Welcome to the Media Law Roundup, a weekly digest of developing media news stories from around the world. This week’s issue covers the Luxleaks trials, the murder of an LGBT journalist in Bangladesh, new cybercrime laws in Brazil, and more.
On April 27, a committee in the Brazilian lower house of Congress, the Câmera dos Deputados decided to postpone a vote on seven proposals allegedly created to combat cybercrime. However, experts believe that these cybercrime bills would significantly limit open internet and anonymity through increased censorship and surveillance. According to the new provisions, the government would have the ability to unilaterally block internet services (such as WhatsApp or Facebook) with a judicial order. Service providers would also have to provide IP addresses to law enforcement officials without a judicial order, allowing law enforcement to geolocate a user and reveal certain browsing history. Recently, many countries, such as Pakistan and Qatar, have proposed bills limiting freedom on the internet in the name of security and censorship. “Cybercrime is one of the recurring excuses for creating overbroad legislation which place controls on internet activity,” said Katitza Rodriguez, international rights director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In Brazil, the recent proposals are the result of the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry on Cybercrimes, created in July 2015 by House President Eduardo Cunha at the request of a congressman from President Dilma Rousseff’s ruling Workers’ Party. The first draft of the proposals was released on March 30, which civil society groups and publications, such as the major newspaper Folha de São Paulo, have criticized. According to Folha, the “provisions attack the pillars of the Marco Civil da Internet, a statute enacted in 2014 which put Brazil at the vanguard of the issue [of internet rights}”.
On April 26, French journalist Edouard Perrin appeared in court to face accusations of his heavy involvement in the 2014 Luxleaks scandal, a document leak that uncovered tax evasion of large companies. Two former employees of PricewaterhouseCoopers, Antoine Deltour and Raphael Halet, are also on trial for their involvement in the leak, facing charges relating to professional secrecy and theft. Luxleaks, which until the Panama Papers was the largest ever corporate leak, revealed that several large companies such as McDonalds, Disney, Apple, and Amazon funneled profits through Luxembourg to evade taxes. Many organizations, such as the Centre for Investigative Journalism, have criticized Luxembourg for pressing charges against Perrin, calling it “a clear attack on press freedom.” Many believe that the information revealed in the Luxleaks is of public interest. “This trial should not be taking place,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “The information revealed by the LuxLeaks case is of major importance and is clearly in the public interest. Who can claim that the public does not have the right to be told about the tax optimization methods used by leading multinationals and the preferential treatment they get from certain governments?”
On April 25, Egyptians gathered in Ciaro to protest Sisi’s decision to give Egyptian islands to Saudi Arabia. Security forces anticipated the protest based on Facebook posts and blocked roads in Cairo and dispersed a march with tear gas. In light of these events, protesters have begun abandoning Facebook as an organizing tool in favor of a new app called Signal, a free open-source and encrypted messaging app. Basil El-Dabh, an Egyptian protester, tweeted, “There was a time when political parties and groups used Facebook to post meeting points/times for marches. Mobilization much tougher now.” Around 230 protesters were arrested, including dozens of journalists. While encrypted services like Signal and WhatsApp have allowed protesters to communicate privately they pose unique challenges of their own. By their nature, messaging apps like WhatsApp and Signal are not as easy to use for public broadcasts and mass organizing as Facebook and Twitter. Signal and WhatsApp are activated by an SMS text message to the phone of the new user, which can be easily intercepted and rouse suspicions among security forces. Additionally, many Egyptians reported that during the protests on April 25, police forces searched protesters’ phones, looking at WhatsApp and Facebook accounts.
THE KILLING OF AN LGBT JOURNALIST IN BANGLADESH, THE ATLANTIC
On April 25, Xulhaz Mannan, the editor of Roopbaan, Bangladesh’s only LGBT magazine, was hacked to death with machetes in Dhaka. Established in 2014, Roopbaan was not sold on street newsstands “for fear of inflaming tensions and sparking a backlash against the gay community,” explained NDTV, an Indian television network. Many believe that Islamist militants are responsible for the killing as they have targeted and killed many intellectuals, secular writers, and activists who published views critical of Islam. Sara Hossain, a friend of Mannan’s, said that this is the first time extremists appeared to go after someone for his sexual identity. “It’s a new shift, a new turn,” she said. “This is something different now.” Homosexual acts are illegal in Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority but secular country. The human rights organization Amnesty International released a statement calling on Bangladeshi authorities to prosecute the killers and provide better protection for activists. “There have been four deplorable killings so far this month alone,” the statement said. “It is shocking that no one has been held to account for these attacks.”
Mexican voter records were made publicly available on Amazon’s cloud servers until Amazon Web Services were notified to remove the database on April 22. Chris Vickery, a security researcher for software firm MacKeeper, initially discovered the file on April 14 while browsing unsecured databases with a security tool called Shodan. “When I opened it up in my database, viewer I saw names, obvious addresses and identifying numbers. I started Googling the addresses to see where they were,” said Vickery. Initially Vickery had a difficult time reaching an official to warn about the leak. After mentioning the database during a talk at Harvard, a Mexican approached him and helped him authenticate the data. A journalist who attended the same talk helped Vickery inform the Mexican Electoral Institute, which organizes federal elections in the country. The Mexican Electoral Institute published a statement in Spanish about the data leak, stating that “an internal investigation has been launched and the case has been reported to the special prosecutor for electoral crimes.” In Mexico, where up to 100,000 people are kidnapped every year, data from these voter records with people’s home addresses is highly sensitive.
On April 26, privacy campaigners from the civil rights campaign charity Liberty released a spoof video highlighting the extent of surveillance in the UK if Theresa May’s Investigatory Powers Bill is passed. In the clip, titled “Show Me Yours,” comedian Olivia Lee approaches random Brits insisting they hand over their phones to have holiday pictures, bank statements, and internet scrutinized. Many Brits were shocked and angered by the request, exclaiming that it’s “none of your business.” Larry Holmes, Liberty’s digital and campaigns coordinator, says the video reveals how most people are uncomfortable with strangers poring over details of their private life. “As our film shows, people naturally recoil when a stranger asks to see their phone – there’s a reason we use encrypted services and protect our phones and computers with passwords and codes.” Holmes believes that the Snoopers Charter would violate privacy, calling the bill a “world leading embarrassment.” May, who spearheaded the bill, claims that the Home Office is revising the bill to strengthen privacy protections. “The Investigatory Powers Bill will transform the law relating to the use and oversight of these powers. It will strengthen safeguards and introduce world-leading oversight arrangements,” said May.
Photo credit: by Mona – IMG00606-20110130-1644, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12863452