April 23, 2016 03:55 AM

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