Jan 132012

Last month Kapil Sibal, acting telecommunications minister for India, floated the proposition that social networks actively filter all content appearing on their systems.  Now comes news that a judge in New Delhi also thinks web censorship appropriate.  From the New York Times:

The comments of the judge, Suresh Kait, came in response to a lawsuit, filed by a private citizen in the capital, New Delhi. The suit demands that Internet companies screen content before it is posted on sites like Facebook, Google or Yahoo, that might offend the religious sentiments of Indians. A related criminal case accuses the companies — 21 in all — of violating an Indian law that applies to books, pamphlets and other material that is deemed to “deprave or corrupt.”

A trial court in New Delhi on Friday ordered that summons be served in the criminal case to officials at all 21 companies at their foreign headquarters’ addresses.

Google and Facebook refused to comment on the case, except to say they had filed a motion in the New Delhi High Court to dismiss the criminal case.

Their motion will be considered on Monday. Continue reading »

Dec 242011

Other items of interest this past week:

Dec 172011

From English.news.cn news that China is requiring users of to use their real names when registering for China’s microblogging sites.

According to the rules on Beijing’s microblog management, which went into effect Friday, web users need to give their real names to website administrators before being allowed to put up microblog posts.

Bloggers, however, are free to choose their screen names, said a spokesman with the Beijing Internet Information Office (BIIO), the city’s web content management authority.

“The new rules are aimed at protecting web users’ interests and improving credibility on the web,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Continue reading »

Dec 132011

Deutsche Welle has an interesting interview with Kier Giles, the director of the Conflict Studies Research Centre, an Oxford-based non-profit research center that provides analysis on Russia and the region, on how the Russian government is dealing with dissent on the Internet. Giles notes that the government may be using a softer touch than it could — for instance, it has asked, rather than forced, the social networking site VKontakte to remove some content, which the site refused to do. On the other hand, Russian media outlets have complained about DDOS and Twitter spambot attacks that appear to be coming from state-sponsored criminals.

The takeaway, however, is that the Russian government could “reach for an Internet kill switch,” but may prefer to let content be posted so it can monitor who is saying what. The interview discusses SORM, an Internet monitoring system: Continue reading »

Dec 112011

The EFF has a report of a case involving Belgium ISPs.

Last September, in a case initiated by the Belgian Anti-Piracy Federation (BAF), an Antwerp Court of Appeals ordered two major fixed broadband providers (Telenet and Belgacom) to block access to the Pirate Bay at the DNS level. In November, the BAF sent a letter to other Belgian ISPs, threatening legal action unless they also blocked access to the Pirate Bay.

Earlier this week, a Belgian Internet watchdog group (NURPA) reported that one of the three major mobile Internet providers in Belgium, Base, complied with the letter and voluntarily started blocking access to the Pirate Bay.1 Base denies these reports, but users who try to access the Pirate Bay are served a “stop page” with the following text, in Dutch, French, German, and English: “You have been redirected to this stop page because the website you are trying to visit offers content that is considered illegal according to Belgian legislation.” The only way offered for the owner or administrator of the website to object is via fax.

The EFF points out that the ruling in this Belgium case would appear to conflict with the European Court of Justice ruling in Scarlet v. Sabam, a case that also originated in Belgium.  In that case the ECJ ruled that “requiring ISPs to filter traffic over their network violates users’ privacy and their freedom to receive and impart information.”   Although the final judgment in this case came after the Belgian ruling, there had already been an opinion by the Advocate General reflecting it.

The Belgian judge, though, deemed the case before the ECJ irrelevant, making a distinction between filtering and blocking. These two types of censorship often appear identical to the end user, but the court argued that they are different technically and legally. Filtering implies the monitoring of traffic in order to remove specific content. Blocking, on the other hand, would only require indiscriminately restricting access to a given domain. The Belgian (Pirate Bay) case concerned (DNS) blocking, whereas the European case concerned filtering. According to the Belgian judge, DNS blocking would not constrain fundamental liberties. But while blocking does not raise as many privacy concerns as filtering does, all other concerns remain very relevant. Without even going in to the dangers of interfering in such an essential component of the Internet, (DNS) blocking access to a website as a whole violates individual freedom to impart and receive information. It also ignores the fact that copyright is not an absolute right and is subject to important exceptions.

In other words, it appears the Belgium court only considered filtering and blocking as potential violations to fundamental freedoms vis a vis the potential privacy problems involved with monitoring traffic for the purposes of censoring, and not with the censorship itself.

(The EFF article also notes that Dutch parent company, KPN, has already admitted that it monitored its customer’s traffic through deep packet inspection (DPI).)

Dec 102011

Also in the news regarding US tech exports is a proposed bill to end the foreign export of web censorship and surveillance tools. From the AFP:

“It’s unconscionable that US technology is putting democracy activists at risk,” said Representative Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey who is behind the Global Online Freedom Act.

“US companies should not, knowingly or unwittingly, be providing the technology used by repressive regimes to hunt down and punish human rights activists.

“This bill will stop the vicious merry-go-round we are now on of exporting Internet-restricting technologies from the US that we then have to spend millions of dollars helping activists circumvent,” Smith said.

The legislation would prohibit American companies from exporting hardware or software that could be used for online surveillance or censorship to nations that restrict the Internet.

It would also require Internet companies listed on US stock exchanges to disclose to American regulators their practices in collecting and sharing personally identifiable information and steps taken to notify users when removing content.

Per Smith the bill, if passed, would cover not only US-based companies but “the increasing number of foreign IT companies that raise capital here on our stock exchanges, including a large number of Chinese Internet companies that will soon have to report their practices to the [Securities and Exchange Commission].”

Dec 082011

An American citizen has been sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for having posted criticism of the Thai king online. From Yahoo News:

Gordon, a former car salesman, is accused of having translated excerpts from the unauthorized biography “The King Never Smiles,” published by Yale University Press, into the Thai language and publishing them in a blog. He also provided links to the translation to other two Web forums, prosecutors say. Continue reading »

Dec 052011

From the NY Times, news that Kapil Sibal, acting telecommunications minister, has been meeting with executives from Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Yahoo to tell them to prescreen user content from India and censor that which is deemed disparaging, inflammatory, or defamatory.

About six weeks ago, Mr. Sibal called legal representatives from the top Internet service providers and Facebook into his New Delhi office, said one of the executives who was briefed on the meeting.

At the meeting, Mr. Sibal showed attendees a Facebook page that maligned the Congress Party’s president, Sonia Gandhi.  “This is unacceptable,” he told attendees, the executive said, and he asked them to find a way to monitor what is posted on their sites.

In the second meeting with the same executives in late November, Mr. Sibal told them that he expected them to use human beings to screen content, not technology, the executive said.

The three executives said Mr. Sibal has told these companies that he expects them to set up a proactive prescreening system, with staffers looking for objectionable content and deleting it before it is posted.

The demand is the Indian government’s latest attempt to monitor and control electronic information. In April, the ministry issued rules demanding Internet service providers delete information posted on Web sites that officials or private citizens deemed disparaging or harassing. Last year, the government battled with Blackberry’s manufacturer, Research In Motion, threatening to shut the company’s service off in India if it did not allow government officials greater access to users’ messages.

The Indian government also plans to set up its own unit to monitor information posted on Web sites and social media sites, executives said, which will report to Gulshan Rai, the director general of India’s cyber-security monitor. Continue reading »