Week in Review: June 24, 2015

by Jenny Shore

Australia: Controversial Anti-Piracy Bill Passes

Both houses of the Australian Parliament have passed the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015. The bill allows intellectual property rights holders to have overseas websites shut down (by way of the Federal Court of Australia) if those websites’ main purpose is shown to be infringement of copyright. The law has come under criticism, including because of potential ineffectiveness of site blocking in preventing piracy and the possibility that “[the bill] may result in legitimate online sources being blocked,” according to the Australian Green Party’s dissenting report.

Cuba: Government to Expand Internet Access

The Cuban government will be expanding low-cost internet access by bringing Wi-Fi to 35 computer centers by July, according to a spokesperson for Cuba’s state communications company. This means the price of spending one hour online will drop from $4.50 to $2.00. While this development will bring internet access to citizens who did not have it previously – in Cuba, only about five percent of the population has access to the “full global internet” -- the reduced cost is still above what many Cubans can afford. Furthermore, according to blogger and telecommunications engineer Norges Rodríguez in The Guardian, the 35 computer centers is a mere drop in the bucket in terms of bringing about large-scale internet access. This development follows President Obama’s announcement in December, 2014, that the United States would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, which involved Cuba’s agreement to expand internet access.

Check out Internet Monitor’s 2013 paper, “Rationing the Digital: The Policy and Politics of Internet Use in Cuba Today,” here.

Kuwait: Blogger’s 6-Year Sentence Upheld

Kuwaiti blogger Salah Al-Saeed’s six year sentence has been upheld by the nation’s Supreme Court. According to a friend, Al-Saeed posted sixteen tweets critical of Saudi Arabia’s policy of “carrying out land grabs in the neutral zone between it and Kuwait to exploit the area’s oil reserves.” The tweets were also critical of the Kuwaiti government’s inaction in this regard. Al-Saeed's sentence had been increased from four to six years in February 2015.

North Korea: Instagram Blocked to Foreigners

On Monday, when mobile phone users with the carrier Koryolink in North Korea tried to access the Instagram app, they were confronted with the following message: “Warning! You can’t connect to this website because it’s in blacklist site [sic].” Instagram was reportedly inaccessible from computers using LAN cables with that North Korean provider as well. North Korea does not allow its citizens to access the internet, but the government grants 3G internet access to visiting foreigners with SIM cards. While it is unclear why this block occurred, it might be connected to the use of Instagram to document a recent fire at a popular hotel in Pyongyang, an event not covered by state media. Twitter and Facebook (the parent company of Instagram) both are up and running in North Korea.

Saudi Arabia: Wikileaks Releases New Documents

On Friday, Wikileaks published the first 61,000 of 500,000 Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs documents, revealing both details about the spending habits of members of the Saudi royal family and a window into the tensions between Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries. Some cables reveal discussions regarding Saudi Arabia’s policies toward Iran, such as indication of interest in cooperating with Iranian opposition campaigns critical of the Iranian regime. Among the cables as well was an invoice indicating unpaid costs of a limousine service used by a Saudi princess. In a statement, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Osama Nugali dismissed the legitimacy of the cables as “fabricated” and warned that those who disseminated the documents could be charged under the country’s cybercrimes law.

USA: FCC Votes on Proposal to Subsidize Broadband for Low-Income Americans

The FCC voted to approve a proposal that will explore ways to subsidize broadband access for low-income Americans. The plan involves extending the FCC’s Lifeline program, which was created in 1985 to make affordable phone service available. At present, only 48% of homes with an income of less than $25,000 have broadband service at home, and while many low-income users rely on smart phones for access, some must cancel their plans due to financial challenges. 

Universally Relevant: Cute Cat Videos Are Good for Your Health

If you’ve ever had a sense that watching a cute cat video made you feel better about life, this was not an illusion! Mass Communications Professor Jessica Gall Myrick of Indiana University Bloomington has published a study finding that “it boosts viewers' energy and positive emotions,” as well as lowering “negative emotions, such as anxiety, annoyance and sadness.” Dr. Myrick found that unfortunately people tend to view cute cat videos when they are supposed to be doing other things. That’s okay! Dr. Myrick also found that “the pleasure [viewers] got from watching cat videos outweighed any guilt they felt about procrastinating.”

The Internet Monitor Week in Review is a weekly round-up of news about Internet content controls and online activity around the world.