Week in Review: May 20, 2015

by Rebekah Heacock Jones

Burundi: Amid political unrest, Internet and radio under attack

Protests broke out in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, last month after President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term. The protests led to failed coup attempt, and tensions are still high as the country moves toward the scheduled presidential election on June 26. Amid the unrest, Burundi's independent media have come under attack: the government shut down the country's most popular independent radio station, cut the phone lines of other stations, and arrested journalists; a number of stations were also attacked during the coup attempt. The country's major ISPs also blocked Viber and WhatsApp, despite the fact that fewer than 5 percent of Burundians—about half a million people—have Internet access.

Pakistan: Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act to further curtail Internet freedom

Internet freedom activists are concerned about Pakistan's new Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, which is up for debate in parliament. The law will give the government official power to filter Internet content "if it considers it necessary in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan." Though Pakistan already censors the Internet—perhaps most notably, through the years-long block on YouTube—there are no current laws in place regulating how this is done, or by whom. Critics argue the law, which also contains provisions banning spoofing and requiring companies to retain user data for a year—is both overly broad and overly vague.

Russia: Pro-government think tank to monitor social networks, predict political protests

The director of the pro-Kremlin Center for Research in Legitimacy and Political Protest told Russian newspaper Izvestia last week that he has launched a new "predictive and monitoring system" to track social network activity online, looking for "extremist" content and users and flagging posts and groups that appear to be planning offline political action. Unauthorized protests and rallies in Russia are subject to fines; participants can also be sentenced to up to 50 hours of community service. The United States, China, and Egypt already use similar predictive systems, and Russia currently monitors social media using other tools.

South Korea: Government mandates installation of spyware on teens' phones

The South Korean government recently decided that all new smartphones acquired by teenagers under the age of 18 must come with pre-installed spyware. The government has developed its own monitoring app, Smart Sheriff, which—along with over a dozen other approved apps—allows parents to track their children's location, app use, web browsing activity, and searches. When teens search for certain keywords and phrases, such as "french kiss," "pregnancy," "homosexual love," and "suicide," parents are alerted. Reactions are mixed, with some parents saying the apps open the door for conversations about online safety and others saying the apps are a government intrusion.

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