Week in Review: July 8, 2016

by Grant Baker

“Brexit” Creates New Problems for Transferring Data in Europe

The tech industry in the United Kingdom is currently facing a dilemma; leaving the European Union changes the laws regarding the spread of data. The EU has “strict” privacy laws, which prevent companies from transferring data such as “pictures, emails [or] health records” from inside the EU to countries outside of the EU unless the EU deems that these countries provide an “adequate level of protection.” This is not an easy standard; the EU and the United States have been in negotiations for months. While the EU is expected to accept the current deal, in October 2015, the highest court in Europe “ruled that a previous agreement did not sufficiently protect Europeans’ privacy rights.” Despite no change in Britain’s laws, its data policy will become unacceptable to the EU, simply because it is no longer in the EU and it will either have to adopt the current European Union rules regulating data flow to a country outside of the EU, which it is not currently following. On the other hand, Britain could try to follow in the United States’ footsteps and create new rules in hope that the European Union will agree to them. The biggest obstacle is Britain’s Government Communications Headquarter (GCHQ), which has the ability to spy and is part of the Five Eyes alliance. Of course, the United Kingdom could elect to create its own data regulation system and remain independent of the European Union, but analysts believe the resulting limits on data transfers would hurt UK businesses. UK Tech companies already fear how the potential loss of foreign workers may hurt the tech industry; concerns over data regulation further complicate the problem.

Nude Photo Scandal in Trinidad and Tobago Brings Up Privacy Concerns

A recent nude photo leak in Trinidad and Tobago has inflamed the debate around internet privacy and the scope of government powers. Recently, a website leaked a “master list” database of nude pictures from various Trinidadian women, some of whom were young girls. Trinidadian authorities suspect that an internet porn ring was responsible for this, but there was no clear pattern of who they were targeting; some women were celebrities, while some were students. For those that were underage, the Children’s Act gives them a legal recourse against child pornography, but for the adult women, their only option is to take these cases individually to civil court. In March, the Senate of Trinidad and Tobago passed the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) Amendment Bill, which granted the SSA more legal power against “cybercrime;” however, the opposition party and some of the independent politicians opposed the bill. Though the bill was passed, it has yet to take effect because Trinidadian law requires a proclamation before a law can take effect. Despite the fact that the law will eventually pass, it does not have retroactive power and therefore, adult women will still only be able to file a suit in civil court.

The UN Promotes Internet Freedom in a Non-Binding Resolution

Last week, the United Nations passed a resolution “condemning countries that intentionally disrupt citizens’ internet access.” The resolution is non-binding, which means that the United Nations will not effectively punish any nation that continues to block internet access or filter content. China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and India raised concerns over a section that “condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to our dissemination of information online.” The UN subsequently released a video of a South African representative to the United Nations who claimed that the reason South Africa voted against the resolution is because it faces unique problems with racism and hate speech. Furthermore, the UN condemned any measures government may take to silence those who have posted information online, “including torture, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.” The UN has released many measures relating to the internet, but this is the first time that the organization has released a measure related to Internet shut downs. Additionally, the resolution establishes online expression as a fundamental piece of free expression. According to AccessNow, there have already been twenty internet shutdowns in 2016, which is more than the 15 in 2015.

Turkey Shuts Down Social Media Sites After the Attacks on Ataturk Airport

After last week’s attacks at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, reportedly committed by the members of the Islamic State, the Turkish government blocked Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. The block is especially significant because 64% of those who use the internet in Turkey depend on Facebook for political news, and 30% depend on Twitter. Prime Minister Ahmet Davotoglu issued the ban specifically to prevent citizens from sharing images and speculating about the suspects. First, the Supreme Board or Radio and Television (RTUK) published the ban on its website and later this ban was applied to “all news, interviews and visuals regarding the incident.” The court believed that shared images could somehow impact or impede the criminal investigation and therefore, posed a threat to the country. This is not the first time Turkey has filtered the internet after a crisis; the bombing in Suruc and other attacks have warranted the same treatment from the government. These blockages come with repercussions; for example, the shutdown impeded people from seeing potentially critical information from the Red Cross and Turkish Airlines. According to Turkey Blocks, the blocking of social media sites remained in effect throughout the country for many days after the bombing.

China Restricts News Organizations From Using Social Media As a Source

The Cyberspace Administration of China, which has continued to tighten controls over the internet, announced that using social media as a source for news stories is now illegal. Nine websites have already faced warnings or consequences since the new rule came into effect. The agency used words like “heresay” and “conjecture” as reasons that information from social media cannot be trusted. Yet, the New York Times reported on three important stories in China that exclusively used social media as a primary source. Specifically, the government focused on stories that came from Weibo and WeChat, two networks that are uniquely popular in China. A professor at the University of Hong Kong, David Bandurski, stated that the announcement “‘means political control of the media to ensure regime stability.’” This announcement also makes the fairly common practice of embedding a tweet into an article illegal. This is the first major announcement from the Cyberspace Administration since Xu Lin replaced Lu Wei as the head of the agency.