In one way, though, PIPA is much worse: while SOPA is still in the House committee stage and has been the target of extraordinary public opposition, PIPA is already out of committee and poised for consideration of the full Senate. That means PIPA is a few dangerous steps further along in the process of becoming law. And with only a few weeks to go in this legislative session, the Senate may try to rush the bill through before the public has a chance to respond.
We're not going to let that happen. Despite their efforts to push this through under the radar, folks who care about the Internet and innovation are tracking this bill and getting the word out. You can help, in an old-school and very effective way: Pick up the phone.
Right now, the best response to this threat is to let your Senator hear your voice, explaining why you as a constituent think PIPA is such a bad idea. That’s why we’ve joined with many other public interest groups, including Public Knowledge, Fight for the Future, Demand Progress and others, in asking the public to call in to the Senate.
Even if you’ve already used our action alert (and thank you), please take a few minutes now and get on the phone with your Senator’s office. Let them know that Internet censorship is unacceptable.
Here are some talking points for you to mention during the phone call:
Hello, my name is [YOUR NAME] and I am a constituent of the Senator.
I think S. 968, the PROTECT IP Act, is a bad idea, and I hope the Senator will stand against it.
PROTECT IP is overbroad, and could be used as a tool for online censorship. Further, it creates a bad precedent internationally for fragmenting the Internet.
Thank you for your consideration, and for acting against this dangerous bill.
Big content is not going to give up on the idea that the best way to protect its slow-moving business model is to ensure that it gets to dictate the pace of innovation. Let’s send a signal that the next generation of creators and innovators will not let big content decide the future of the Internet.
Freedom of expression continues to come under attack in Mexico. This week, Mexican President Felipe Calderon announced that his government is exploring "all options to proceed legally against those who have denounced the government in international forums and in the courts." This announcement came in response to a complaint filed by Mexican activists and signed by over 23,000 Mexicans, in International Criminal Court last week, demanding that the court investigate alleged human rights violations by the army and the police as part of the state's war against the drug cartels. Reports indicate that the Calderon government is considering legal action not just against Netzei Sandaval, the human rights attorney who filed the complaint with the ICC in the Hague, but also against the 23,000 individuals who signed their names to the petition online. This is deeply troubling, as it could result in a profoundly chilling effect on political speech in Mexico.
In the meantime, Twitter users continue to face government harassment. Mareo Flores (@mareoflores) was detained by police earlier this month, based on a series of joking tweets he made shortly before Mexico's interior minister, Francisco Blake Mora, and seven other officials were killed in a helicopter crash. According to his father, Mareo was arrested two days after the crash when he was taken away by men in five unmarked black cars. He was released a few hours later after prosecutors interviewed him. Law enforcement officials have faced criticism stemming from the arrest, especially because the official investigation indicated that the crash was an accident rather than an assassination.
If the Mexican government seems overly sensitive about what its citizens are saying online, they pale in comparison to the Zeta drug cartel, which continues its campaign of terror against social media users in Nuevo Laredo. Earlier this month, the decapitated body of a man was found dumped one mile from the Texas border. A message written on a blanket found beneath the body read:
Hi, I am 'Rascatripas' and this happened to me because I didn't understand that I shouldn't post things to social networks.
"Rascaptripas" or "Fiddler" was the nickname of a moderator on social networking and news site Nuevo Laredo en Vivo. An editor for the website was confirmed murdered two months ago. Her decapitated body was dumped in the same location, along with a similar warning. Despite initial reports to the contrary, the identity of the newest murder victim remains unconfirmed. Nuevo Laredo En Vivo has announced on Twitter they have no connection to the man:
Negative, he was not our partner, he is confirmed to have been a scapegoat to scare others. The person executed is not a collaborator with our site, but this was without a doubt an attempt to silence the voices of Nuevo Laredo.
While the facts of this case are still unclear, there are a number of alarming possibilities. Nuevo Laredo en Vivo may be denying their connection to the murdered man in order protect themselves, in which case the Zetas may have used online surveillance to discover the identity behind Rascaptripas. If that is the case, social media users writing about drug violence in Mexico should be especially vigilant about maintaining their anonymity. Websites that host forums and chat rooms in which people discuss drug violence should review their security, enable HTTPS support, and encourage people to take stronger privacy precautions such as using Tor to connect to their site. Users must begin using pseudonyms and be very careful about reveal too much about themselves. If drug cartels have chosen to turn their considerable resources towards Internet surveillance, this murder could be the start of a very dangerous trend.
Another possibility is that the Zeta cartel has not made inroads into Internet surveillance at all--they actually don't have to. They could have murdered the wrong man, or they may not have made any effort at all to find the right man. The message that drug cartels are willing to mutilate and kill at random in order to silence criticism on social networks is just as much of a deterrent as the murder of real bloggers and moderators. Terror is the point. The Zetas don't have to be accurate, they just need to be brutal. Worse still, if the killings are random, then there are no concrete technical steps that social media users can take to protect themselves.
But social media users in Mexico will not be silenced. Shortly after the murder, a poster to Nuevo Laredo en Vivo wrote:
Let's continue denouncing them, now that we've seen that it burns them, hurts them...We have to continue. We can't give in.
For those that are still posting, taking steps to protect their security and anonymity are more important than ever. EFF will continue to provide the tools and knowledge to help Mexican citizens protect their privacy and anonymity in this confusing and potentially risky environment.
Thank you for being a part of the Electronic Frontier Foundation's movement to protect civil liberties. Did you know that you can help defend your right to privacy and fund EFF's work — all without spending your own money?
Right now CREDO Mobile customers and activists are voting on how to distribute an expanding pool of donations among 40 nonprofit organizations including EFF. When you sign our petition to fight invasive border searches on the CREDO website, you also become eligible to give EFF a slice of a multimillion-dollar donation pie.
Take action today and support EFF's future success:
1. SIGN THE PETITION TO STOP INVASIVE BORDER SEARCHES
In a free country, the government cannot have unlimited power to snoop through your laptop without any suspicion of wrongdoing. But when it comes to searching travelers who are entering the US, the government has carte blanche to take a laptop or smart phone, search through the files, and keep it for further scrutiny — without any suspicion of wrongdoing whatsoever. Join EFF and CREDO in calling on Congress to take action and defend the privacy rights of travelers.
2. VOTE FOR EFF
After signing the petition, vote for EFF so that we can continue defending digital rights!
These two simple steps can go a long way to help secure fundamental privacy and dignity wherever it is threatened. Don't forget to tell a friend! And you can always choose to support EFF directly with your membership or additional donation. Thank you for supporting our work and taking action.
On November 14th, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) sent a notice to Pakistani cell phone carriers, demanding that they block 1,600 terms and phrases it deemed “obscene” from being transmitted via text message. The extensive list runs the gamut from mundane words like “hole,” “joint,” and “period,” to head-scratchers like “Budweiser” and “Got Jesus.” The letter, published in both English and Urdu, instructed the providers to implement the ban within seven days or face legal action. As of Sunday, people were still able to send text messages containing words named in the list.
Telecoms ultimately failed to meet this deadline, choosing to defer action until they’re able to receive clearer instruction on how they were expected to implement the order. The PTA later denied that the 21st was a strict deadline at all. A PTA spokesperson claimed there was more time due to the weekend, acknowledged telecoms companies’ “reservations,” and said the PTA was “ready to sort that out through mutual discussions.”
In the meantime, blogs and newspapers were abuzz with the strange origin of the PTA’s list of banned words and terms. Initially thought to be a product of the PTA’s vulgar imagination, the list appears to have been derived from the American National Football League’s “naughty words” list. The list was first publically published in 2005 on Outsports, an online gay sports community, when they reported that the NFL Shop site initially banned the word “gay” from being printed on their gear.
All jokes aside, this proposed mass censorship is part of a broader trend towards moral policing in Pakistan. Shahzad Ahmed of Bytes for All, a human rights organization based in Pakistan focused on digital security, online safety and privacy, released a statement on the organization's website reacting to the proposed ban:
“We believe that this embarrassing and shameful directive by PTA is not all about banning abusive words; but about encouraging the act of moral policing by authorities.Bytes for All, Pakistan, vehemently denounces and condemn this absurd, illogical, and flawed decision by PTA, which only reflects how blatantly the poverty ridden Pakistani taxpayer’s money is being wasted on such shameful acts and against its own citizens.”
The statement draws attention to the PTA’s attempt to justify their ban by citing to two articles of their constitution and the Pakistan Telecommunication Act passed in 1996 which prohibits people from transmitting messages that are “false‚ fabricated‚ indecent or obscene.”Ahmed points out that these citations are incomplete:
“Exceptions of Article 14 and 19 are widely misinterpreted and misused by the authorities. Most concerning bit is that mentioned a part of Article 14 and stressed upon the “dignity of men” whereas, it totally forgotten the aspect of privacy under the same article. Spying by the authorities on common citizen’s communication is against any civil and political rights and internationally recognized civil liberties. Setting up of rigorous filtering mechanisms such as the one in question, and filtering each and every SMS for specific content is a massive violation of individual’s privacy, which is guaranteed under the Article 14.”
This is far from the first time the PTA has tried their hand at censorship. In 2007, in response to a Supreme Court ruling that ordered the blocking of “blasphemous” websites, the PTA blocked thousands of sites—not just those containing pornographic material or content offensive to Islam, but numerous vital websites and services unrelated to the order. In 2008, they briefly blocked YouTube because the site hosted Geert Wilder’s film “Fitna.” They blocked it again in 2010, over a hosted clip of Pakistani President Asir Zardari telling an unruly audience member to “shut up.” In May of 2010, the PTA blocked Facebook in response to a controversy over a competition to draw the Prophet Mohammed. This week’s attempt is notable because it is the first time they have tried to ban words from SMS texts.
It’s still not clear how the PTA intends to enforce this order onto telecom companies, nor what it expects them to do to ensure that users do not continue to use supposedly “obscene” language in their texts. But what is clear is that this ridiculous directive is part of an ongoing campaign by the state to increase its filtering and censorship efforts in the name of upholding moral order for its citizens.Even if the PTA backs off as a result of this embarrassing incident, there is good cause to dread whatever censorship order they think up next.
For more updates on this issue, follow the hashtag #PTAbannedlist, which was made in reaction to the announcement last week.
One year ago today, WikiLeaks started publishing a trove of over 250,000 leaked U.S. State Department cables, which have since formed the basis of reporting for newspapers around the globe. The publication has given the public a window into the inner workings of government at an unprecedented scale, and in the process, has transformed journalism in the digital age.
In recognition, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was just awarded Australia’s version of the Pulitzer Prize, in addition to the Martha Gellhorn journalism prize he won in the United Kingdom earlier this year. As Salon’s Glenn Greenwald observed, “WikiLeaks easily produced more newsworthy scoops over the last year than every other media outlet combined.” Yet at the same time, the Justice Department has been investigating WikiLeaks for criminal violations for doing what other media organizations have been doing in the U.S. for centuries—publishing truthful information in the public interest.
Here is a look at Cablegate’s impact on journalism surrounding six countries central to U.S. foreign policy, and why it is vital for the media to stand up for WikiLeaks’ First Amendment right to publish classified information.
The WikiLeaks Cables and Their Contributions to Journalism
This past summer, Senator John McCain was the most vocal member of Congress cheering for more aggressive military action to remove Libya's then-leader Muammar Gaddafi. But a WikiLeaks cable revealed just two years earlier, Sen. McCain had personally promised to arm Qaddafi with U.S. military equipment. Yet Gaddafi was one of the strongest critics of the WikiLeaks publications. The cables exposed the greed and corruption of his regime, and, according to some reports, seemed to drive him crazy. He even accused the CIA of leaking the documents to undermine him.
Long before U.S forces secretly entered Pakistan to kill Osama bin laden in August, the cables confirmed the U.S. military was already covertly operating inside the country—a fact that the U.S. government had previously denied for months. Despite public support for the Pakistani government, the cables also showed U.S. diplomats have long thought of the Pakistani intelligence service, the I.S.I., as a “terrorist organization” that tacitly supports al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
One of the first cables released in 2010 confirmed reports of another undeclared military action that the U.S. had previously denied—drones strikes in Yemen. At the same time, the cables detailed the secret deal the Yemeni President made with the U.S. to allow the strikes, which he lied to his people about in the process. When the C.I.A. extra-judicially killed alleged al-Qaeda leader and U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awaki with a drone in October 2011, the U.S. publicly announced the death but refused to officially release any information about the strike. A cable published by WikiLeaks provided a blueprint for how the attack was carried out.
During the Egyptian revolution, the cables gave the rest of the world a stark and unflinching look at the brutality of Mubarak and his regime, facts of which Egyptians were already well aware. The cables painted a “vivid picture” of the U.S.’s close ties with the regime, but also confirmed to the international community that police brutality in Egypt was "routine and pervasive" and that “the use of torture [was] so widespread that the Egyptian government ha[d] stopped denying it exists.”
The cables have been credited with directly influencing what came to be known as the Jasmine Revolution. In the early stages of mass political protests in Tunisia, Nawaat—the influential Tunisian blogging group—set up a website called Tunileaks and widely distributed the cables to Tunisian citizens. The cables confirmed that the U.S. viewed Tunisian President Ben Ali as a corrupt and brutal tyrant and fanned the flames of the already smoldering revolution. Amnesty International would credit WikiLeaks and its media partners as “catalysts” in the people’s successful ouster of Ali.
In what may turn out to be WikiLeaks’ most lasting legacy, CNN reported a month ago that a WikiLeaks cable played a role in expediting the return of all U.S. troops from Iraq and ending the decade long war. Negotiations to keep U.S. troops in Iraq longer than the original 2011 deadline were strained when Wikileaks released a cable showing the U.S. tried to cover up an incident where soldiers knowingly killed innocent women and children in Iraq. Iraqi negotiators indicated the cable gave them excuse to refuse to extend the troop presence.
This, of course, only scratches the surface, as the cables have shed light on almost every major foreign policy story of 2011. In April, Atlantic Wire reported that nearly half of 2011’s New York Times issues relied on WikiLeaks documents. And while all of the cables have now been released, the impact is still reverberating. Zimbabwe’s notorious dictator Robert Mugabe may be next to feel the effects. The BBC recently reported that WikiLeaks revelations may force him to step down from power, a notion that was previously “unthinkable.”
Long Term Impact: WikiLeaks and Threats to the First Amendment
As we look back at how the WikiLeaks cables have enriched and colored our understanding of recent history, it’s impossible to ignore that the Justice Department is currently investigating individuals allegedly associated with WikiLeaks, reportedly for possible violations of the Espionage Act of 1917—an outdated relic of World War I—which has recently been used to punish government leakers.
No media organization has ever been indicted, much less convicted, under the Espionage Act. Constitutional scholars almost uniformlyagree that a prosecution of a media organization would be devastating for press freedom and violate the First Amendment. The Justice Department has reportedly tried to avoid this constitutional problem by trying to craft charges against Wikileaks leader Julian Assange for soliciting or inducing classified information from his source under “conspiracy to commit espionage” theory.
Of course, asking sources for information is part of the normal news gathering process for any reporter, which is why Yale law professor Jack Balkin said the Justice Department’s strategy “threatens traditional journalists as well.” Secrecy expert Steven Aftergood argued that a prosecution under this theory could criminalize “ordinary conventions of national security reporting.” And former New York Times general counsel James Goodale remarked the Justice Department might as well be investigating WikiLeaks for “conspiracy to commit journalism.”
Yet the mainstream press, most notably the New York Times, has done little to defend WikiLeaks’ right to publish, despite the fact that legal observers on both the left and right have said it’s impossible to distinguish WikiLeaks and the Times under the letter of the law.
Assange’s rocky relationship with the Times and other media partners may be the reason for the Times’ silence. But, no matter what one thinks of Assange, failing to defend WikiLeaks’ right to publish government secrets is dangerously short sighted. With all the attention WikiLeaks has received, it’s easy to forget that newspapers have been publishing secret information for decades. In fact, in the past year, stories based on non-WikiLeaks classified information about Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Iran, and China have graced the pages of the country’s most established publications. And much of the information on which those stories were based is of a higher classification level than anything WikiLeaks published.
The New York Times may feel safe in the Justice Department's indication that they are not the target of any investigation, but the “trust us” argument will only last until the next big scoop. It was less than a decade ago that then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales repeatedlyclaimed he would like to investigate the New York Times under the Espionage Act for its stories on the NSA warrantless wiretapping program. New York Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing gross constitutional violations that also happened to be classified “Top Secret.” But with a successful WikiLeaks prosecution, a threat like Gonzales’ could force a paper to kill such a story, or worse: the next Pulitzer Prize winner may be forced to accept his or her prize from a jail cell.
The mainstream American press has the most to lose from a WikiLeaks prosecution. Whether or not Julian Assange is indicted can’t extinguish the idea WikiLeaks represents. We now know the technology and expertise exists to create anonymously driven whistleblower platforms that can advocate for government transparency by publishing all over the world. As the Economist said, “Jailing Thomas Edison in 1890 would not have darkened the night.” And despite the established press’s unwillingness to defend WikiLeaks, they are also trying to copy WikiLeaks' model.
As the media look back on the WikiLeaks cables’ wide-ranging impact on journalism this week, it’s important they also defend the idea behind WikiLeaks. Because if they do not stand up for WikiLeaks’ right to publish, in the end, it will only be harder to preserve the publication rights of mainstream organizations like the New York Times. The real casualty in a Wikileaks prosecution will not be Julian Assange; it will be the death of a free press and the First Amendment itself.
On Tuesday, Turkey instituted a voluntary filtering system blocks "objectionable content" when enabled. Users will now have to sign up for the free system with their ISP and select from two levels of filtering: child and family. The original intention for this tiered system was for it be mandatory, but authorities backtracked after widespread protests against the scheme.
Though the filtering is voluntary, Turkish experts still have concerns about various elements of the scheme. For one thing, oversight of the scheme is obscure, conducted by a newly formed committee called the "Child and Family Profiles Criteria Working Committee." In a recent interview, law professor Yaman Akdeniz of Bilgi University in Istanbul expressed concern, stating, "...the formation of this committee already raised concerns as it does not look independent nor impartial. Moreover, concerns remain that moral values will be imposed by the state authorities."
In addition to adult content, the filter will block 130 search terms, as well as "separatist" content from the PKK and Kurdish rights groups. Says Akdeniz, "I also believe that the Turkish authorities are not only trying to protect children but also adults from the 'so called harmful content.'"
EFF has expressed concerns in the past about similar schemes, such as the one proposed in Australia. Filtering is costly, easy to circumvent, and is too often overbroad, blocking content that would otherwise be deemed innocuous.
State censorship in any form threatens the health of democracy. Unfortunately, states commonly use creative rationales to legitimize it. Such is this case, using the guise of being sensitive to family and children's interests while the state quietly includes politically relevant terms in their list of blocked terms. In light of Turkey's history as a pervasive censor of the Internet, we have grave concerns about the trajectory of this new filtering scheme and will be following its developments closely.
UK Temporarily Blocks Fileserve
Just as in Turkey, the UK's Internet filtering system is overseen by a dubious secretive organization known as the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). One of the organization's responsibilities include managing the UK's block list of child sexual abuse sites and images. All of Britain's ISPs subscribe to this list.
In 2008, the IWF famously blocked the Wikipedia page of German band Scorpions because it contained the controversial cover image of the band's 1976 album Virgin Killer; the ban--later reversed--resulted in the inability of British Wikipedians to edit pages. In the wake of the Wikipedia debacle, the IWF considered blocking Amazon.com for hosting the same image, resulting in Amazon's decision to use a different version of the album cover on its site. In 2009, the IWF briefly blocked access to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.
This past weekend, the IWF blocked users of file-sharing site Fileserve from accessing their personal files and downloading files uploaded by others, allegedly because a specific link was thought to contain child sexual abuse imagery. Paid subscribers of Fileserve were also blocked from downloading content from the site. This is yet another case in which a state agency legitimizes censorship in the name of protecting its citizens. Even if the initial justification for such policies may seem fair, it is a dangerous slippery slope into the formation of more state mechanisms that stifle free speech.
Censorship Becomes Pervasive on Russian Forums
According to a report from Global Voices, censorship is taking various forms on Russian web fora in the run-up to parliamentary elections. Popular site Kostroma Jedis Forum (jedi.net.ru) had its server confiscated by police on November 16 on the grounds of a libel investigation, while two sites--Miass city forum and Chusovskoy Rabochiy--removed all comments, the former shutting down until election day. A fourth site, mcn.nnov.ru, declared itself a "politics-free zone."
Author Alexey Sidorenko writes:
These cases are only the few that received attention. It is unknown, however, to what degree regional discussion boards were either forced to switch to the ‘apolitical mode,' or decided to do it as an act of self-censorship.
Being more obscure and mostly anonymous, regional forums are more vulnerable to pressure from the authorities compared to larger media outlets or popular bloggers. However, they represent the voices that are usually heard the least.
Authorities' use of power to stifle civic engagement on forums is egregious to say the least. The EFF condemns the use of such tactics.
Today mobile software company Carrier IQ withdrew (pdf) a bogus legal threat to a security researcher who published an analysis of the company's software, as well as training materials on which he based his research.
Last week, Trevor Eckhart published a detailed article pointing out that Carrier IQ's software logs a great deal of information about users' activities without their knowledge. Attempting to suppress his research, Carrier IQ fired off a baseless cease-and-desist demand (pdf) claiming that Eckhart infringed the company's copyrights and made "false allegations" about their software.
Eckhart reached out to EFF for help, and we helped him push back against the unfounded threat. As EFF explained in a letter (pdf) to Carrier IQ on Monday, Eckhart's research and commentary is protected by fair use and the First Amendment right to free expression.
We're pleased that Eckhart gave us an opportunity to help him fend off this attempt to censor his findings and shut down public discussion about important privacy concerns. We also hope this incident will serve as an example to others who would misuse the law to squelch legitimate research and criticism.
Citizens nationwide have spoken out against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP, its counterpart in the Senate — and they’re not alone. A large and growing bi-partisan group of legislators have told their colleagues in the Capitol that Internet censorship is a very bad idea.
Since the House Judiciary Committee hearing on SOPA last Tuesday, Rep. Nancy Pelosi has come out against the bill, tweeting “#DontBreakTheInternet.” In opposing the bill, she stands alongside Representative Darrel Issa and the ten congressmembers who submitted a letter to their colleagues: Representatives Anna Eshoo, Jared Polis, Mike Doyle, Doris Matsui, Mike Thompson, Zoe Lofgren, Ron Paul, Lloyd Doggett, Mike Honda, and George Miller.
Senators Jerry Moran, Maria Cantwell, Rand Paul, and Ron Wyden have announced their opposition to the PROTECT IP Act in a letter to the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The participation of these senators in the letter indicates a broad bi-partisan opposition to Internet censorship.