Monthly Archives: June 2008

Global Voices Summit: NGOs and Local Activists

The final panel of the first day included representatives from Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Borders, Hands Across the Mideast Support Alliance, Amnesty International and Global Voices.

Some notes:

  • We can support activists by informing them of their legal rights;
  • Need to connect with local and national human rights NGOs;
  • Find allies within the ICT ministries to help prevent censorship from taking place;
  • Respond quickly to censorship; develop tools to detect more quicly and providing tools to host mirror sites;
  • Framing a campaign or issue is fundamentally important. When campaigning in the West, we need to frame issues in such a way that they are relevant to them;
  • Training is important as technical issues are not always resolved remotely;
  • Many advocates rely mostly on email, IM and mobiles, and less so on the Internet
  • Riseup.net
  • Pidgin.im
  • Taking a technical solution to what is otherwise a social issue is a problem;
  • Forthcoming book: The Blogging Revolution (September 2008);

Patrick Philippe Meier

Global Voices Summit: Frontline Activists, Tools and Knowledge

The fourth panel addresses the challenge of providing people with the tools they need to circumvent web filtering and other methods of online censorship. Digital activists and technology experts from China, Cuba and the US shared their insights.

Some notes:

  • Part of the arms race is between us and US corporations;
  • The use of censorship circumvention and anonymity technology is global;
  • There are circumvention, anonymity and hybrid tools;
  • Everyone’s Guide to By-Passing Internet Censorship
  • Digital Security for Human Rights Defenders
  • Three walls to digital activism: free access (technology), free speech (poliitcs) and free thinking (education);
  • Digital Nomad is a non-profit group that provides services for co-location of hosting; CMS software installation; Fast responses to the Great Firewall; Marketing with social media;
  • The Chinese government blocks some key words in domain names/URLs (me: how about using domain names similar to major multinational companies operating in China, e.g., IBM, Microsoft, etc);
  • Governments are increasingly savvy in their ability to block emails with specific key words;
  • We need to localize both the software tools and the training manuals;
  • We need to share best practices vis-a-vis tools and tactics to decrease vulnerabilities;
  • Vaultletsoft.com allows for sending of emails that expire (can no longer be read) after a specified amount of time;
  • The Internet perceives censorship as damage and will work around;
  • Web 2.0 tools are actually quite centralized;
  • Tor does NOT encrypt emails, so always, always use https

Patrick Philippe Meier

GLobal Voices Summit: Living with Censorship

The third panel included digital activists based in China, Bangladesh, Sudan, Thailand, Syria, Middle East and North Africa.

Notes from the panel follow.

  • Original legal proposal in Thailand for punishing computer-related crime included the death penalty; this has now been changed to a 20-year jail sentence;
  • Regimes in Middle East and North Africa are concerned about (possible) shift in power brought about by the Internet;
  • Iran bans fast internet to cut West’s influence;
  • Some websites in the Middle East have two links on their homepage, “Click here to Enter” and “Click here to access our website when it gets blocked”; the latter including a tutorial on how to access censored websites;
  • Based on the results of a survey in the Middle East, 24% of Internet users who participated in the survey said they did not use circumvention tools because they did not know how.
  • Accessing the web is limited by blocking and censorship, but most importantly by the digital divide, both between and within countries;
  • Following Sichuan earthquake in China, blogger groups became NGOs;
  • In Bangladesh, authorities issue notcie to ISPs to provide list of all subscribers with names, address, and connection details; share the admin password of Internet gateway servers;
  • The endgame of all censorship is self-censorship;
  • Any solution to the problem of censorship has to be much more than technical, much more than legal (me: maybe nonviolent action?);
  • Blogosphere in Ethiopia particularly vibrant through to 2006 but government then blocked blogspot; number of blogs have virtually dwindled to a stop;
  • Free Tariq campaign in Syria failed because it did not address the people locally; most importantly because “freedom of speech” was not a priority for the peope; Struggle to convince people that freedom of speech;

Patrick Philippe Meier

Global Voices Summit: Citizen Media and Online Free Speech

DigiActive’s Mary Joyce moderated the second panel of the Summit that included bloggers from Egypt, Morocco, Hong Kong, Singapore and Iran.

The main points from the presentations:

  • Newspapers in Egypt have stolen blog content and printed them;
  • Blogger criticizing Libyan leader Gaddafi was forced shut down her blog;
  • Mobile phone credit via Mpesa was more important than money in Kenya’s post-election period;
  • There was a lot of self-censorship in the Blogosphere during the violence in Kenya;
  • Using Twitter via mobile phone costs credit with every text message;
  • For Ory Okolloh, not being anonymous was an advantage;
  • In Singapore, the relatively high standard of living makes people more willing to accept censorship;
  • Use of camera phones to film police injustice and corruption spreading in Morocco;
  • Moroccan activist imprisoned and tortured for putting fake profile of Prince’s brother on Facebook; when interrogated, he was asked, “Why did you invent Facebook?”
  • Recent social protests in Sidi Ifni were repressed by police forces; the Moroccan government initially denied that anything had occured, but the incident was well covered by camera phones with numerous videos posted on YouTube. The government then had to conceded that there had been some unrest;
  • Iranian officials announced in 2006 that some 10 million Internet sites are blocked by government agencies.
  • Anti-Bush and anti-war American blogs and sites are filtered in Iran; while Neoco pro war blogs with Iran are not filtered.

Patrick Philippe Meier

Global Voices Summit: Toward a Global Anti-Censorship Network

The first panel of the summit included presentations by activists in Belarus, Japan, Egypt and Pakistan.

Some of the main points I took away from the panel discussion:

  • Censorship is not good for business;
  • The key in anti-censorship tools is simplicity, ease of use;
  • Blogs not frequently blocked in Egypt, but torture used to induce self-censorship;
  • The stakes for governments are too high to allow for a free Internet in Egypt;
  • Digital activism cannot be separated from the main struggle for democracy;
  • Are bloggers above the law? Should we always support them?
  • Mobile phone content (lifestyle, religion, political issues) is already being filtered in Japan;
  • Bill passed into law in Japan to oblige pre-installaltion national standard-based filtering software;
  • Companies in Japan pushing against censorship since some games being blocked;
  • Some argue Japan will be left behind if censorship spreads;
  • Japanese not concerned about government, but rather other citizens who engage in troubling activities on the net;
  • Pkblogs.com is a site that allows you to access blogs on blogspot if they are blocked by India, Pakistan, Iran and China;
  • Vid.pk is a local alternative to YouTube in Pakistan;
  • SMS activism and Twitter used in Pakistan; but what they really needed was an SMS forwarding and broadcasting service;
  • In Pakistan, Blog via Frontline SMS, but Frontline was complicated to set up; international SMS migth be more expensive but would be easier;
  • pkLongMarch.blogspot.com is an event based live SMS / Email blogging site;
  • In Pakistan, to really reach the people one must tap mobile content and SMS.

Patrick Philippe Meier

Global Voices Summit: Welcome & Introduction

Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon launched the 2-day Summit by sharing the origins of Global Voices.

Sami Ben Gharbia gave the first presentation on digital activism, emphasizing the new power combination of camera phones, YouTube and blogs.

“YouTube plus the Blogosphere is a dangerous combination for repressive regimes.” Videos have led to arrests of policemen in Morocco and Egypt. But both blogs and YouTube can be blocked.

But you can email your blog entry to your Blogger account and have that posted across dozens of different social network media.

Collaboration between activists across the world is very real. Sami showed an impressive Google Map depicting the technologies and tactics of numerous digital activists learning from each other to bypass.

Patrick Philippe Meier

Crisis Mapping DRC

The International Peace Information Service (IPIS) provides another interesting approach to crisis mapping:

Mapping interests in conflict areas: Katanga reports on the presence of (ex-) combatants in the Congolese province of Katanga, in other words, the armed men who participated in the consecutive Congo wars. It tries to answer the questions who they are, where they are quartered, why they are quartered there and what should be done to prevent them from causing security problems. It relates to the situation in March-April-May 2007 and focuses on two conflicting parties: the “Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo” (FARDC) and the Mayi-Mayi militias.

  • You can change the level of detail on the maps by zooming in or out. The maps are available at three different scales: 1:7,500,000 (initial view), 1:3,000,000 and 1:1,000,000. To zoom in or out, move the scroll slide (in the bottom left corner) up or down, or just move the mouse wheel up or down. For clarity reasons some map elements are hidden while viewing at a large scale but revealed after zooming in.
  • You can easily navigate through the map by dragging it with the mouse pointer. After a double click, the clicked-on position is displayed in the centre of the map.
  • The maps feature an advanced geographical search function that locates strings of characters.
  • When clicking the ‘Overview’ button a useful overview map appears in an extra window at the top left corner of the screen .
  • A legend is provided for each map.
  • You can search thematically for data by clicking the ‘Lists’ button. The map will centre on the requested map element and automatically a table will appear with additional information on the map element.
  • The same additional information on map elements can be retrieved by clicking on the item directly on the map itself (the arrow of your mouse cursor should change in a hand first).
  • Can blogging about culture and non-political issues invite more credibility for bloggers? Cultural issues are not a threat to governments, this could be an entry point.

Patrick Philippe Meier