Week in Review: May 18, 2016

by Muira McCammon

European Parliament: New Powers Given to Law Enforcement

On Wednesday, May 11, 2016, the European Parliament encouraged Europol to enhance its “Internet referral unit” to ensure that it would be better prepared to combat online propaganda written by affiliates of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). European policymakers hope that with more resources, authorities will be able to work more closely with social media providers to remove material meant to encourage Europeans to join ISIL. “We must respond to the need of our citizens for more safety,” Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European commissioner for migration and home affairs, said. “And this is what we try to do through this reform.” Europol launched its Internet referral unit in July 2015 to respond to and keep track of online extremist activities, but in the aftermath of recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, many officials representing European Union (EU) member states have argued that the EU does not have the proper infrastructure to keep track of ISIL affiliates online. Many Europeans noted that the new powers represented step forward, but others, such as Morten Helveg Petersen, a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party, were regretful that the policy changes did not include the “obligatory exchange of information from member states.”

Google: Almost 900 Students Allege the Company Used Their Data Improperly

A lawsuit originally involving four UC Berkeley students has grown into two separate cases involving 890 U.S. college students and alumni, who assert that Google used their data without their consent for commercial gain. The cases revolve around how Google treated a select number of emails; the prosecution claims that the company intercepted emails between November 2010 and May 2014 and used data gleamed from the messages to create profiles of students. This action, students state, violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The path forward remains unclear. Judge Lucy H. Koh, the judge assigned to the two cases, noted her discontent with the filing process. "Our clerk's office is really unhappy you are circumventing our filing fees by adding 710 cases under one case number," U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh remarked to the students' lawyer Ray E. Gallo, according to court records obtained by Mercury News. According to Gallo, the students are seeking $10,000 each in statutory damages as well as an order that would compel Google to delete any data still kept in the company’s files. Gallo is working actively to find additional plaintiffs in 22 U.S. universities and has created this website to explain the need for the cases.

Iraq: Reports Surface Indicating that Internet Shutdown Was Intentional During School Exams

On May 16, Iraqi Internet users found they were unable to get online for several three-hour periods, each coinciding with national school exam periods. One Iraqi Internet service provider, EarthLink, announced that it had been instructed by the Iraqi Ministry of Communication to cut off Internet services in “all of Iraq during the time of exams from 5am until 8am for all companies across all provinces” [EN], [AR]. Some digital activist organizations had previously leaked emails predicting the Internet shutdown. A similar shutdown is said to have taken place in 2015.  Cheating on state exams has been a documented problem in Iraq. Parents have admitted to helping their children cheat on exams. In one interview with NBC News a parent explained the problem: "My son is not that clever. His father and I did our best to teach him, but he cannot understand what he's being taught in school," the 34-year-old mom admitted. "That's why I saw this as a good chance to help my son to pass the exam even though I know it is not legal at all." It is unclear what effect the Internet shutdowns have had on academic dishonesty in Iraq over the past two years, and at the time of writing, no one has evaluated how the Internet outage might have impacted non-students. "Given the security situation in Iraq, it’s quite an extreme measure," Deji Olukotun, senior global advocacy manager at the digital rights group Access Now, told The Atlantic. "We see this as really disproportionate to what they’re trying to achieve."

Spain: Twitter User Sentenced to 18 Months in Jail for Threatening King of Spain’s Life

Spanish citizen Vicente Egurcegui Ortiz made some controversial jokes about King Felipe VI of Spain and was sentenced to 18 months in jail. He had posted tweets such as “the only Mercedes I want to see the King in is this one,” along with a picture of a hearse in May 2014. He said in a separate tweet that Queen Letizia of Spain “could be the new Jacqueline Kennedy." The case has been largely covered by Spanish media outlets [ES], but more details are available here [FR]. It is expected that more details will emerge about the case in the coming days, as more materials are translated from Spanish into English.