Week in Review: May 13, 2015

by Rebekah Heacock Jones

Iran: New "intelligent" filtering targets Instagram content

Despite Iran's blanket blocking of Facebook and Twitter, the majority of Iran's online population is still engaging with censored content online, using circumvention tools to bypass the government's filters. The government is turning to more finely tuned approaches to information blocking, starting in part with Instagram: new research from Global Voices reveals that a number of individual Instagram accounts are blocked in the country. Blocked accounts include those of celebrities, major fashion labels (which often feature "provocatively" dressed models), and a handful of Iranian political exiles. Many popular political activists' accounts are still available, however; the study's authors conclude that "Iranian authorities see Instagram not as a platform for political dissent, but rather as a place where authorities are concerned primarily with harmful and immoral images."

NSA phone surveillance program ruled illegal

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit bulk collection of telephone metadata is illegal. The ruling hinged on whether mass data collection of this sort is "relevant to an authorized investigation," language from Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act that had been used earlier to justify the program. The Second Circuit's opinion stated that "such an expansive concept of 'relevance' is unprecedented and unwarranted."

Ukrainian president asks Mark Zuckerberg for a local Facebook office

Facebook users in Russia and Ukraine have alleged that their accounts and posts are being repeatedly taken down not because they violate Facebook's terms of service, but because pro-Kremlin activists are flagging them as part of a "systematic campaign...to silence dissenting voices." In response, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has addressed Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in a message on the site, asking for a Ukrainian Facebook office that would help review flagged posts and accounts. Poroshenko's request was preceded by an earlier letter to Zuckerberg from Ukrainian Facebook users, who in August 2014 wrote to complain about the blocking of pro-Ukraine accounts during the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

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