Week in Review: July 6, 2017

by Jeanette Si

Knesset Committee Approves Bill Allowing Israeli Courts Censorship of Internet

Israel’s Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee vetted a bill this week allowing its courts to “block internet sites deemed illicit” as a part of the administration’s campaign to reduce criminal and extremist content on the Internet.

The bill is intended to target sources hosting content related to “pedophilia, gambling, drugs, prostitution and terrorism,” giving the police and the State Prosecutor’s Office the power to petition district courts to ban certain websites.

During these hearings, the website’s owner need not be present, judges do not have to explain their rulings, and the evidence for blocking a website can be classified. The police and prosecutors are also not required to give the site owner any warning of their plans to pursue a court order.

Opponents of the bill say that it does not offer enough transparency in the process behind the decision to block a site. MK Yael Cohen Paran calls the measures taken in the bill “draconian.”

“There is a real concern that the government could use it to seek to block any website. The question is where we draw the line,” she said.

The bill now awaits approval from its second and third readings by the entire Knesset before it takes effect as law.

71% of Israelis access the Internet regularly. Check out our Israel dashboard here

China Widens Its Scope of Censorship to Include Audiovisual Uploads

Internet content creators in China have begun to feel the effects of Beijing’s newly-tightened regulations on digital content, as regulatory efforts expand further into the realm of online entertainment and social media.

Over the past month, government censors have shut down celebrity gossip websites, removed uploaded videos from media platforms and shut down content streaming. In addition, a new regulation states that two auditors will now “be required to check all audiovisual content posted online” to make sure they align with “core socialist values.”

The list of banned topics includes promiscuity, prostitution, drug addiction, and homosexuality; any work with references to taboo topics, no matter how slight, is liable for censorship. Li Yinhe, a scholar from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, describes this as a move to stifle creativity.

“According to these censorship rules, nothing will make it through, which will do away with audiovisual artistic creation,” she said in an online post.

Chinese Internet companies also felt an economic impact as advertisers withdraw, fearing censorship. Shares in Weibo Corp, operator of Sina Weibo, dropped 10% since content regulations became stricter in June.

Mobile Internet, an important outlet for audiovisual content, is transitioning from 3G to 4G in China. See that and more with the China dashboard.

Thai Advisory Body Proposes Tighter Restrictions on Social Media

A policy advisory body to the Thai military government has proposed a set of regulations restricting the Internet usage of Thai citizens intended to curb online criticism of the government.

The 84-page packet of measures includes a proposal to have all cellphone numbers linked with Thai citizens’ government ID numbers, fingerprints, and faces, effectively erasing online anonymity. It also advocates for the formation of a “central social media watch center” to better monitor social media posts for adherence to government ideals, and an upgrade in filtering technology so that Thailand’s Internet censors could match “those of nations such as China and Iran.”

These proposals are a part of the current ruling junta’s greater plan to help retain its power in the next 20 years. Political dissent against the country’s monarchy has already been criminalized under Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws, and the Computer Crimes Act passed in 2014 protects the junta itself from online criticism.

Thailand’s model for censorship appears to borrow much from China’s model; however, these requirements “are arguably more easily imposed on Chinese internet companies which have long complied with requests that they carry out censorship,” reports the Associated Press. To achieve the same degree of control, third-party sites such at Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube will have to agree to the proposals set by the Thai government.

Only 4% of all mobile connections in Thailand are 4G. See the bigger picture of Thailand's Internet here.