Week in Review: April 28, 2016

by Muira McCammon

Australia: Chinese-born Australian Ph.D. Resigns amid Social Media Controversy

Wu Wei, a Chinese-born Australian Ph.D. candidate at the University of Sydney’s business school, resigned on April 18. Students had called for his resignation and in one petition said, “Mr. Wu’s continual disrespect for Chinese International Students through frequent, abusive and xenophobic remarks on social media networks ‘Weibo’ and ‘Wechat' are appalling, shameful and unacceptable.” A number of students translated comments that he had made on Weibo and Wechat, and they posted their English translations here. Oiwan Lam of Global Voices reflected, “On Twitter, Chinese dissidents are raising concerns that the incident, which was a hot topic on Chinese social media, represents an attempt by the Chinese authorities to scare voices of dissent abroad into silence.” Wu Wei is said to have published a photo on Weibo of him burning his Chinese passport after he obtained his Australian citizenship. In another post, he noted that “it is a shame to be Chinese."   Professor Greg Whitwell, the Dean of the University of Sydney Business School, told the Daily Mail Australia that an investigation into the allegations was underway. Wu Wei released an apology and stated, “I would like to sincerely apologise for the inappropriate and disrespectful comments I made on the internet. I will refrain from such remarks in the future. I have also resigned from my employment at the University of Sydney. For those who felt hurt or offended by my online comments, I ask your forgiveness." Chinese dissidents and free speech advocates remain concerned that Wu was targeted for his criticism of China’s government and his political slang.

Canada: Toronto to Get Its Own Free Encrypted Network

Residents in Toronto are about to get a free encrypted, meshnet network of their own. Brennan Doherty describes meshnet networks as “a form of intranet that doesn’t require a central router point. Instead of emitting form a single point, they’re distributed across an entire system of nodes. Accessing one is free—and doesn’t require the services of a telecom." Meshnet is not a new concept; the U.S. military has used it in Afghanistan and in other conflict zones. It is popular and available elsewhere in the world, in cities such as Berlin and Barcelona. There are also a number of subreddits devoted to meshnet, including r/darknetplan and r/hyperboria. There are critics of meshnet, and they tend to cite security concerns. To that end, the creators of the Canadian meshnet network are working to create a protocol that would provide end-to-end encryption.

Turkey: Dutch Journalist Detained for Tweet Criticizing Turkish President

Ebru Umar writes a column for the Dutch Metro. Her writing has criticized President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his administration’s policies towards expression. The journalist was in southern Turkey on vacation, when Turkish police detained her. She tweeted live updates in Dutch. After being questioned in the town of Kusadasi, she was released but not allowed to leave the country. She later released a video thanking her supporters and describing her experience. Tensions between the Dutch and Turkish governments have been on the rise. Earlier this month, in April, the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam called upon Turks in the Netherlands to report insults against President Erdoğan. The Netherlands is one of the countries in the European Union that still adheres to old “lèse-majesté" laws that make it illegal to insult foreign heads of states.

United States: Philadelphian Jailed Indefinitely for Refusing to Decrypt Hard Drives

Lawyers representing the U.S. government successfully cited a 1789 law known as the All Writs Act to compel a man to decrypt two hard drives. These hard drives are thought to contain a trove of child pornography that could help prosecutors continue their case against Francis Rawls, a former police sergeant. This week Federal Public Defender Keith Donoghue, his attorney, asked a federal appeals court to release his client immediately; in a brief he filed with the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Donoghue stated, "Not only is he presently being held without charges, but he has never in his life been charged with a crime.” The Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote an amicus curiae brief and argued that "compelled decryption is inherently testimonial because it compels a suspect to use the contents of their mind to translate unintelligible evidence into a form that can be used against them. The Fifth Amendment provides an absolute privilege against such self-incriminating compelled decryption." In October 2015, a judge ordered Rawls to be “remanded to the custody of the United States Marshals to be incarcerated until such time that he fully complies with the order to provide his encryption passwords to investigators.” More details regarding the charges he faces can be found here.