Reporters Without Borders Names The Enemies Of The Internet

Max ‘Beast from the East’ Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope.

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The RWB looks back on a year of Internet activism and attempts to stop it

The latest report by international organisation Reporters Without Borders (RWB) added Bahrain and Belarus to the list of the “Enemies of the Internet”, highlighting their attempts to silence online journalists, dissidents and protesters.

Bahrain and Belarus have been moved from the “under surveillance” category to the “Enemies of the Internet” list, joining the ranks of Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. These countries combine content filtering with access restrictions, tracking of cyber-dissidents and online propaganda, RWB said.

RWB, a non-profit organisation, said Bahrain was guilty of an array of repressive measures, such as keeping the international media away, harassing human rights activists, arresting bloggers (one of whom died in detention), smearing and prosecuting free speech activists, and disrupting communications, especially during major demonstrations.

In Belarus, President Lukashenko’s regime has increased its grip on the Web as the country sinks further into political isolation, according to RWB. The Internet was partially blocked there during the “silent protests” in June 2011. Some Belarusian Internet users and bloggers have also been arrested, while others have been invited to “preventive conversations” with the police.

In a display of state control, one of the country’s main ISPs was caught diverting those trying to access the online social network Vkontakte to sites containing malware. And the Law No. 317-3, which took effect on 6 January 2012, has reinforced Internet surveillance and control measures.

Chinese democracy

Democratic countries are far from blameless, according to RWB. It noted how monitoring of the Internet has been stepped up in India since the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, whilst Russia habitually describes sites that criticise the Kremlin as “extremist” to justify closing them. Canada has introduced repressive Internet legislation, claiming it has done so to fight paedophilia.

RWB criticised the UK too, where BlackBerry maker RIM made the personal details of some users available to the police without a prior court order, in the wake of the summer riots.

France, meanwhile, still applies the Loppsi Internet security law, which allows for official filtering of the Web, and the Hadopi law, which means Internet access can be cut off to prevent illegal downloading of copyright content.

The report also criticised the much-hyped “right to be forgotten”, proposed by the European commissioner for justice Viviane Reding, which would allow anyone to request the deletion of content of a personal nature “for legitimate reasons.” RWB argued that a generalised “right to oblivion,” enshrined in a law, would be hard to reconcile with online freedom of expression and information.

Positive activism?

At the same time, RWB said the Internet was still home to plenty of positive activism. “It was thanks to netizens that Tunisians learned about the street vendor who set himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid and Egyptians learned about Khaled Said, the young netizen who was beaten to death by police outside an Alexandria Internet café. It was thanks to social networks that Sidi Bouzid and Khaled Said became news stories and went on to become cornerstones of the Arab Spring,” the report read.

Technology has become an enabler of citizen journalism too. Even the total news and information blackout in North Korea is being challenged, as mobile phones give those who live near the Chinese border the possibility of being linked to the rest of the world.

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