US slams Malawi over social media blocking, killings

Source: Michael Malakata, Computer World

The U.S. government has suspended a US$350 million aid package to Malawi in response to repressive moves by the Malawian government that resulted in 19 deaths and the blocking of social media networks including Twitter, Facebook and news websites in a bid to quell protests that rocked the country last week.

The Malawian government, through the telecom sector regulator, the Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (MACRA) ordered ISPs to shut down and radio stations to desist from offering live broadcasts of protests, claiming such coverage may incite violence.

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China Steps Up Web Monitoring, Driving Many Wi-Fi Users Away

Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times

New regulations that require bars, restaurants, hotels and bookstores to install costly Web monitoring software are prompting many businesses to cut Internet access and sending a chill through the capital’s game-playing, Web-grazing literati who have come to expect free Wi-Fi with their lattes and green tea.

The software, which costs businesses about $3,100, provides public security officials the identities of those logging on to the wireless service of a restaurant, cafe or private school and monitors their Web activity. Those who ignore the regulation and provide unfettered access face a $2,300 fine and the possible revocation of their business license.

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Pakistan escalates its internet censorship

Source: Jillian C. York, Al-Jazeera

When websites are blocked in a country with over 20 million internet users, people tend to notice. In Pakistan, where the openness of the internet has been threatened regularly for more than half a decade, new developments are quickly noticed by the country’s online populace.

The latest incident involves the blocking, by at least 13 of the country’s ISPs, of the website of popular American music magazine Rolling Stone. The block comes shortly after the magazine published an article highlighting Pakistan’s “insane military spending”. The article, by Rolling Stone blogger Matt Taibbi, linked to a New York Times article for background information, a fact that some have used to argue that Rolling Stone may have been blocked for other reasons, such as the fact that the site hosts myriad images of scantily-clad women. But as Pakistani free expression group Bytes For All has pointed out, most major pornography websites are not censored in the country.

The ban on Rolling Stone points to a possible new trend in Pakistan: censorship of politically sensitive information. While in the past, content considered blasphemous or offensive to Islam has been the target of censors both online and offline, new evidence surfaced by the OpenNet Initiative suggests increased control of the internet by Pakistan’s various information agencies. According to the report, users of popular ISP Mobilink must add proxy port 3128 in order to browse the internet; the result is the censorship of various keywords, including – strangely – the name of the country’s president, Asif Ali Zardari.

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Freedom of Expression Can Be Limited Only in “Exceptional Circumstances”

Source: Gustavo Capdevila, IPS News

The United Nations Human Rights Committee confirmed the central role of freedom of expression in human rights, making it clear that it can only be limited in the most exceptional circumstances, and calling for the first time for unrestricted public access to official information.

After two years of debate, the Committee has produced a General Comment that outlines the admissible restrictions on freedom of expression.

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Saudi Arabia blocks Amnesty International Web site after anti-terror law leak

Source: Elizabeth Flock, Washington Post

The Saudi Arabian government has long blocked access to thousands of Web sites that cover topics such as religion, women, health, drugs, sex and pop culture.

But today, the Saudi government took online censoring a step further by blocking access to the Web site of human rights organization Amnesty International.

The move came after Amnesty International criticized a leaked copy of a draft of an anti-terror law proposed by the Saudi government that would stifle peaceful protest in the kingdom.

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Alaska judge strikes down yet another online censorship bill

Source: Timothy Lee, Ars Technica

A federal judge has added Alaska to the steadily growing list of states who have been smacked down for trying to censor the Internet. Legislation signed by Alaska Governor Sean Parnell last year would have held adults criminally liable for distributing sexually explicit material to minors over the ‘Net.

A coalition of plaintiffs filed suit last August, alleging that the statute violates the First Amendment. Yesterday, Judge Ralph Beistline agreed and struck down the law.

Yesterday’s ruling represents the latest in a long string of victories by civil liberties groups challenging Internet censorship laws. Ever since the Supreme Court struck down the censorious portions of the federal Communications Decency Act in 1997, periodic efforts to censor the Internet at the state level have been made. Many have failed.

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Iran Bans Google+, Calling It a US ‘Spy Tool’

Source: ABC News

Google’s new social networking site, Google+, launched just about three weeks ago and it has already attracted over 10 million members around the world. But Iran can only seem to imagine a negative about Google+, making it harder for Iranians to join.

Iran has blocked access to the new social networking site, calling it a new U.S. government spy tool on the Web. Facebook and Twitter faced similar allegations before they were blocked, too.

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Israel mulls bill that would expose belligerent talkbackers

Source: Tomer Zarchin, Haaretz

A Justice Ministry memorandum could empower courts to order Internet service providers to disclose the identity of online commenters accused of defamation or copyright violations.

The memorandum, released yesterday for consultations, suggests establishing a pre-trial process that would allow accused commenters to agree to have their identity exposed without going to court. If the commenter declines, the accuser could ask a court to order the ISP to disclose the person’s identity.

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Greenpeace Twitter injunction backfires for Cairn Energy

Source: John Vidal and Owen Bowcott, The Guardian

A Scottish oil company’s attempt to stop Greenpeace activists tweeting about a protest and posting pictures of people dressed as polar bears on the internet has backfired with hundreds of people around the world breaking the injunction on behalf of the environment group.

It is the first such injunction to be issued since the row in May over the flouting of super-injunctions taken out by celebrities by users of Twitter.

Cairn Energy, the company now exploring for oil and gas off the coast of Greenland, was granted an interim injunction on Monday after 17 people, some dressed as polar bears, entered their Edinburgh headquarters and staged a sit-in, demanding a copy of the company’s oil spill response plan to drilling in the Arctic.

The Scottish court order prohibits the environment group “disseminating, printing, uploading, sharing, copying or otherwise publishing any images, photographs, pictures or other material (or copies thereof) taken or recorded by Greenpeace activists present within 50 Lothian Road, Edinburgh on or around 18 July 2011.”

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