Author Archives: Amitpal Singh

Paradigm Initiative Nigeria releases “Digital Rights in Africa” report

Cyber Stewards Network partner Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) has released the 2016 Digital Rights in Africa report, reviewing governments restrictions on Internet freedom this past year. The report analyzes 11 documented shutdowns across the continent, and a number of legislative developments that threaten digital rights.

PIN  goes on to identify common trends in the Internet shutdowns, including orders to private telecommunications companies and Internet providers to cut citizens off from the Internet. This, the report explains, is the result of very few individuals having broadband access, with most customers using mobile networks. These shutdowns often coincide with moments of political significance, including elections. These are often justified by references to national security, or even preventing students from cheating on exams.

The report provides an account of key events in over 25 countries in the continent, and concludes with strategies on mobilizing against digital right abuses.

Read the full report.

Cyber Stewards Network partners at the 2016 Internet Governance Forum

Cyber Stewards Network partners ran workshops and participated in programming at the 2016 Internet Governance Forum in Guadalajara, Mexico, held from December 6-9. In addition, several Cyber Stewards Network partners launched the 2016 Global Information Society Watch publication, a report to which they had contributed. Paradigm Initiative Nigeria also launched a report at the IGF, titled “Digital Rights in Africa,” reviewing governments’ restrictions on Internet freedom on the continent in the past year.

Cyber Stewards network Partner Asociación por les Derechos Civiles (ADC) hosted a two part workshop. The first session, about Data Protection Systems in Latin America, involved participants sharing concerns regarding the practice of collecting personal data from citizens, which has been carried out by both governments and the private sector. In addition, the regulatory frameworks of the Region and international standards for the protection of personal data were examined. The second session focused on biometrics and surveillance technologies, held in tandem with Privacy International. ADC shared their work on biometrics technologies used at the state level in Argentina, and discussion followed on the different uses of the technology, whether in migration management or by security agencies. Other organizations invited, including Derechos Digitales, shared their strategies for research and advocacy, and identify potential collaboration opportunities.

Donny BU of ICT Watch also co-organized the Indonesia Open Forum in tandem with the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The session investigated the effect of social media on democracy in Indonesia, and the ways it can be harnessed as a tool for strengthening civil engagement. Participants discussed ways to improve access for underrepresented groups such as youth and women. Read more information on the workshop.

Representatives from the Centre for Internet and Society and CIPESA were also in attendance at the IGF.

7iber interviews Citizen Lab staff on spyware in the Middle East

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.


Pirongrong Ramasoota in the Bangkok Post on social media hate speech

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.

Donny BU of ICT Watch in the Jakarta Post on Indonesia’s ITE law

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.

ADC publishes a report on the Latin American ‘Cybersecurity Agenda’

Citizen Lab’s Cyber Stewards Network Partner Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC) has released a report titled “Surveillance and Intelligence in the Latin American Cybersecurity Agenda Comparative Report: Chile-Argentina.” The report is part of a broader project exploring cybersecurity programs in the region, and compares the two countries in various ways, including the following:

  1. Verification and content of a cybersecurity concept both in Argentina and Chile.
  2. The institutions and agencies responsible for the work related to that activity, including the level of specificity the subject has reached in each of the countries under analysis.
  3. Applicable laws designed to address online surveillance work or work related to it, even when no specific reference is made. In the last section we mention what happens in both countries regarding the cybersecurity agenda or policies and describe the evolution of that particular process.
  4. Finally, relevant cases in both countries to show how cybersecurity issues have been handled when it conflicts with certain human rights.

At the conclusion of the report, ADC provides recommendations and suggestions based on the report’s findings, in order to ensure that human rights and civil society perspectives are taken into consideration when developing cybersecurity policy.

Read the full report.

ICT Watch wins 2016 WSIS Award

Citizen Lab’s Cyber Stewards Network Partner ICT Watch was selected for a 2016 WSIS Champion Projects Award, for their project entitled “”Internet Sehat” (Healthy Internet) Towards Indonesian Information Society.” Winners were announced at the 2016 WSIS Prize Ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland on May 3. WSIS Stocktacking documents the activities carried out by governments, international organizations, businesses, and civil society actors since the launch of the World Summit of Information Society conferences.

ICT Watch’s project was selected based on over 245, 000 votes, as well as a selection phase conducted by WSIS’s Expert Group. ICT Watch was one of five organizations selected under the “Ethical Dimensions of the Information Society” subcategory.

Project description:

ICT Watch is firmly committed to freedom of information and is keenly aware of the emerging challenge to the online freedom of expression in Indonesia. ICT Watch strategy is carefully calibrated to manage this challenge indirectly, by creating the conditions for responsible Internet use and the creation and distribution of high-quality online content, and by involving multistakeholder as partner in the program’s proliferation. Through the “Internet Sehat” program, ICT Watch have endeavored to show the multistakeholder that people can take responsibility for their online activities. For this ICT Watch released a how-to module under creative commons license for parents and teachers, and endorsed several public comic books for children/youngsters containing basic knowledge about the Internet safety. ICT Watch also participate in various offline activities, such as workshops, roadshows to schools/campuses and communities. ICT Watch communication media to public such as Facebook page with 73,000 members, Twitters with 697 thousand followers, Blog, YouTube, Flickr and Slideshare.

Visit the Internet Sehat homepage.

ADC and Derechos Digitales selected as Quantified Society grant winners

Cyber Stewards Network partners Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC) in Argentina and Derechos Digitales in Chile are among the recipients of the Quantified Society Grants, which distribute $270,000 to organizations in 10 countries around the world.

The international Quantified Society called for submissions from researchers, academics, journalists, human rights defenders, civil society organizations, and professionals. The selected proposals are intended to increase understanding of Big Data collection, and associated developments in human rights, innovation, and regulation.

ADC will use the funds to research the implementation of a multifunctional card system by the Buenos Aires city government, which aims to use big data in order to become a “smart city,” while Derechos Digitales will study the practice of mass collection of personal information and the ways in which it is used for labor discrimination in Chile by profiling potential employees.

Read more on the Quantified Society grants on the Media Democracy Fund page.