Live Updates: Online Censorship News

This is an on-going log of events concerning censorship around the globe. We update this page with the latest news regarding online censorship. Share

Regular readers of our blog know that there is no such thing as a one-time censorship event. Governments across the globe are constantly looking for new ways to attack online freedom (as well as other freedoms) and make ‘big businesses’ happier using access to our information as the bait. At vpnMentor, we think it’s important that you get to see the gravity and breadth of these problems. So, here is a run down of all the tricks, moves, and data sales we have learned about so far, starting with the most recent.

May 2017

A Bad Month for Al-Jazeer

As well as being banned in Egypt, Al-Jazeer television has been blocked in both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The move comes after the Qatar ruler was said to have described Iran as an ‘Islamic power’ and then gone on to criticize the policy of the Trump administration towards Tehran. However, officials from Qatar hold firm to line that their news agency was hacked and that no such comments were ever made by the Emir. Either way, it’s a little more than coincidence that this has occurred within days of Trump’s visit to the region.

Egypt Tightens its Grip on Free Speech

In another wave of crack-downs Egypt has joined the ranks of those using terrorism to ban websites that its ruling powers don’t like. The new ruling saw 21 websites being banned including Al-Jazeer television, which is based in Qatar, long believed by officials to support the ousted Muslim Brotherhood. Other sites named on the list produced by officials included local Egyptian broadcasters and newspapers. However, among those not officially named, but now inaccessible within Egypt the Arabic website of The Huffington Post and Mada, described as a progressive Egyptian news website with no links to Islamist groups or showing any sympathies to their cause. As these sites were not officially named among the 21 now banned (of which only 5 have been officially named) it is possible that this is just a teething problem. However, it is also possible that terror is once again being used as a cover all to limit freedom of speech and access to progressive ideas.

State of Emergency in Venezuela Encompasses Internet Access

After two months of being held in a state of emergency, experiencing anti-government protests, civil unrest and the deaths of over 50 people, the Venezuelan president has sort to curb the violence by increasing web censorship and online surveillance. The move comes as the president’s popularity continues to fall, and censorship of television stations and the harassment and arrest of journalists failed to end the unrest. Online TV stations have been accused, along with local phone companies, of backing and even assisting with the coordination of anti-government protests. To fight back, and continue their right to freedom of expression the Venezuelan people have moved to social media, which is proving much harder for the government to censor. However, in a move to counter act this, the government is also heading to social media with its own message, while increasing surveillance on its citizens.

Blurring the Lines Between Hate Speech and Freedom of Speech

Most right-minded people do not want to see content that encourages, supports or otherwise creates a voice or platform for hate speech, or which goes out of its way to hurt others in anyway. But, it is a sad truth that it exists, and should be reported and removed when found. However, the latest EU directive if enacted could do more than just put an end to hate speech. This directive would lead to greater regulation of video content on social media, which companies like Facebook and Twitter would be forced to adopt. The regulation would provide an EU wide one-size-fits-all approach to the problem, but who decides on the size, and therefore on what constitutes hate speech, as opposed to freedom of speech and a credible threat instead of open debate. The moderation system on these sites is far from perfect, but is this really the answer?

The UK Government Move to Tighten Regulation and Remove More Freedoms

We reported above on an EU directive that was set to regulate video content on social media, under the guise of reducing and removing hate speech. You could be forgiven for thinking that the UK would be free from this worrying turn of events with Brexit looming ever closer. However, Theresa May has other plans and is planning on introducing extensive regulations that would allow the government to decide what is said online. The regulations would place huge restrictions on what could be shared, published and posted online. It would also give the government the power to break messaging apps so that the messages being sent and received could be read. As with so much of the regulation and restriction being imposed online at the moment, this is being achieved under the guise of anti-terrorism legislation. But, what it is achieving isn’t stopping terrorism, but curbing the rights of average, law-abiding (mostly) citizens, which is what the terrorists want, isn’t it?

Where Russia Leads Ukraine Follows

Russia has long been known for its increasingly draconian approach to independent websites and online media. However, in a move that is being wrapped in the colours of increased sanctions against Russia, the Ukrainian president has announced a block on the most popular social media websites and search engines based in Russia. The move is one of a number that also sees the assets of a number of Russian companies being frozen, and their operations being banned within Ukraine. While the president’s line is that this is in response to Russia’s ongoing annexation of the Crimea, censorship experts in the country are concerned that there is much more to the move, and that the rights and online freedoms of the country’s individuals are under attack.

April 2017

Greater Turkish Censorship

It didn’t stop there either. The Turkish government decided to get in on the act and tighter censorship was introduced with more sites being blocked as threats to National Security. But, like the Australians, the Turkish people didn’t take the threat to their online freedom lightly and there was an 89% rise in the sale of VPNs soon after the announcement.

Net Neutrality Laws

Ajit Pai, US FCC chairman made moves to demolish net neutrality laws that have existed since 2015. These laws are intended to prevent telecommunication companies in the US prioritizing traffic by blocking, or at the very least, slowing down competitors’ content.

Australia 1 Net Privacy 0?

The same month also saw the Australian government enact a new set of laws, known as the Federal Government’s Metadata Retention Scheme. Guess what the Australian Government wanted access to? However, it hasn’t been an easy road for the Australian Government to get this scheme enacted and, never a country to take things laying down, privacy rights organisations declared April 13, National get a VPN Day.

ISPs Legally Allowed to Sell Your Data

Not long into the presidency of Donald Trump, we reported how a Bill had been signed in the US that allowed ISPs to sell the browsing histories and geolocation data of their customers. The theory behind the Bill was that it created a level playing field between the likes of Google and Facebook, who are renown for being fast and loose with customer information, and the ISPs whose hands had been legal tied until this point.

December 2016

Rule 41

The ruling went into effect on December 1, 2016, despite last minute efforts to stop it. This is in effect the US version of ‘the snoppers’ charter’ (legislation in the UK that allowed government agencies free reign in spying on the search habits of individuals) allowing multiple computers across the country to be searched under a single warrant. While the reasoning that is being trotted out to support the move gains support with the popular Imagination; after all who doesn’t want to protect their children, it in effect does little to protect. In fact, the surveillance powers and the changes that they will affect in search and seizure procedures are considered by those who oppose the bill, to be in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

November 2016

The Investigatory Powers Act, UK

This Act was passed in 2016, and as of May 2017, still not everyone knows, or accepts its existence. Dubbed ‘the snoppers’ charter’ it means that Internet users throughout the UK are being tracked and watched by GCHQ, on mass without having committed any unlawful act. And if the government can track you, so can the criminals, and ‘big business’. Meaning that your information is for sale, and the Investigatory Powers Act makes it easier to find and use.

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