Media Law Roundup: December 11, 2015

Welcome to the Media Law Roundup, a weekly digest of developing media news stories from around the world. This week’s issue covers the US ‘Crypto Taskforce,’ Kazakh internet policy, the Lebanese telecom bid, and more.

Internet Surpasses TV as Moscow’s Propaganda Medium of Choice

This week, Ukranian fact checking site reported on the recent trend in Russian state propaganda coming out of Moscow. According Jacek Jan Komar, an expert on digital media, Russia is using the internet as its primary source for disseminating state propaganda in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. This trend away from televised programs is due largely in part to the primary demographic of television versus internet users. Because the average age of internet users is much lower than that of TV subscribers, and because online media reaches a much broader audience, Moscow has adopted a long-term strategy for increasing its influence via the internet in the Baltic countries. Komar also cites the cost of producing Russian-language news programs for TV, money that can be spent elsewhere or otherwise saved by switching to written content or images on the internet. State critics are concerned with the level of power that the Russian state is able to attain by using the internet as its primary propaganda channel.


US Committee to Forge ‘Crypto Taskforce’

This week, US Representative Mike McCaul (R-Texas), Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, announced efforts to assemble a congressional commission to examine how encryption technology affects the general work of law enforcement. The move comes amid a fiery national debate in which the role of encryption technology and “going dark” have taken center stage in the American political sphere. The term itself refers to internet- and mobile-based communications that are encrypted so as to protect the security and privacy of their authors. The so-called ‘crypto war’ has thus far seen two prominent arguments. Enforcement officials argue that heightening encryption could lead to a “dark” point where authorities are unable to access data in the event that it is needed for an investigation. Civil liberties groups, however, contend that weakening encryption could make internet users’ data much less secure. If established, McCauls’s committee, composed of members with wide-ranging backgrounds and expertise, will seek to address these issues. Currently, McCaul is reaching out to a number of technologists, members of congress, and civil society leaders to gauge interest for creating such a committee.


China Defends Great Firewall Ahead of Global Internet Conference

On Wednesday, December 9, China’s cyber chief Lu Wei ‘rejected criticism’ that the country’s internet is too censored, defending government internet policies ahead of a state-sponsored internet conference. China currently has the world’s most advanced online censorship system, known as the ‘Great Firewall,’ and is known for imposing strict regulations and sanctions on its netizens. In particular, sites that facilitate open discussion are often blocked or censored to avoid anti-state discourses from arising online. Lu, head of the Cyberspace Administration of China, argued that the state’s censorship efforts are actually a means to online freedom, saying that “if the government were being too restrictive with the Internet, the country’s online market would not be developing so rapidly.” Among a collection of Central Asia leaders, China’s President Xi Jinping is expected to present at the World Internet Conference, set to take place December 16-18 in Beijing. In his statements this week, Lu also defended the state’s blocking of particular websites and posts in China, underlining China’s desire to ‘pick and choose’ its friends when it comes to the internet. Since Xi took office in 2013, government crackdowns on online freedom of expression has intensified dramatically, making China the most censored country on the net.


Kazakhstan to Tighten Control of Internet

This week, Kazakh government officials announced plans to intercept encrypted web and mobile data as it crosses national borders, a move that will allow state authorities to monitor and block digital content for Kazakh users. The country’s largest telecom company, Kazakhtelecom JSC, will begin intercepting encrypted data on January 1, 2016. As with other nations that employ similar data monitoring, the government has advertised the move as “a way to secure protection of Kazakhstan users,” but critics fear it will do the opposite, exposing private users’ data to government actors. In an effort to establish a Great Firewall-esque monitoring scheme without floating the cost of operating such an elaborate system, Kazakh officials are requiring citizens to install a “national security certificate” on all devices. The certificate will intercept requests to and from foreign websites, the New York Times reports, allowing authorities to read encrypted data between Kazakh users and foreign users. Among other concerns for netizen rights and privacy, security experts worry that having the ability to obtain such vast amounts of data will make the government a heavy target to hackers and cyberterrorists.


South African Internet Governance Forum

This week, the 2015 Southern Africa Internet Governance Forum (SAIGF) convened government, ICT, civil society, and tech leaders from 12 Southern African countries in Harare, Zimbabwe to address the most pressing digital policies facing the region. Kicking off the two-day conference, which was held December 8-9, Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe’s Program Officer for Broadcasting and ICTs Koliwe Majama outlined three key issues as the focal points for the forum: multistakeholderism, net neutrality vs zero-rating, and cybersecurity. In his opening speech, Majama emphasized that the reason for addressing these issues was to improve access, security, openness, and diversity of the internet. Each of these are key goals for many Southern African countries which currently face harsh online restrictions. The three focal points,  came as recommended issues from the Global Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which took place in November in Joao Pessoa, Brazil. The SAIGF addressed these issues and made suggestions for internet future policy-making.


Lebanon Telecom Network Tender Proves Unsuccessful

This week, the Daily Star reported that the Lebanese Telecommunication Ministry is ‘weighing its options’ after rejecting the outcomes of its own mobile network tender competition after it closed this week. The Prime Minister’s Tender Office said in a statement that it will not accept the outcome due to unfair competition. Currently, Lebanon is served by two government-owned operators, Touch and Alfa, which are run by Zain Group and Cairo-based Orascom. Total Telecom reports that the networks’ management contracts expired in 2013 and have since been extended a number of times. The ‘competition’ saw only two telecom operators, Zain and Orange, enter a bid to operate the country’s mobile networks. Critics say so few competitors entered due to the set of strict conditions placed by the Telecom Ministry, which many operators, including Orascom, viewed as excessively restrictive. The move to let Orange and Zain renew contracts is one of two options the Ministry now faces. Its other option is to allow the state to operate the mobile networks directly. Sources tell the Daily Star that the former plan of action is more likely to take place. The possibility for a second round of tender with more flexible conditions allowing for greater competition remains open.


Nigerian Social Media Bill Imposes on Free Speech

This week, the Nigerian Senate is defending a proposed law that would make it illegal for citizens to “falsely” criticize government leaders, public officials, or institutions via verbal speech or online social media content. The bill, sponsored by Bala Ibn Na’allah, a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress from Kebbi State, is now receiving harsh feedback, with many citizens and groups taking action to stop it from becoming a law. If passed, the law could sentence anyone who posts content deemed abusive of or opposed to government thinking with jail time or a fee of $10,000 USD. The bill specifically names social media platforms Twitter, WhatsApp, and Facebook and warns of posting content that could in any way be construed as anti-government. Lawmakers say the bill is aimed at “prohibiting ‘frivolous petitions’ and preventing the spread of falsehood,” Quartz reports. Critics of the bill have pointed out that, as with most countries, Nigeria relies heavily on social media to provide an avenue for young generations to participate in political events. Activist groups say that restricting online freedom of speech may only intensify discontent for a government that is already unpopular among many Nigerian citizens.


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