This week, Reporters Sans Frontiers published their 2013 Enemies of the Internetreport. It begins:
My computer was arrested before I was.“ This perceptive comment was made by a Syrian activist who had been arrested and tortured by the Assad regime. Caught by means of online surveillance, Karim Taymour told a Bloomberg journalist that, during interrogation, he was shown a stack of hundreds of pages of printouts of his Skype chats and files downloaded remotely from his computer hard drive. His torturers clearly knew as much as if they had been with him in his room, or more precisely, in his computer.
RSF names Bahrain, China, Iran, Syria and Vietnam as ‘State Enemies of the Internet’, the most prolific violators of online privacy. But these countries do not design all their own surveillance technologies in-house. Appallingly, it is US and Western European companies, including British firms, who create the tools these murderous regimes use to spy on their own people. RSF namesAmesys (France), Blue Coat (USA), Gamma International (UK, Germany), Hacking Team (Italy) and Trovicor (Germany) as corporate ‘Enemies of the Internet’.
These companies are emboldened in their dirty (but apparently, perfectly legal) work by the manoeverings by western Governments to seize greater control over the Internet. The British Data Communications Bill, commonly known as the Snoopers Charter, proposed to give security agencies to monitor all e-mail and data communications. For all those horrified at the abuse of online activists around the world, opposing the reintroduction of such legislation in our wn countries is a practical first step. Read the full report ‘Enemies of the Internet 2013’ by Reporters Sans Froniers.
Congratulations President Obama, re-elected. Its a relief that the candidate with the broader coalition and the policies of inclusion, not division, won the day.
During the campaign, there was much analysis of how President Obama’s first term was disappointing. Blocked by a hostile Congress, he was unable to implement his full agenda. Big issues like Global Warming were left to fallow.
I was struck by a line in his victory speech: “The role of citizen does not end with your vote”. Concerned Americans need to be activists. When they take matters into their own hands, as Gay Rights activists on the left, and ‘Tea Party’ activists on the right have done, they are able to shift the political consensus.
Fololowing Obama’s re-election, the Democratic Party now has a unique database of information on voters and supporters. It seems to me that this was an under-used resource during the President’s first term. Obama and his party colleagues need to start campaigning now for a better, more liberal congress in 2014 – one that can deliver proper reform on climate change and other issues that urgently need attention.
The sentencing of Pussy Riot for hooliganism happened late last week, when I was out of the office. Theirs is clearly and ’emblematic’ case for human rights groups and free speech organisations like English PEN. However, I do feel a subtle unease at the way in which the case is being reported and discussed in the media and online.
Two pieces of comment scratch the itch. First, Jonathan Heawood says “There’s more to protest that hitting retweet”:
But to pin the fate of Pussy Riot on to one man, as though Putin runs Russia single-handedly, is misleading. He runs a powerful machine, certainly, but there are millions of active cogs inside the Russian regime, and there are many other passive participants who are allowing this to happen. Once the silly season is over, the world will once again stand back as the state machine continues its relentless project to dismantle Russian democracy and civil liberties.
Who’s standing back, you say? We’ve sent literally loads of tweets about it. Some of us have even been to the Russian embassy to protest. How many of you? Oh, at least a hundred. Well congratulations to those who stood up to be counted, but where was everyone else?
This is a theme discussed regularly on this blog. Raising awareness is not the same as establishing consensus, much less provoking the mass movements required to force through positive change.
Jonathan ends the piece by applauding Madonna’s interest in the Pussy Riot case. However, Joshua Foust is less excited. He says that the focus on Pussy Riot actually detracts from the actual anti-democratic manœverings in Russia:
Magnitsky’s death prompted some wrangling in the US Congress, where a bill named after him now awaits enactment. But the many celebrities urging their fans to show concern about Pussy Riot, about Russian women, about the plight of Art, apparently don’t know about the many men, non-punk rockers, regular Russians who face far worse brutality and mistreatment by Putin’s government every day.
Raising the problem of this misplaced attention to spectacle on Twitter raised a number of complaints — namely, that any attention drawn to Putin’s abuses is good attention, regardless of detail (along with some particularly unpleasant comparisons of Pussy Riot to Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks). This is wrong, however: focusing on the spectacle of Pussy Riot actually obscures from the real issues that prompted the Pussy Riot trial in the first place.
So: Emblematic cases are only useful ’emblems’ if they serve as a gateway to the wider context.
Finally, Rohan Jayaskera of Index on Censorship (the one stop shop for news on Pussy Riot) has a pertinent tweet:
First posted over at the English PEN site.
In her monthly column for MediaShift, Jillian York (Director of International Free Expression at the EFF, and a Global Voices board member) turned her attention to online campaigns for imprisoned bloggers. In particular, how can a campaign be effective in a country like Syria, which has recently become impervious to international pressure?
As part of the piece, Jillian asked several free speech campaigners for their views on the question, and I responded on behalf of English PEN:
When a blogger is imprisoned, it is not just his voice that is silenced. Those who share his point of view are discouraged by his example, and choose to keep quiet. A public solidarity campaign on social media can have the opposite effect, emboldening others to speak out and fill the void left by their imprisoned comrade … so while the text of a message may be “Free Hussein Ghrer,” the subtext is “We Have Not Forgotten Hussein Ghrer,” which is a powerful message to send to the authorities. Sending letters or (as English PEN does) books to these prisoners carries a similar message.
You can read more of my comments, alongside those of several bloggers who are on the frontline of activism, at the MediaShift website. You can leave comments there too.