Monthly Archives: January 2014

B4A files suit against UK government

Cyber Stewards Network partner Bytes for All (B4A) is working together with Privacy International (PI) to sue the government of the United Kingdom over their Tempora surveillance program. Tempora is the code name for a project initiated by Britain’s signal intelligence agency, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). It allows for access by the GCHQ to cable networks passing through the UK, including phone and Internet traffic. The massive amount of data collected through this program is also made available to GCHQ’s American counterpart, the National Security Agency.

B4A and PI have argued that the Tempora program violates the European Convention on Human Rights’ privacy safeguards. They also argue that the program directly violates the limits of lawful surveillance outlined in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which regulates the power of British authorities in conducting surveillance. Another major criticism is that it “discriminate[s] against non-UK nationals,” meaning that they “currently receive even fewer legal protections than the communications of those who reside in the UK,” even though the cables monitored by the GCHQ carry a significant amount of international web traffic. B4A highlighted their own organization as an example of how the program disproportionately targets foreign nationals. As some of B4A’s Internet traffic goes through the UK, especially traffic routed through Virtual Private Networks based in Great Britain, their communication is liable for interception and monitoring. Given the sensitive nature of their human rights work in Pakistan involving confidential correspondences with lawyers, NGOs, public officials, partner organizations, and other stakeholders, B4A sees the potential for scrutiny by foreign intelligence agencies as particularly alarming.

The case has been lodged with the UK’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal based on an earlier suit lodged by PI over the Tempora program. The suit is asking that the program be made illegal and that the GCHQ destroys all unlawfully obtained material. B4A has lodged similar complaints in Pakistan regarding secret surveillance programs. In May 2013, the organization lodged a petition with the Lahore High Court asking the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, the country’s telecommunications regulatory agency, to investigate the presence in Pakistan of FinFisher, a commercial surveillance software. In October 2013, B4A initiated a contempt of court charge against the government for not appearing in court to address the petition.

 

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Cyber Stewards and Citizen Lab present work at 4th Arab Bloggers Meeting

This article was authored by Cyber Stewards Network members at the 4th Arab Bloggers Meeting

Cyber Stewards Walid Al-Saqaf, Hisham Al-Miraat, Ramsey George, and Reem Al-Masri, along with Citizen Lab affiliates Morgan Marquis-Boire and Lidija Sabados, were among the participants of the fourth Arab Bloggers Meeting, which took place in Amman, Jordan during 20-23 January.

On the second day of the event, Walid Al-Saqaf and Ramsey George organized a two-hour workshop to introduce the Cyber Stewards Network to interested participants. Walid and Ramsey described the Cyber Stewards Networks and its objectives and also provided a background on the Citizen Lab as a whole with a special emphasis on its work in researching Internet censorship and surveillance.

Walid Al-Saqaf illustrated how being a part of the network has benefited him tremendously in his research and activism. He indicated that the network allowed him to engage with others through the Cyber Dialogue Conference in Toronto as well as the most recent Internet Governance Forum, which took place in Indonesia last year.

Walid said he felt that the Cyber Stewards Network had the potential of finding ways to create bridges between Internet researchers and activists from the global south with counterparts in the global north. He added that the events he attended through the network were of immense value for him to expand his own network and support his research around Internet censorship and circumvention in the Arab world.

Meanwhile, Ramsey George used the workshop to highlight the work that he and his colleagues at 7iber have been involved with through the Cyber Stewards Network. One of these projects is a research blog called ‘Wireless,’ which attempts to discuss issues around Internet governance, freedom of expression and access online. Ramsey expressed his ambition to work on data visualization in connection to Internet infrastructure in the Arab region and specifically in Jordan. This project would place special emphasis on growing privacy concerns in light of users’ ignorance about who controls the different network components through which their data flows.

Participants in the meeting expressed interest in the Cyber Stewards Network and highlighted the importance of such initiatives in creating greater understanding between scholars and activists interested in Internet issues. Participants raised a proposal to expand the network by allowing non-members to participate through mailing lists and other forms of communication.

Walid Al-Saqaf and Morgan Marquis-Boire were among four participants on a panel moderated by Jillian York. Walid warned against sacrificing free speech in the name of better privacy protection, while Morgan argued that censorship is now easy to detect and bypass whereas surveillance is becoming of greater concern. In response, Walid argued that the excessive focus on surveillance is increasingly putting free speech in the background, which is a particularly grave concern to activists in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes. He said that while the US and other Western states may take free speech taken for granted, the Arab world still lags behind and activists need to remain focused on efforts to fight oppressive practices against bloggers and other netizens. He argued, “In a prison cell I have all the privacy I need, but I cannot reach the world to say what I want.” After a heated debate between the two sides, the discussion concluded with a mutual agreement that surveillance and censorship are inextricably intertwined and represent two sides of the same coin.[1]



[1] Some Tweets in relation to the panel discussion could be found here: http://seen.co/event/the-4th-arab-bloggers-meeting-amman-jordan-2014-9415/highlight/3123

Civil Society’s Proposals On The African Cybersecurity Convention

In December 2013, the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet) led online discussions on the proposed African Union Convention on Cyber Security (AUCC). The convention establishes a framework for cyber security in Africa “through organisation of electronic transactions, protection of personal data, promotion of cyber security, e-governance and combating cybercrime.”

Civil society and academia have raised concerns about some of the articles in the convention, which had earlier been expected to be signed in January 2014. Latest reports indicate that, at the earliest, the law could be signed in June this year.

The report on the discussions will be used by KICTANet and partners such as CIPESA to create awareness and lobby African governments to pass legislation and instruments that fully support the privacy of individuals and the fully enjoyment of their freedom of expression online.

The stated background to the convention is that the African Union is seeking ways to intensify the fight against cybercrime across the continent“in light of the increase in cybercrime, and the lack of mastery of security risks by African countries.”

Furthermore, the AU states that a major challenge for African countries is the lack of adequate technological security to prevent and effectively control technological and informational risks. As such, it adds, “African States are in dire need of innovative criminal policy strategies that embody States, societal and technical responses to create a credible legal climate for cyber security”.

The intentions may be legitimate but, as noted by the online discussions, some of the articles in the current version of the convention could be used to negate individuals’ privacy and their right to express themselves through online mediums.

Take, for example, Article III – 34. It states that AU member states have to “take necessary legislative or regulatory measures to set up as a penal offense the fact of creating, downloading, disseminating or circulating in whatsoever form, written matters, messages, photographs, drawings or any other presentation of ideas or theories of racist or xenophobic nature using an a computer system.”

How does this clause balance with the fundamental right to freedom of expression? Experts argue that this clause is problematic as it requires a measure of truth, which is hard to actually legislate or determine owing to the relativity of truth. They add that this sort of law would likely be unenforceable.

The discussion noted that although African countries needed legal framework on cybercrime, the current proposals need numerous amendments. The discussions also noted a need for the African Union Commission to engage with civil society to draw up progressive and enforceable laws. However, civil society had the added task of creating awareness and capacity among citizens on cyber security and the need to uphold freedoms of expression online.

These discussions were conducted on multiple lists of KICTANet and the Internet Society (ISOC) Kenya and on the I-Network and ISOC Uganda ists moderated  by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), from 25 – 29, November 2013. They were also shared through numerous pan-Africa and global lists on ICT policy and online freedom.

Download the full discussions report here.