Posts Tagged ‘internet’

Anti-Censorship initiative with free VPN accounts for human rights defenders

July 15, 2020

On 14 July Business-Wire reported that the VPN company TunnelBear has partnered with NGOs to give away 20,000 accounts (these NGOs inlcude Access Now, Frontline Defenders, Internews, and one other undisclosed participant).

This program aims to empower individuals and organizations with the tools they need to browse a safe and open internet environment, regardless of where they live. The VPN provider is encouraging other NGOs or media organizations across the world to reach out if they too are in need of support. “At TunnelBear, we strongly believe in an open and uncensored internet. Whenever we can use our technology to help people towards that end, we will,” said TunnelBear Cofounder Ryan Dochuk.

TunnelBear’s VPN encrypts its user’s internet traffic to enable a private and censor-free browsing experience.

By undergoing and releasing independent audits of their systems, adopting open source tools, and collaborating with the open source community, TunnelBear has proven itself to be an industry leader in the VPN space and a valuable private sector partner within the internet freedom movement. Internews is happy to support TunnelBear in extending its VPN service to the media organizations, journalists, activists, and human rights defenders around the globe who can benefit from it,” said Jon Camfield, Director of Global Technology Strategy at Internews.

Contact: Shames Abdelwahab press@tunnelbear.com

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/23/trump-now-starts-dismanteling-the-open-technology-fund/

https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200714005302/en/TunnelBear-Kicks-Anti-Censorship-Initiative-Free-Accounts-Activists

International Women’s Day 2020: Dad, a digital warrior in Pakistan

March 9, 2020

With her “Hack the patriarchy” laptop stickers, Nighat Dad is a digital warrior. But this human rights award winner and founder of Pakistan”s first cyber-harassment helpline still tears up as she describes receiving calls from women afraid of being killed by male relatives for using the internet. Nighat Dad established the help line in 2016 with prize money (100,000 euros) from the Dutch human rights award, the Tulip

Much of Pakistani society lives under the patriarchal, outdated code of so-called “honour” that systemises the oppression of women by preventing them from, for example, choosing their own husband or working outside the home. Activists have denounced pervasive, sometimes deadly violence by men — usually male relatives — against women who break those taboos. The situation is dire enough in the offline world.

But Pakistan is only just beginning to grapple with what violent notions of honour mean for women online, in a country where internet penetration is at 22 percent and growing, but digital literacy is low.

Much of the work the helpline does is to explain to women what recourse they have. Social media companies are playing ball, Dad says — some have even agreed to establish “escalation channels” for getting content off the internet quickly when a woman”s life is in immediate danger. But she warns that community guidelines developed by such companies, usually US-based, are not appropriate in Pakistan. “I think they need to do more,” Dad says. More than three years on, the Tulip money has run out. Now the helpline survives only by the grace of small grants from groups such as the Netherlands-based Digital Defenders Partnership, which supports rights activists.

…. She cites last year”s International Women”s Day march in Pakistan, which saw women turn out in unprecedented numbers loudly celebrating divorce and periods, among other things. The response was swift and shocking in its intensity, with Dad describing mullahs making rape and death threats against the march organisers in videos widely distributed online. The 2016 murder of social media star Qandeel Baloch has also impacted her, she says. Baloch divided Pakistan with her videos and selfies, tame by Western standards but provocative in Pakistan. She was strangled by her brother in 2016 in what has been called the country”s most high-profile “honour” killing.

She was a hero for me… she did what she wanted to do, and not every woman can do this in Pakistan,” Dad says.

Dad says she cannot help but see the similarities between herself and Baloch. They are from similar backgrounds, both left abusive marriages, and both have gained fame by loudly challenging social taboos online — though admittedly not in quite the same way. Her murder “shook me badly,” she tells AFP. “It was enough to shake us all.”

……

https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/nighat-dad-pakistans-digital-warrior-battling-the-patriarchy/1755905

https://www.rferl.org/a/pakistani-lawyer-fights-abuse-of-women-who-dare-to-go-online/30469845.html

Nigeria: almost a hundred NGOs call on the Senate to reject Anti-Social Media Bill

March 5, 2020

Gabriel Ewepu in the Vanguard of 5 March 2020 reports that 95 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), under the auspices of Coalition of Civil Society Organizations for Protection of Civic Space, called on the Nigerian Senate to reject the Anti-Social Media Bill. This call was contained in a statement signed by leaders of the 95 during a media conference in Abuja. The statement reads in part:

Read the rest of this entry »

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

ICJ Report on freedom of information in South East Asia especially on-line

December 23, 2019

Malaysian cartoonist Zunar helps launch a report by the International Commission of Jurists at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand.  (Photo by Osama Motiwala/ICJ))
Malaysian cartoonist Zunar helps launch a report by the International Commission of Jurists at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand.  (Photo by Osama Motiwala/ICJ))

On 16 December 2019 Dave Kendall wrote in the Bankok Post about the International Commission of Jurists(ICJ), having released a report called Dictating the internet: Curtailing free expression, opinion and information online in Southeast Asia. The report was presetned at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, where some of the human rights defenders featured in the case studies participated in a panel discussion. The Malaysian cartoonist Zunar, [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/18/fight-through-cartoons-zunar/] drew a cartoon live on stage; it showed a government figure placing handcuffs around the two ‘O’s in the word Google.

The ICJ has a slightly different take from other non-governmental organisations that seek to protect freedom of speech. For the ICJ, the law is both the problem and the solution: Southeast Asian governments use existing laws and draft new ones to stifle dissent, violating international statutes upholding freedom of expression that they themselves have signed onto. The report calls for governments in Southeast Asia to “repeal, amend or otherwise rectify existing legal and regulatory frameworks to bring them in line with their international obligations” — and argues that “legislation framed in human rights terms is also the best and most effective way to protect against the very real threats posed by the spread of hate speech, disinformation online, cyber-attacks and other cybercrimes.

From left: ICJ director of Asia and the Pacific Frederick Rawski, Myanmar surgeon Ma Thida, human rights defender Sutharee Wannasiri, Singaporean activist Jolovan Wham and Malaysian cartoonist Zunar (Photo by Dave Kendall)

“It’s not a pretty picture,Frederick Rawski, ICJ director of Asia and the Pacific told the forum. “Laws are used to harass and threaten human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and others…New legal frameworks are being seen as an opportunity to consolidate and protect political power.” Corporations, too, have joined the party. “Businesses are using strategic lawsuits to avoid criticism, claiming they are protecting their businesses interests,Sutharee Wannasiri told the audience. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/04/international-civil-society-week-3-human-rights-defenders-engaging-business/]. The human rights activist is out on bail.

Governments have often cited vague concepts of “national security” and “public order” to justify using disproportionate means to shut down opposing views, sometimes even when privately expressed. “I was sentenced to 23 years in prison in 1993,” said Dr Ma Thida, a Myanmar surgeon, writer, and human rights activist. “The first charge was ‘endangering national serenity’.” She said the use of speech-suppressing colonial-era laws such as the National Secrets Act has actually increased since Aung San Suu Kyi joined the Myanmar government.

Governments across Southeast Asia vary in the subtlety — or otherwise — they employ in using the law to stifle dissent. “The police were very nice to me,” recalled Jolovan Wham, a Singaporean civil and labour rights activist [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/24/human-rights-defender-jolovan-wham-in-singapore-sentenced-ngos-dismayed/]. “They asked me, ‘Is the room too cold? Would you like some biscuits?’ Singapore introduced its Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act this year. “Singapore has a very good PR machine… they use democratic processes for authoritarian ends,” said Mr Wham. “They made a show of democratic consultation to justify this repressive law.

The ICJ report was welcomed by Sutawan Chanprasert, the founder of DigitalReach, a new organisation campaigning to protect digital rights in Southeast Asia. “The report shows that while technology gives more opportunities for people to express themselves on social media, the state is moving to control the online space too,” she told the Bangkok Post. “Under repressive ‘fake news’ laws, any content can be interpreted as ‘fake’, ‘false’ and ‘misleading’. And tech has provided a new kind of threat to freedom of expression– digital surveillance of political dissidents.

Possibility to apply for the African School on Internet Governance scholarships

May 21, 2019

Objectives of AfriSIG. AfriSIG’s primary goal is to give Africans from multiple sectors and stakeholder groups the opportunity to gain knowledge that will enable them to participate confidently and effectively in national, regional and global internet governance processes and debates. AfriSIG seeks also to give fellows the opportunity to participate actively at the AfIGF as speakers, moderators, and rapporteurs. The dates and location of this year’s AfIGF are still to be confirmed.

Curriculum

The School will run throughout six days, and will be structured to include intensive learning and knowledge sharing that covers: An overview of internet governance concepts, issues and institutions; Internet architecture, infrastructure, standards and protocols and management of internet names and numbers; Internet governance and social issues: gender, human rights and development; Cybersecurity, multistakeholder approaches and emerging issues in internet governance such as algorithms and the “internet of things”; The highlight of the school is a practicum in which participants have to tackle an actual internet-related policy challenge and come up with an agreed solution or statement.

Eligibility

The School will accept applications from a wide range of professionals including human rights defenders and NGO leaders.

Costs and Scholarships

Applicants can apply for a scholarship to attend the school. However, given the limited number of scholarships, self-funded and sponsored applicants are encouraged to apply. The full course fee, which covers accommodation, meals, course material, and tuition, is USD 2,000. This excludes travel. Scholarships will cover air travel, shared accommodation and meal costs for the duration of the School. Successful applicants have the option of staying in a single room, but they would need to cover the additional cost themselves. The deadline for applications is Saturday, 1 June 2019.

For more information, visit the AfriSIG website

To apply please complete the form here

Apply for the African School on Internet Governance scholarships

NGOs urge Putin not to sign Russia’s “Sovereign Internet Bill”

April 28, 2019

Participants in an opposition rally in central Moscow protest against tightening state control over the internet in Russia, 10 March 2019
Participants in an opposition rally in central Moscow protest against tightening state control over the internet in Russia, 10 March 2019  Igor Russak/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

On 24 April 2019 nine major human rights, media and Internet freedom NGOs, called on Russian President Vladmir Putin, not to sign the so-called “Sovereign Internet Bill” as it will lead to further limitations of already restricted Internet and media freedoms in the country.

The bill (No. 608767-7) amends the laws “On Communications” and “On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection” and states its aim as enabling the Russian Internet to operate independently from the World Wide Web in the event of an emergency or foreign threat. On 16 April 2019, the Russian State Duma approved the bill in the third reading amid widespread domestic criticism, protests and online campaigning around the country, and on 22 April, the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, approved it. If signed by President Vladimir Putin, the bill would enter into force on 1 November 2019.

The bill creates a system that gives the authorities the capacity to block access to parts of the Internet in Russia, potentially ranging from cutting access to particular Internet Service Providers (ISPs) through to cutting all access to the Internet throughout Russia.

The bill gives control over Internet network routing to the state regulator for Telecommunications, Information Technologies and Mass Communications, Roskomnadzor. It provides that the ISPs should connect with other ISPs, or “peer,” at Internet exchange points (IXes) approved by the authorities, and that these IXes should not allow unapproved ISPs to peer. The bill would also create a centralised system of devices capable of blocking Internet traffic. The bill requires ISPs to install the devices, which the government would provide free of charge, in their networks.

Under this system, Roskomnadzor would monitor threats to Russia’s Internet access and transmit instructions to ISPs through the special devices about countering these threats. Cross-border Internet traffic would be kept under close state control. The draft does not specify what the range of instructions would be, but they could potentially include partially or fully blocking traffic both between Russia and the rest of the World Wide Web, and within Russia. Nor does the draft explain how the new equipment will work, or what specifically it will do. It is clear, however, that blocking would result from direct interaction between the government and the ISP and that it will be extrajudicial and nontransparent. The public would not know what has been blocked and why.

The bill states that the new measures will be activated in the event of a ‘security threat’. The draft does not define security threats, and instead gives the government full discretion to decide what would constitute a security threat and what range of measures would be activated using the new system to address a threat.

The bill also states that Russian ISPs remain obligated to filter and block content in accordance with existing Russian law.

Further, the bill creates a national domain name system (DNS) – a system that acts as the address-book for the Internet by allowing anyone to look up the address of the server(s) hosting the URL of a website they are looking for. The bill would require Internet providers to start using the national DNS from 1 January 2021. Forcing ISPs to use the national system will give Russian authorities the ability to manipulate the results provided to the ISP outside the ISP’s knowledge and control. Authorities will be able to answer any user’s request for a website address with either a fake address or no address at all. This not only allows them to conduct fine-grained censorship but will also let the national DNS to redirect users to government-controlled servers in response to any DNS requests instead of to a website’s authentic servers.

These proposals are very broad, overly vague, and vest in the government unlimited and opaque discretion to define threats. They carry serious risks to the security and safety of commercial and private users and undermine the rights to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom.

The bill contravenes standards on freedom of expression and privacy protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to which Russia is a party. Both treaties allow states to limit freedoms to protect national security but impose clear criteria for such limitations to be valid. The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, commenting on the ICCPR, has reiterated that these limits should be “provided by law, which is clear and accessible to everyone,” and be predictable and transparent.

Human Rights Watch, ARTICLE 19 and other undersigned organisations are extremely concerned that the changes introduced in the bill threaten human rights and freedoms in Russia. Open, secure and reliable connectivity is essential for human rights online, including the rights to freedom of expression, information, assembly, privacy and media freedom. The bill could pose a threat to the Internet’s rights-enabling features if access to the World Wide Web is wholly or partially cut off, or if arbitrary blocking and filtering of content is carried out. It would facilitate state surveillance and curb anonymity online. It also risks severely isolating people in Russia from the rest of the world, limiting access to information and constraining attempts at collective action and public protest. The Bill’s negative impact on the freedom of expression will also affect the rights of journalists and media to work freely.

The adoption of the bill should be seen in the context of other Russian legislation that severely undermines protection of freedom of expression and privacy online and fails to meet international human rights standards. These include:

. The 2016 ‘Yarovaya Law,’ which requires all communications providers and Internet operators to store metadata about their users’ communications activities, to disclose decryption keys at the security services’ request, and to use only encryption methods approved by the Russian government. It was adopted to allegedly counter ‘extremism’ but in practice, it creates a backdoor for Russia’s security agents to access Internet users’ data, traffic, and communications.

. In 2017, Federal Law 327-FZ made amendments to the ‘Lugovoi Law’ (Federal Law FZ-398, 2013) that gave the General Prosecutor or his/her deputies a right to block access to any online resource of a foreign or international NGOs designated ‘undesirable’; and, to ‘information providing methods to access’ the resources enumerated in the ‘Lugovoi Law’, i.e. including hyper-links to old announcements on public rallies not approved by local authorities.

. The recent March 2019 bills mandate blocking and penalizing websites that publish what authorities deem to be “fake news” and “insult” to authorities, state symbols, and what the legislation vaguely describes as Russian “society.”

The President of the Russian Federation should reject the bill. The Russian Government should also review other Internet related legislation, abolish the above listed laws and bring its legal framework to full compliance with international freedom of expression standards.

ARTICLE 19

Civil Rights Defenders

Committee to Protect Journalists

Human Rights Watch

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

International Media Support

International Partnership for Human Rights

Norwegian Helsinki Committee

PEN International

Reporters without Borders

https://www.ifex.org/russia/2019/04/24/sovereign-internet-bill/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/04/24/joint-statement-russias-sovereign-internet-bill

EU Parliament ‘improves’ proposed Terrorist Content Regulation

April 18, 2019

After my earlier piece about the risks in the draft EU regulation on terrorism content [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/31/ngos-express-fear-that-new-eu-terrorist-content-draft-will-make-things-worse-for-human-rights-defenders/], I am happy to report that some NGOs have welcomed the changes now made in the latest version.

On 17 April 2019 eub2 reports that “EU Parliament deletes the worst threats to freedom of expression proposed in the Terrorist Content Regulation”: Read the rest of this entry »

After Christchurch: reflecting on how the internet is exploited by extremists

March 18, 2019

Although strictly speaking not about human rights defenders and not really giving new insights, this long piece in the Huffington Post of 16 March 2019 is worth reading in full because it is a good overview of how the internet and extremist aspirations go hand-in-hand. For those who want to read it in full:

Mass Shooters Have Exploited The Internet For Years. New Zealand Took It To A New Level. – The Christchurch massacre was built on existing far-right memes that fueled a live-streaming gunman’s viral aspirations

Read the rest of this entry »

NGOs express fear that new EU ‘terrorist content’ draft will make things worse for human rights defenders

January 31, 2019

On Wednesday 30 January 2019 Mike Masnick in TechDirt published a piece entitled: “Human Rights Groups Plead With The EU Not To Pass Its Awful ‘Terrorist Content’ Regulation“. The key argument is that machine-learning algorithms are not able to distinguish between terrorist propaganda and investigations of, say, war crimes, It points out that as an example that Germany’s anti-“hate speech” law has proven to be misused by authoritarian regimes. Read the rest of this entry »