Week in Review: February 2, 2018

by Dan Bateyko

U.S. State Department’s new Cuba Internet Task Force faces Cuban criticism

On January 23, the U.S. State Department announced the creation of a Cuba Internet Task Force composed of government and non-governmental representatives that “will examine the technological challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access and independent media in Cuba.” According to a State Department tweet, the Task Force seeks “to promote the free and unregulated flow of information in Cuba,” a country that Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2017 report calls “"one of the world’s least connected and most repressive environments for information and communication technologies.” The first public meeting of the Task Force will take place on February 7.

On January 31, in response the creation of the task force, Cuba’s foreign ministry issued a diplomatic note of protest to the State Department in which it “rejected the goal of manipulating the internet to bring about illegal programs with subversive political ends,” reports the Associated Press. According to Reuters, the “Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma said the Task Force was ‘destined to subvert Cuba’s internal order.’” Responding to the criticism, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called the Ministry’s allegations of subversion “ridiculous.” The Cuban government has previously criticized the secret USAID-funded ZunZuneo social media project as an attempt at subversion.

To read more about Cuba’s network landscape and Internet penetration, see Open Observatory’s publication on Cuban Internet Censorship here and the Freedom on the Net report here.

Digital rights organizations intervene in lawsuit over Cameroon’s Internet shutdowns

Access Now and Internet Sans Frontières (ISF) have intervened in a lawsuit against Cameroon’s government, challenging the government-ordered Internet shutdowns, according to an Access Now post. According to Access Now, “Anglophone Cameroonians spent more than half of 2017 under some form of internet shutdown, including a complete blackout from January to April,” following protests in the Anglophone region.

As Quartz reports, the documents filed by the organizations claim that the shutdown “violates the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, non-discrimination based on language, and hinders economic, social, and cultural rights.” The submission by Access Now and ISF calls on International and domestic law, noting that “the preamble of the Cameroonian Constitution explicitly commits the government to respect regional and international frameworks that support human rights, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Charter.”

Government-issued Internet disruptions have appeared as a trend throughout the continent, often in response to elections or political protests. Access Now has been documenting the costs of Internet shutdowns on its #KeepitOn advocacy page.

Thai activist flees Thailand after facing charges of royal insult for sharing BBC article

Thai student activist Chanoknan Ruamsap fled Thailand this week to avoid arrest on charges of insulting the King of Thailand after sharing a BBC article profiling the monarch on Facebook, reports the Associated Press. The AP article highlights another instance in which a prominent student activist was sentenced to two-and-a-half years prison time in 2016 for posting the same BBC article which concerned details of King Vajiralongkorn’s personal life.

An Electronic Frontier Foundation post details the ways Thailand’s lèse-majesté law has dictated content controls in the country, including a government order to geoblock over 300 pages on Facebook and police targeting of those who view content criticising the royal family. Thailand’s lèse-majesté law carries a punishment of three to 15 years in prison.