South Korea’s renewed crackdown on free speech on the Internet has been in the news lately. In a recent article, the New York Times highlighted the democratic, Internet-savvy country’s “vigilant army of online censors” which it says would not be out of place in China. The report specifically calls out censorship of statements that are seen as critical of the government or disrespectful of the President, including a man whose Twitter account was blocked because he called President Lee Myung-bak a curse word and another who had his account blocked for using a pseudonym that translated to “Lee Myung-bak bastard.” Korea’s censorship board is empowered to act with impunity, deleting content without ever notifying the author. And regulators have only grown more zealous, removing more than 53,000 Internet posts in 2011, up from 15,000 in 2008.
The report also describes Korea’s criminal defamation law as a key tool in stifling online dissent. United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank LaRue described his concerns in a 2011 report, saying “Many criminal defamation suits are brought for statements that are true and are in the public interest.”
EFF has long been troubled by the rising tide of Internet censorship in South Korea. This Week In Internet Censorship has oftenfeatured South Korean as a bad actor, and we are glad to see the news media catching on.
Burmese Government Abolishes Pre-Censorship, Still Has Plenty of Censorship Left Over
This week, the Burmese government announced to the editors of weekly journals that they would no longer be required to submit their articles to the state censorship board before publication. While this concession might count as a small step towards media freedom in the country whose military junta has recently eased its grip on power, media censorship is still very much alive in Burma, on the Internet and elsewhere.
The censorship board will continue operations, monitoring the news in all its forms, and the other regulatory frameworks remain in place. Key to the suppression of freedom of expression on the Internet is the 2004 Electronic Transactions Act, which makes it “unlawful to use electronic transactions technology to send or receive information relating to state security.” In 2008, closed courts used this law to deliver prison sentences to dissident bloggers and activists, including prominent blogger Nay Phone Blatt, who received a sentence totaling 20 years. The OpenNet Initiative reports that “the Electronic Transactions Law also constituted part of the 59-year sentence handed to Maung Thura, comedian, film director, and blogger, who was convicted for circulating his footage of relief work after Cyclone Nargis on DVD and the Internet, as well for criticizing government aid efforts in interviews with overseas media.”
EFF joins the Committee to Protect Journalists in calling for the abolition of the censorship board as a first step towards meaningful media reform in Burma. There is still a long way to go.
Malaysian Government Vows to Review Internet Censorship Law in Response to Blackout Protest
On August 14th, thousands of Malaysians participated in a protest inspired by last year’s blackout campaign against SOPA/PIPA. The threat to Internet freedom that had Malaysians blacking out their website to express their opposition was a recent amendment to the Evidence Act 1950, known as S114A, which they say poses a grave threat to freedom of expression on the Internet.
S114A, titled “Presumption of Fact in Publication”, holds (1) those who own, administrate, or edit websites open to public contributors, such as online forums or blogs; (2) those who provide webhosting services or Internet access; and (3) those who own the computer or mobile device used to publish content online, will be accountable for content published through their services, on their sites, or ‘in their name'. Furthermore, those alleged to have posted illicit or defamatory content are assumed to be guilty until proven innocent, turning the ‘innocent until proven guilty' logic of judicial due process on its head.
The protest prompted Malaysian Prime Minister Mohd Najib Tun Razak to tweet:
I have asked Cabinet to discuss section 114A of the Evidence Act 1950. Whatever we do we must put people first .
Gerakan Deputy President Dato’ Chang Ko Youn has also announced that he supports the government’s move to review S114A, though he also appeared to urge self-censorship, stating that he “also hopes that the netizens will be more self-restraint and responsible while publishing comments or sharing information through the cyberspace… Cyberspace is not a wild wild West. One must be responsible for what he or she says and writes.”
EFF and Craig Newmark's team at craigconnects have created an infographic about Section 230 of the controversial Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996. Though many provisions of the CDA was rightfully found to be unconstitutional, Section 230 remained, allowing the Internet to flourish while fostering free speech.
CDA 230 provides websites, blogs, and social networks that host speech with protection against a range of laws that might otherwise hold them legally responsible for what their users say and do.
CDA 230 is a fundamental shield that allows Yelp to host reviews, Craigslist to host classified ads, and Facebook and Twitter to host users' posts. Without it, websites and Internet Service Providers would be costlier, operate with less efficiency, and be motivated to censor.
Check out why CDA 230 is so important in the infographic below:
Information, media, and educational professionals, as well as government executives and members of the public met at the International Conference Media and Information Literacy for Knowledge Societies in Moscow, Russia last June. UNESCO, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), and other state and non-state agencies held this conference in order to raise awareness of the significance, scale, and topicality of media and information literacy advocacy.
This document was produced through a collaborative process involving participants from 40 countries:
" The changing media landscape and the rapid growth in information are affecting individuals and societies now more than ever. In order to succeed in this environment, and to resolve problems effectively in every facet of life, individuals, communities and nations should obtain a critical set of competencies to be able to seek, critically evaluate and create new information and knowledge in different forms using existing tools, and share these through various channels. This literacy creates new opportunities to improve quality of life. However, individuals, organizations, and societies have to address existing and emerging barriers and challenges to the free and effective use of information, including, but not exhausted by, the following:
This literacy creates new opportunities to improve quality of life. However, individuals, organizations, and societies have to address existing and emerging barriers and challenges to the free and effective use of information, including,
but not exhausted by, the following:
* Limited capacities, resources and infrastructure;
* Censorship, limited information in the public domain, commercialization, privatization, and monopolization of information;
* Lack of respect for cultural and linguistic diversity;
* Excessive and inappropriate legal barriers to accessing, distributing and owning information;
* Lack of awareness of long-term preservation of information, particularly personal digital information; and
* Lack of cross-sectorial and interdisciplinary collaboration among stakeholders (between librarians and media educators, between mass media outfits and academic organizations, etc.)"
Media and Information Literacy is a basic human right in an increasingly digital, interdependent, and global world, and promotes greater social inclusion. It can bridge the gap between the information rich and the information poor. Media and Information Literacy empowers and endows individuals with knowledge of the functions of the media and information systems and the conditions under which these functions are performed.
The final declaration is now available. The set of presentations and texts that provided the background leading to the declarati
As you’ve likely heard, Apple and Samsung continue to duke it out in what commentators have calledthe “patent trial of the century.” The case involves more than three dozen devices (such as iPhones, iPads, and Galaxy phones and tablets) and various patents, allegedly covering Apple’s designs, “double-click-to-zoom,” 3G technology, and various other functionalities. But what’s really at stake?
Apple argues that it’s been harmed to the tune of $2.5 billion (!) and seeks to have Samsung’s products banned from the market. Samsung claims that Apple owes it at least $400 million in back royalties. Right now, the companies’ fates lie in the hands of the jury, but it’s not Apple or Google who stands to suffer the most harm: it’s the consumer.
Depending on how the case turns out, consumers could find themselves with fewer choices, since — if Apple has its way — the Galaxy products will be off the market. (In fact, the judge in this case already enjoined the sale of the Galaxy Nexus phone, but the injunction was stayed pending the outcome of this trial.) Less competition is bad for consumers, and those who already own Galaxy products could find themselves with a more limited market for accessories and repairs.
This lawsuit has garnered much attention, but it’s just the latest in a long line of intellectual property cases between parties big and small that abuse the system and misallocate valuable resources (you might remember such recent hits at Oracle v. Googleand the Eolasdebacle). The high costs of this litigation — usually well into the millions of dollars in a single case before any damages are even awarded — are often spread over many lawsuits, as parties take these fights to courts all over the country and the world. And it's not just the costs of litigation, but that companies feel a need to grow their own patent arsenal defensively. Taken together, these outrageous patent expenses are often ultimately borne by the consumer in the form of higher prices. Even worse, each dollar that is spent on lawyers and litigation costs is not spent on growing businesses, investing in R&D, hiring more employees, or otherwise benefitting our recovering economy.
Our patent system is intended to incentivize innovation, in theory at least. Lately it’s become little more than a tool to squelch competition, and it’s not just the Apples and the Samsungs of the world who find themselves fighting these battles. It’s also small and innovative companies, local governments, foreign companies trying to make it in America, hobbyists, and even individual developers. The problems are particularly acute in the world of software: it turns out that software patents are nearly five times more likely to be the subject of litigation as other patents. In fact, lawsuits surrounding software patents have more than tripled since 1999.
Apple v. Samsung is not the problem in itself, but it’s a symptom of a broken system. You can find some of our proposals to fix it at defendinnovation.org. We also support pending legislation that would make it tougher to bring bad lawsuits and a little easier to fight back and other self-help remedies for those who don’t want to waste their time and money fighting bad software patents. But it won’t be until the consumers stand up and take on this fight, too, that we will see real change.
It's that time again! South by Southwest has launched their Panel Picker, inviting the Internet community to help select the panels that will be featured at the next festival. There are quite a few panels this year featuring EFF staff and friends. We've highlighted a few of them below. Check them out and vote them up if you want to see them in Austin!
Our Director of International Freedom of Expression Jillian York and Jennifer Lynch team up with academics from the University of Texas and the University of Georgia to talk about "CryptoWars Deja Vu." This panel looks at the new wave of export controls on communications tools and what tech companies can do to ensure that people world wide can have access to technology that protects their rights.
In "Drones Gone Wild," EFF Activists Trevor Timm and Parker Higgins will be joined by Ryan Calo from the University of Washington Law School and Nabiha Syed from the New York Times to talk about the future of drones and privacy.
Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann is proposing a solo talk on "Legal Bootcamp for Mobile Developers." She'll cover jailbreaking, reverse engineering, storing user information, and intercepting communications. If you're in the mobile development space, this stuff is vital to know.
Activist Adi Kamdar is teaming up with Parker Phinney of Sneakpeeq to provide a master class on the amazing art of improv and how it can help with creativity and team building.
The bill would require law enforcement to obtain a search warrant anytime it requests location information from an electronic device. It codifies the Supreme Court's decision from earlier this year in United States v. Jones, which ruled that the installation of a GPS device for purposes of law enforcement investigation requires a search warrant. Having passed both chambers of the California legislature by a combined vote of 93-17, and assuming the Senate concurs with the version of the bill passed by the Assembly, the bill will soon land on the desk of Governor Jerry Brown.
The last EFF supported California privacy bill -- SB 914, which would have required police to obtain a search warrant before searching the contents of an arrested person's cell phone -- was vetoed by Governor Brown in 2011. In his opinion vetoing the bill (PDF), he wrote "courts are better suited to resolve the complex and case specific issues relating to constitutional search-and-seizures protections." But when it comes to location data, legislatures play an important part in protecting privacy for all of us.
Justice Alito made this exact point in his concurring opinion in Jones, writing "in circumstances involving dramatic technological change, the best solution to privacy concerns may be legislative." After all, as we saw just last week in the Sixth Circuit's disappointing decision upholding warrantless cell phone tracking, courts have been slow to recognize the privacy implications of allowing the government easy access to location information. While we believe there is a role for courts to play in safeguarding privacy -- and we just filed an amicus brief explaining why a court must demand a search warrant for government access to cell site tracking data -- we also think legislatures need to be aggressive in enacting strong privacy protection laws.
We urge Governor Brown to have California take the lead on this issue and sign SB 1434. Requiring California law enforcement to obtain a search warrant for location data strikes a sensible balance between keeping the public safe and preserving our privacy.
EFF has been fighting against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) intellectual property chapter for several years. This agreement poses a great risk to users’ freedoms and access to information on a global scale.
We have created this infographic to capture the most problematic aspects of TPP, and to help users, advocates and innovators from around the world spread the word about how this agreement will impact them and their societies. Right-click and save the image for the PNG file, or you can download the PDF version below.
For more information on other aspects of the TPP, visit Public Citizen’s resource page.
No matter where you are in the world, you can sign on the Stop The Trap petition, which has already signed by more than 100,000 people and organizations.
Local actions around the world
If you’re in New Zealand, InternetNZ has created a platform for Kiwis to digitally write personalized messages on post cards. They will deliver them straight to the Minister of Trade once they reach 5,000 cards.
EFF has long contended that existing export controls—maintained by the Departments of Treasury and Commerce—hinder the ability of activists in countries like Syria to communicate. Restrictions on the use of hosting services, antivirus tools, and even circumvention technology make the already-unsafe Syrian Internet even less safe for users. Meanwhile, the Syrian government has repeatedly circumvented sanctions for the purpose of surveilling citizens. These controls are not only ineffective, they’re counterproductive.
Last week, our position was affirmed by an article in the Washington Post that quoted Syrian activist Dlshad Othman as saying that U.S. sanctions have made it “much harder and more time-consuming to get anti-surveillance tools installed on activists’ phones and computers.” (Note the article also referenced our recent joint effort to push companies to be more proactive in obtaining licenses and pushing for reform.)
And just yesterday, a new petition—authored by Othman—went live on Change.org. The petition is addressed to, among others, Senator John Kerry—who, as recently as 2010, was pushing for engagement with Syrian President Assad—and asks for two concrete actions: A new general license to clarify exemptions for personal communications and security technologies, and a streamlined process for giving clear formal and informal guidance to companies.
These actions are a step in the right direction, and will do a great deal of good in the short term. A general license could clear up questions about the current exemptions. For example, despite the fact that the existing general license states that web hosting services for personal communications are exempt, numerous hosting providers still refuse service to Syrians out of fear of falling afoul of the Commerce Department. Likewise, a better process for guidance would be of great help to companies, several of whom have privately stated frustration with the current process.
In the long term, however, we hope that the Obama administration will affirmatively make clear throughout its various agencies that providing digital communications and information tools to citizens around the world, especially those under repressive governments, is not only legal, but encouraged.