Week in Review: January 20, 2016

by Muira McCammon

France: Deputy Minister for Digital Affairs Rejects "Backdoor" Amendment

The French Deputy Minister for Digital Affairs, Axelle Lemaire rejected the idea that the French government would accept an amendment to the new "Law for the Digital Republic," which asked tech companies to include backdoors in their encryption systems. The French site Numerama  reported Lemaire's initial statements, which translate as follows: "What you propose is vulnerability by design. It's inappropriate." She added, "You are right to add to the debate, but in the government's view, it's the wrong solution." The argument for and against backdoors continues in other European Union member countries, as well as in the United States.

India: Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Clashes with Facebook over Email Campaign

India's Telecome Regular has accused Facebook of engaging Indian citizens in a "crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll." In an email sent on January 18, 2016, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) accused Facebook of handling its Free Basics campaign unethically. (The Free Basics service offers free and limited Internet access to Reliance Communications users in India.) Facebook asked its users to email the Telecom Regulatory Authority directly. A representative of the regulatory agency wrote Facebook's director of public policy in India and remarked that it wanted all respondents to first read their rules and regulations. Facebook's email campaign allowed users to send feedback to the TRAI directly without consulting their website. “Your urging has the flavor of reducing this meaningful consultative exercise designed to produce informed decisions in a transparent manner into a crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll,” TRAI told Facebook. A spokesperson for Facebook responded, “While we did not include all of the specific language drafted by TRAI, we did deliver a request for additional information and included in the draft email the exact language from the four specific questions posed in the consultation paper. More than 1.4 million Indians responded by submitting revised comments that addressed these questions." 

Kenya: National Communications Authority Requires Cybercafe Users to Show ID

This month Kenya's Communications Authority implemented a rule that will require all customers at local cybercafés to show their ID cards or birth certificates before gaining access to the Internet. The decision was released just as Information and Communication Cabinet Secretary Joseph Mucheru said that neither the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) or the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) is equipped to regulate internet content. “Providers like Netflix, YouTube and WhatsApp need a different set of regulations and policy which are yet to be developed... so regulators cannot claim to regulate them as yet,” he said. “We are going to start discussion with the ministry in terms of policy on how regulation for such content is managed and the direction will come from the Government,” he said. Netflix is expected to expand its service to Kenya soon.

Morocco: Protests over VoIP Ban

Morocco's telecom providers have stopped letting users make free VoIP calls from Whatsapp, Viber, Facebook and Skype. On January 7, 2016, they released a statement, announcing that those services violated their rules and regulations. The Telecommunications Regulatory National Agency, known as ANRT, later released a statement saying that telecom services need licenses regardless of whether they are Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or others. One Moroccan man, Amine Raghib, [AR] released a Facebook video in protest that subsequently went viral. A translation of his statements from Arabic to English are available in this Global Voices article. Ragheb stated, “We are customers and not sheep and you cannot cut off any services of the Internet because the Internet is a free space, free of charge, and no one has the right to control it. Today, you have cut off all VoIP services on Whatsapp and Skype and others. You are muzzling us." There is also a German [DE] article available on the VoIP ban here.

United States of America: Republican National Committee Puts Fiber Down in Cleveland

Months ahead of the 2016 Republican National Convention, the Committee is fulfilling a promise it made: to put down fiber between the Quicken Loans Arena and the Cleveland Convention Center. Jeff Larson, the leader of the Republican committee planning the convention, said in 2015 that a high-speed fiber optic Internet cable would need to be installed to meet the data needs of television networks and other media outlets covering the gathering. The last Republican National Committee was held in 2012 in Tampa, Florida. Dan Shingler of Crain's Cleveland Business reported, "According to news reports that came out of Tampa [...] AT&T alone spent $15 million to bolster its downtown network with new fiber-optic cable, Internet hot spots, cell towers and other infrastructure. And that was just in the months before the event. The company also invested about $140 million in the three years leading up to the convention, much of which it said helped to prepare the network for the event."