Posts Tagged ‘Internet rights’

Report Freedom on the Net, 2021

October 12, 2021

Freedom on the Net 2021 finds that while some democratic governments have made good-faith attempts to regulate the technology industry, state intervention in the digital sphere worldwide has contributed to the 11th consecutive year of global decline in internet freedom.

Governments around the world are increasingly asserting their authority over technology platforms, forcing businesses to comply with censorship and surveillance and contributing to an 11th consecutive year of global decline in internet freedom, according to Freedom on the Net 2021, the annual country-by-country assessment of internet freedom released today by Freedom House.

Global norms shifted dramatically toward greater state intervention in the digital sphere over the past year. Of the 70 states covered by Freedom on the Net 2021, 48 pursued legal or administrative action against technology companies. Some measures reflected legitimate attempts to mitigate online harms, rein in misuse of data, or end manipulative market practices. Many governments, however, proposed new policies that obliged businesses to remove content and share personal data with authorities, at great cost to free expression, privacy, and public accountability.

This change in the balance of power between companies and states has come amid a historic crackdown on freedom of expression online. In 56 countries, officials arrested or convicted people for their online speech. Governments suspended internet access in at least 20 countries, and 21 states blocked access to social media platforms, most often during times of political turmoil such as protests and elections. Authorities in at least 45 countries are suspected of obtaining sophisticated spyware or data-extraction technology from private vendors.

“The rights of internet users around the world, especially the rights to free expression and privacy, are being massively violated as a result of recent state actions,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “Instead of using regulation to curb the immense power of tech companies, many governments are wielding it for their own repressive purposes.”

The decision by several platforms to deactivate the accounts of outgoing US president Donald Trump—in the wake of the January 6 assault on the Capitol—intensified concerns about the arbitrary power of a few firms to shape political debate, as well as their responsibility to stem offline violence. The move sparked a plethora of new regulatory and legislative proposals, including bad-faith attempts to prevent companies from moderating the accounts of politicians and state-run media. Tech companies faced high-profile showdowns with illiberal and authoritarian leaders in India, Nigeria, Russia, and Turkey that will have global implications for the future of free expression online.

“In these high-stakes battles between governments and tech companies, human rights risk becoming the main casualties,” said Adrian Shahbaz, director for technology and democracy at Freedom House. “Given the examples to date, you can hardly blame people for being skeptical that government regulation will lead to greater protection of their rights online. Regulations should ensure that power does not accumulate in the hands of a few dominant actors, whether in government or the private sector.”

Internet freedom plummeted by 14 points in Myanmar—the largest annual decline ever recorded on Freedom on the Net’s 100-point scale—after the military refused to accept the results of the November 2020 general elections and launched a deadly coup in February 2021. Electoral disputes also led to major internet freedom declines in Belarus, where authoritarian incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka claimed victory in a fraudulent presidential election in August 2020, and Uganda, where authorities shut off the internet and blocked social media platforms during marred general elections in January 2021. In addition, officials in both Myanmar and Belarus sought to silence independent online media by shutting down news outlets and harassing, assaulting, and torturing online journalists.

“Governments everywhere are invoking a vague need to retake control of the internet—whether from foreign powers, multinational corporations, or even civil society,” said Shahbaz. “In the absence of a shared vision for a free and open internet, many states are imposing restrictions on the free flow of information across borders, denying people access to life-changing tools based solely on their location. This fragmentation is diminishing the emancipatory power of the internet.”

“The daunting complexity of internet regulation makes it all the more important for democracies to take the lead and set a high bar by introducing regulatory approaches that protect human rights online and preserve a free and open internet,” said Allie Funk, senior research analyst for technology and democracy at Freedom House. “The laissez-faire approach to the tech industry spurred some forms of innovation, but it has also created opportunities for authoritarian manipulation, data exploitation, and widespread malfeasance. Democratic governments should pursue well-crafted regulations that tackle these problems while protecting people’s rights to express themselves, share information across borders, and hold the powerful to account.”

KEY FINDINGS:

  • Global internet freedom declined for the 11th consecutive year. The greatest deteriorations were documented in Myanmar, Belarus, and Uganda, where state forces cracked down amid electoral and constitutional crises.
  • Governments clashed with technology companies on users’ rights. Authorities in at least 48 countries pursued new rules for tech companies on content, data, and competition over the past year. With a few positive exceptions, the push to regulate the tech industry, which stems in some cases from genuine problems like online harassment and manipulative market practices, is being exploited to subdue free expression and gain greater access to private data.
  • Free expression online is under unprecedented strain. More governments arrested users for nonviolent political, social, or religious speech than ever before. Officials suspended internet access in at least 20 countries, and 21 states blocked access to social media platforms. Authorities in at least 45 countries are suspected of obtaining sophisticated spyware or data-extraction technology from private vendors.
  • China ranks as the worst environment for internet freedom for the seventh year in a row. Chinese authorities imposed draconian prison terms for online dissent, independent reporting, and mundane daily communications. The COVID-19 pandemic remains one of the most heavily censored topics. Officials also cracked down on the country’s tech giants, citing their abuses related to competition and data protection, though the campaign further concentrated power in the hands of the authoritarian state.
  • The United States’ score declined for the fifth consecutive year. False, misleading, and manipulated information continued to proliferate online, even affecting public acceptance of the 2020 presidential election results. The new administration took promising steps to enforce stronger protections for internet users.
  • State intervention must protect human rights online and preserve an open internet. The emancipatory power of the internet depends on its egalitarian nature. To counter digital authoritarianism, democracies should ensure that regulations enable users to express themselves freely, share information across borders, and hold the powerful to account.

Freedom on the Net 2021 assesses internet freedom in 70 countries, accounting for 88 percent of internet users worldwide. The report focused on developments that occurred between June 2020 and May 2021. Detailed country reports, data on 21 internet freedom indicators, and policy recommendations can be found at freedomonthenet.org.

In the high-stakes battle between states and technology companies, the rights of internet users have become the main casualties. Illustration by Mitch Blunt

Freedom on the Net 2021: The Global Drive to Control Big Tech

In the high-stakes battle between states and technology companies, the rights of internet users have become the main casualties, according to Freedom on the Net 2021, the annual country-by-country assessment of internet freedom released by Freedom House. Read the Report

https://freedomhouse.org/article/new-report-global-battle-over-internet-regulation-has-major-implications-human-rights

“.org” saved – human rights defenders happy

May 1, 2020
On Friday, 1 May 2020 announced – with justified satisfaction – a ‘Stunning Victory’ in the efforts to #SaveDotOrg from private equity takeover. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/27/the-favourite-domain-of-human-rights-ngos-org-at-risk/]
Critics of the proposed private equity takeover of the .org domain held a protest in Los Angeles in January 2020.

In a move celebrated by advocacy groups across the globe as “a major victory for the millions of nonprofits, civil society organizations, and individuals who make .org their home online,” a body that oversees web addresses on Thursday blocked a takeover of the top-level domain by the private equity firm Ethos Capital. The decision by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) board to reject the $1.1 billion deal, announced in November 2019, came ahead of a May 4 deadline and followed months of mounting concerns that the takeover could lead to censorship from corporate interests, increased costs, and service issues.

…ICANN’s board explained the decision with a blog post which said in part that “after completing its evaluation, the ICANN board finds that the public interest is better served in withholding consent as a result of various factors that create unacceptable uncertainty over the future of the third largest [generic top-level domain] registry.”

Critics of the attempted private equity takeover—who came together for a global #SaveDotOrg campaign—included NGOs, tech leaders, U.S. lawmakers, and U.N. special rapporteurs. According to the tech nonprofit NTEN, which managed SaveDotOrg.org, nearly 900 groups and 64,000 individuals signed various petitions opposing the sale.

The favourite domain of human rights NGOs, “.ORG”, at risk

January 27, 2020

David Gilbert in Vice.com of 24 January and Caitlin Harrington in the The Cascadia Advocate of 26 January 2020 (among others) address an important issue that could affect many human righs NGOs and thus human rights defenders. A private equity fund (backed by three prominent Republican billionaire families) is expected to buy the dot-org domain, throwing into question whether the online safe haven for rights organizations and nonprofits could now face censorship or spiralling costs. Ethos Capital has offered $1 billion for the domain, which is currently operated by a nonprofit.

[Back in the fall of 2019, the private equity firm Ethos Capital announced its plans to buy the Public Interest Registry (PIR) for more than $1 billion. PIR is owned by the Internet Society and manages the .ORG domain registry, which since 1985 has been used by nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like the Northwest Progressive Institute (NPI). Dot org is what is known as top layer domain… the last part of a uniform resource locator (URL), or web address. For example, nwprogressive.org. Dot-org is home to over 10 million URLs, making it the third-largest domain on the internet today. A huge variety of organizations use the domain ending, from massive multinational organizations like UNICEF to local libraries and animal shelters. PIR is a nonprofit entity that has been managing the registry and setting the prices that owners pay when they register .ORG domains.]

In a letter to the Internet Society from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an ally of NPI that opposes the sale, it was explained that this move could cause significant harm to nonprofits and NGOs. They argue that without oversight from an appropriate placement, the registry would have the power to make policy changes that would detrimental to .ORG stakeholders, including:

  • The power to raise .org registration fees without the approval of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) or the .ORG community. A .ORG price hike would put many cash-strapped NGOs in the difficult position of either paying the increased fees or losing the legitimacy and brand recognition of a .ORG domain. [Yearly fees for .ORG sites are, on average, between $10 to $20.]
  • The power to develop and implement Rights Protection Mechanisms unilaterally, without consulting the .org community. If such mechanisms are not carefully crafted in collaboration with the NGO community, they risk censoring completely legal nonprofit activities.
  • The power to implement processes to suspend domain names based on accusations of “activity contrary to applicable law. ”The .ORG registry should not implement such processes without understanding how state actors frequently target NGOs with allegations of illegal activity.

NPI cosigned EFF’s letter, with NPI’s founder and Executive Director Andrew Villeneuve explaining: “The pending sale is of great concern to NPI because we own a significant number of .org domains. We could be affected by price hikes and bad policies imposed by the proposed new owner.”…….Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, was among those expressing grave concern and opposition at the time the sale was announced.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation also made the point in their letter opposing the sale, that back in 2002, amid similar talks of selling the .ORG registry, ISOC’s then president and CEO Lynn St. Amour assured the NGOs worldwide that the registry would continue to be accountable to the nonprofit sector.

Erik Brooks, founder and CEO of Ethos Capital, stated in a public blog post that the firm is investing in “the long-term vitality of .ORG and its users” and that “PIR’s partnership with Ethos will create new opportunities for PIR to provide enhanced services and support to the .ORG community.” He also promised that these enhanced services will be developed “in collaboration with the community.” But last month, ICANN published documents with the names of three directors of Ethos Capital involved in the sale redacted, which only deepened the concerns of nonprofits and NGOs.

….Tarleton argued the Washington Secretary of State’s office should be forcefully opposing the sale and calling attention to it. “This is the slippery slope of privatization that happens when no one is paying attention,” she warned.

….“We’re confident that this is in the best interests of the registry, in the best interests of the registrants, and in the best interest of the whole internet,” Andrew Sullivan, CEO of the Internet Society, a nonprofit that oversees the domain, told VICE News. But critics of the move say the promises made by Ethos Capital are not backed by any legal obligations. They also say there’s a problematic lack of transparency about the sale and who will be running the new organization overseeing the domain. So a group of respected internet pioneers and nonprofit leaders have come forward to offer an alternative proposition. But they don’t have $1 billion to offer.

This week the Internet Society and ICANN approved a 30-day extension to the process, giving both sides until 20 February to approve the sale. “This is by far the largest outpouring of public concern ICANN has ever seen,” Malthouse said. “It’s a huge opportunity for ICANN to prove it has the courage to stand behind its founding principles.”

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/wxenaz/3-billionaire-republican-families-are-about-to-buy-the-dot-org-domain-thats-terrifying-nonprofits

NPI’s Gael Tarleton warns proposed sale of .ORG domain registry could harm nonprofits

Targeting of Digital Rights Defenders in Ecuador, Argentina, and Beyond

December 25, 2019
Danny O’Brien wrote in Electronic Frontier Foundation of 19 December 2019 that “More Than Thirty Human Rights Groups Protest the Targeting of Digital Rights Defenders”.

…And some human rights defenders are technologists: building tools to defend or enhance the practice of human rights, and calling out the errors or lies of those who might misuse technology against its users. At this year’s Internet Governance Forum in Berlin, civil society groups mourned a growing trend around the world: the targeted harassment and detention of digital rights defenders by the powerful. Digital rights defenders includes technologists who work to create or investigate digital tools, and who work to improve the security and privacy of vital infrastructure like the Internet, and e-voting devices. As the declaration, signed by a coalition NGOs notes:

The work digital rights defenders do in defense of privacy is fundamental for the protection of human rights. When they raise awareness about the existence of vulnerabilities in systems, they allow the public and private sector to find solutions that improve infrastructure and software security for the benefit of the public. Furthermore, their work as security advisers for journalists and human rights activists is of vital importance for the safety of journalists, activists and other human rights defenders.

The problem is not confined to, but is particular pressing in Latin America. As 2019 draws to a close, Swedish security researcher Ola Bini remains in a state of legal limbo in Ecuador after a politically-led prosecution sought to connect his work building secure communication tools to a vague and unsubstantiated conspiracy of Wikileaks-related hacking. Meanwhile in Argentina, e-voting activist Javier Smaldone remains the target of a tenuous hacking investigation.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/08/bloggers-and-technologists-who-were-forced-offline-in-2018/

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2019/12/over-thirty-human-rights-groups-protest-targeting-digital-rights-defenders-ecuador

Bikes and digital power for human rights defenders in Africa

April 27, 2018
Africa remains a continent of contrasts, also with regard to human rights defenders. Just to illustrate:
(1) Bikes for human rights defenders: Girls Empowerment Network (GENET) in Malawi has donated 30 bicycles to child protection groups in Dowa district to assist in its ongoing girl child protection programs. Speaking in an interview with the Malawi News Agency Mana after giving out the support at Kayembe Primary school, GENET Programs Officer, Twambilile Kayuni said their organization thought of providing the support as one way of easing transportation challenges among girl child protection groups in the area. “As GENET, we thought it critical to ease the challenge of transport among our village child protection groups so that when any violence has happened to a child they should be able to rush to the scene and take action“. She added that the bicycles have been given to all schools in the area, human rights defenders, mother groups, Area Development Committees (ADCs) and chiefs in order to assist in their child protection duties in a more coordinated manner…Group Village Headwoman Siwinda said:”In my area many girls were being forced to marry but now with the coming of GENET through COMIC relief and OXFAM Malawi things have changed and as of now many girls have gone back to school,” said GVH Siwinda.

UN Rapporteur urges Nauru to revoke measures that affect human rights defenders and asylum seekers

May 25, 2015

Credit: OHCHR
Where possible I like to extend coverage to countries that normally do not figure highly in the news. This press statement of 22 May 2015 from the UN Human Rights Office provides the occasion to zoom in on the Pacific island of Nauru.

Voicing concern over recent amendments to the Criminal Code in Nauru which “unduly restrict” freedom of expression, a United Nations expert on the issue today urged the Government to revoke such measures to fulfil its human rights obligations. “These new laws could be used to muzzle dissenting opinions and deter human rights defenders, academics, journalists, students, politicians and civil society members”, David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, warned.

Ambiguous and imposing harsh penalties, the amended Criminal Code also includes up to seven years in prison for a wide range of legitimate expression, according to Mr. Kaye. Nauru has also curtailed the freedom of press. It imposed a prohibitive $6,500 fee for a single entry visa for foreign journalists in 2014.

Nauru should allow free space for expression without fear of criminal prosecution,” he said, adding that “it should lift all restrictions to access internet and social media, and facilitate access to the media in the country.” Since April, the authorities have blocked access to social media and internet to prevent pornography and “cyberbullying” and to protect the national culture. These restrictions, however, are “designed to prevent asylum seekers and refugees in the country from sharing information on their situation,” stressed the independent expert.

United Nations News Centre – UN rights expert urges Nauru to revoke measures that could ‘muzzle’ dissent.

Vacancy at APC: Internet outreach and capacity-building coordinator for Maghreb region

March 18, 2014

The Association for Progressive Communications [APC] is partnering with a number of member organisations to build a culture of online human rights and digital security through capacity building and networking of human rights defenders in the Maghreb-Machrek region. The project aims to make regulatory frameworks governing the internet in the region more rights-oriented and to empower human rights defenders, women’s rights groups and others in civil society to use the internet effectively, safely and securely. 

As part of this project, APC is hiring an Internet rights outreach and capacity-building coordinator. Information on the job is available at:
https://www.apc.org/en/news/job-opportunity-internet-rights-outreach-and-capac
The deadline for application is 24 March 2014!