Category Archives: 7iber

7iber is a Jordanian media organization that seeks to foster a more open society by creating original information content, providing a platform for critical conversation, conducting trainings and research in the field of digital media, and bringing people together.

In Jordan, the “Invisible Hand” Blocks Internet Archive

by Reem Al Masri

Adam Senft (Citizen Lab), Jakub Dalek (Citizen Lab) and Baraa Hassaniya (Jordan Open Source Association) contributed to the reporting. Translation was completed by James Cain.

Read the original post in Arabic.

Imagine a museum for the Internet; this is the closest description of the website “Internet Archive”. Of the tens of thousands of books available on the website free of charge, we found more than 127 thousand books in Arabic, most of which were original manuscripts. Books of Islamic jurisprudence and interpretation digitized by libraries of American and Canadian universities were also made available through Internet Archive. The website satiates a nostalgia that infects us from time to time to revisit coverage of Arabic websites of big events such as the coverage of the assassination of Rafiq Al-Harari in 2004, or to return to forums that vanished from the face of the internet such as Abu Mahjoob forum.

In October of last year, the non-profit foundation Internet Archive, along with the wider world, celebrated the 20 year anniversary of the founding of the website which aims to preserve memories of the internet and prevent digitally generated content from disappearing. 

The only ones who did not celebrate this occasion were internet users in Jordan. 

Since the beginning of the year 2016, internet browsers would simply display a message confirming the unavailability of the site, seconds after typing  its address www.archive.org , regardless of the service provider or method used. 

The website became available once again in February of the year, according to a statement received by 7iber from Chris Butler, the Office Manager of Internet Archive. In the meantime, during the four-month-long period from September 2016 to January 2017, the team at 7iber attempted to uncover the technical or legal causes which made a global website like this one unavailable to internet users in Jordan. There were two scenarios to explain the phenomenon: Firstly, there were technical issues within the website itself which impeded us, and other users across the world from accessing it. As for the second possibility, it was that the website had been blocked by the Media Commission in Jordan, as we’ve grown to expect, practicing its powers granted by the 2012 amendments to the Press and Publications Law

However, a third scenario was awaiting us. 

How can we technically  prove that the website was blocked? 

For us to begin research into the second scenario, we had to first confirm that there were indeed no technical issues within the website itself (scenario 1). We needed to find technical evidence of the block after succeeding to get on the website using Tor browser or a VPN. In collaboration with Citizen Lab and the Jordan Open Source Association, we ran a number of tests starting on November 17th 2016 on the network using the application WireShark. The application records all the traffic sent and received by a device when it connects to the internet. The results of the test revealed that devices which attempted to connect to the website Internet Archive were failing to complete the operation known as a “TCP handshake”, which is normally completed whenever a connection is created between two devices. This is something which can be taken as a clear indication that the website had been deliberately blocked. (For more technical details on this test please refer to the attached file).

The test results matched what Chris Butler, Office Manager at Internet Archive, had previously told 7iber in a statement: “reports reached us from two different users, the first of them in February 2016 and the second in March of the same year, both regarding the users’ inability to access the website from Jordan. The complainants had tried to access the website from a range of telecom company networks (Umniah, Zain, and Orange) only to find they were still unable to access the site”. Butler continues that after Internet Archive pursued the issue and were in touch with the Commission in December of last year, the website became available once again in the last days of January of this year. 

We ran a second test on the network once the website was available again, and the results now showed the successful completion of the TCP handshake, and the possibility of sending and receiving packets between the site’s server and testing device. This all confirmed that the website had been blocked before and that now the block had been lifted. 

The website was blocked centrally, but who blocked it and why? 

In November of 2016, at the time the website was still blocked, we directed a number of questions to the three entities through which a website blocking process normally has to pass: The Media Commission, which sends the decision to block the website to the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC), which in return disseminates it to telecom companies to enact it. 

Assuming that telecom companies have the most knowledge of their networks and are careful to carry out blocking decisions to avoid legal liability, we thought that they are the most capable of explaining the unavailability of the website on their networks. We got in touch with two companies (Zain and Orange) last November. The public relations employees in both companies seemed happy to cooperate with the media. After formally sending them our questions, Orange stopped replying to the numerous attempts made by 7iber to receive an explanation.  As for Zain, their response after several attempts to get an answer was that “the employee responsible for the block is on a family holiday, and there is not anybody else able to take his place and answer this question”. The public relations employee then dismissed our subsequent inquiry: “What if you were to receive an order to block a website whilst the relevant employee was on holiday?”

The reasons behind the telecom companies’ delays in replying to our questions may well have been purely bureaucratic through which inquiries from non-advertising media simply gets lost. However we were not the only ones being ignored in this way. Butler told us that Internet Archive had also repeatedly tried to contact OrangeZain, and Umniah throughout April 2016 in order to clear up the complaints which he had received,  without a single reply. The website also tried to contact the Ministry of Communications and the National Centre of Information Technology only to find the same level of disregard. 

As for the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC), despite their efficiency in communicating with 7iber, their responses to us seemed to answer another question, one we weren’t asking: “The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission is not the entity which issues the decisions but rather it is the entity which enforces the decisions the block sites as issued by the Media Commission, furthermore the Commission does not receive reasons behind the blocking of any website, and this is the same in the context of Internet Archive”.

When we tried to return to the original question: “Did the TRC carry out the dissemination of the decision to block the website Internet Archive?” the TRC responded with the same answer. We then asked the TRC whether it would be possible to supply us with all blocking decisions that they passed in year 2016, and their reply was that “the TRC is unable to disclose that given that these decisions are temporary and not fixed”.

The only place left to look for an answer was the Media Commission, the sole entity legally authorised to issue decisions to block websites as according to the amendments of the Press and Publications Law of 2012. The director of the Media Commission, Mohammad Quteishat, confirmed to us that at the end of last November, and after looking at all the blocking decisions in 2016, “there was not one which pertained to the website Internet Archive”.

Why did the website become available?

In February 2017, after the website was available, we contacted Chris Butler again. According to Butler, Internet Archive communicated with the Media Commission in January of this year to try again to inquire about the reason for the site’s blocking following all the previous failed attempts to contact telecom companies. The response from the Media Commission was that they would look into this issue, stressing that the blocking decision had not been issued by the Commission. Butler says that the commission got in touch with him at the end of January announcing that the website was “now” available in Jordan according to the following email: 

Again, we asked the director of the Media Commission, Mohammad Quteishat, about the reason for the site’s return to Jordan after being blocked for almost a year. However, Quteishat assured us that “the website was not blocked on the Commission’s network, at least as provided by the National Centre for Information Technology [gov ISP]”

And as for what the Commission wrote in its message, that the website “Is now available”, it did not insinuate for Qutaishat that “that the website was blocked,” according to what he told 7iber. As for our request for an explanation of the technical reports proving the blocking of the website, and the coincidence of the availability of the website shortly after Internet Archive contacted the Media Commision, he said: “I cannot answer. We did not have any hand in the blocking or the unblocking of the website, the website was not ever blocked according to a report from the follow-up committee.”

The third scenario: The invisible hand

The website Internet Archive was blocked quietly in Jordan, and then unblocked quietly. Despite the obscurity of the reasons behind the availability of the website, the story lay in discovering the extent of absurdity that the process of blocking websites in Jordan has reached. This absurdity is first structural. It began in the 2012 amendments of the Press and Publications Law, which the government is convinced has been effective in regulating online media. However, until now, the scope of the sites made subject to the Press and Publications Law remains controversial because it goes against the technical nature of network, that cannot define sites into “local” and “global”. The absurdity is also manifested through the administrative authority given by the law to the director of the Media Commission, allowing him to use his own discretion to identify which websites can be categorised under “electronic news website”. As for Internet Archive, it all points to the worst-case scenario: There is a parallel entity outside any radar, with influential central powers over the network, able to jump above the remit of the Media Commission and telecoms, and block or unblock websites centrally. 

“We’re appreciative that the Commission appears to have helped get us back online in Jordan,” Chris Butler told 7iber.  But despite what the Commission wrote in their email to him, that the website was “currently” available, Butler was hoping “they would reply to our follow-up questions and that we could clearly understand why the website was blocked at the level of the backbone”. 

“If the Government censored the site, they should say so,” he says. “If they claim to not have censored it, it would be helpful to have an explanation what the issue was and how it was resolved by the work that the Media Commission referred to.”

This story also reminds us of the absence of minimum transparency in the blocking process, even the legal and visible one. Telecom companies, the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission and the Media Commission keep blocking decisions locked in their drawers, without feeling obliged to make them public to citizens. 

According to Issa Mahasneh, president of the Jordan Open Source Association, the owner of a blocked website has the right to know which entity issued the decision to block that site, so that they may be able to challenge that decision. “So, for example, if a website was mistakenly blocked or blocked in a way which was illegal, then the owner would request compensation for losses from the entity which caused it this damage,” he says.

Neither we, nor Chris Butler, or the director of the Media Commision know who blocked the Internet Archive. However, what we know is that there is a parallel window for blocking websites, through which an “invisible hand” practices its authority and draws for us the Internet that it wants us to use, without any accountability. 

Attached file explaining the technical tests: 

We conducted network measurement tests on the ISP Orange, to determine if the website of Archive was blocked. In order to do this, we accessed http://www.archive.org in a web browser while collecting a packet capture using Wireshark. The page failed to load in the web browser, eventually returning a “The connection has timed out” error message.

In the packet capture, we can see in more detail why the page failed to load. The first step, the domain name resolution, completed normally. In response to our DNS query, we received the IP address 207.241.224.2, which is the correct IP address for Archive.  This is known because this IP address is in the ASN of Archive.

However, all traffic sent to this IP address did not receive a response. The testing client began the process of establishing a connection with the Archive server by initiating the 3-way TCP handshake. After sending the initial SYN packet, the testing client does not ever receive a response. The client tried sending this SYN packet repeatedly, and not receiving a response it eventually gave up.

These tests were repeated multiple times, and at no point did the testing client ever receive a response from the Archive server. This is highly suggestive of deliberate filtering.

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.

 

7iber featured in Newsweek for combatting censorship in Jordan

Cyber Stewards Network partner 7iber marked it’s eighth year anniversary since its founding on Jordan’s independence day by highlighting the poor state of press freedom and women’s rights in the country. Lina Ejeilat, one of 7iber’s co-founders, told Newsweek that showcasing such issues provides an “alternative narrative about what independence really means.”

“It’s more than just nationalistic slogans and putting a flag on your car. It’s really trying to push the envelope. There’s a need for professional journalism that is critical,” she added. Though Jordan is safer for journalists relative to many of its neighbours, print and online media outlets are still required to get a license from the government to publish. Ejeilat said that: “Licensing is a form of self-censorship,” given that it requires permission from the government. “That notion is so against everything that the Internet is about,” she said.

7iber was blocked by Jordanian media officials in 2013, and the organization continued to switch to mirror sites that were also taken down. The government eventually took 7iber to court for operating while unlicensed, and the case remains ongoing. Despite being opposed to the law, 7iber obtained a license in order to continue operating and publishing content.

Read the full article.

Cyber Stewards at the IGF14 in Istanbul

Members of the Cyber Stewards network are participating this week at the 2014 Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Istanbul, Turkey.

The IGF is taking place from 2-5 September, 2014 at the Lütfi Kirdar International Convention and Exhibition Center (ICEC). The overarching theme for the meeting is: “Connecting Continents for Enhanced Multistakeholder Internet Governance”.

Cyber Stewards Reem Al Masri from 7iber in Jordan, Walid al Saqaf from Yemen, and Renata Avila from Guatemala are participating in various panels at the event.

In addition, Francisco Vera from Derechos Digitales will be discussing intermediary liability issues with Malcolm Hutty (European Internet Service Provider Association (EuroISPA), Anriette Esterhuysen (Association for Progressive Communications (APC), Nicolo Zingales (Tilburg University) and Elonnai Hickok (Centre for Internet and Society).

For more information about the week’s events, click here.

Cyber Stewards Network 2013 Year in Review

Introduction

Since 2012, the Citizen Lab with the support of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) has been working on building bridges between researchers and activists in the global North and South to form a space of peers for collaboration and organization at local, regional, and international levels. This space emerged as the Cyber Stewards Network, and since then, members from the global South have been involved in key cybersecurity and Internet governance debates, policy discussions, litigation and advocacy campaigns. The following is a review of major outcomes in advocacy, litigation and public policy in 2013.

Research and Advocacy

Advocacy is broadly defined and in this context, Stewards who engage in advocacy are deeply rooted in evidence-based research as a foundation from which any good advocacy campaigns are developed.

Stewards speak out against Snowden revelations

Following the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) spying revelations, the Cyber Stewards Network partners were involved in awareness-raising activities on issues of cyber surveillance and privacy.

Partners in the Cyber Stewards Network joined the chorus of voices speaking out against the NSA program and its implications on domestic safeguards for data protection across the world. Alberto Cerda, International Program Director of Chilean NGO Derechos Digitales, wrote in an op-ed that the “violation of fundamental rights has a global character. What good is it for me to be protected in Chile if it’s actually the US government that’s violating my rights?” Derechos Digitales has cautioned users to be mindful of what content they upload on any network.

Ramiro Alvarez Ugarte, Director of Access to Information for Asociación por los Derechos Civiles, has also suggested that the PRISM revelations should force netizens in countries outside of the US—such as his native Argentina—to look at the powers that domestic intelligence agencies wield, especially where governmental oversight of these organizations is lacking.

CIPESA criticized the Ugandan government for its plans to use surveillance technology to monitor the social media accounts of citizens. On May 30, Ugandan Security Minister Muruli Musaka announced that the government would establish a “Social Media Monitoring Center”as a matter of national security. To assuage the public’s fears, a government spokesperson later clarified that the surveillance centre would only target cyber criminals. Civil society remains skeptical given the government’s track record of shutting down media or removing online content under the pretext of terrorism or other security grounds.

7iber challenges online censorship in the Middle East

In early 2013, 7iber started a blog series titled Wireless, where they continue to publish regular blog and multimedia content on media, censorship, and cyber security issues in the Middle East. This ongoing series includes short updates, articles, creative infographics, and videos that deal with relevant issues from the region.

Besides the busy research work, the group received significant media attention when in June, their website was blocked in Jordan along with over 250 other news sites. Subsequently, in July, 7iber was recognized as one of the top ten Arabic Blogs of 2013 [Arabic]. In December, the group worked closely with Global Voices to coordinate the 4th Arab Bloggers Meeting, which took place in Amman.

Training, Education, and Capacity-building worldwide

In 2013, the Tibet Action Institute (TAI) participated in several panel discussions to discuss cybersecurity and targeted threats as part of their “Safe Travels Online” campaign. In June 2013, TAI hosted an event in Dharamsala, India. This “Safe Travels Online: Tech Meet” with Cyber Steward and TAI Field Coordinator Lobsang Gyatso Sither and other TAI staff explaining security concepts and the use of security tools to members of the Tibetan community. Citizen Lab Research Manager Masashi Crete-Nishihata gave a presentation on the Lab’s Targeted Threats research and what they have learned about online threats targeting the Tibetan community. Lhadon Thetong, the director of the Tibet Action Institute, then gave a talk on the importance of digital security, activism and action in the Tibetan community in the context of the movement and struggle for independence. A second “Safe Travels Online: Tech Meet” was held in Toronto and was hosted by Students for a Free Tibet Canada. The meeting revolved around online targeted threats against activists, the Tibetan diaspora community, and their supporters.

As part of the “Safe Travels Online” campaign, TAI has developed a video series hosted on their website. The series stars Tibetan comedian Sonam Wangdue and shows him promoting security best practices for users of digital technology.

In Pakistan, Bytes for All continued their “Access Is My Right” advocacy campaign, which calls on Pakistani citizens to raise awareness about  Internet censorship, privacy, and freedom of expression in the country. B4A describes the campaign as “a call for [a] larger human rights movement in the country and [for] citizens to fight the ongoing censorship as it will further take its toll on already compromised civil liberties in the country.” In the past year alone, the campaign produced posters criticizing the blocking of mobile phone services to prevent sectarian terrorist attacks, highlighting research by the Citizen Lab with the assistance of B4A on the presence of Netsweeper in Pakistan, and supporting privacy rights in Pakistan after research showed the presence of surveillance software FinFisher in the country.

In Colombia, Colnodo held a public cybersecurity workshop in in September 2013. The workshop brought together participants from women’s organizations, civil society organizations, government bodies, and the private sector in order to raise awareness and capacity building for women leaders and defenders of human rights regarding online security issues.

In India, the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) launched its CIS Cybersecurity video series, a video documentary project featuring interviews with cybersecurity stakeholders from various sectors on hotly debated aspects of cybersecurity. The project aims to encourage wider public discussion around cybersecurity issues. Interviewees include: members of European Parliament, Mariejte Schaake and Amelia Andersdotter; Chief Security Officer for ICANN, Jeff Moss; Director of the Tibet Action Institute, Lhadon Tethong; Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Afilias Limited and member of the ICANN Board of Directors, Ram Mohan; Principal Technologist and a Senior Policy Analyst with the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, Christopher Soghoian; former Policy Advisor to the Netherlands government, Jochem de Groot; and Global Policy Analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Eva Galperin. CIS’s Cybersecurity series has informed the producton of a full-length documentary called DesiSec: Cybersecurity and Civil Society in India.CIS released a trailer for DesiSec in November 2013 and held a special screening for the documentary in December 2013.

Research and Litigation

Several members of the Cyber Stewards Network have adopted public interest litigation (PIL) as part of their research strategy. Regardless of whether a given lawsuit proves successful, civil society organization may use PIL to bring issues like violations of human rights and free speech to the forefront of national attention. Moreover, PIL can serve to educate a country’s judiciary on issues about which they may not understand.

Bytes for All lawsuits

B4A currently has several cases before the Pakistani courts and one before the UK courts in conjunction with Privacy International.

In January 2013, B4A submitted a petition to the Lahore High Court claiming that the rights of Pakistanis have been violated through the government’s censoring of various popular sites on the Internet. The censorship of YouTube as a consequence of the site hosting the controversial “Innocence of Muslims” video was highlighted in this case. This petition was initiated in collaboration with the Media Legal Defense Initiative, a non-governmental organisation which supports the rights of journalists and independent media. The Youtube case has received 19 hearings over the past year and a half. Most recently, B4A met with the Federal minister and other stakeholders, and the National Assembly passed a  resolution on unbanning the popular video-streaming site, however the site remains blocked. B4A remains committed to their long-standing anti-censorship/no-filtering stance and will oppose any options promoting censorship as a solution as they continue their advocacy work on this case.

Along with the so-called “YouTube case,” B4A filed a petition with the Lahore High Court on the possible use of the FinFisher product suite in Pakistan. The first hearing took place on May 13, 2013 and resulted in a court decision ordering the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to investigate the use of FinFisher software in the country. The court order further stipulated that the PTA must make a statement to the court by June 24, 2013. In October 2013, B4A submitted a contempt charge against the government for not reporting to the court with regards to the petition. B4A’s case is based on evidence revealed by the Citizen Lab on the presence of FinFisher software in 36 countries across the globe, including Pakistan.

B4A is also actively collaborating with Privacy International to sue the UK government over its Tempora surveillance program, which would allow GCHQ to wiretap networks passing through the UK. B4A and PI are arguing that the program violates the European Convention on Human Rights’ privacy safeguards as well as the limits of lawful surveillance outlined in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. The suit, which was filed with the UK’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal, asks that the program be made illegal and that GCHQ destroys all unlawfully obtained material.

For these and other efforts, B4A and its Director, Shahzad Ahmed, have received international recognition. In March 2013, B4A received an Avon Communications Award “for organizing campaigns for the betterment of women” through their Take Back the Tech campaign. One year later, Shahzad Ahmed won the Doughty Street Advocacy Award as part of the Index on Censorship’s 2014 Freedom of Expression Awards. The award recognized Ahmed as “one of the leading voices in the fight against online censorship in Pakistan.”

PIN vs. the Nigerian government

PIN initiated its own legal action against the Nigerian government. In April 2013, Premium Times, a Nigerian English-language newspaper, reported that President Goodluck Jonathan had awarded a USD 40 million contract to Elbit Systems, an Israeli company that markets itself as an “international defense electronics company.” PIN responded by filing a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, demanding that the Nigerian government provide details of the process through which the contract was awarded and any information that could shed further light on the substance of the contract itself. After the government failed to respond to the FoI request, PIN applied for an order of mandamus from the Federal High Court in Abuja, which in turn asked the National Assembly to amend Nigeria’s 2011 Freedom of Information Act to henceforth bar unjustified requests for information. PIN’s lawyers filed an appeal against the Federal High Court’s ruling, but on November 26, 2013, Premium Times reported that Elbit Systems officials had begun installing its surveillance system in Nigeria.

Data Privacy and Retention in Argentina

Members of the Cyber Stewards Network are active in efforts to raise awareness on the use of surveillance technologies such as the Federal System of Biometric Identification (SIBIOS) in Argentina. SIBIOS is a centralized biometric identification system created in 2011 as part of an upgrade to Argentina’s National Registry of Persons (RENAPER). It is designed to be used by several government agencies, including the Federal Police, the Argentine National Gendarmerie, the National Coast Guard, and the Airport Security Police, and connect them into one database. Ramiro Álvarez Ugarte of Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC) in Argentina has warned that SIBIOS lacks accountability and independent oversight, and has been actively investigating the extent and scope of the system’s capabilities.

During Argentina’s 2013 presidential election, the country’s electoral registration took photo’s of Argentine’s citizens from RENAPER without obtaining permission. In October 2013, ADC  formally requested the Contentious Administrative Proceedings Tribunal to remove these photos from the electoral database. The vulnerability of this database was revealed in late October 2013 when a teenager discovered a way break into the database which hosts the photos of voters and circulated the information on his blog [Spanish] to highlight the government’s lax security measures around personal data. (A translation can be found here.) This issue was brought to the attention of United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in a report published in December 2013 and co-authored with Privacy International discussing surveillance and poor privacy protection in Argentina.

Research and Public Policy

One of the key goals of the CSN is to conduct evidence-based research with the goal of influencing local, regional and global policy debates. Over the past year, Stewards have engaged in direct meetings with high-level officials, participated in key decision-making conferences and engaged governments and the general public.

FinFisher in Mexico

In Mexico, Cyber Steward Renata Avila has joined the chorus of voices calling for government accountability regarding the its purchase of surveillance software. In March, the Citizen Lab published “You Only Click Twice: FinFisher’s Global Proliferation,” which found FinFisher command and control servers on two Mexican Internet service providers, including UniNet, one of the largest ISPs in the country. Following the release of “For Their Eyes Only: The Commercialization of Digital Spying,” two Mexico-based human rights groups, Propuesta Civica and ContingenteMx, filed a verification procedure with Mexico’s privacy authority (IFAI) regarding FinFisher’s presence in the country. The IFAI subsequently opened a preliminary inquiry asking ISPs whether they were hosting FinFisher servers, while Federal Deputy Juan Pablo Adame proposed a resolution before the Mexican Senate and Congress encouraging the IFAI to investigate the deployment of FinFisher. In July, documents leaked by YoSoyRed implicated the Mexican Federal Government in purchasing FinFisher software from a security contractor for up to USD 15.5 million. One month later, the Mexican Senate and Congress passed a joint resolution in which they demanded full investigation into the contracts for the purchase of surveillance and hacking systems capable of monitoring mobile phones, electronic communications, chats, and geolocation data. Congress also called for laws to regulate and restrict purchases of surveillance equipment, extensively quoting the Citizen Lab report in their request. The commercial entities named have not yet responded. IFAI also informed Congress that they would continue the investigation.

Regional and Global Internet Governance Discussions

In 2013, the Cyber Stewards were heavily involved in both worldwide and regional discussions on Internet governance. Cyber Steward and ICT Watch Director Donny B.U was one of the main organisers of the 2013 Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Indonesia in late October. Donny spoke to Detik about Internet governance in Indonesia. ICT Watch used the 2013 Internet Governance Forum in Bali, Indonesia as an opportunity to facilitate involvement among Indonesian CSOs and call for government attention toward Internet governance issues. As part of the organizing process, Donny also established the Indonesian CSOs Network For Internet Governance (ID-CONFIG) as a forum for civil society organizations to exchange information and coordinate strategies to explore and address Internet governance-related issues in Indonesia. This forum united civil society organizations to participate in the IGF in a more cohesive way, and as a result, they were able to significantly influence the agenda and the degree to which the Indonesian government resisted pressure to comply with international norms on freedom of expression.

The CSN used the opportunity of the 2013 IGF to engage in a kind of “just-in-time” research project, by monitoring information controls in and around the IGF itself.  The exercise was undertaken by Citizen Lab researchers attending the IGF and remotely in Toronto and elsewhere, as well as local Indonesian CSN and Privacy International partner . We published a framework post, that set out the terms of the research, and then subsequently, Professor Sinta Dewi Rosadi (Faculty of Law, Padjadjaran University, Bandung, Indonesia), published our report and its initial findings during the IGF itself.

Almost every network member participated in the IGF. Immediately following the event, a coalition of civil society organizations and individuals (including other Cyber Stewards Network members Renata Avila and Paradigm Initiative Nigeria) delivered astatement to the co-chairs of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The OGP aims to promote transparency and adopt new technologies to strengthen governance.The statement, which was informed by discussions at the IGF in Indonesia, calls for greater transparency among all governments, especially the OGPparticipating countries, regarding the use of surveillance technology and the export and import of such technology.

CSN members also played a key role in organizing or participating in regional Internet governance discussions. Walid Al-Saqaf participated in several high-level meetings, including the Second Arab Internet Governance Forum (AIGF) in Algiers, where he moderated a session on freedom of expression on the Internet in the Arab world. It was the highest level pan-Arab meeting that critically discussed violations against cyber activists in the region. He also co-founded ISOC-Yemen, the first ISOC chapter in Yemen, in order to advance Internet accessibility and awareness in the country.

PIN and CIPESA co-hosted a series of online internet freedom discussions during November and December 2013. Over four weeks, the discussions focused on a variety of online safety and Internet governance issues particular to Africa, including the African Convention on Cybersecurity and surveillance between countries on the African continent. Following the discussions, CIPESA published a report analyzing participants’ responses and making a number of recommendations.

Finally, B4A and ICT Watch participated in the “Asia Regional Consultation on ‘Freedom of Expression for Civil Liberties’” held in Bangkok, Thailand from November 21-23, 2013. The event focused on three issues relevant to free expression cyberspace in Asia: access to the Internet, online surveillance, and political-electoral communication. The event featured

It was attended by 137 participants from 26 countries, including Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

For more information on any of these events, campaigns and cases, visit the Cyber Stewards site as well as individual Stewards’ websites, which are listed here.

7iber website blocked for second time

The Jordanian Media Commission has blocked access to 7iber.org from within the country, an alternate domain of 7iber.com made after the latter was blocked previously. 7iber.com was first removed via the Press and Publication Law, which requires all media commentary on the “Kingdom’s internal or external affairs” to be approved by licensing from the Jordanian Media Commission.

No notice or official information was provided, and 7iber received news of the ban through sources at the internet service providers, who received a blocking order from the Telecom Regulatory Commission. This follows 7iber’s recent approach to the Jordanian Media Commission for information on website licensing, as well as book and film censorship in Jordan. At the time, the commission cooperated and provided all relevant documents. The information provided was used to write data-based stories for the website.

Since the initial censorship of 7iber.com, the news magazine has taken on research projects on internet governance and digital rights, and further developed media monitoring project ‘Ghirbal.’

The organization also produced a video on the impact of proposed amendments to Jordan’s Telecommunication Law, which can be watched here. While the site remains blocked within Jordan, it has moved to the new domain 7iber.net.

 

Arab_Bloggers_Meeting

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

7iber Conducts Jordan’s First Internet Governance Research Project

In June 2013, Jordan’s Press and Publications Department initiated a ban on all Jordanian news websites that have not registered and been licensed by the government agency. 7iber was among the more than 300 news websites blocked as a result of this initiative. Since its website was blocked, 7iber has been working with lawyers and other media groups to challenge the law and has used the opportunity to raise awareness about Internet filtering and freedom of expression.

Jordan’s Press and Publications Law, first proposed in 1998, was amended in August 2012 to extend to digital media restrictions that have long been in place on print, radio, and television news. Among the restrictions are stories deemed insulting to the royal family, publications that promote sentiment antithetical to the Jordanian nation or “Arab-Islamic values,” and anything that might incite sectarian conflict or violence. The amendments effectively granted the government the power to block any website it deems to be in violation of the above provisions without obtaining a court order. The amendments also established the liability of publishers and website owners for the comments their readers post.

7iber develops content to raise awareness about Internet security, surveillance, and censorship circumvention in Jordan and the Middle East more broadly through  initiatives such as its Wireless blog. 7iber has organized multiple public sessions with the aim of discussing Internet issues with lawyers, cyber crimes experts, and activists working on Internet freedom and online freedom of expression.

It aims to map the scope of control of the Jordanian government, the private sector, and civil society over the Internet within its various physical and virtual layers. As part of the Cyber Stewards Network and partly inspired by the recent blocking of its website, 7iber has been working on the first-ever research project on Internet governance in Jordan. The project explores the roles of different stakeholders in shaping the state of Internet governance in Jordan and their impact on digital rights.

7iber’s research will analyze the implications of the jurisdiction of relevant physical and virtual entities on the fundamental rights of Jordanian netizens defined in the International Bill of Human Rights, mainly: the freedom of communication; the freedom of association; and the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authorities regardless of frontiers and through any medium, freedom from surveillance and intrusion into one’s private life and social and political activities.