Close

Support Global Voices

To stay independent, free, and sustainable, our community needs the help of friends and readers like you.

Donate now »

See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

Netizen Report: Both Bangladesh and South Korea are waging a ‘war on porn’ — and paving the way for political censorship

Photo by Cory Doctorow. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in technology and human rights around the world. This report covers news and events from February 15-21, 2019.

Over the past week, authorities in both Bangladesh and South Korea have publicized plans to double down on censoring pornography and other content they see as objectionable.

Bangladeshi telecommunication authorities issued a ban on more than 18,000 websites that allegedly contained pornography or “obscene” content. A list of targeted sites that was sent to internet providers and later made public included Somewherein.net, the internet’s largest Bengali language-based blogging platform, and Google Books. Posts and Telecommunications Minister Mustafa Jabbar described the effort as a “war” against pornography.

Although users reported that they were unable to access their blogs, Somewherein.net posted a notice on February 18 stating that their system was functioning properly and that they had not received official notification from the authorities about any disruption in service. Although the site is included on an official list of banned sites, it was accessible in the country as of February 22.

Established in 2005, Somewhere in Blog or Badh Bhangar Awaaz (The Voice of Breaking Barriers) was the first public blogging site built for the Bengali language. An average of 60,000 bloggers post or comment on the platform each day.

Along with these sites, and sites that do contain explicit pornographic material, a number of high-profile social media users have been asked to remove their accounts or take down specific pieces of content by government authorities.

Meanwhile in South Korea, the Korean Communications Standards Commission, a state regulatory agency, issued a press release on February 12 confirming suspicions among tech experts that authorities are using new, technically sophisticated methods to identify and block pornography and pirated content online. Using a technique known as SNI eavesdropping, authorities are now able to block HTTPS content with increasing ease.

The production and circulation of pornography are illegal in South Korea, and the country heavily regulates intellectual property rights, thanks in part to its trade agreement with the US. But experts and free speech advocates are warning that this new approach could lead to censorship of sites that do not contain pornography, and thus begin to chip away at people’s rights to access information and express themselves freely.

A petition has been filed on the official website of South Korean president Moon Jae-in expressing strong condemnation of the move, and arguing that this aggressive and costly effort to filter online content will be a waste of taxpayer money, as users will likely turn to VPNs and other types of circumvention tools to access sites that interest them. More than 250,000 people have signed the petition.

YouTube blocked in Venezuela, again

Venezuela has been in political deadlock since mid-January, when opposition politician Juan Guaidó declared himself acting president of the Republic, in an open challenge to sitting President Nicolas Maduro. Several waves of public protests and confrontations between the Maduro-aligned military and opposition demonstrators have coincided with a series of network shutdowns, in which residents have been intermittently unable to access the internet and major social media platforms.

On February 19 and 20, the local technical research group VE Sin Filtro reported that YouTube was blocked for all subscribers to the country’s largest internet provider, state-owned CANTV. The group noted that in this instance, in contrast to previous shutdowns of the video platform (which is owned by Google), other Google services such as Gmail and Google Drive did not appear to be affected.

Facebook and VK are back in Uzbekistan, just in time for a conference on internet access

Facebook, YouTube, and the Russian social media site VKontakte began working in Uzbekistan on February 19, just in time for a two-day conference focused on internet connectivity in the Central Asian region. All three sites have been blocked in the country since September 2017. Users are wondering whether the block has been lifted for good, or if the measure was only taken for the benefit of important conference delegates from neighboring countries.

Uzbekistan’s authoritarian system has relaxed somewhat under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, and Facebook has emerged as one of the places where citizens can discuss and debate changes taking place in society — as long as they know how to use a VPN.

Pakistani authorities target anti-Saudi activism, ‘hate speech’

On February 21, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry announced plans to crack down on online hate speech, emphasizing its presence on social media and suggesting that social media monitoring would help curb the problem. Although hate speech is officially criminalized under Pakistan’s Electronic Crimes Act, the 2016 law does not offer a concrete definition of the term “hate speech.” Experts have noted that this omission could lead to an overly broad interpretation of the law.

Following a visit to Pakistan by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, the Interior Ministry ordered relevant authorities to block the social media pages of five groups associated with Shia Muslims, included two student groups. The order alleged that the groups’ pages were publishing “propaganda” against a “VVIP” delegation visit to Pakistan. Those targeted presume that the delegation in question was that of Bin Salman.

Kenyan advocates take government to court over national digital ID system

The non-governmental Kenyan Human Rights Commission filed a legal challenge against a plan to build a national digital identification system for Kenya, which was approved on December 31, 2018. Under the newly amended law, Kenyans wishing to take advantage of public services would be required to register in the so-called “National Integrated Identity Management System” and provide multiple pieces of personal data as means of authentication, including their name, photo, gender, date of birth, citizenship, phone number, e-mail address, physical and permanent residence and marital status.

Jackson Awele, who serves as counsel for the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, argued before the court that the system violates Kenyans’ constitutional right to privacy, as it “permits the State to require from citizens all manner of private information, including DNA information, without their consent” and offers no assurances that this massive trove of data would be protected from misuse or theft.

Uyghur video surveillance database was exposed on the internet for months

Dutch internet security researcher Victor Gevers found a massive database of surveillance video from western China sitting online, open to scrutiny by anyone who happened upon it. Gevers alerted Chinese authorities to the vulnerability, but not before reviewing some of its contents, which included the personal data of more than 2.5 million people, and their estimated locations, which appear to have been based on surveillance camera footage and mobile phone tracking data.

All the geographic coordinates listed in the system correspond to China’s western Xinjiang region, where the central government is known for its aggressive surveillance and detention programs targeting Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minority groups.

EU copyright directive would probably screw up the internet

A landmark copyright reform effort that would radically upend the dynamics of big content platforms has been making its way through the legislative process in the EU and could be brought to a vote as early as mid-March.

Although final language is still up for debate, draft versions of the directive would require platforms such as YouTube to assess the ownership of a piece of content — whether it be video, audio, text or image — before a user can successfully upload the file. Another provision would require for-profit publishers to pay other online sources if they wish to quote from them. Although non-profit publishers would be exempt from the requirement, this shift that would still likely discourage many websites from linking to valuable online sources.

 

Subscribe to the Netizen Report

 

Ellery Roberts Biddle, Marianne Diaz, Mohamed ElGohary, Rohith Jyothish, Oiwan Lam, Talal Raza, Rezwan, Chris Rickleton, Taisa Sganzerla and Sam Woodhams contributed to this report.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »

Guidelines

  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices!

Submitted addresses will be confirmed by email, and used only to keep you up to date about Global Voices and our mission. See our Privacy Policy for details.

Newsletter powered by Mailchimp (Privacy Policy and Terms).

* = required field
Email Frequency



No thanks, show me the site