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Web Users Counter Egypt Net Blackout January 30, 2011

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, Journalism, News, Social Media, Trends, Web Video.
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In an action unprecedented in Web history, the Egyptian government on 27 Jan ordered service providers to shut down all international connections to the Internet after blocking access to Facebook and Twitter earlier in the week. Some countries routinely block access to specific Websites, but this is the first time a country has voluntarily cut its own Web connection.

Internet intelligence authority Renesys confirmed the blackout soon after the outages occurred. The Egyptian authorities’ efforts to limit communications within the country has triggered a wave of activism from a group of free speech activists on the Web called Telecomix.

Organizing using chat rooms, wikis, and collaborative writing tools, this largely anonymous group is working to inform Egyptians about their communications options while receiving incoming messages from them. Egypt has been identified as a “top priority” for Telecomix on one of its network sites, We Re-Build. It has a wiki set up as a one-stop shop with the latest chat rooms and resources.

Telecomix has worked on free speech efforts in Tunisia, Iran, China and other countries which have tried to censor or block parts of the Web. Chat administrator Christopher Kullenberg from Sweden, likens Telecomix to “an ever growing bunch of friends that do things together.”

Graph visualizing sudden halt of Web traffic in Egypt, based on data from 80 global carriers:

Timeline of recent events for Telecomix:

When Web and mobile services were cut off in Egypt on 27 Jan, though landlines were operational, members immediately got to work to send information to Egyptian fax numbers. Searching for a common string of characters found in Egyptian fax machines numbers on Google, they discovered a large amount of numbers.

At first, they sent out Wikileaks cables to these numbers, but then they determined the Egyptians didn’t need additional motivation. Instead, they were interested in information on how to communicate with each other and the outside world. The activists thus began providing instructions for using dial-up modems and amateur radios, known as Ham radios, which the Egyptian people could use to communicate.

The group says it’s also worked on receiving and decoding amateur radio messages, sent on frequencies recommended by the group of activists. While these groups have only been able to receive a small amount of messages of a short length with an unknown source, the Egyptian people’s use of amateur radio to transmit messages represents an interesting utilization of old-fashioned technology to circumvent government restrictions.

Source: Huffington Post

Besides Telecomix, other Web groups have assisted, including “Anonymous,” which has helped by sending out large amounts of faxes into Egypt. “Anonymous” was also involved in denial of service operations against organizations who took actions against Wikileaks.

Egyptian ISP Noor stayed online largely because it connects the country’s Stock Exchange and many Western companies to the outside world. Many people and businesses who are signed up to Noor have removed the passwords from their wi-fi routers so others can piggy-back on their connection.

Some users could get at websites such as Google, Twitter and Facebook by using the numeric addresses for the sites rather than the English language name. A crowd-sourced document, 20 Ways to Circumvent the Egyptians Governments’ Internet Block has compiled the best ways for Egyptians to keep communicating.

Related reads
Egypt Internet Blackout Teaches Important Lesson
WikiLeaks: A Case Study in Web Survivability
Support for the Disconnected of Egypt

An Offshore Journalism Haven? February 15, 2010

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, Convergence, Journalism, News, Social Media, Trends.
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As powerful groups around the world seek to smother the journalistic freedom to reveal information, the business of “refugee hosting” is an idea whose Web time has come. An emerging class of refugees could be publishers like those behind Malaysia Today, which is no longer published in Malaysia but hosted in neighbouring Singapore.

Iceland may become an offshore “journalism and transparency haven” for leakers and investigators. Under a “Modern Media Initiative,” Iceland intends to become a bastion for global press freedom and a global haven for investigative journalism.

The package of laws, launched with the help of Wikileaks, the online whistleblowing site, seeks to defend freedom of speech and protect sources and fight libel tourism. The idea is to reform Iceland’s media law to be an attractive jurisdiction for investigative journalists.

The media law mix could go like this:

Source protection laws from Sweden
First Amendment from the United States
Belgian protection laws for journalists

With a population of 320,000, Iceland is seeking to transform itself from a country dependent on fishing into a destination relevant to knowledge-based enterprises.

By positioning itself as the first jurisdiction to offer the necessities of an information society, the hope is that journalist-friendly laws will encourage media businesses to move to Iceland.

The idea is akin to the offshore financial havens that corporations use to avoid government tax regimes – only for free speech. Could global news organizations with a home office in Reykjavík soon be as common as Delaware corporations or Cayman Islands assets?

The IMMI aims to pull together good practice from around the world and incorporate it into a single body of law. The proposal will come before the Icelandic parliament tomorrow in the first step towards turning the idea into law. The people behind Wikileaks have been involved in drafting the law.

Indeed, a haven for free expression would help counter the growing practice of libel tourism. British courts in particular, have become a favoured destination for complainants seeking to take advantage of the UK’s plaintiff-friendly libel laws.

The House of Lords recently established a government panel to look into the possibility of amending its laws to make it tougher for foreigners to bring defamation suits in Britain, amid fears that current British law was having a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression.

We’ve become good at fending off many legal attacks, and never lost a case, or a source, but we can’t expect everyone to go through the extraordinary efforts what we do.

Large newspapers are routinely censored by legal costs. It is time this stopped. It is time a country said, enough is enough, justice must be seen, history must be preserved, and we will give shelter from the storm.

Julian Assange, Wikileaks editor

Wikileaks is a non-profit website that has established a reputation for publishing leaked material. It recently had to suspend operations because of a lack of funding. The website says it will resume once operational costs have been covered.

Wikileaks has succeeded in bringing sensitive materials to light through a combination of technical and legal means. Submissions are anonymized and routed through countries with comprehensive journalistic source protection laws.

High-profile documents hosted on the site include a copy of the Standard Operating Procedures for Camp Delta, a document that detailed restrictions placed on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

When the Guardian was prevented from publishing documents on the alleged dumping of 400 tonnes of toxic waste on behalf of the global commodities trader Trafigura because of a super-injunction, the material ended up on Wikileaks days later.

The site played a role in Iceland’s financial crisis last summer when a national TV broadcaster was blocked from revealing a list of creditors in the country’s banking debacle. The broadcaster ran the url for the Wikileaks disclosure instead.

Following that, Wikileaks editor Julian Assange went to Iceland to discuss their idea for a journalism publishing haven on a talk show, then in a more detailed presentation at Reykjavík University.

The idea of a journalism haven is nice, but in practice it might be too complex to distinguish what is deemed ‘right’ comment from what is obviously wrong.

Protected from prosecution or libel by this ‘free press’ law, we can almost see media titles from China, Venezuela, Malaysia and Singapore publishing in Iceland, the new tower from which anyone can spout comment intolerable elsewhere.

Legal resiliency is in some ways the reverse of “libel tourism,” where plaintiffs file suit in a jurisdiction likely to give a favorable result. One famous case involves a suit filed in London by a Saudi billionaire against the Wall Street Journal Europe in Brussels, for a story originally published in the Wall Street Journal in New York.

Some courts have ruled that placing an article online counts as publication if it is accessible from their jurisdiction, which would mean that a web story could be declared libelous anywhere in the world.

In the video below, Julian Assange and Daniel Schmitt of Wikileaks discuss their vision of the information society, and the role of the whistle-blowing website in it. It was given at the Chaos Communications Congress hacker conference in Berlin on Dec. 27.em>

Further reading
Wikileaks: Web Censorship Won’t Work
WikiLeaks editor: why I’m excited about Iceland’s plans for journalism

Clinton Urges Web Freedom January 22, 2010

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, Convergence, Essays, Journalism, News, Social Media, Trends, YouTube.
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Boo China, yay Web neutrality! Fasten your belts for the “next great global battle of ideas!” Depending on which side of the great firewall you’re on, the “iconic infrastructure of our age” will be the site for a cyber showdown.

And that’s to ensure that the Web remains “a tool of openness, opportunity, expression, and possibility rather than of one of control, surveillance, suppression.”

American State Secretary Hillary Clinton underlined that reality when she called for an unfettered Internet and delivered a tongue lashing to China in an impassioned policy speech at the Newseum journalism museum in Washington.

Read entire transcript of Clinton’s speech here. The virtual volleys have begun, with China slamming the speech as “information imperialism.” Read the rebuff on China’s foreign ministry Website here.

We are also supporting the development of new tools that enable citizens to exercise their rights of free expression by circumventing politically motivated censorship.

We are providing funds to groups around the world to make sure that those tools get to the people who need them in local languages, and with the training they need to access the internet safely.

Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State

That America’s top diplomat champions “freedom to connect” as a basic human right is a huge stake, especially when the US State Department is funding the development of tools to help Web users circumvent government censorship online.

Poised to be the Web’s first diplomat, Hillary Clinton has jumped right into the fray of the Google vs China spat, calling Web curbs the modern equivalent of the Berlin Wall and warning of a new information curtain descending on the world.

It’s fascinating how Google’s corporate move has turned into an international incident. Web freedom has joined trade imbalances, currency values, human rights and Tibet among the quarrels straining ties between the world’s biggest and third-biggest economies.

Clinton’s call for global condemnation of those who conduct cyber attacks is an important opportunity to counter governments who want to censor and conduct surveillance on individuals. The challenge is how the State Department will walk the talk by incorporating Web freedom into diplomacy, trade policy, and meaningful pressure on companies to act responsibly.

The speech is a huge stake in net neutrality and its meaning cannot be overstated. The Web was born and nurtured in America, with input from other countries. Now a top US official and arguably the most prominent female political figure is seeking to shape the Web’s evolving ethos and guiding principles.

In parts of the Middle East, women are beaten and killed in “honor” beatings by relatives who find out they are using sites like Twitter and Facebook. China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are among countries that censor the Web or harass bloggers. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are blocked in China.

Early in her primary campaign, Clinton was considered less Web-savvy than Barack Obama and online attack ad that spread on YouTube foreshadowed the narrative of her fight for the Democratic nomination, portraying Clinton as the old PC and Obama as the shiny new Mac.


The YouTube video, which mashes up Apple’s 1984 ad with Hillary Clinton’s own campaign imagery.

Clinton is now leading the way within the Obama administration in recognizing the transformational opportunities of the Internet. Speaking in broad strokes and finer details, she outlined what she called the five key freedoms of the Internet age: Freedom to connect online anywhere. Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Freedom from fear of cyber attacks.

Of course that didn’t sit well with the “What Internet censorship?” crowd on the other side of the planet. There’s an argument that the technical architecture of the Web is different from the values of people who use it. If parents can limit what teenagers can see, then governments can limit what citizens see. If citizens can circumvent governments, teenagers will be able to circumvent parents.

But we’re talking about a generation of citizens who have never typed the words “Falun Gong,” “Dalai Lama,” or “Tiananmen Square massacre” into their search engines. Information openness for them is just a crack in a dark room without electricity.


A Chinese flag flutters near the Google logo on top of Google’s China headquarters in Beijing.

The blowback against Google’s announcement that it was hacked by Chinese cyber agents – and in response would be lifting the restrictions that keep users of its Chinese search engine in the dark – has been fascinating. Clinton upped the ante by calling for global Internet freedom.

When Google threw down the gauntlet to China’s Web censors, it also challenged the loyalties of the nation’s wired generation. Tech-savvy Chinese in their 20s and 30s grew up in greater affluence and openness than their parents. Many are pulled between patriotic pride and a yearning for more say over their own lives.

The Google dispute may become a telling test of how China’s wired generation balance loyalties to their country with their desire for free expression and access to information, and this response could shape how Beijing handles the dispute.

The Obama administration has shown it wants to court this emerging generation of connected Chinese. China’s latest survey of Web use found 60 percent of the nation’s online population of 384 million was aged 10 to 29.

Despite censorship, China’s Internet can be a potent public forum, with bloggers and amorphous online groups hectoring the government over pollution and corruption. Last year, the government abruptly abandoned a plan to force all new personal computers to come with a copy of “Green Dam” Internet-filtering software that had been derided by online critics as intrusive and ineffective.

Related reads
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are Tools for Diplomacy.
China Slam’s Clinton’s Internet Speech as Information Imperialism
China rebuffs US Internet demands
Is Obama a Mac and Clinton a PC?

Google Stands up To China January 16, 2010

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, News, Social Media, Trends, Web Video.
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At last Google is taking on Beijing. The search giant is “phasing out” censoring the results in google.cn, the Chinese-language version of its famed search engine.

In a post in The Future of the Internet, Jonathan Zittrain notes that the announcement of “A new approach to China” is a stunning move both in its fact and execution. It includes a link to the story of GhostNet, discovered by fellow ONI researchers when the Dalai Lama gave them his oddly-acting laptop to examine.

Companies rarely share information about the cyberattacks they experience — conventional wisdom has it that it makes the company appear vulnerable, and drives customers away. Here Google is open about the attacks, and links them to a lessening of enthusiasm for doing business in China. Eliminating censorship in google.cn is only mentioned after that.

Suppose the Chinese government acts as expected and tells Google that it may no longer operate in China. Google.cn might vanish as a domain name, since it’s hosted under the Chinese country-code TLD of .cn, ultimately controllable by the Chinese government.

But the search engine found they could of course keep operating from a different location, like cn.google.com. Suppose then that China attempts to filter out traffic to and from that new location — and to and from google.com for good measure, as it has done from time to time, especially before the advent of google.cn and its agreement to censor.

Google engineers who might have been a bit halfhearted about implementing censorship mandates in google.cn could be full-throttle in coming up with ways for Google to be viewed despite any network interruptions between site and user.

There are lots of unexplored options here. They’re unexplored not because they’re infeasible, but because most sites would rather not provoke a government that filters. So they don’t undertake to get information out in ways that might evade blockages.

But then, the difference between values and technology is it works for citizens in China seeking human rights, it works for teenagers in America seeking porn.

Here, Google would have nothing more to lose, so could pioneer some new approaches. Circumvention of filtering (or other blockages, for that matter) tends to happen on the user side of things, seeking out proxies like the Tor network, or anonymizer.com.

The larger benefits of operating in China originally cited by Google four years ago — exposing the citizenry to services beyond those locally grown and monitored; engaging them beyond the “China Wide Web” to which some government officials aspire to limit them; and gaining market share that can create momentum and support for later loosening of restrictions — may attenuate.

Google.cn is less known and used than, say, the local Baidu search engine, which boasts about 60% market share. That share is about to get even bigger.

But drawing a line is both the right move and a brilliant one. It helps realign Google’s business with its ethos, and masterfully recasts the firm in a place it will feel more comfortable: supporting the free and open dissemination of information rather than metering it out according to undesirable (and capricious) government standards.

China Found Filtering Skype Messages October 5, 2008

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, News, Social Media.
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A group of Canadian human-rights activists and computer security researchers has found that China monitors and censors messages sent through the Internet service Skype. Citizen Lab says it discovered a huge surveillance system last month that monitors and archives certain Web text conversations that include politically charged words.

The researchers found a database with thousands of politically sensitive words which had been blocked by China. In just two months, the servers archived more than 166,000 censored messages from 44,000 users, according to the report on the Information Warfare Monitor.

The list included words such as “democracy” and “Tibet” as well as phrases relating to banned spiritual movement, Falun Gong, Taiwan independence and the Chinese Communist Party. It also had words like earthquake and milk powder. Chinese officials are facing criticism in their handling of earthquake relief and chemicals tainting milk powder.

These text messages, along with millions of records containing personal information, are stored on insecure publicly accessible Web servers. By using one username, it was possible to identify all the people who had sent messages to or received them from the original user.

Skype, operated in China as Tom-Skype, a joint venture of American auction site, eBay and Chinese company TOM-Online, said it was concerned by breaches in the security of the site. Citizen Lab said it was “clear” that Tom was “engaging in extensive surveillance with seemingly little regard for the security and privacy of Skype users”.

China is not alone in Web spying efforts. The US National Security Agency was reported to have monitored telephone and Internet communications into and out of America as part of the eavesdropping program to hunt for evidence of terrorist activity after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Web use is high in China, but authorities have long prevented citizens from accessing sites deemed politically sensitive. Web companies Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have been criticised by human-rights groups for adhering to China’s strict regulations.

Olympic Web of Deceit and Complicity July 30, 2008

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, Convergence, Journalism, News.
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Just days to the Beijing Olympics, Chinese authorities are showing a paranoia that could end up scoring an own goal. One shouldn’t be surprised that the first winners are Web censorship and a betrayal. But one should be outraged that the International Olympic Committee was in cahoots.

Which begs the question – who’s in charge here? Sure, the IOC would want to give the impression it was consulted on matters Olympian. But was it really in the know that the Beijing organizers would go back on their word?


Foreign journalists covering the Olympics find Web access restricted.

In bidding for the games, Chinese officials promised media would have complete freedom. Today they reneged, saying authorities would only guarantee “sufficient” Internet access for accredited media.

An IOC spokesman says it knew China would break its promise to allow unfettered Internet access to foreign reporters covering the Beijing Games. Press commission chairman Kevan Gosper said IOC officials “had negotiated with China that some sensitive Web sites would be blocked” at Olympic venues because they were unrelated to the games.

Oops, what’s happening here? Just two weeks ago, IOC president Jacques Rogge cited free internet access as an achievement of his “silent diplomacy” with Chinese officials. In an interview with AFP, he insisted, “For the first time, foreign media will be able to report freely and publish their work freely in China.”

What a total humiliation of the IOC, and a mockery of the core values of the Games. Which reminds me of the gloat – I don’t want to say I told you so, but I told you so. This state of affairs would be unthinkable in Olympics in Athens, but times have changed. A booming economy and money to be made can distract and persuade one to kowtow on Web access.

Some 20,000 foreign journalists are affected by China’s backflip. They cannot access Web sites for the human rights group Amnesty International, the Falun Gong spiritual movement, and the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Also inaccessible are the websites for foreign media, such as the BBC’s Chinese-language service, the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, the Hong Kong-based Apple Daily and the Taiwan-based Liberty Time.

The blocked sites will make it difficult for journalists to retrieve information, particularly on political and human rights stories the government dislikes. Journalists trying to use the Web complained about slow speeds and suspect a ploy to discourage use.

This games is a chance for Beijing to communicate with the world about its vision of the future, as envisioned in this leaked clip of the opening ceremony. The whole world is watching. Surely these guys know by now that everything has a way of finding its way to the Web?

This is the latest in a list of issues to have tarnished the run-up to the Olympics, which start on August 8, following controversies over pollution, human rights and terrorism threat. The Olympics have always been political, but probably none have been as wrapped up with national pride and global prestige as Beijing’s.

For a culture so hung up on image, the images that would speak of a First World China will not be the monuments or the medals that show athletes with yellow skin can run as fast as those with black and white skin. The image will be that caught and seen around the Web of a China in the glare of global media.

The ruling Communist party has stressed the need to use the Internet to “correctly guide” public opinion. Just two weeks ago, Chinese President Hu Jintao described the Web as “the battlefield forward position for the propagation of advanced socialist culture.”

It’s unclear whether the IOC might challenge Beijing’s interpretation of “sufficient” Internet access. The IOC maintains the Olympics are a sports event, and it should not intervene in politics. The Swiss-based body has been faulted for failing to hold China to promises made to win the bid.

Update August 1 2008:
IOC President Jacques Rogge said there had been “no deal to accept restrictions” on access. At a news conference in Beijing, Rogge said the IOC required journalists “to have the fullest possible access to report on the Olympic Games”. Asked if the IOC had been naive on the Internet issue, Rogge said: “I would say we are idealists. Idealism is linked with some naivety.”

Depends where you’re coming from Jacques. Naivete has no place in journalism. Skepticism rules. That’s why Reporters Without Borders advises journalists working in China to lock computer files and find safe translators. They should conduct phone calls and write e-mails knowing that they may be monitored.

Advice for foreign journalists during Beijing Games.
Learn how China monitors the Web: China and Internet Censorship

Related read:
IOC denies deal on internet curbs

More Bloggers Held for Political Posts June 20, 2008

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, Journalism, News, Social Media, Trends.
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If the number of arrests is a metric for assessing the growing impact of blogging on political life, then 2007 was indeed significant. The World Information Access Report says a record number of bloggers was arrested last year with Egypt, Iran and China the most dangerous places to blog about political life. These countries account for more than half of all the blogger arrests.

Since 2003, 64 citizens unaffiliated with news organizations have been arrested for their blogging activities. The report says these bloggers expose bureaucratic corruption or human rights abuses and express opinions about political figures and public policy options.

They run foul of the law for posting reports and photos from social protests, writing about political artwork, or sharing images and texts deemed to have violated cultural norms.

The Committee to Protect Journalists meanwhile says China remains the world’s leading jailer of journalists and writers. Beijing also exerts control over its fast-growing Internet sector, seeking to weed out porn and subversive websites.

China’s censorship of the Web has drawn flak from European Union telecoms chief Viviane Reding who says the Beijing Olympics are a chance for Beijing to show its commitment to free flow of information. Ms Reding, who is the European Commissioner for Information Society and Media does not think blocking of sites for political reasons is the right way to proceed.

Beat the Web Censorship Phenomenon June 16, 2008

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, News, Social Media, Trends.
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Thank goodness, for every state-of-the-art censor today, there are countless tricks to beat these guys. Here’s where the cat-and-mouse game gets creative.

PSSTT! Is your Web connection being censored? Wanna elude Big Brother? Would you prefer to stay anonymous, and not have your IP address logged on with every access to someone’s web page?

The Your Freedom services helps circumvent censors and spies. It even hides your network address from those who don’t need to know. Another tool – Gladder or “Great Ladder,” a browser extension for Firefox that helps users scale the virtual wall. Let the fun begin.

State-directed Web filtering happens regularly in Asia with China in the lead and pioneering online censorship methods just in time for the Olympics. The Great Firewall of China or “Golden Shield,” as Chinese officials call it, may be the most sophisticated censorship system in the world.

Many countries are already limiting access to Web content, on the pretext of “securing intellectual property rights,” “protecting national security,” “preserving cultural norms and religious values,” and “shielding children from pornography and exploitation.”

In the name of curbing lawlessness of the Web, many more states are flirting with the notion of erecting firewalls and screening content as a solution to complex social issues. This growing phenomenon defies simple metrics.

The map above was commissioned by Reporters Without Borders, which publishes a World Ranking of press freedom. The 15 internet-restricting countries on its list also top the ranking for press censorship. Here are the states, with their ranking on press freedom in brackets:

1. Maldives (144)
2. Tunisia (148)
3. Belarus (151)
4. Libya (152)
5. Syria (153)
6. Vietnam (155)
7. Uzbekistan (158)
8. Nepal (159)
9. Saudi Arabia (161)
10. Iran (162)
11. China (163)
12. Myanmar/Burma (164)
13. Cuba (165)
14. Turkmenistan (167)
15. North Korea (168 – bottom of the list)

The Open Net Initiative notes that censorship and surveillance have not been taken on as a public policy or legislative issue by governments and civil society in the Asia region.

Ideally, we would like to know how censorship reduces the availability of information, how it hampers the development of online communities, and how it inhibits the ability of civic groups to monitor and report on the activities of the government, as these impact governance and ultimately economic growth.

OPEN NET INITIATIVE

Internet censorship and content restrictions can be enacted through means like technical blocking, take-downs, removing search results and induced self-censorship. Filtration can occur at various points in the network such as the backbone level, Internet Service Providers, institutions and individual computers.

Wikileaks: Web Censorship Won’t Work February 23, 2008

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, Essays, Journalism, News, Social Media, Trends.
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The order by a California court to muzzle anti-corruption site Wikileaks smacks of contempt for free speech online that parallels practices in repressive countries committed to Web censorship. As feeble as it is offensive, this abuse refocuses attention on the idea of a whistle-blower wiki whose time has come.

_44456771_leaks-wikileaks203.jpg

Prompted not by government but corporate interests, the restraining order on Wikileaks betrays an ignorance of the Internet domain system and an unfamiliarity with the instinct of Web communities to counter hostile action against free online speech. Outraged netizens have rushed to publicize alternate addresses of backup sites that remain online in defiance. The gag order has the opposite effect of what it intended.

Wikileaks is up from Sweden at (http://88.80.13.160) and mirror sites hosted in Belgium (http://wikileaks.be/), Germany (http://wikileaks.de) and the Christmas Islands (http://wikileaks.cx). Fans of Wikileaks have distributed copies of the offending bank information on their sites and via peer-to-peer file sharing networks. Now even folks who have not heard of Wikileaks or Julius Baer know about the fiasco.

Swiss Bank Julius Baer, registered in the Cayman Islands, sued Wikileaks and successfully requested that its Website be blocked. Wikileaks had posted documents about off-shore trust structures in the Cayman Islands which allegedly implicate Baer in money laundering and tax evasion. Baer claims Wikileaks published and altered documents stolen by a former executive. A recap of Wikileaks coverage of Bank Julius Baer is mirrored here.

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Founded in 2006 by dissidents, journalists, mathematicians and computer specialists from around the world, Wikileaks is a wiki platform for whistle-blowers to safely post documents in a manner that cannot be traced. Other users could then analyse the information and discuss its reliability and significance.

Wikileaks says it has published more than 1.2 million documents. They uncover dirt ranging from rules of engagement for American troops in Iraq to the operation of prison at Guantánamo Bay. Though it focuses on government and corporate wrong-doing in Asia, Africa and Middle East, Wikileaks has received most attention with secrets revealed in the US, Europe and Caribbean.

This major test of First Amendment rights is unheard of in the West. As the case heads for the appeals court, one wonders why Wikileaks must explain the meaning of the First Amendment in the land of free speech. “There is no justification under the First Amendment for shutting down an entire Web site,” say David Ardia, Director of Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard Law School:

First, the banks overreached. They worked out what appears to be a sweetheart deal with Wikileaks’ domain name registrar, Dynadot. Even though Dynadot appears to bear no liability for the material at issue, the banks added Dynadot as a defendant in the case.

No doubt thinking they had come up with a legal “silver bullet,” the banks and Dynadot signed a joint stipulation in which Dynadot agreed to, among other things, “lock” and “disable the wikileaks.org domain name” in exchange for being dismissed from the case (a case in which, it appears, Dynadot bore no liability). To give their stipulation the force of law, the banks slipped an order to the judge, which he promptly signed.

DAVID ARDIA
Director of Citizen Media Law Project, Harvard Law School

Wikileaks is getting legal help in its court fight. Freedom of speech group, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and digital rights advocacy, Electronic Frontier Foundation plan to argue on its behalf at a legal hearing on 29 February.

On another note, the European Parliament has accepted a move by Dutch conservative member Jules Maaten to consider Web censorship a trade barrier. This was first reported in Dutch, on the Web site of Maaten’s political party, the VVD. When the proposal is accepted, the EU has to take measure against countries who deploy Web censorship.

Related reads
Wikileak Blog
A Coming Chill over Internet Freedom

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