Archive for May, 2011

Iran to create its own Internet…

The Internet is a fascinating place, especially when countries that don’t embrace the concepts of freedom of expression and freedom of speech are involved. Each of these countries takes it’s own view of what the Internet should be, and they usually follow political conventions in those countries. This could be set to change however.

Iran looks set to create its own Internet, just for the Iranian people. In a report by the Wall Street Journal the country sees the project as a way to end the fight for control of the Internet and, possibly, a way to defend the regime against the pro-democracy protests that have spread like wildfire across the middle-east this year.

On that score it would make sense in some ways as social networks including Facebook and especially Twitter were used to help mobilise pro-democracy activists and get people massing on the streets. This move would essentially cut the whole of Iran off from the wider Internet and indeed the wider-world.

Now I said that the way curtailing of Internet freedoms happens usually mirrors the political conventions of the country involved. This is probably going to be seen as an unexpected twist.

China, the world’s largest communist state has broadly allowed access to the general Internet. It took some years to get this far and many websites are still curtailed or blocked completely. The Chinese government are part of the wider world community however and while questions still remain about the country’s Human rights record, it does at least recognise that opening up to the wider world can only be a good thing.

It’s China that has been apparently encouraging the secretive leader of North Korea, Kim Yong Il, to open up his own economy, an idea that has so far failed to gain acceptance.

North Korea is far more closed and secretive than China, and is the most closed society on Earth. It’s widely accepted that only supporters of the regime are permitted to live in the country’s capital city, and footage has been seen of entire villages being forced to watch the public floggings and sometimes executions of those to question the regime.

North Korea has not embraced the Internet. Instead they have their own internal network, a country-wide intranet if you will. This system is available on the only computer operating system available in the country, a modified version of Linux. It is extremely limited and delivers only propaganda about the state. To this day, most people in North Korea live their lives completely oblivious to what’s really happening in the world around them.

Iran however by contrast is a democracy. Its leaders are elected officials. There have been questions raised about just how democratic the country’s political system truly is but you might expect them to adopt a stance more in keeping with China, not the secretive North Koreans.

The answer probably lies in the recent uprisings in the countries around them and the fact that only around 10% of the Iranian people currently have access to the Internet. This move is clearly all about control.

This does raise some interesting questions about what the Internet currently is and what is might be set to become. I’ll talk more about this tomorrow in Part 2 when I’ll look at the challenges faced by western countries.

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Twitter Forced To Hand Over User’s Personal Details

By Kris Holt May 30, 2011 6:16 pm EST

Twitter has been told to hand over the details of a user in the U.K. in a landmark case that could have big implications on free speech, privacy and anonymity on the social network and the wider Internet.

Twitter has passed on the name, email address and phone number of a South Tyneside councillor who is being accused of posting libelous tweets about South Tyneside council to several Twitter accounts. The council took the matter to the Superior Court of California, which told San Francisco-based Twitter to hand over 30 pieces of information relating to Twitter accounts including @fatcouncillor and @ahmedkhan01.

Ahmed Khan, who is the councillor at the center of the dispute, received an email from Twitter earlier this month to tell him that his personal information had been handed over.

Khan, who denies being the author of the allegedly libelous tweets, told The Guardian that:

It is like something out of 1984. If a council can take this kind of action against one of its own councillors simply because they don’t like what I say, what hope is there for freedom of speech or privacy?

I don’t fully understand it but it all relates to my Twitter account and it not only breaches my human rights, but it potentially breaches the human rights of anyone who has ever sent me a message on Twitter. A number of whistleblowers have sent me private messages, exposing any wrongdoing in the council, and the authority knows this.

I was never even told they were taking this case to court in California. The first I heard was when Twitter contacted me. I had just 14 days to defend the case and I was expected to fly 6,000 miles and hire my own lawyer — all at my expense.

Even if they unmask this blogger, what does the council hope to achieve? The person or persons concerned is simply likely to declare bankruptcy and the council won’t recover any money it has spent.

A spokesman for South Tyneside council said that the legal action was carried out by the previous leader of the authority, but that it had been continued with the full backing of the current head. “The council has a duty of care to protect its employees and as this blog contains damaging claims about council officers, legal action is being taken to identify those responsible,” the spokesperson added.

This is believed to be the first time that Twitter has identified an anonymous user due to pressure from the legal system, and it comes at a time where the social network is being sued after users were accused of breaking a gagging order.

A Premier League soccer star, who has been named as Manchester United player Ryan Giggs, has issued a lawsuit against the social network “and persons unknown” after a super injunction was broken. The gagging order, which was put in place to prevent an alleged affair with a model being reported, was allegedly broken by thousands of Twitter users who mentioned the player’s name in tweets.

The difference between this case and Khan’s, however, is that Giggs issued the lawsuit at the high court in London, which has no jurisdiction over Twitter.

The Khan case could have a huge impact on the future of Twitter. If it is forced to hand over a user’s identity every time a tweet is posted that is deemed to be libelous, then users’ rights to free speech and privacy on Twitter (and all social networks, come to think of it) may be at risk.

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Freedom fears of India’s web users

23 May 2011 Last updated at 23:14 GMT

By Rajini Vaidyanathan BBC News, Mumbai

Tough new internet rules in India have been met with a mixed reaction from web users and online businesses. Google has warned they could threaten online freedom. The government claims they will save lives.

“The internet is my lifeline. It’s how I breathe,” says Netra Parikh as she taps away furiously on her laptop.

Ms Parikh is a self confessed internet junkie, who claims to spend more than 18 hours a day online. Such is her passion for the micro-blogging site Twitter, that she has been named by some of her fellow social networkers as India’s “Queen of Twitter”.

But recently issued guidelines, designed to regulate what can and can’t be posted online in India are a huge cause of concern for Netra.

“We voice our opinion through tweeting and all that, and if someone doesn’t like it, does that mean we have to shut our mouth? Does that mean we can’t speak anymore?”
Grossly harmful

Ms Parikh, and many other bloggers and tweeters are exercised about the Indian government’s updated regulations on the internet, which require any comment considered objectionable be removed by the host site within 36 hours of it receiving a complaint.
BBC Netra Parikh is known as India’s Queen of Twitter

The definition of what should be taken down includes anything which is – “grossly harmful, harassing, blasphemous defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, libellous, invasive of another’s privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically objectionable, disparaging, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise unlawful in any manner whatever.”

Anything which – “threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states, or public order or causes incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence or prevents investigation of any offence or is insulting any other nation,” must also be removed.

The rules for host websites form part of guidelines on the internet and update India’s IT Act of 2000.

They have caused an outcry online; many bloggers and tweeters say the inclusion of terms such as “disparaging”, “hateful” and “grossly harmful” are open to wide interpretation and could see any innocently disseminated comment being taken down for fear of causing offence.

“No-one has a say of what is right, and what is wrong… if someone objects you can’t talk about it,” says Nikhil Kumar Verma, who was recently named one of India’s top ten most influential tweeters.

Mr Verma, who reviews food and music for his blog , is concerned the rules will stifle his ability to voice his views online, and that content will now have to be sanitised for fear of being taken down.
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote

Any individual can write to us and say that piece of content offends us and without any recourse we have to take it down.”

Mahesh Murthy Pinstorm
Hate speech

“A lot of people will be scared about saying anything now,” he says. “If I write about the state of Mumbai’s roads, for instance, and someone has an objection about what I say, and deems it hateful, does that mean I’ll have to take it down?,” he questions.

“During the Cairo revolution a lot of the information spread because of social media. Regulations like this could stop people talking about things on the internet just in case someone might object to it,” he says.

The Indian government refutes any suggestion that these guidelines will restrict free speech, stressing that they are in accordance with international laws.

Google recently issued a statement responding to the rules. The internet company said: “We believe that a free and open Internet is essential for the growth of digital economy and safeguarding freedom of expression.

“If Internet platforms are held liable for third party content, it would lead to self-censorship and reduce the free flow of information.

“The regulatory framework should ideally help protect Internet platforms and people’s abilities to access information.”

The onus on host websites to remove objectionable content is a cause for concern to Mahesh Murthy who runs Pinstorm, a digital marketing agency in Mumbai which manages clients’ online brand presence.
Mumbai attacks in 2008 Authorities in India believe the rules will help prevent attacks like those in Mumbai in 2008

“Any individual can write to us and say that piece of content offends us and without any recourse we have to take it down,” he says.

“This gives us an extremely onerous responsibility to be able to police every bit of content before it goes out,” adds Mr Murthy.

Mr Murthy believes this added requirement to respond to complaints will slow down the growth of the internet in India, by placing more responsibility on companies.

But others believe the regulations are necessary to regulate the vast amount of content which is posted on social networking sites and other forums.

“Someone could write a blog, and if some things are defamatory the law provides a way for you to ask for protection, and for that information to be removed,” says Akhilesh Tuteja, an internet analyst for KPMG.

Mr Tuteja says the laws are “not perfect” but believes they are “step in the right direction”.
Cafe watch

India’s online population is rising with more than 81 million people logging onto the internet. It is estimated 40 per cent of the country accesses the web via cyber cafes. The Indian IT ministry has also issued new regulations on how these store user information.

The guidelines require café owners to register with a central government agency. They also have to keep a record of the name, address, photo, and browsing history of visitors and submit this to a the agency .

“Cyber Café shall prepare a monthly report of the log register showing date-wise details on the usage of the computer resource and submit a hard and soft copy of the same to the person or agency as directed by the registration agency by the 5th day of next month,” read the guidelines.

Such requirements are a necessary price to pay for national security, says Rudrajeet Desai from Clinck, a company which installs software to allow cyber cafes to store log details electronically.
Rudrajeet Desai on computer screen Internet cafes must follow strict guidelines on recording user activity

“If a user sends an e-mail against the government or about an assassination it can be tracked back to the cyber cafe’s computer. If at that point the owner has the photo it becomes extremely easy for the investigating authorities to track back the consumer,” he says.

Mr Desai does not believe that this amounts to cyber cafes becoming an arm of the law, and says that the kind of information they are being asked to store is no different to that collected by other companies when someone buys a house, or shops with a supermarket loyalty card.

He explains that the majority of the 14,000 or so cafes he works with support the measures, which are in part designed to prevent people using them to plot attacks like the one in Mumbai in 2008.

“I do believe there is a certain bit of privacy which has been hampered but when you compare it with security against terrorism, I don’t think it holds that much of an importance,” he says.

A spokesman for the Indian government told the BBC he did not believe that freedom of speech has been restricted with the issuance of these guidelines, but campaigners say they’ll continue to push for a change.

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Social networking driving up Pinoys’ Internet usage – study

23th May 2011

In yet another proof of how Filipinos are addicted to social networking, a recent study by insight and consultancy firm TNS showed that Filipinos’ social media frenzy are driving the growth of mobile Internet in the Philippines.

According to TNS’ Digital Life and Mobile Life surveys for 2011, nine out of 10 Filipinos who surf the Internet on their phones have accessed social networking sites, a sharp 68 percent increase from 2010 figures.

Moreover, mobile access to microblogging sites such as Twitter jumped 325 percent in the past year, signifying Filipinos’ growing penchant for sharing their thoughts online.

Although SMS continues to dominate Filipinos’ usage of mobile devices, the study showed that multimedia and online capabilities (social networking, messaging, surfing, etc) have experienced tremendous growth.

On the personal computer front, the study found that social networking is quickly outpacing traditional e-mail platforms as the communication method of choice, with Filipinos spending a longer time on social networks (2.8 hours a week) than on catching up with e-mail messages (2.5 hours a week).

Of those who are active on social networks, the study found that on the average, Filipinos have 171 connections on social networks, with the 21 to 24 age bracket having the most friends online at 298.

In contrast, the world average for number of connections falls at only 120 friends.

Just recently, the Philippines was touted by finance news site 24/7 Wall St as the social networking capital of the world for having the highest social network penetration rate among Internet users, pegged at 95 percent.

Digital transition

Not surprisingly, 81 percent of survey respondents watch TV daily while 43 percent listen to radio on a daily basis.

However, “digital” consumption (i.e., online activity) has surpassed Newspaper and Magazine consumption at 36 percent versus 28 and 11 percent, respectively.

The typical Filipino daily Internet user is male and aged 25 to 44 years old, the study noted.

In terms of online consumption, 36 percent of online Filipinos aged 16-60 years old, class ABCD, access the internet daily. That’s 11 million Filipinos — three times more than the entire population of Singapore and 1.5 times more than the population of Hong Kong.

On the average, Filipinos spend 29 percent of their daily Internet surfing time reading e-mail, 28 percent on browsing social networking sites, and 20 percent on multimedia activities.

On the mobile front, meanwhile, the study showed that while the run-of-the-mill SMS feature is still the top usage driver in the Philippines, many prefer to access their digital music, calendar, video calling and Bluetooth over their mobile phones.

The study results for mobile consumption also showed that 81 percent of Filipinos own a mobile phone, surpassed only by DVD players as the most widely used and owned personal electronic device.

At least 21 percent of these mobile phone owners are multi-SIM holders, a figure higher than the global and emerging Asia average. — With TJ Dimacali, GMA News

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Cutting Web access is ‘Disproportionate’

GENEVA- Frank La Rue, the U.N.’s independent expert on freedom of speech, told AP that blocking Net access is “disproportionate,” whether it is a blanket ban imposed during times of political unrest or against individuals for violating specific laws.

Expert says governments that cut users’ access to the Internet are violating a basic human right “regardless of the justification provided.”

Britain last year announced it planned to follow France’s lead to cut off Internet access to people who illegally download copyright-protected material.

La Rue’s report made available Thursday also urges governments to decriminalize all forms of defamation and ensure Web users can express themselves anonymously.

This report explores key trends and challenges to the right of all individuals to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds through the Internet. The Special Rapporteur underscores the unique and transformative nature of the Internet not only to enable individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, but also a range of other human rights, and to promote the progress of society as a whole. Chapter III of the report underlines the applicability of international human rights norms and standards on the right to freedom of opinion and expression to the Internet as a communication medium, and sets out the exceptional circumstances under which the dissemination of certain types of information may be restricted. Chapters IV and V address two dimensions of Internet access respectively: (a) access to content; and (b) access to the physical and technical infrastructure required to access the Internet in the first place. More specifically, chapter IV outlines some of the ways in which States are increasingly censoring information online, namely through: arbitrary blocking or filtering of content; criminalization of legitimate expression; imposition of intermediary liability; disconnecting users from Internet access, including on the basis of intellectual property rights law; cyberattacks; and inadequate protection of the right to privacy and data protection. Chapter V addresses the issue of universal access to the Internet. The Special Rapporteur intends to explore this topic further in his future report to the General Assembly. Chapter VI contains

the Special Rapporteur’s conclusions and recommendations concerning the main subjects of the report.

The report will be discussed by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva next month.

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Bin Laden was logged off, but not al-Qaida

By SEBASTIAN ABBOT, Associated Press – May 15, 2011

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Osama bin Laden cut himself off from direct access to the Internet during his final years in Pakistan as he attempted to elude the CIA. But the terror group he founded has been able to seize the power of the Web to spawn an army of online followers who will prolong al-Qaida’s war against the West long after his demise.

Al-Qaida’s technological evolution illustrates how much the group has changed since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and why it has flourished despite America’s decade-long quest to crush it, using everything from drone strikes in Pakistan to secret prisons in Eastern Europe where bin Laden’s lieutenants were interrogated.

The U.S. scored its biggest victory in that war on May 2, when U.S. Navy SEALs shot and killed the 54-year-old terror leader during a daring late-night helicopter raid not far from Pakistan’s capital.

His death was undoubtedly a blow to al-Qaida, but the group’s diffuse, virtual network lives on in militant chatrooms and on social media sites like Facebook and YouTube, where supporters carry forward bin Laden’s message and plan the kind of bloody attacks that were his hallmark.

“While bin Laden’s death has certainly been lamented within the jihadist community, al-Qaida’s copious media over the past 10 years have ensured that bin Laden’s videos, speeches, and ideas will continue to incite jihadists all over the world,” said Rita Katz, head of the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group that monitors Islamic militant messages online.

Unlike its Afghan Taliban allies, who banned television when they were in power, al-Qaida has never rejected modern technology and recognized the importance of an online presence before Sept. 11. But its early efforts were fairly rudimentary. Since then, the group and its affiliates have exploited the Internet to rally and connect supporters, and are very quick to adopt new technology.

Al-Qaida’s media production arm, As-Sahab, now produces videos that look like professionally edited documentaries or television news broadcasts that are distributed by Al-Fajr, the group’s online media organization, to major militant websites. The videos, which often contain flashy computer graphics, are then uploaded to scores of other sites by al-Qaida supporters.

“Despite extensive counterterrorism success against the group responsible for 9/11, the al-Qaida ‘brand’ now resonates with an increasingly diverse (though still narrow) cross-section of Muslims around the world,” said a recent report by the U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Members of the cell who bombed Madrid’s commuter train system in 2004 and killed nearly 200 people were radicalized with the help of the Internet, as was U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, who is suspected of shooting to death 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009.

Jarret Brachman, a terrorism expert who has spent nearly a decade monitoring al-Qaida’s Internet and media operations, said a confluence of events in 2004 and 2005 turbocharged the group’s efforts and helped shape the network in place today.

In May 2004, al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi videotaped himself beheading kidnapped American businessman Nicholas Berg and released the tape on an al-Qaida-linked website.

Younis Tsouli, a young Morocco-born computer expert who lived in Britain, took the video and uploaded it scores of times to other Internet sites, earning him a rare “shout-out” from al-Zarqawi’s propaganda minister, said Brachman. This prompted other al-Qaida supporters online to do the same with other videos, creating a powerful new distribution chain, he said.

“Younis Tsouli became the archetype of what the jihadist online supporter might look like,” said Brachman. “That some random dude could get a shout-out from a real-deal al-Qaida guy woke everyone up to think that maybe there is a bridge here, maybe I can help the cause.”

Tsouli was eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison for running a network of extremist websites and possessing al-Qaida videos, but he helped spawn hordes of “jihobbyists” who spread the terror group’s message online and also began creating content themselves, said Brachman, who served as the research director at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center and now works as an independent consultant.

Al-Zarqawi’s gruesome videos of beheadings and terrorist attacks in Iraq also had significant influence by creating a new genre of militant propaganda, said Katz. Other al-Qaida-affiliated groups emulated his style, “increasing the quantity and raising the quality of jihadist propaganda to new levels of sophistication.”

Bin Laden’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, who is believed to be hiding in Pakistan, watched al-Zarqawi’s rising profile with concern, worried he was “stealing all the propaganda thunder” from al-Qaida’s central command, said Brachman. That caused him to intensify al-Qaida’s own video effort through As-Sahab.

“You could tell there was a lot more bureaucratic focus and concentration on releasing videos that didn’t suck,” said Brachman.

Al-Zawahri was helped by senior al-Qaida leader Abu-Yahya al-Libi’s escape from Bagram prison in Afghanistan in July 2005, said Brachman. Al-Libi had served as the Taliban’s webmaster and was one of the leading thinkers in al-Qaida about the use of media and the Internet, he said.

“It took off, and they never looked back,” said Brachman.

There are now tens of thousands of members on the half-dozen most important and exclusive online password-protected chatrooms, “fostering a movement that is at once decentralized but hierarchical,” said Katz.

Al-Qaida and its supporters have used the Internet to disseminate a wide array of new media, including video games, rap videos and comic books to project an image of “jihadi cool” and attract young, tech-savvy supporters, said the report released by CSIS in February.

“YouTube videos and online chatrooms now help disseminate (al-Qaida’s) ideology to far-flung audiences, thus reducing the importance of in-person interaction as a driver of radicalization,” said the report. “This development only adds to the diffusion and complexity of global Islamist terrorism: Policymakers must now counter extremism in virtual, rather than merely physical, realms.”

A Facebook page titled “We Are All Usama Bin Laden” was created on the site hours after President Barack Obama announced the al-Qaida chief’s death, said the SITE Intelligence Group. The page attracted more than 10,000 supporters in less than 24 hours, it said, but appears to have been removed since then.

Hundreds have also expressed support for bin Laden on the main al-Qaida website currently in operation, Al-Shumoukh.

“You lived as a hero and died as a martyr,” wrote one user, identified as Ibnat Shumoukh al-Islam.

Al-Qaida has also made strides in covering its tracks online. Al-Fajr published at least two issues of an electronic magazine called “Technical Mujahid” in 2006 and 2007 that outlined how to encrypt files and hide messages in images. The magazine advocated using encryption software written by jihadists called “The Mujahideen Secrets.”

Bin Laden pursued another strategy to avoid detection while living for at least five years in Abbottabad, the Pakistani army town where he was eventually killed by U.S. Navy SEALs. His compound didn’t have a phone line or Internet connection, and he relied on a pair of trusted couriers to feed him information and disseminate his messages and e-mails on small flash memory drives, U.S. officials have said.

The al-Qaida chief was taken out despite his caution, but his army of online supporters will be much harder to eradicate.

“The Internet is proving to be the ultimate safe haven,” said Brachman.

Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef in Cairo and Matt Apuzzo and Kimberly Dozier in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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