Week in Review: April 20, 2016

by Muira McCammon

Italy: Ministry of Economic Development Stripped Hacking Team of License to Export Products Outside of the European Union

The Italian Ministry of Economic Development (MISE) has revoked Hacking Team’s license to sell its products outside of the European Union. Hacking Team, a Milan-based information technology company, will still be able to apply for separate licenses to sell outside Europe, but according to Forbes, they will need to be obtained on a “case-by-case basis."  Many digital experts have suspected that the Italian government’s decision to revoke the license might be tied to the recent murder of Giulio Regeni in Egypt; Regeni, a 27-year-old Ph.D. student, was researching Egypt’s independent trade unions, and some believe that Egyptian intelligence officials might have used Hacking Team’s technology to keep abreast of his activities. James Politi and Hannah Kuchler of The Financial Times wrote, “Although there is no evidence that Egypt used Hacking Team technology to keep track of Mr Regeni and Italian officials deny any explicit connection with the loss of the export licence, experts say the killing may have speeded up an effort already under way to keep closer tabs on the company’s sales." Paolo Boccardelli, director of the business school at Luiss University in Rome, added, "Hacking Team was already in the spotlight but my sense is that the media and political pressure of the Regeni case might have accelerated the analysis and the decision-making around it." Eric Rabe, an employee of Hacking Team, responded, “Whether that is the factor behind this decision I don’t know — nobody has confirmed that." In a separate interview, Rabe said, “The global license has been suspended by MISE but Hacking Team still has approvals for all countries within the EU, and the company expects to be given approvals for sales to countries outside the EU as well as needed."

Pakistan: Activists Worry About Latest Cyber-Crime Bill 

Netizens and digital rights groups are concerned that the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill is too far-reaching. Privacy International has been particularly critical of the document; in a report, their staff members wrote, “In the context of growing concerns over government surveillance of activists, bloggers, journalists, as well as ordinary internet users and the expanding surveillance capacity of Pakistani authorities, particularly intelligence agencies, the Bill, if adopted in the current form, will further undermine the protection of the right to privacy, freedom of expression and other human rights. As it stands the Bill is also contrary to Pakistan's obligations under international law, notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Pakistan is party.” Now that the bill has been approved by Pakistan’s National Assembly, it will continue onwards to the country’s Senate. Wafa Ben-Hassine of the Electronic Frontier Foundation criticized the bill in a multi-part blog post last year; she asserted that it turned “innocent Internet users into cyber-criminals” and gave “foreign governments…access to everything.” Anusha Rahman, the Minister of State for Information Technology, originally introduced the bill and defended the document in this “Statement of Objects and Reasons." She explained, “The legislation…establishes new offences [sic] including illegal access of data (hacking), as well as interference with data and information systems (DOS and DDOS attacks), specialized cyber related electronic forgery and electronic fraud, cyber terrorism (electronic or cyber attack on the critical information infrastructure), unauthorized interception conducted by civilians, use of malicious code viruses, identity theft, etc.” 

Twitter: Concern Grows over Appointment of New Managing Director in China

Many Twitter users are frustrated by the company’s decision to appoint Kathy Chen, a former Microsoft employee, to serve as the managing director of Twitter’s operations in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Critics point to Chen’s work history between 1999 and 2005; many netizens are worried about her relationship with Computer Associates-Jinchen, what The Guardian has called “a joint venture between an American tech company and a Chinese firm in which China’s ministry of public security reportedly held a 20% stake.” Hu Jia, a Chinese dissident, reflected, “[Twitter] is a place where we can reveal the truth and which helps us to communicate and cooperate. But Kathy Chen’s appointment destroys all that. It is painful for us. It means betrayal."  Twitter has been blocked in China since 2009, and it is possible that the company hopes Chen’s hiring will improve its rapport with the Chinese government. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, tweeted the following statement, welcoming Chen: “As a global platform, we are already engaged with advertisers, content providers and influencers across greater China to help them reach audiences around the world. Going forward, we will look to Kathy’s leadership to help us identify ways in which Twitter’s platform and technology assets can be utilized to created further value for enterprises, creators, influencers, partners and developers in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan."

United States: Texas Dept of Criminal Justice Says Inmates Cannot Have Social Media Accounts

This April the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) amended its Offender Orientation Handbook to forbid inmates from maintaining social media accounts. Inmates are not permitted Internet access in prison, and so, the rule applies to social media accounts run by friends or family members of incarcerated Texans. Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, explained, “Offenders have used social media accounts to sell items over the internet based on the notoriety of their crime, harass victims or victim’s families, and continue their criminal activity. The agency will take all of the necessary steps to prevent that from happening.” The Electronic Frontier Foundation responded, “…a person does not lose all of their rights to participate in public discourse when they are incarcerated. Supporters of inmates often use social media to raise attention about prison conditions and the appeal campaigns of individual prisoners. This policy would not only prohibit the prisoners’ exercise of their First Amendment rights, but also prevent the public from exercising their First Amendment rights to gather information about the criminal justice system from those most affected by it." Wayne Krause Yang, legal director for the Texas Civil Rights Project, weighed in on the matter as well: “I think that while TDCJ may have sincere goals in trying to implement this new policy, it raises very serious concerns about the stifling of free speech and frankly probably reaches far beyond, in terms of its impact. We don't know whether TDCJ is going to attempt to exercise, and has the power to enforce, this policy and against whom. If and when it does, it could present some very serious concerns." Texas State Representative Joe Moody, vice chair of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, remarked that the Texas legislature "deserves an opportunity to weigh in on things like this."