Week in Review: October 21, 2015

by Muira McCammon

Syria: Netizens Attempt to Locate Open Source Activist

Internet activists are worried that Bassel Khartabil, a Palestinian Syrian who advocated for "a non-restricted use of the Internet," has disappeared within the country's complex penal system. During its 72nd session held in Geneva in April 2015, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) wrote a formal opinion, asserting that Khartabil’s detention was "arbitrary." It is known that Khartabil was transferred on October 3, 2015 from Adra prison, where he had been kept since December 2012. Friends and family members of the Palestinian Syrian open-source software developer have launched a website and a Twitter feed on his behalf. EFF also has a timeline of updates concerning his case and whereabouts. Some suspect that Khartabil might have been transferred to Syria's Military Field Court in Qaboun. Little is known about any specific charges that Syrian authorities may have brought against him. According to EFF, before his arrest, Bassel worked with a host of tech organizations and companies, including Creative Commons, Mozilla Firefox, Wikipedia, the Open Clip Art Library, Fabricatorz, and Sharism. A number of news organizations around the world [DE][ES][FR] have covered the story of his disappearance.

USA: Teen Hacks Into CIA Director John Brennan's AOL Account

On October 18, 2015, the New York Post reported that a teenager from New York had successfully accessed CIA Director John Brennan's private email account and obtained his 47-page SF-86 application, a form required to secure top-secret government security clearance. The teen hacker added that he had collaborated with two other people. In an interview with Wired, the teen, whose name has not been circulated by the press, said that first, he and his friends did a reverse search of Brennan's cell phone number to determine that he was a Verizon customer. Then, one of them pretended to be a Verizon technician and called the company for specifics about Brennan's account. Business Insider describes in detail how Brennan's AOL account was breached. When asked what motivated him, the teen allegedly said, “We just want Palestine to be free and for [Brennan] to stop killing innocent people."

Yemen: Report Says Canadian Filtering Products Being Used

In a report published by Citizen Lab, five researchers allege that Internet filtering products made by the Canadian company Netsweeper are being used in Yemen to censor independent media websites as well as all URLs belonging to Israeli (.il) domains. Specifically, they claim that YemenNet, the most utilized ISP in the country, is being used by the Houthis, an armed rebel group, to introduce new types of censorship. The team's report added this observation: "We also determine that all political filtering that targets local and regional news and media content is undertaken in a non-transparent way, with fake network error pages delivered back to users instead of block pages." The researchers as well as journalists at Vice's Motherboard reached out to Netsweeper for further information regarding the services the company provides to YemenNet, but as of yet, neither party has received a reply. This is not Netsweeper's first experience with controversy; it has provided Internet-related services to a host of Middle Eastern countries over the past decade, and over the years, many netizens have questioned the company's ethics and business model.