There is no shortage of news about Turkey in the press recently. Between Gezi park protests last summer, and a currently unfolding corruption case, Turkish democracy is a hot topic. Last week Freedom House released a special report on Turkey entitled “Democracy in Crisis: Corruption, Media, and Power in Turkey” with the central finding being that, “Turkey’s government is improperly using its leverage over media to limit public debate about government actions and punish journalists and media owners who dispute government claims, deepening the country’s political and social polarization.” READ MORE »
Last week, many of China’s major websites were inaccessible for nearly 24 hours to Chinese internet users. Chinese users trying to reach a range of websites ending in .com were re-routed instead to an IP address owned by Dynamic Internet Technology, which is the provider of the circumvention tool Freegate. DIT has been closely affiliated with the Falun Gong, a religious organization banned in China.
GreatFire.org, which examines Chinese censorship, has a detailed report investigating this outage, illuminating that all attempts within China to visit popular websites such as Sina Weibo, Baidu, etc. would be incorrectly re-routed to 220.127.116.11 (an IP address in Wyoming).
While state news agency Xinhua raised the possibility of hacking, and CNNIC attributed the breakdown to a "root server for top-level domain names", others blame the breakdown on a failure of the Great Firewall. As Chinese internet censorship expert Xiao Qiang states to Reuters, "It all points to the Great Firewall, because that's where it can simultaneously influence DNS resolutions of all the different networks (in China). But how that happened or why that happened we're not sure. It's definitely not the Great Firewall's normal behavior."
Proper implementation of a DNS to match the domain name and the IP address of a website or web service is critical to ensuring that the Internet functions properly. As GreatFire points out, DNS poisoning, or hijacking of DNS routing to send a visitor to an incorrect domain name or IP address, is a technique deployed by the Great Firewall to render ‘blacklist’ websites inaccessible. READ MORE »
China leads the way when it comes to controlling online content. A push to counteract messaging that differs from “official” interpretation of events has spurred a wave of crackdowns that started in August, publically justified by the government as preventing the spread of online "rumors”.
Authorities have escalated their campaign against "cybercrime,” designed to prevent “hearsay” and “gossip” from spreading rapidly online, culminating in the arrests of hundreds of activists.
Prominent activist Murong Xuecun in a NYT op-ed stated that, “the vast state censorship apparatus works hard to keep us down. But posts race through Weibo so quickly that it’s difficult to control them with technology. Hence, the government is resorting to detainment.”
Chinese authorities utilize a number of methods for exorcising “bad” speech in its online communities. For over a decade, the government has been employing a task force to publish regime-friendly comments online in an effort to manipulate public opinion. This force has become known as the 50 Cent Army, which pays homage to the rumored 50 cents of Renminbi paid per comment (though in a rare moment of transparency, the government budgets have listed “Internet opinion analysts” as official occupations, most notable at the China Employment Training Technical Instruction Center). In 2012, real name registration came into effect -- requiring web users to register their given name and national identification name with provider sites before posting comments.
The “campaign against cybercrime” has reached new heights in targeting those “perpetrate rumours” in China’s online communities. This provision has paved the way for mass arrests of outspoken netizens across the country, including the Big V’s-- microbloggers known for online activism. An August 24th editorial stated that popular bloggers who “poison the online environment” should be “dealt with like rats scurrying across the street that everyone wants to kill.”
Arrests have also spread amongst China’s Uighur population. July and August were marked by a government movement against “religious extremist content on the internet” in the Xinjiang province. Fearing a militant, religious uprising, police arrested 139 people for spreading “jihadist” sentiments and posting religious content online, according to state-run media.
The revelations about sustained and pervasive NSA surveillance that started in June and are still ongoing are having a sustained effect on the global conversation about censorship and surveillance on the Internet. Using 'big data' analysis of public sentiment we can illustrate the change in this conversation. The increase in online posts on the topic important because it indicates that the global conflict over Internet norms is occurring in real-time and is not fading out of the global consciousness or being consumed by a Huxleyan dystopia. If anything, the conversation has increased and has remained significantly higher than it was in the months prior to the first wave of revelations.
Our analysis, using Crimson Hexagon's media monitoring platform, comprised more than 2.5 million online posts from April 6 until October 1 from almost every country in the world. The conversation was and remains dominated by the expected players (largely due to an English language bias or our survey), United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. Even though we conducted our survey for English language posts only, the global geographic location of posts accounts for nearly all nations around the world. READ MORE »
NDItech was recently at an event on Our Digital Future: Ideas for Internet Research hosted by The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. A diverse panel of experts in the field were invited to the discussion: Matthew Reisman, a Senior Manager at Microsoft, Milton Mueller, Professor at the Syracuse University of Information Studies, Brian Bieron, Senior director with eBay, and Carolina Rossini who serves as Project Director for the Latin American Resource Center.
Panelists made a number of interesting observations about the status and power of the internet in today’s global society. Matthew Reisman pointed out that Microsoft, in particular, is interested in studies of how government regulatory policies are affecting the ability of entrepreneurs to conduct business online - which would be most easily measured by conducting econometric research on internet policies enacted around the world. As trade and services burgeon online, governments are creating barriers that complicate the ease of doing international business. It is important for those researching the modern impact of the internet to consider just how these barriers are affecting businesses, economies, and people, especially in a world where eCommerce has grown to encompass over 6 percent of the global retail sector over a period of ten years. Milton Mueller further asserted that developing an understanding of intimate relations between technology and social relations is essential, including how [we] are going to govern newly implemented technologies, and what the global impact of this governance will be.
The internet is global and as such has particular impact on the economic possibilities for developing countries. We hope to see tangible data from conversations such as this that makes the point wht the internet - in economic and political terms - is a vital resource for countries worldwide.
Early this summer, the Wall Street Journal published a widely-circulated article on the increasing restrictions to free speech online. South East Asia continues to be a region where internet freedom is under threat.
The most notable case is in Vietnam, where the draconian Decree 72 has been implemented. (More details on other restrictions in Vietnam can be found here). According to the decree, “[A] personal information webpage is a webpage created by individual on their own or via a social network. This page should be used to provide and exchange information of that individual only; it does not represent other individual or organization, and is not allowed to provide compiled information.” This law has severe implications for any journalists, academics, and others who seek to share work accomplished by others. In addition, the decree requires all foreign websites to include at least one server in Vietnam, so that the data stored on those servers can be accessed by local authorities. READ MORE »
Cyberspace and all communications associated with the Internet was once idealized as a free and open space in which communications could flow back and forth at liberty. This idea has slowly changed in the last 25 years and we are now seeing the Internet and cyberspace as a “Fierce Domain” in which states engage in hostile actions against one another and increasingly against their own citizens. We wondered what normative changes have occurred over the last 15 years in cyberspace and what the implications of this change has been on democrats around the world.
Jeffrey Legro’s definition of norms as “collective understandings of the proper behavior of actors” is helpful to illustrate how norms have evolved in cyberspace. So then, what are the specific norms we would like to see in cyberspace as a democracy support organization? There are currently very clear trends of norms that we wish we didn’t see.
First we see a significant inrease in offensive and defensive state-level cyber capabilities and a growth in state censorship and surveillance. The data globally, as illustrated through sample data taken from censorship monitoring projects such as the Berkman Center’s Herdict Project (Image Right), illustrate an increase in reports of online censorship. Although this data is based on citizen reporting and may not also be state-generated, the enormity of reports of censorship is staggering.
Along with censorship comes its closely related counterpart, surveillance, and the reports of individuals being surveilled in their online activities is only increasing. Furthermore as indicated by experts in tracking censorship and surveillance such as Ronald Deibert at the Munk School of Global Affairs’ CitizenLab surveillance is getting worse. Globally we almost certainly passed the statet when only a few states were using the Internet as a means of censorship and surveillance against their own citizens. States are increasingly socializing, demonstrating, and institutionalizing censoring and surveillance behavior.
Internet freedom has been under threat in Vietnam for some time. The most recent action to repress free speech online is in the form of “Decree 72”, a legislation which requires Internet companies to cooperate with the Vietnamese government to enforce prohibition of: opposing the " the Socialist Republic of Vietnam," undermining "the grand unity of the people", damaging 'the prestige of organizations and the honour and dignity of individuals”, and other ambiguously worded means to express oneself online.
This decree also applies to “organization/individuals inside and outside Vietnam, directly/indirectly involved in managing/providing Internet services and information, and online games, ensuring information safety.” The decree was adopted on July 15th of this year, and will come into force on September 1st. The decree has largely been condemned by human rights organizations and internet industry operating in Vietnam. READ MORE »
While news of NSA and GCHQ surveillance continues to dominate the news, there are plenty of other countries that use legal and judicial means to justify online censorship and surveillance. Internet freedom is backsliding in these countries: READ MORE »
The recent revelations about large-scale NSA surveillance point to a pervasive problem facing democracy and human rights activists around the world. They face intense surveillance on a daily basis for working for universally accepted human rights and democratic and accountable governance. Those who thought of the internet as a space for free expression and a place where ideas are able to transit the globe unencumbered by now have realized that the reality of the Internet is not too dissimilar from that of the physical world. The great public square that is the internet is closely watched and increasingly controlled by governments and their spies. We wonder increasingly: How can democracy and human rights activists still use this space to continue the good fight? What are the implications for democracy and human rights activists following the revelations of surveillance programs such as Prism and large-scale meta data dragnets? Are we becoming fast the cyberlosers as the world is moving towards compromised internet governance, national internets, and pervasive surveillance?
The bottom line is this: The online public square is depply compromised. Of course, this surely is not a great surprise. READ MORE »
Elections and other political events can be a time in less transparent environments when there is increased internet monitoring and censorship. With notable elections coming up in the next few months, particularly in countries with a history of internet monitoring and filtering, utilizing circumvention technologies ahead of these events become extremely important. Circumvention technologies enable you to route your internet connection to an IP address outside of your country, allowing you to view otherwise filtered content. One of the best circumvention technologies is Tor.
However, in countries such as Iran and China, known Tor IP addresses (or "relays") had been intermittently blocked in the past, making it unusable. Expanded use of capabilities such as Deep Packet Inspection have even made it possible for some regimes to determine if internet traffic is being routed through Tor. READ MORE »
We preciously reviewed their report on Blue Coat, a U.S.-based company whose firewall and web filtering products have ended up in Syria, Burma, and other countries with a history of internet surveillance and censorship. READ MORE »
UPDATE: According to Koryo Tours, the only group that is currently sanctioned to bring foreigners into North Korea, "3G access is no longer available for tourists to the DPRK. Sim cards can still be purchased to make international calls but no internet access is available." Now, the only foreigners with 3G access will be permanent residents of the DPRK, not tourists.
Originally published February 28, 2013
This week, foreigners living in North Korea were able to connect to 3G services on their mobile devices and tablets. Koryolink (a joint venture between state-owned KPTC and Egyptian provider Orascom) informed foreign residents in Pyongyang that it will launch 3G mobile Internet service no later than March 1.
This newly-available access follows the reversal of regulations requiring visitors to surrender their phones at customs, and has been replaced with allowing foreigners to bring in their own mobile phones to use with Koryolink SIM cards.
Some have speculated that 3G access follows the highly publicized visit from Google CEO Eric Schmidt; however, Koryolink has stated the new service had “nothing to do” with his trip, and the carrier had "tried hard to negotiate with the Korean security side, and got the approval recently." READ MORE »
Myanmar used to have one of the highest costs for SIM cards in the world. However, after the 2011 election and subsequent efforts to open up Burma to the international community, prices for SIM cards have drastically dropped.
Quartz just published its findings on the decline of SIM cards prices, which have become vastly more affordable to average citizens in recent years:
NDI is presenting a number of papers at a Stanford University conference entitled: “Right to Information and Transparency in the Digital Age: Policy, Tools and Practices”. The conference “seeks to bring together people engaged in law, policy, social movements, administration, technology, design and the use of technology for accessing information.” Two papers by Chris Doten and Lauren Kunis from NDI looked at information access and political participation in West Africa.
Chris Doten’s paper, “Transparent Trees Falling in Empty Forests: Civil Society as Open Data Analysts and Communications Gateways,” specifically focuses on access to and analysis of election data. NDI worked with Coalition for Democracy and Development in Ghana (CDD) in the recent Ghana election. In the context of election data, in particular, Doten suggests there is a need for solid and publicly available analysis of available data and promotion of that analysis through various media, including publishing of raw data. Without analysis and public distribution through a variey of channels, election data is like the proverbial tree that falls in the woods with no one hearing it. By providing access and analysis Doten suggest that there is the potential for a better informed citizenry. READ MORE »
I'm holed up with a bunch of geeks for a week talking about the art of digital security training. Since I've been with NDI, keeping people safe on the intertubes has gone from an afterthought in the international development space to something that scores of organizations are doing to support activists, journalists, rights defenders and democracy advocates.
With regimes getting nastier online by the day and even the head of the world's biggest intelligence service vulnerable to government cyber-snooping, there's a huge need for increasing the number of people able to share lessons in this area; funders, too have been shoveling heaps of money into this space. We desperately need to grow the pools of well-taught trainers deeply experienced in digital security for people in the most sensitive political spaces,. There's been some well-intentioned but not well-educated trainers who can do more harm than good struggling to fill this void, leaving a swath of pupils who feel safer than they should in their wake.
We're trying to fill in this gap.
A new program being led by Internews and NDItech with support from some of the top international digital security teams is working to create a gold-standard curriculum of teaching modules running the gamut of topics that a trainer may have to teach. READ MORE »
Our trusted friends, the researchers at Citizen Lab recently published Planet Blue Coat, a report detailing the extent to which U.S.-manufactured network surveillance and content filtering technologies are used to facilitate repression against journalists, human rights activists, and other pro-democracy groups.
This is not a new problem. Software developed by Western countries to filter web-hosted content or otherwise obtain data from internet users without their knowledge and consent has been a serious issue for over a decade. It first emerged in China where Cisco Systems sought lucrative business opportunities with China's Golden Shield project, more commonly known as the Great Firewall of China. In recent years, similar technologies have emerged in repressive regimes throughout the Middle East, such as censoring and monitoring technologies in pre-revolutionary Tunisia and in Syria, as well as in closed societies such as Burma. READ MORE »
Last week was Internet Freedom Day - a year after a bill attempting to restrict content online, the so-called SOPA/PIPA bill, was defeated in the United States Congress. We here at NDItech are people of the Internet. We believe, as described in the Declaration on Internet Freedom, that
a free and open Internet can bring about a better world. To keep the Internet free and open, we call on communities, industries and countries to recognize these principles. We believe that they will help to bring about more creativity, more innovation and more open societies.
But, we are worried. As an organization that supports and works for democratic principles and practices, empowered communities, and responsive and accountable governments under the rule of law, and, as a unit within this organization that believes and works on the effective and innovative use of technology in this work, we see troubling trends. READ MORE »
Tech Tools for Activism (TTFA) has just released the latest version of it's handbook, with information and instructions for tools any activist can use. The handbook is not filled with flashy, sexy programs, nor does it give you THE one comprehensive answer that takes care of all your security needs. What the handbook does well, however, is to give you a simple explanation about why your security is at risk, and give you free programs that will help keep you safe. Both the easy to read layout and educational explanations make this handbook a good primer for activists, their partners, and for anyone who has a general interest in security while using communications technology.
The need for civil society organizations and activists to understand best practices behind digital security and digital safety has grown exponentially over the past few years. This need has expanded beyond closed environments to more open societies that may not have as looming of a threat of communications interception, targeted malware attacks, and other dastardly deeds.
While there have been a lot of “wins” for civil society in restrictive environments to use ICTs to mobilize ahead of key political moments, these regimes continue to step up their efforts to counteract such communication.
One of the fascinating threads woven throughout PDF was the way in which the networked world has made life hard for the gatekeepers of information, whether the copyright industry or control-minded governments. It’s a new world for those whose models were predicated on scarcity or manipulation of information.
Perhaps the bravest presenter at PDF was Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America; the organization which became the evil empire in the epic SOPA/PIPA fight last winter. Sherman did his level best to present the case for the copyright holders to the crowd, and he did so with aplomb. (The slides pictured in this article were brilliant.)
The conclusion he drew from charts of precipitous revenue falloff was that, while SOPA and PIPA might have been poorly executed, something must be done to save artists (and, btw, the RIAA) by protecting copyright. If we had Vladimir Putin on the stage, I imagine that the words would be different but the tune the same; something must be done to stop the threats that Russia and other states face from online criminals, terrorists, and the other four horsemen of the digital apocalypse. READ MORE »
Last week, our team was able to attend the Personal Democracy Forum (PDF). One of my favorite panels was "Online Life in China". In case you didn't know, sometimes content posted online in China is filtered and removed, which can have obvious impacts on how Chinese internet users can express themselves and access information online.
David Wertime from Tea Leaf Nation, a popular blog that follows social media trends in China, made some important distinctions in use of local social media platforms in China. While many people refer to Sina Weibo (one of the largest microblogging platforms in China) as "China's Twitter", there are some key distinctions that make the comparison not quite balanced. While in Roman-based languages, 140 characters is quite limiting in what you can express. Whereas in Chinese, 140 characters is literally 140 words, allowing Chinese speakers to express longer sentiments. (Fact: "Weibo" or 微博 in Chinese literally means "Microblog", based off of "Boke" or 博客 which means "Blog"). In addition, while Sina Weibo does have many similar functions to Twitter (hashtags, retweets, etc.), one can also embed video and image files directly into tweets, and can "comment" on tweets as well. This comment capability is what enables Weibo to be "the closest thing China has to a platform for free speech" and is a strong democratizing feature. READ MORE »
This is a special Nowruz to anyone working on tech-focused programs for Iran: the Office of Foreign Assets Control under the U.S. Treasury Department has just released new guidelines on communication and other web-based technologies that can be used in Iran. Earlier this week, the White House illustrated that these services are of critical importance to Iranians, in order to keep them connected with their peers outside Iran, specifically stating, "We encourage American companies to make their software and communications tools available to the people of Iran to help bring greater access to the world’s knowledge and information, and to empower Iranians with the tools to make their voices heard".
Technologies that can now be used without requiring prior approval or a waiver include:
Personal Communications (e.g., Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk, Microsoft Live, Skype (non-fee based))
Updates to Personal Communications Software Personal Data Storage (e.g., Dropbox)
Browsers/Updates (e.g., Google Chrome, Firefox, Intemet Explorer)
Last week I attended the Media Access Project (MAP) event, part of a series of forums on “How Technologies Are Changing Our World View”. Tuesday's topic: The Global Internet and the Free Flow of Information. Panelists were invited from a number of sectors - including academia, business, and policy - to participate in two panels; the first discussed the threats and challenges facing online expressions and the second focused on public policies that can protect online freedoms. There were many interesting perspectives, opinions, and facts presented, and here are some of the most important ones that will affect our work.
Technology companies have been expanding their markets by providing tools and services to people around the world. As companies enter new markets and introduce new products, they face a number of challenges. Will their technologies be used to limit human rights? Do local laws require them to share user information to governments, and if so will they comply? These issue have already been seen (Yahoo handing over data on Chinese dissidents who were then imprisoned) and will continue to be seen. Moreover, there has been growing pressure on companies to develop policies surrounding human rights issues and regularly assess these issues as companies expand. The trend of companies developing policies around these issues is important, as it will change the threats and concerns that users face when using technology tools.
Late last week, news broke that following several self-immolations among Tibetan Buddhist and clashes of violence against protesters demanding Tibetan autonomy, China has cutoff Internet connectivity and mobile phone signals for 30 miles around the main clashes taking place in Sichuan province. Last resort techniques like these are unfortunately not new. Even prior to the most famous case of unplugging the Internet, China cut off internet access and limited mobile services in the Xinjiang region in 2009 for several months as a response to outbreaks of violence. But while key officials under the Mukarak regime have been punished in their pocketbooks, the ability and desire of repressive regimes to deploy internet outages as a means to eliminate dissidence presents yet another hurdle in attempts to ensure democracy and transparency worldwide. During volatile political moments, it becomes challenging to verify information on current events. Currently, foreign journalists are prohibited from entering affected Tibetan areas, making it extremely difficult to verify reports about the current situation. Adding to the complexity of obtaining verifiable information are the “human elements”, where concerns about the threatened safety of involved persons can add a panic-induced frenzy and desperation for accurate information. READ MORE »