Media Law Roundup: December 4, 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 UN internet policy meeting, Russian online propaganda, Pakistani mobile markets, and more.

Future of the Internet Decided Behind Closed Doors

This week, representatives from 193 countries will convene at the United Nations in Dubai to “decide the future of the internet,” reports Freedom House. The meeting is a planned ten year review of the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs), global internet policies that were originally laid out during the 2005 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). According to Motherboard, delegates will discuss a number of issues categorized into four main areas: internet accessibility, human rights and free speech, internet governance, and internet security.  The first ITRs, written after the first meeting of this type in 1988, were meant to govern a world in which the World Wide Web did not yet exist. Because the internet changes so rapidly, every meeting since the first has reflected large-scale changes to existing policy. In addition to country delegates, a variety of internet stakeholders will be present in Dubai, such as the Internet Society and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which oversee current internet protocol. Sally Wentworth, Vice President of global policy development at the Internet Society, told Motherboard that the goal of the meeting is for the delegates to make “declaratory statements [about] how the international community can address cyber security and how we should deal with issues like mass surveillance.” Declarations made by the UN following meetings of this sort are often used as policy framework for future implementation.


ITU Releases Annual Global ICT Report

On November 30, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the UN specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), released its annual Measuring the Information Society Report. The report includes data about global internet usage, connectivity, and access, as well as data on mobile network connectivity and coverage. According to the ITU’s press release, “43.4% of the global population is now online, and over 95% of the global population is now covered by a mobile-cellular signal.” Overall, the report notes that mobile service prices continue to fall, a trend that partially accounts for the rapid increase in mobile usage around the globe. Compared to this quick growth, internet connectivity, particularly among shared household computers, has shown slow growth in recent years. The data underscore great disparities between different regions: 81.3% of households in developed countries now have internet access compared to only 6.7% of those in the 48 UN-designated ‘Least Developed Countries.’ Also included in the report is the 2015 ICT Development Index, a composite rating that scores 167 countries according to their level of ICT access, use, and skills. Topping off this year’s list are Korea, Denmark, and Iceland, with Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Chad rounding out the bottom three. Almost every country surveyed improved their IDI score over last year.


Blackberry Pulls out of Pakistani Markets

On November 30, American phone company Blackberry announced that it will no longer operate in Pakistan, effective December 30, 2015, due to the country’s data monitoring rules. Earlier this year, the Pakistani government wanted access to all messages and emails sent on Blackberry phones, a demand that has led the company to “exit the market altogether.” In a blog post on its site, Blackberry COO Marty Beard explains that the Pakistani government guised this request as an access to information issue, citing cybersecurity and communications access as reasons for needing the ability to monitor email. Beard however, writes that the government simply wanted “unfettered access” for the sake of monitoring its citizens, a move that would fundamentally violate Blackberry’s privacy policy. The disagreement, in turn, led Pakistan’s Telecommunications Authority to tell Blackberry in July that its messaging servers would no longer be allowed to operate in the country. Blackberry, instead, decided to pull out of the Pakistani markets entirely. Beard writes that the company has regrets about leaving the country, as it is an “important market,” but ultimately “cannot support ‘backdoors’ that would grant open access to customers’ information.”


US Republican Party Bids to Exempt ISPs from Net Neutrality Rules

On November 23, thirty-four Republican lawmakers officially asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to permanently exempt small internet service providers (ISPs) from a portion of its net neutrality rules, The Hill reports. In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the GOP encourages Wheeler to make permanent a set of rules that were adopted in February and initially meant to be temporary. Under these rules, “ISPs with 100,000 or fewer subscribers were temporarily exempted from complying with the stricter transparency requirements the commission placed on larger ISPs such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable.” Lawmakers are now suggesting these rules become permanent, with a couple minor changes, including that the 100,000-or-fewer subscriber rule to be changed to either 1,500 employees or fewer or 500,000 or fewer subscribers. Making either change would broaden the scope of companies to which the rules apply, and allow slightly larger companies to ignore net neutrality rules. The GOP has defended this move, citing the net neutrality rules’ disproportionate effects on businesses of different size. The FCC has said that it will make decision on the whether to make the exemption permanent by December 15, 2015.


China Revokes Internet Access of those Using Filters

Last week the Chinese government began shutting down mobile services of residents in the country’s western Xinjiang territory. In particular, service was shut off for those using filters to evade the country’s Great Firewall, those who had not linked their identification to their account, and those who had downloaded foreign messaging software such as WhatsApp or Telegram. According to the New York Times, five people affected, who remain anonymous, received text messages notifying them that their cell phone number would be dissolved within two hours and urging them to contact local police. Xinjiang has long been known as a “testing ground for experiments in internet surveillance and censorship.” Internet in the region was shut down in 2009 for nearly six months after local riots broke out. According to reports, officials are concerned that the internet, particularly foreign messaging services, are being used to promote religious extremism across the region. The shutdown follows a number of terrorist attacks in Paris, Mali, and Russia, where those at fault are thought to have used foreign messaging services such as the ones now being shut down in China. Nicholas Bequelin, East Asia Director for Amnesty International, has called Xinjiang the “frontier for Internet surveillance” in China because of its history of extreme fear of terrorism and geographical proximity to regions experiencing political upheaval.


Japanese Government to Consolidate Internet Access

On November 23, the Japanese central government announced that it will ask municipal governments across the nation to consolidate their internet access in prefectural blocks. According to The Yomburi Shimbun, the move comes as part of an effort against cyberattacks targeting local governments, who often manage large amounts of sensitive financial and demographic data. Currently, each government manages the servers it uses and takes different levels of security procedures to combat attacks. Historically, Japanese municipal governments have been understaffed in their cybersecurity efforts and, as a result, have not been able to implement countermeasures quickly in the face of an attack. As part of the new plan, the 1,741 municipal governments in Japan will access the internet via shared servers, and each server will be assigned to one of 47 prefectures, making it easier for government officials to watch for cyberattacks. The new system will also make it easier for municipal governments to relay information about an attack to other prefectures, so they can share information about countermeasures. Furthermore, central government officials hope to use the new system to analyze methods used by attackers as a way of prevention and response. The new system will take effect July 2017.


Authoritarian States Can’t Beat Western Media Sites, Join them instead

Last week, the Washington Free Beacon reported a recent trend in authoritarian states, exemplified by Russia, co-opting western social media outlets in order to spread state propaganda. In a new report for the Legatum Institute, journalist David Patrikarakos writes that Russia and other autocratic governments initially tried to “block their citizens from using social media sites and Internet services amid fears that they would express their discontent and mobilize against the state.” Similar methods have been used by the Chinese government but have proven relatively ineffective, with many netizens making use of internet filters to circumvent censors. In such instances, Russia has resorted to what Patrianakos dubbed “social media hacking.” Since they are unable to keep their citizens off western social media cites completely, state governments have now begun infiltrating the sites, filling them with pro-state propaganda. Do so can create a false sense of public opinion online, making Russia propaganda seem like the dominant train of through because of the sheer volume of it- made available by the government. According to the report, the Kremlin has continually sought to discredit European and NATO countries in its online content. In the report, Patrianakos calls for the creation of a non-government organization to combat online propaganda.


Featured Photo Credit: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Tom Page

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