Week in Review: July 28, 2016

by Patrick Drown

DNC Email Hack and Russia’s Involvement

Last week on the day after the Republican National Convention and the day Hillary Clinton announced her pick for vice president on her ticket, 20,000 emails from the Democratic National Committee were posted on WikiLeaks. The emails make evident what many Bernie Sanders supporters had suspected: many members of the DNC were biased towards the nomination of Hillary Clinton for president. However, the emails in no way indicate that members of the DNC used the organization’s resources to aid Clinton or hurt Sanders. The long-term consequences of the emails are likely to have a limited impact on Hillary’s campaign, according to Vox journalist Timothy B. Lee, though DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz did resign after the emails showed that some DNC party officials were “conspiring to sabotage the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.” For many, the most shocking part of this email leak is not their content, but how the email leak came about. According to Motherboard at Vice, there is strong evidence that links the GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation) to the DNC hack. The forensic evidence that links the DNC network breach to known groups associated with the GRU includes “used and reused tools, methods, infrastructure, even unique encryption keys.” While all facts indicate that the GRU was part of the hack of the DNC, it is less certain that the GRU was behind the release of the emails to Wikileaks, though it still is likely. Metadata in the leaked documents show that one document was modified using Russian language settings, by a user named “Феликс Эдмундович,” a code name referring to the founder of the Soviet Secret Police, the Cheka.

Facebook Accused of Censoring Posts on Indian Kashmir

Our Week in Review last week covered how mobile internet services were suspended in Kashmir in the wake of violence after the death of a Kashmir separatist leader. Mobile internet services are no longer suspended, but this week, film makers, journalists, and activists are accusing Facebook of blocking their accounts after they posted images related to violence in Kashmir. Among many Facebook users accusing the site of censoring their content, Professor Dibyesh Anand of London's Westminster University said his posts about the actions of Indian security forces were removed twice, and US-based social activist Mary Scully said her posts were also removed on more than one occasion for violating “community standards.” A Facebook spokesperson in India stated that “our Community Standards prohibit content that praises or supports terrorists, terrorist organizations or terrorism, and we remove it as soon as we’re made aware of it.” Many activists advocating for a separate Kashmir argue that speaking out against the way that Indian forces behave does not necessarily constitute support of a terrorist organization.

Pakistan’s New Cybercrime Bill Comes Closer to Becoming Law

An aggressive cybercrime bill that threatens the freedoms of all internet users in Pakistan is one step closer to becoming law. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) was approved by the country’s Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunications this week. The bill was previously approved by the country’s National Assembly and now only awaits the approval from the Pakistan Senate and President Mamnoon Hussain. The bill, which is advertised as legislation to crack down on cybercrime, includes measures that would help the government prevent hacking, spam, child pornography, and hate speech. But that’s not why the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) called the bill “one of the world’s worst cybercrime proposals.” The bill would also allow the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority “to block any website on the complaint of any citizen.” Simple actions such as using someone’s photo without his or her consent could land someone a year in prison; issuing a SIM card in an unauthorized manner would be punishable by three years in prison and a fine. Some of the language in the bill is left dangerously vague - “creating a website for negative purposes” could result in a three-year prison sentence. The full text of the bill is available in English online. Tech experts and civil liberty groups aren’t buying Pakistan’s supposed interest in stopping cybercrime and worry about the infringement of freedom of speech that could result from the passage of the bill.

Hefty Fines for Using a VPN in the UAE

The president of the UAE, referred to as His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, issued a new law last week that fines anyone that uses a VPN or proxy in connection with an online crime. VPNs are services that allow users to connect to a private network on the internet, which is helpful for online privacy, as they hide the user's actual location, and helpful in accessing blocked content. In the UAE, much to the dismay of many tourists and citizens of the UAE, online crime is a much bigger umbrella than other countries. Watching pornography and calling others on unlicensed VoIP services such as WhatsApp, FaceTime, or SnapChat are considered criminal offenses. According to the International Business Times, this move is a direct effect of the influence of telecom companies in the UAE that have been complaining about their loss of revenue from VoIP apps. The fine for breaking the new statute ranges from $136,000-$545,000.

China Tightens Censorship of Top Independent Online News Sites

This week China launched an investigation of the top eight independent online news sites in the country for “serious violations” on who may report and publish news. The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) ordered all of these sites to either shut down or “clean up” their content. The CAC said, in reference to these sites, that the “ideological thinking wasn’t high enough, and they have blindly chased after economic gains.” This announcement comes only a few weeks after the surprise departure of the Cyberspace Administration’s director, Lu Wei, and his replacement by an official who had served under President Xi Jinping previously. The new orders of the CAC aren’t necessarily surprising to many journalists, considering that Xi visited three of the top state-run news organizations in February and told them they exist to solely serve as messengers of propaganda for the party. It is unclear whether this new edict by the CAC will end all original news reporting in China or if it will simply continue the surveillance of these independent news reporting groups.