Week In Review: October 10, 2017

by Dan Bateyko

Spain Blocks Websites Associated with Catalonia’s Independence Referendum

In the run up to Catalonia’s Independence Referendum last week, Spain engaged in a number of online censorship tactics, blocking more than 140 websites with content associated to the referendum.

The blocks began on September 13 following a court order to block “referendum.cat”, the independence referendum official website. On September 20, following a court order,  Spanish police raided puntCAT, the foundation in charge of the “.cat” top-level domain registry, which lead to the deletion of a number of .cat domains promoting the referendum. The seizure caused concern among the international community—in one statement, the Internet Society wrote that "the court’s ruling vis-à-vis .CAT has a disproportionate chilling effect on free expression, and an unjust impact on the ability of Catalan-speaking persons to create, share, and access content on the Internet."

To route around the censorship, a number of websites began mirroring the content of “referendum.cat” and the president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, linked to referendum information using the peer-to-peer distributed tool IPFS. On September 23, further censorship orders enabling blocking without a court order of any websites with content related to the referendum, including those of non-profits and campaign websites.

XNet, a Spanish libre culture non-profit, writes further about the censorship in their report: “The shutdown extended to websites of nongovernmental organizations and movements like empaperem.cat, assemblea.cat and webdelsi.cat which are in favor of the referendum. This carrying out of the court order also extended to GooglePlay, which was forced to withdraw the app allowing people to find information about where to vote."

On the day of the election, reports also emerged of Internet service disruptions at polling stations and according to an EFF post, some of those who set up mirrors or alternative domains are now facing criminal charges.

For more information on blocking techniques used by the Spanish censors, see the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) and Qurium/Virtual Road here and here.

Find more of Spain’s Internet stats using the Internet Monitor here .

Saudi Arabia Eases Ban on Messaging Apps

According to a statement by Saudi Arabia’s telecommunications authority, all voice and video calling services previously banned will now be accessible.

Blocking of messaging and VOIP apps began in 2013 after the regulatory body, Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), blocked Viber, ostensibly for failing to comply with regulation requirements. Global Voices confirmed that while messaging apps like like Skype, Snapchat, Telegram, and FaceTime are available, as of September 22, other apps such as Viber and WhatsApp remain blocked.

According to Reuters, the use of messaging apps will still be subject to monitoring: “asked if the apps could be monitored by the authorities or companies, [the spokesman for the telecoms regulator] said: “Under no circumstances can the user use an application for video or voice calling without monitoring and censorship by the Communications and Information Technology Commission, whether the application is global or local.”

Curious about Saudi Arabia’s mobile stats? See mobile connection data here .

The Open Observatory Launches OONI Run

The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) released OONI Run, a new website which encourages people to run censorship measurement tests and to monitor their websites for blocking around the world.

OONI, “a free software, global observation network for detecting censorship, surveillance and traffic manipulation on the internet”, proposes that this tool can be used for people gathering evidence of censorship or to learn more about how censorship is implemented on a site.

The website links to a feature on the OONI Mobile App which enables users to run tests that checks for blocking along with the speed and performance of a network. Visitors to OONI Run who would like to check a website for censorship can generate a link or a website button which any OONI Mobile app user can then use to run a test.

Have OONI on your phone? Give OONI Run a try by testing the Internet Monitor website for censorship in your country!