Cyber Stewards Network Partner 7iber met with Citizen Lab Director Ron Deibert, as well as Senior Research Fellows John-Scott Railton and Bill Marczak to discuss the Lab’s work in exposing spy systems in various countries, and in particular, the Middle East. In the interview, they discussed the presence of FinFisher and BlueCoat in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and other Gulf countries.
In the interview, Bill noted that there is an increasing trend of countries wanting to construct their own spyware platforms instead of purchasing them from third parties. He gave the example of Stealth Falcon, a recently identified as being produced by a cybersecurity company from the UAE, which has been used to target dissidents and journalists. Citizen Lab recently released a report titled “Million Dollar Dissident,” detailing the use of Stealth Falcon against Ahmed Mansoor, an internationally recognized human rights defender.
Bill Marczak explained that while spy software can have legitimate functions in combating terrorism and foiling crimes, companies marketing these products are often wiling to sell to any buyer, leading to it being in the hands of individuals or agencies with little or no oversight. Ron Deibert said “I think the problem is that in most of these cases, we have seen no checks and balances, no judicial authority and no warrant, and so criminals are left unharmed but Human Rights’ activists like Hisham Almirat and Ahmed Mansoor are pursued and prosecuted. There is certainly abuse of this technology going on, and how you prevent that from happening is the question. We can’t outlaw the technology but we do need to prevent the abuse of that technology.”
Read the full interview.
Citizen Lab’s Cyber Stewards Network Partner Pirongrong Ramasoota was featured in a Bangkok Post article titled “Through a screen darkly,” exploring the role of the government’s censorship measures and their impact on hate speech online. Researchers have suggested that the junta’s suppression of free speech have led to a growth of hate speech online, particularly on social media, as individuals seek an outlet to express their views. About 56% of the Thai population uses the Internet, spending an average of 6.4 hours per day.
Pirongrong Ramasoota told the Bangkok Post that Facebook in particular has became an outlet for hate speech toward rival political groups. Content such as rape threats, witch-hunts, and threats of deportation have been common on the platform. The level of hatred [in a society] depends on experience and history, such as the 9/11 attacks that created a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment in the US and globally,” said Pirongrong. The sheer number of individuals that are reached by social media information makes the number of incidents that could spark hatred similarly higher.
Pirongrong attributes the rise in social media hate speech to the prior restrictions on the media and other forms of expression. She said: “When people’s opinions are shut down, they’ll seek safer spaces to release their opinions. They may feel like they are treated unfairly because one group can speak out while the others are prohibited.” Another concern is that the lack of diverse opinions online leads individuals to become more convinced that their own opinions are righteous, and thus refuse to evaluate them in light of other views. In addition, the presence of hate speech means that civil discussions tend to occur within “echo-chambers,” where only like-minded people converse with each other.
Despite this, Pirongrong suggested that a law to suppress hate speech in Thailand would not fix the problem, particularly because of political influence into any potential legislation.
Read the full Bangkok Post article.
Citizen Lab’s Cyber Stewards Network Partner Donny Budhi Utoyo, Executive Director of ICT Watch, spoke to the Jakarta Post in an interview about Indonesia’s Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) law. In particular, he commented on the ‘right to be forgotten’ (RTBF) clause, included in the new law as Article 26.
Though there have been concerns with the vagenuess of the RTBF, Donny said that it was “a progressive move,” but one that should be “complemented by implementing regulation.” He suggested that the RTBF should not be used as a tool of digital censorship or digital concealment, say, in suppressing important information that should be accessible to the public like investigations of political corruption.
Other civil society organizations in Indonesia have outlined concerns with this possibility, as well as other aspects of the ITE law, such as cases relating to defamatory comments on social media. Cases prosecuted under the defamation provisions often involve comments against the politically powerful, rather than ordinary citizens. As a result, civil society organizations have suggested that this is an attempt to shield these individuals from legitimate scrutiny in matters of public interest.
Read the full Jakarta Post article.