The GovLab SCAN – Issue 73

This is our 73rd edition of The SCAN – Selected Curation of Articles on Net-Governance. Feel free to share your suggestions with us at SCAN@thegovlab.org.

Shruti Sannon also contributed to this post.

Highlights:

  • The Burundi government blocked messaging services WhatsApp and Viber in response to anti-government presentations;
  • The Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic ruled that mass surveillance of its citizens is unconstitutional;
  • An updated law tackling online piracy came into effect on May 1st in Russia, giving authorities the power to tell Internet companies to take down sites accused of harboring pirated content without a court order.

Internet Governance

Blair, David. Estonia recruits volunteer army of ‘cyber warriors’. The Telegraph. April 26, 2015.

  • In Estonia, a volunteer group of computer experts called the Estonian Defence League (also referred to as the “ponytail army”) “stand ready to defend the nation against cyber attack.” Estonia is one of the most technologically advanced countries, meaning that it is particularly vulnerable to cyber attacks. A 2007 attack affected banks, government ministries and the national parliament. The article highlights the experience of a particular volunteer who had to fend off “D-DOS” events.

Brandom, Russell. Facebook’s login system is being hijacked by China’s Great Firewall. The Verge. April 28, 2015.

  • This past Sunday, China’s Great Firewall began “intercepting the Facebook login applet” and “replacing it with a new single-line redirection code from two third-party sites.” Facebook users in China were then redirected to two sites, wpkg.org or ptraveler.com. This is the second attack of this nature from the Chinese government, as last month a “similar redirection was used to perform a denial-of-service attack on GitHub, apparently in retaliation for dissident content posted through the service.

Brodkin, Jon. Comcast brings fiber to city that it sued 7 years ago to stop fiber rollout. Arstechnica. April 30, 2015.

  • Comcast is bringing fiber connectivity to Chattanooga, Tennessee after suing the Chattanooga Electric Power Board in 2013 “to prevent it from building a fiber network to serve residents who were getting slow speeds from the incumbent cable provider.” Comcast lost the suit against the city’s Electric Power Board, which has built the fiber network and offers connectivity services. Brodkin points out that “Comcast had little interest in upgrading its Chattanooga network when it faced no real competition.”

Copps, Michael. Yes, the Comcast-Time Warner deal collapsed, but Big Cable still has plenty of friends in Washington. The Washington Post. April 28, 2015.

  • In this article, former commissioner of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) discusses the collapse of the Comcast-Time Warner deal as “a huge victory for consumers” as the merger would have been “anti-competitive, anti-consumer and anti-democracy.” However, he states that “many in Congress seem disconnected from their constituents” and thus “too many industry-pliant members threaten to overturn any good decision by the FCC.” According to Copps, “The Open Internet is not a red-state/blue-state divide or a Republican vs. Democrat issue” and industry forces remain a large cause for concern.

Corwin, Philip S. Senate Judiciary Leaders Ask New IP Czar to Facilitate ICANN-Focused Conversations. CircleID. April 28, 2015.

  • Last week, Daniel Marti was sworn into his new post as the new “United States Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, Office of Management and Budget”. As the new White House “IP Czar”, he received a letter from the Chairman and Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee containing their priorities for his term in office, including “engaging with ICANN to promote greater protection for intellectual property.” The letter “noted continuing dissatisfaction within the IP sector regarding ICANN’s contractual compliance efforts vis-a-vis registries and registrars.” As the “White House IP Czar tends to work closely with and be sensitive to the concerns of the Judiciary Committees”, the author states that ICANN “can anticipate being contacted by Mr. Marti’s office to discuss development of best practices.”

Graham, Mark. The hidden biases of Geodata. The Guardian. April 28, 2015.

  • In this article, Mark Graham, Senior Research Fellow and Associate Professor at the Oxford Internet Institute, discusses the nature of geodata. According to Graham, this geographical information can be obtained in “relatively automated ways” such as using GPS signals or locations of known Wi-Fi hotspots, but collecting geodata can also be “much more messy” such as user-entered open-ended data. In a recent study on one of the world’s most used gazetteers (place name dictionaries), he found significant biases: place names were densely clustered in certain parts of the world and lacking in many other areas. As an example of this disparity, “there is more content recorded about the US than all of Asia combined.” He states that “we need to question the very ground-truths that we’re using to create and understand geographic data and services: because geographic data has its own uneven geographies.”

Husovec, Martin and L’ubomir Lukič. The Slovak Constitutional Court cancelled mass surveillance of citizens. EISI online.

  • This week, the Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic “proclaimed the mass surveillance of citizens as unconstitutional.” The Slovak court ruled that two provisions, one that “required mobile network providers to track the communication of their users” and one “that allowed access to this data” contradicted “the guaranteed rights of citizens to privacy and personal data.” This ruling was made one year after the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that the Data Retention Directive was invalid.

Madory, Doug. Earthquake rocks Internet in Nepal. DynResearch. April 28, 2015.

  • Saturday’s earthquake in Nepal severely damaged the country’s Internet infrastructure, inhibiting the ability to communicate both domestically and internationally. A graphical representation of outages and instabilities set alongside a timeline of the volume of DNS queries from Nepal shows a sharp decrease in connectivity over the past 10 days, and most of the damage occurred at the access layer or last mile. Smaller ISPs suffered outages at various times, while major international connections “generally stayed online.”

Russia beefs up anti-piracy laws. BBC. May 1, 2015.

  • An updated law tackling online piracy came into effect on May 1 in Russia. While the law, introduced in 2013, initially “gave the authorities the power to tell internet companies to cut off access to sites found to be pirating media,” it has now been updated to cover a wider range of sites, including those that share links to pirated music, books, and software. Images are not covered under the law. According to the updated law,  officials will respond to complaints from rights holders and will not need a court order to shut down sites, while those accused of harboring pirated content will have “just 72 hours to respond to a complaint before a permanent ban is put into place.”

Sanger, David E. and Nicole Perlroth. White House Takes Cybersecurity Pitch to Silicon Valley. The New York Times. April 26, 2015.

  • Last week, defense secretary Ashton B. Carter toured Silicon Valley as part of the Pentagon’s new effort to “invest in promising start-ups and to meet with engineers whose talent he [Carter] declared the Pentagon desperately needed in fending off the nation’s adversaries.” During his visits, Carter issued an appeal to software developers and entrepreneurs to help the country by fending off Chinese, Russian and North Korean hackers. Carter’s visit aligned with an ongoing debate in Silicon Valley about the government’s stance on encryption.

Volz, Dustin. With Patriot Act Deadline Closing In, House Advances Bill to Limit NSA Spying. National Journal. April 30, 2015.

  • This week, the House Judiciary Committee advanced the USA Freedom Act, a piece of legislation designed to limit the National Security Agency’s ability to indiscriminately collect phone records. This act “would usher in a bevy of privacy and transparency initiatives intended to ensure more oversight of the intelligence community’s expansive surveillance powers.” According to the author, the bill heads to a vote sometime soon and privacy advocates remain divided over whether the bill goes far enough in curbing mass surveillance practices.

York, Jillian. Despite Low Internet Use, Burundi Blocks Viber and WhatsApp Amidst Protests. Electronic Frontier Foundation. April 29, 2015.

  • In the face of public demonstrations, the Burundi government reportedly blocked messaging services WhatsApp and Viber this week. Although there are only approximately 200,000 Internet users (approximately 2 percent of the country’s 10.2 million residents), authorities reportedly shut down to platform to prevent protesters from quickly and privately communicating. According to the author, “restrictions on Internet usage in a low-Internet penetration country is often harbinger of worse to come” and recommended that African readers visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Surveillance Self Defense guide.

Events

Disrupt NY 2015. TechCrunch. May 4-6, 2015.

  • This annual technology conference includes “panels and one-on-one chats featuring TechCrunch writers and editors, special guest speakers, leading venture capitalists and fascinating entrepreneurs addressing the most important topics facing today’s tech landscape.” Speakers include NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, and Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley. Several parts of the event will be broadcast live.

Freedom Online Conference 2015. Freedom Online Coalition. May 4-5, 2015.

  • This annual multistakeholder conference “aims to deepen the discussion on how freedom of expression on the Internet is helping to promote social, cultural and economic development.”

[Webinar] Neustar Hosts May 5 Webinar to Discuss Findings from Recent DDoS Report. Neustar. May 5, 2015.

  • In this webinar, Neustar’s director of security services will discuss “the size and volume of current DDoS attacks, the true cost of DDoS attacks – both in terms of lost revenue and erosion of brand confidence – and how businesses can optimize their DDoS defenses using industry-recommended approaches.”

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