#IMWeekly: July 4, 2014
On Tuesday, The Register published a list of websites currently blocked in Iraq by the government's new filtering scheme. We saw last week that a Citizen Lab report found that while several social media sites including Twitter and Facebook were blocked, sites affiliated with ISIS remained accessible. The government's strategy seems to have flipped: The Register notes that Twitter and Facebook are once again accessible, but a number of "local news outlets and promotional sites for ISIS" had been blocked. However, given the prevalence of VPN use in the country and the fragmentation of the Iraqi ISP market, the filtering is probably not very effective.
On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved new amendments to a law that criminalize online “extremism.” The law, which allegedly targets neo-Nazis and Islamic militant groups, has previously been used to prosecute "everything from opposition groups to Scientology and South Park," according to Buzzfeed. An unofficial Kremlin account suggested in May that likes and retweets could be considered disseminating extremist speech under the new amendments, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
A study by Open Rights Group’s Blocked project tested the 100,000 globally most-visited websites and found that nearly 20% of them are blocked by filters in the United Kingdom. In late 2013, the British government issued a controversial set of filtering guidelines to ISPs with the goal of protecting minors from sexual content. The so-called "porn filter" has been criticized for blocking websites whose content is not pornographic and for keeping the specifics of its filtering list private. Given that Open Rights Group found far more websites inaccessible than the estimated 4% of global webpages thought to contain pornographic material, this might be at play in the UK. Also this week, British ISPs filed a complaint against GCHQ, alleging that the government monitoring agency has used malware to break into the ISPs' networks for monitoring purposes. If true, the monitoring would violate Great Britain’s Computer Misuse Act 1990.
A panel appointed by President Barack Obama found that the National Security Administration (NSA) had been within appropriate and legal bounds when it collected a broad range of Internet data, though just barely. Some aspects of the program, concluded the board, fell "close to the line of constitutional reasonableness," including the "unknown and potentially large scope" of communication interception and the collection of communications from individuals who were not themselves surveillance targets. This week also saw a lawsuit filed against the NSA by the Electronic Frontier Foundation over the agency’s alleged “hoarding” of zero-day security bugs. Last week, the NSA released its first-ever transparency report, which failed to reveal much more than that the agency is (perhaps worryingly) aware of Tumblr.