This Week in Internet Censorship: India, Iran, Brazil, Russia, and More
Iran Continues March Towards “Halal Internet”
This past weekend, Iran’s minister of telecommunications announced that domestic institutions including banks, telecom companies, insurance firms, and universities are now prohibited from dealing with emails that do not come from an “.ir” domain name. This means that customers who use foreign email clients such as Gmail, Yahoo!, and Hotmail will have to switch to domestic Iranian accounts, which are subject to Iranian legal jurisdiction.
While the announcement suggests that the use of foreign email clients leaves Iranian data vulnerable security breaches, the forced move to domestic email services makes it easier for the government to monitor its own citizens. The Telecommunications Ministry insists “that the crackdown is an attempt to ensure confidential information is safe” from foreign email providers who allegedly collect user data, making them insecure for Iranian institutional use.
The foreign email ban is the latest development in what is widely thought to be a transition towards a “Halal” Iranian Internet. The Iranian Telecommunications Ministry has denied “shutting off the Internet” for its residents, but what differentiates this email limitation from previous ones such as the restriction on secure (HTTPS) traffic is its overt nature.
Ustream Adds Russian-Language Option In Response to Crippling DDoS Attack
Livestreaming website Ustream.tv received a massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on the morning of May 9 that reportedly targeted the prominent user “reggamortis1,” a Russian citizen journalist who covers opposition protests and rallies, and is associated with Occupy Moscow. The attack rendered Ustream unavailable for about 10 hours—and the reggamortis1 channel continued to be inaccessible for several hours afterwards.
This most recent attack is consistent with other DDoS attacks launched at Russian opposition websites and social networks, but it is difficult to prove a direct link between these attacks and the Kremlin. In interviews following the episode, UStream’s CEO Brad Hunstable revealed that two similar attacks have previously taken the site offline for around 9 hours each time.
UStream has become an international household name among activists, as citizen journalists use it to cover protests in places as far flung as Oakland and Tunisia. Immediately after the attack, Ustream underscored its commitment to freedom of expression in Russia by adding a Russian-language option to the website.
Brazilian Paper Uses Trademark Law to Silence Parody Website
Falha de São Paulo, a parody website of the major Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo, has been engaged in an ongoing legal struggle with its object of its satire. In September 2010, Folha filed a lawsuit against the Falha website for “moral damages” to its reputation as a news organization. Folha also sought financial compensation for Falha’s mimicry of their layout and copy-editing. This case resulted in a “tie” for both parties: Falha’s domain remained frozen for unauthorized use of Folha’s intellectual property, but the rest of the suit was dropped in accordance with existing Brazilian legal precedent.
Falha is now suing Folha in return, in order to unfreeze its domain: falhadespaulo.com.br. A new injunction from Folha against the domain name registrar Regirstro.br led to the current website freeze. Folha describes its position as an intellectual property issue, rather than one of freedom of expression, by claiming that critical bloggers cannot use domain names or logos resembling its own. On the other hand, Falha’s appeal responds that other Brazilian websites continue to use logos and copy similar to those of Folha.
Intellectual property claims have often been invoked to curtail free expression, not just in the Brazil, but in the United States. In 2008, the EFF represented the activist duo The Yes Men when the South African diamond conglomerate De Beers, the target of a critical fake ad on an online spoof of the New York Times, sued the website’s domain name registrar for trademark infringement. Meanwhile, The Brazilian blogosphere has been strongly supportive of Falha’s cause as they continue to take on the country’s largest newspaper.
Indian Government Demands VoIP Interception Capability In the Next Month
Indian government has ordered Internet service providers to provide a way to intercept and identify the end user on unregistered VoIP calls within the next month. Currently, ISPs do not have to keep track of real-time user data, which, according to the government, exacerbates security risks in a world of proliferating VoIP service providers who use varying connection frequencies.
India’s decree is steeped in national security rhetoric: The government is targeting its request towards ISPs in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, a move based on allegations that members of Lashker-e-Taiba, a Pakistani Islamist organization that supports the integration of these states with Pakistan, frequently communicate through VoIP. This move is part of the ongoing erosion of civil liberties in India, a trend that includes Internet censorship of religious and political content and the collection of biometric data for India’s national ID program, which raises considerable privacy and security concerns.
Ayatollah Ali Khameni Victim of Iran’s Internet Censorship
Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khameni has become the latest victim of Iran's Internet censorship regime. Indeed, the keywords that Khameni chose for the fatwa announcement last week against anti-filtering tools led to his own decree being blocked along with the Iranian websites where it was published.
In response to this Kafkaesque turn of events, the conservative opposition website Tabnak wrote:
“The filtering of a [religious] order is so ugly for the executive [branch] that it can bring into question the whole philosophy of filtering.”
Currently, the Iranian Ministry of Telecommunications is choosing ignore these questions while looking for ways to improve its filtering and censorship systems. Khameni’s announcement has serious press freedom implications for journalists in the country who often need access to blocked websites.