politics of cyberspace
Thousands of people in Poland on Jan. 23 protested the government's planned changes to the legal code that would increase its surveillance over Polish citizens. The proposed changes to the law, initiated by the ruling Law and Justice Party, would expand the government's power to access digital data and loosen restrictions of using surveillance in law enforcement. The Law and Justice Party has been making moves to gain more control over the judiciary since it took office in November. The European Union has taken notice, launching an investigation into allegations that the Polish government is undermining democratic principles. If Poland were to be found guilty of these allegations, the country would lose voting rights in the EU for a specified period of time.
Imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi (official website)—a recent recipient of the prestigious European human rights award, the Sakharov Prize—has suffered fainting spells and deteriorating health owing to the lengthy hunger strike he initiated more than 20 days ago. According to Ensaf Haidar, Badawi's wife who was recently granted asylum in Canada, the strike was initiated primarily to protest Badawi's transfer to a different prison in Saudi Arabia. However, neither the government of Canada nor Amnesty International in Canada has been able to confirm the hunger strike. Regardless, Canada has expressed its commitment to continue its calls for clemency on Badawi’s behalf. Haidar stated that she last spoke with Badawi two weeks ago, and had been kept informed of Badawi's condition by a contact in Saudi Arabia whom she declined to identify. Haidar had been separated from Badawi for the past four years and was hoping to be reunited with him by the end of 2015.
China's top legislative body, the National People's Congress Standing Committee, passed a new anti-terrorism law on Dec. 27, requiring technology companies to provide decryption of any communication to officials on demand. Lawmakers insist this does not constitute the "backdoor" that was written into earlier versions of the legislation. But critics of the law, including international rights organizations and the US State Department, warn that it could restrict citizens' freedoms of expression and association because it is so broad in nature. US objections were blasted as "hypocritical" in a harshly worded editorial from China's state-run Xinhua News Agency. The law builds on a national security statute adopted in July that requires all network infrastructure to be "secure and controllable." The new law also restricts media from reporting on terrorist activity, and permits the People's Liberation Army to carry out anti-terrorism operations overseas. The law will take effect on Jan. 1. (The Diplomat, NBC, Dec. 29; Reuters, Jurist, Dec. 28; The Verge, Engadget, NYT, Xinhua, Dec. 27)
Prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang has been released after receiving a suspended sentence on Dec. 22. Zhiqiang was indicted in May on charges of fanning ethnic hatred and provoking trouble for comments that he posted online. He stood trial on Dec. 14 after more than 19 months in detention. He was sentenced to three years in prison, but all three years have been suspended. The verdict will not take effect for 10 days, during which time he will be under residential surveillance. The guilty verdict disqualifies Pu from practicing law and forces him to follow certain restrictions for a three-year period or risk imprisonment.
Israel's Maariv newspaper reported Nov. 24 that deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely met with representatives of YouTube and Google to discuss cooperation in what she called the fight against "inciting violence and terrorism." She told Maariv that she especially sought to establish a joint working mechanism to monitor and prevent publication of "inflammatory material" originating in the Palestinian territories. Middle East Monitor writes: "Since the latest escalation of violence between Palestinians and Israeli security services that erupted at the beginning of October, many people have been sharing videos depicting Israeli aggression towards Palestinians to highlight the Palestinian perspective of the conflict." Activists and Arab newsmedia have "expressed concerns that the meetings suggest moves towards censoring Palestinian material on the part of the Israeli state."
Bangladesh opposition figures Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid were hanged together at Dhaka Central Jail Nov. 22 for war crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence. In the prelude to the executions, the government ordered all ISPs to block Facebook and other social media in a bid to head off protests. In the electronic chaos that followed the order, the entire country lost Internet access for over an hour. Protests were effectively suppressed, but a reporter from Mohona TV was shot and wounded when his car was sprayed with bullets by roadside assailants while returning to Dhaka from covering the funeral of Chowdhury in Chittagong district. (Dhaka Tribune, Gizmodo, Al Jazeera, Nov. 23; France24, Nov. 22; AFP, Bangladesh News, Nov. 21)
At least 32 people were killed and dozens more wounded in a Nov. 17 blast at a crowded vegetable market in the northeastern Nigerian city of Yola, capital of war-torn Adamawa state. Yola was also the scene of an Oct. 24 mosque bombing that left 27 dead. These are but the latest in a relentless campaign of terror attacks by Boko Haram that has left over 1,600 dead in Nigeria and neighboring Chad and Cameroon over the past four months. (Al Jazeera, Nov. 17) The new attack comes just as a Nigerian online activist has won acclaim in his country for calling out Facebook's double standards on which terrorist attacks warrant attention. Activst Jafaar Jafaar in a popular post noted the prodigious attention Facebook is devoting the Paris terrorist attacks that have left 130 dead—with a "Safety Check" feature for residents of the city, and a campaign by users to superimpose the French tricolor over their profile pictures. Jafaar especially made note of the January attack at the town of Baga, in Nigeria's northeastern Borno state, in which an estimated 2,000 were killed—eliciting no such response from Facebook. (News24, Nigeria, Nov. 17)
The Pentagon announced on Oct. 29 that the US State Department has approved a $70 million sale of "smart bombs" to Turkey—one day after the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) informed Congress that the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) systems would be sold. Lawmakers have 15 days for any block. The package to be sold to Turkey includes BLU-109 "bunker-busters" as well as 900 "smart bomb kits," 100 laser kits and 200 warheads. "It is vital to the US national interest to assist our NATO ally in developing and maintaining a strong and ready self-defense capability," the DSCA stated on its website. (Hurriyet Daily News, Oct. 30)