Welcome to the Media Law Roundup, a weekly digest of developing media news stories from around the world. This week’s issue covers Pakistan’s new cyber crime bill, the Panama Papers, restrictions on free speech in South Korea, and more.
CONTROVERSIAL CYBER CRIME BILL APPROVED BY NA, PAKISTAN HERALD
On April 13, Pakistan’s National Assembly approved the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, which has been criticized by IT industry and civil society for restricting human rights. If it passes the Senate, the proposed bill will criminalize activities such as criticizing the government online or sending emails without the recipient’s consent. Proposed penalties range from fines to long-term imprisonment. For example, Sections 17 and 18 state: “Political criticism and political expression in the form of analysis, commentary, blogs and cartoons, caricatures and memes has been criminalised.” Many citizens have voiced their dissent to the bill on Twitter with the hashtag #CyberCrimeBill. In a column titled “We’re all Cyber Terrorists” in The Nation, Kunwar Khuldune Shahid explains that Pakistan desperately needs legislation addressing cybercrime but condemns this bill’s restrictions on freedom of expression. “What we have right now is a draconian hotchpotch of cyber-terrorism, cyber-security and cybercrime all rolled into a single bill. If it’s passed in its existing form, we’d all end up being cyber-terrorists in one way or the other,” said Shahid. Minister of State for IT Anusha Rehman, the force behind the bill, insisted that the bill provides necessary safeguards. “We do not have any mechanism to stop the misuse of cyberspace,” Rehman said.
In anticipation of South Korea’s general election on April 13, candidates could request the removal of social media posts and comments that portray them in a negative light due to alleged libel or privacy violations. Critics worry that this law limits online freedom of expression and restricts the ability of voters to be fully informed before the election. “The South Korean Internet appears vibrant. But only short and fragmentary expressions like tweets are flourishing as a way of communicating,” said Park Kyung-shin, a professor of law at Korea University. “Many people have used various methods available in South Korea to censor even content that is trustworthy, well-structured and well-written, because of its potential impact.” Two weeks prior to the election, anonymous online activities were restricted, making Koreans fearful of posting about the elections due to potential criminal charges for spreading false information. To avoid fines, local internet companies generally accept all the candidates’ requests to remove online posts, however, Facebook and Twitter rarely delete posts even when asked. Park has observed that many local media companies shut down to avoid violating the pre-election ban on anonymous content, which has caused Koreans to turn to Twitter. “That is why I think serious discourses in South Korea’s Internet space are being replaced by fragmented and marginalized tweets,” said Park.
On April 3, 11.5 million files were leaked from Mossack Fonseca, the world’s fourth largest offshore law firm. The German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung first obtained these files, referred to as the Panama Papers, from an anonymous source by the and then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) who later shared them with several international news outlets. The leaks reveal legal and illegal uses of offshore tax havens and have implicated several world leaders including the Prime Minister of Iceland, Vladimir Putin, and Xi Jinping. At 2.6 TB (2000 times the size of WikiLeaks), the Panama Papers are the largest leak in history. Unlike WikiLeaks, ICIJ has no plans to release the full dataset, because it contains sensitive information of innocent private individuals. “We’re not WikiLeaks. We’re trying to show that journalism can be done responsibly,” said ICIJ director Gerard Ryle. In response to allegations about Chinese president Xi Jinping, the country has censored all content related to the Panama Papers. “Find and delete reprinted reports on the Panama Papers. Do not follow up on related content, no exceptions,” stated a directive from an unnamed province, which was obtained by the China Digital Times. According to Free Weibo, a website that tracks censorship, “Panama” has been a highly censored term on social media since the leaks.
EU DATA WATCHDOGS: PRIVACY SHIELD NEEDS FIXES, ARS TECHNICA
In a press conference on April 13, Article 29 Working Party, a group comprised of representatives from the data protection authority of each EU member state, criticized parts of the proposed EU-US Privacy Shield framework. The group specifically noted that exceptions that would allow the US to carry out mass surveillance of EU citizens were “not acceptable.” Chairwoman of Article 29 Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin has called the proposed Privacy Shield agreement “a great step forward” from Safe Harbour, but believes it still needs to be modified. She said that, “it is rather difficult to understand all the documents and annexes, as they are complex and not consistent…we believe it would have been better to have something simpler and less complex.” Article 29’s press conference came shortly after Microsoft announced its support for Privacy Shield, as many businesses worry about the future of transatlantic data exchange if Privacy Shield is struck down. “If the working party does not endorse the Privacy Shield and simultaneously states that organizations can no longer rely on some other the commonly used mechanisms for facilitating EU-U.S. data transfers, then it could have a significant impact on businesses” Kathryn Wynn, a data protection expert at the law firm Pinsent Masons, told the International Business Times. The Court of Justice of the European Union is expected to determine whether mass surveillance of EU citizens could be legal which will affect the implementation of Privacy Shield.
On April 11, a day after Chad’s Election Day, the internet remained down in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad. Mobile internet, fixed internet, and local phone networks were suspended on Election Day, reminiscent of the shutdown during Congo’s elections a few weeks prior. President Idriss Deby, who has served since the 1990 military coup, is expected to win a fifth term though results are not expected for two weeks. Many poorer districts and young activists have called for “real change,” and have accused the current government of corruption and ballot box stuffing. A crew for French-language broadcast TV5 covered encounters between soldiers and activists over alleged ballot box stuffing, but had its camera taken away and footage erased by security forces. As of April 12 the internet was still down.
Many securities researchers and civil liberties advocates criticized the US Senate’s draft encryption bill, which was leaked on April 7. The bill, authored by Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein, would let judges order technology companies to assist in breaking into encrypted data—a response to the recent controversy between the FBI and Apple. The bill uses overly vague language and suggests a ban on strong encryption entirely, which has the tech community concerned. Director of the Open Technology Institute Kevin Bankston said in a statement that the bill was the, “most ludicrous, dangerous, technically illiterate tech policy proposal of the 21st century.” Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and staunch opponent of the bill said, “for the first time in America, companies that want to protect their customers with stronger security will not have that choice.” The White House has not weighed in on the bill yet and remains conflicted on the issue on encryption.