Week in Review: June 8, 2018

by Mary Meisenzahl

U.S. Justice Department appeals ruling that Trump cannot block Twitter users

On June 4, the Justice Department announced that it would appeal a federal judge’s ruling that President Trump could not constitutionally block users on Twitter. The plaintiffs were unblocked from the president's account after the ruling, according to Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the case.

In May, Federal Judge Naomi Reice Buchenwald ruled that President Trump or his aides blocking users on Twitter was a first amendment violation. She explained that the president’s Twitter feed acted as a public forum, and blocking prevents users from viewing and engaging with this forum. Her ruling was in agreement with the plaintiffs, who complained that Trump’s Twitter was a “digital town hall” from which they were excluded. However, the judge did not rule the use of the mute feature unconstitutional.

Indian government shuts down Internet following protest and massacre

On May 22, 13 civilians of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu were killed by police in a protest against the expansion of a copper plant that residents say pollutes their air and water, jeopardizing their health. Within 24 hours, the government invoked the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services Rules, which cut off broadband and mobile data services. This was one of 57 Internet shutdowns in India in 2018, according to The Software Freedom Law Center of New Delhi.

Russia passes legislation to fine individuals who circumvent censorship

Lawmakers in the Duma, Russia’s legislative body, approved a law this week that will fine anyone who accesses a banned website. This law targets VPNs and ways that users access content blocked by government censors. The fine for violating this law is 5,000 rubles ($80) for private citizens, 50,000 rubles ($800) for officials, and up to 700,000 rubles ($11,230) for legal entities, according to Meduza. Russia’s pre existing law about VPNs dates back to November 2017 and requires that VPN providers cooperate with government groups to prevent providing access to banned websites. This law made it more difficult for VPN users to get around Russian censorship and access banned websites. The new fines will go into effect 90 days after the law was passed.

To learn more about Internet access in Russia, view the country background using Internet Monitor’s Dashboard tool.

Facebook admits to giving user data to Chinese company

On June 5, The New York Times reported that Facebook had shared user data with four Chinese electronics companies, including telecommunications equipment company, Huawei. Huawei has been accused by U.S. lawmakers of having ties to the Chinese government, and a 2012 report by the House Intelligence Committee found that doing business with Huawei could threaten U.S. national security. Facebook officials said that they would end the deal with Huawei by the end of the week.