Media Law Roundup: August 21, 2015

Welcome to the Media Law Roundup, a survey of developing media news. 

Spanish Woman Fined Under New ‘Gag Law’

The BBC reported on August 18, 2015 that a Spanish woman will be fined by city police in Petrer, Alicante, after photographing a police car in a handicapped parking spot and posting the image online. The charges fall under new and controversial public security laws, or the ‘gag law,’ recently adopted in Spain. The law’s main purpose, the New York Times reports, is to “help the ruling party maintain its hold on power by discouraging the anti-austerity protests that have snowballed into widespread support for the populist Podemos party.” Among a laundry list of new restrictions, Spanish citizens’ ability to use social media for activism, to photograph police without permission, and to organize an “unauthorized protest” are among the most contested parts of the new law.  The woman being charged posted the image on Facebook on July 27, 2015, but removed it soon after. An unnamed police spokesperson claimed that the officers had been responding to an urgent call and had to park quickly. This new gag law was protested and criticized heavily before it was passed in Spain on December 11, 2014, mostly notably by rights group Amnesty International and a group of UN human rights experts. These experts urged Spain to “reject two projects of legal reform” in February of this year, including the gag law, claiming that it “could result in disproportionate restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression.” Ultimately, the regional interior ministry office will decide the fate of the unnamed photographer, who could be fined up to €30,000.

China Cleans Internet, Arrests Thousands

On August 18, 2015, the Ministry of Public Security in China announced that it has arrested 15,000 hackers since the launch of its anti-cybercrime campaign to “clean the internet.” In the six months since the operation has begun, the Ministry has opened investigations into 7400 cases of cybercrime affecting 66,000 websites. The ministry announced in a statement that these crimes “jeopardize internet security,” citing advertising and SMS hacks as the most common types of offense. According to the Ministry, one case involves an investigation into websites that were hacked to display advertisements for gambling sites. While many of the arrests were on charges of minor website intrusions, some involved more complicated and organized fraud. Naked Security reports that another investigation “resulted in the arrests of six members of a gang responsible for sending massive amounts of SMS spam from Wi-Fi base stations.” The Chinese police set up an “internet inspection” branch in June 2015 which aims to reduce the magnitude and frequency of these crimes with officers in 50 cities across China using public accounts on social media sites. “Working 24/7, the cyber police teams are tasked to sniff out “illegal and harmful information on the internet, deter and prevent cybercrimes,” Xinhua reports.

#AtTheEdge of Censorship in Malaysia

On August 8, 2015, over 400 people, including journalists, lawyers, members of human rights groups, and concerned citizens, rallied in protest of the three-month suspension of Malaysian media outlets in Kuala Lumpur. These outlets, specifically news groups The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily News, were blocked by the government after reporting on a financial scandal involving Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. According to Global Voices Online, these groups exposed covert activity of 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), an investment company billions of dollars in debt. Reports alleged that the Prime Minister “got $700 million (USD) in bank transfers through 1MDB.” UK-based news site Sarawak Reports was also blocked in Malaysia on the grounds that it delivered false reports about the financial goings on of 1MDB.  The Coalition for Press Freedom, a collaboration of five media groups, organized the rally and created the campaign hashtag #AtTheEdge in an effort to gain publicity of the media censorship crisis. The Coalition made their demands very clear and have taken to social media, and started a petition in support of their campaign. The rally was nonviolent and organizers sought police approval before the rally began.

Unified Law in Egypt

On August 11, 2015, Daily News Egypt (DNE) announced the new draft of a “unified press and media” law project that aims to guarantee constitutional press freedom in Egypt. Egypt’s Press Syndicate, an advisory committee for media legislation, is expected to send the final copy of the law to Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab on Sunday, August 23. If passed, the law will forbid prison sentences for publishing crimes and remove 11 legal articles in other Egyptian laws that reference vague limitations on freedom of expression.  According to DNE, the syndicate is most proud of their eradication of laws allowing the “imprisonment of journalists in publishing crimes.” The syndicate’s legal representative, Sayed Abu Zeid, has voiced concerns regarding the feasibility of implementing this sort of law. The creation of this law has been a long and arduous process, with each draft and edit discussed in detail by the syndicate and Egyptian government officials at various conferences. Despite a number of cases of imprisoned journalists facing charges other than publishing crimes, the syndicate believes this issue is not outdated and requires legal definition. Until the law is passed, Zeid says, it will be impossible to tell just how effective it might be.

Smart City Makes Novice Mistake

This week the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fined corporate technology service provider Smart Holdings, LLC $750,000 following the company’s decision to block users’ personal mobile hotspots in order to draw them to the company’s own expensive Wi-Fi services. The fine is for not only coercing attendees at a number of convention centers served by Smart City to use Wi-Fi provided by the company, but also for charging these coerced users exorbitant amounts for Wi-Fi access. Techdirt’s Karl Bode reports that “Smart City was caught using common technology that sends de-authorization packets to user devices, kicking them off of their own personal hotspots or tethered smartphones while in Smart City business locations.” According to Bode, this is not the first time the FCC has stepped in to charge providers for nudging users towards their own, overpriced services. A very similar case was pushed last year when the FCC fined Marriott on nearly identical charges. In a legal statement released by Smart City, the company obligingly accepts and acknowledges the allegations, naming legal cost and “distraction” as main reasons for not fighting the charges.

US and India to Join Hands in Fighting Cybercrime

On August 14, 2015, India Today announced the decision of both Indian and U.S. government officials to cooperate on a cybersecurity partnership in an urgent effort to stop cybercrime and “advance [Indian] Prime Minster Narendra Modi’s ambitious goal of a digital India.” Prompted in part by foreign cyber-attacks and the two countries’ shared experiences of digital victimization, the Fourth India-U.S. Cyber Dialogue, held this month in Washington, precedes President Obama’s meeting with Prime Minister Modi in New York next month. After the August meeting, U.S. Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel and Indian Deputy National Security Advisor Arvind Gupta released a joint statement about the goals of this new agreement. Among its targets, combatting cyber threats and enhancing cybersecurity information sharing remain two top priorities. The delegations have identified a number of ways to increase the countries’ collaboration on tackling cybersecurity research and development, internet governance, and international security. The White House said the delegations met with private sector representatives, in addition to the formal Dialogue, to discuss issues related to the digital economy both in the U.S. and in India. The next round of the Cyber Dialogue will be held in Delhi in 2016.

Canada ‘Unable’ to Enforce Net Neutrality Laws

On August 13th, 2015, The Tyee’s MediaCheck reported that Canada’s net neutrality rules, put in place in 2009 by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), are seriously lacking in their ability to be enforced. These rules, which were established partially as a response to a long list of neutrality violations by Canadian internet service providers (ISPs), were meant to stifle the ability of ISPs to blatantly block specific web content. Seven years after the policy was created, ISPs are still able to indirectly block content via creative loopholes in the current policy. The Tyee says the most common complaint received by the CRTC is the use of throttling technologies that limit speeds, which make streaming and real-time services nearly impossible. “The problem?” Techdirt’s Karl Bode says, “The government agency in charge of enforcing the country’s net neutrality rules apparently can’t be bothered to actually do so.” Failure to enforce these rules is not new to Canada and the complaints are hauntingly similar to others that have been popping up since 2011. As reports reveal that the CRTC designates complaints as ‘resolved’ while only really ‘working on resolving the issue,’ some question policy’s effectiveness in generating real solutions.

Featured Photo Credit: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Adolfo Lujan

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