This Week in Internet Censorship: A Resignation in the Palestinian Authority, China Tries to Make a Blind Man Disappear, and Vietnam Prepares to Attack Anonymous Speech
Palestinian Authority Communications Minister Resigns Over Internet Censorship
Two weeks ago, news broke that the Palestinian Authority (PA) was blocking eight websites critical of President Mahmoud Abbas. In the wake of that news, the US Department of State expressed concern and PA Communications Minister Mashour Abu Daqa resigned, stating that the PA's Attorney General, Ahmad Al Mughni, had ordered the bans. In response, Al Mughni defended the censorship, stating that some sites had been "blocked for legal reasons" while others were censored for "security reasons." Nevertheless, Al Mughni's actions were not based in law, as the Palestinian Authority lacks any regulation governing the Internet. Aside from Al Mughni's support, the censorship has been widely condemned, both within the Palestinian government and from human rights and press freedom groups.
Chinese Censors Try to Erase Escaped Activist, Encounter Streisand Effect
News about Chinese activist Chen Gaungchen has been censored by the Chinese government for months, but last week--in the wake of the blind lawyer’s spectacular escape from house arrest--the Chinese government immediately expanded their campaign aimed at erasing all references to the story from social media.
The Associated Press reported a list of phrases that have been blocked by government censors, including “Chen Guangchen,” “blind man,” and “American Embassy.” The list also includes phrases that have been used to indirectly refer to Chen Guangchen’s story, such as “The Great Escape,” and “Shawshank Redemption.” The list of banned phrases continues to expand as social media users across China find new ways to talk about “cgc.”
CPJ’s Madeline Earp points out that Chen Guangchen has benefitted from the Streisand Effect. The activist is better-known now than he was before his imprisonment. Instead of silencing Chen Guangchen’s fans, the cat and mouse game between his supporters and the censors has only contributed to his legend.
Vietnamese Government Plans to Ban Anonymous Speech, Criticism of State
The Vietnamese government has issued a draft decree of a law that is expected to be issued by the Prime Minister Nguyễn Tấn Dũng in June. The decree will require Vietnam’s 30 million Internet users to use their real names when posting online and will forbid them from engaging in a range of activities, including online speech that is critical of the Vietnamese communist party and state, its policies, or its leaders. Additionally, the decree will require companies based outside of Vietnam providing “online social networking platforms,” to “provide information and cooperate with Vietnamese government agencies” to address activities prohibited by the decree. Foreign companies will be required to open local offices and presumably to house their data centers inside of Vietnam—an effort to make companies such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Twitter to operate under Vietnamese law.
No major Internet company has chosen to locate its servers inside of Vietnam at this time. EFF joins with Viet Tan in urging Internet companies to oppose this decree and continue providing online platforms to the Vietnamese market that are consistent with their corporate responsibility. Google and Facebook have both discovered first-hand the dangers of moving into relatively liberal markets such as India, when they were forced to remove web pages deemed offensive to religious and political interests in India in accordance with a court order. Opening offices and storing data in Vietnam would be a blow to free expression for million of Vietnamese Internet users, who rely on foreign social media platforms to allow them to protect their right to speak anonymously and criticize the state.