Week in Review: October 28, 2015

by Muira McCammon

Freedom House Releases Report: U.S. Drops in Internet Freedom Rankings 

Freedom House released its annual report concerning "Freedom on the Net." It focused on Internet activity and developments in 65 countries. In 14 of those countries, governments were found to have passed new laws to increase surveillance online since June 2014. "Governments are increasingly pressuring individuals and the private sector to take down or delete offending content, as opposed to relying on blocking and filtering,” said Sanja Kelly, project director for Freedom on the Net. Between 2011 and 2015, the United States' ranking in Internet freedom ranking (compared to the 64 other countries examined) has dropped from #2 to #6. The report listed China as the worst offender against digital rights, followed by Syria, Iran, Ethiopia and Cuba.

Germany: Resource Map Made for and by Refugees Launches Online

With assistance from the Haus Leo, Wohnen für Flüchtlinge (Berliner Stadtmission) and Haus der Kulturen der Welt, a group of refugees in Berlin launched an online map meant to help others find local resources and information. The map, titled "Arriving in Berlin," has special icons to designate public libraries, lawyers specializing in asylum law, German language schools, gynecologists, general practitioners, and counseling services. Its legend is also available in Farsi and Arabic. The project relies upon the basic principle that "collective maps are never finished," and as such, the website hosting the map is still actively accepting suggestions and assistance from others.

Iran: CEO of Popular Messaging App Criticizes Government After Service Disruption

Telegram provides end-to-end encrypted text conversations for mobile and desktop users. In a tweet sent on October 20, 2015, Russian Internet entrepreneur Pavel Durov, the founder of the Telegram app, said, "Iranian officials want to use @telegram to spy on their citizens. We can not and will not help them with that." On October 25, 2015, Iranian Minister of Information and Communications Technology Mahmud Vaezi refuted the claim and explained that Telegram's services were disrupted for several days due to "disconnections in some communications channels." This development represents a shift from Telegram's earlier compliance with some Iranian government restrictions. Just a few months ago, in August 2015, Global Voices published "Is Telegram's Compliance with Iran Compromising the Digital Security of Its Users?"and expressed concern about Telegram's relationship with the Iranian government. The piece stated, "Some users are concerned that Telegram's willingness to comply with Iranian government requests might mean future complicity with other Iranian government censorship, or even allow government access to Telegram's data on Iranian users."

Turkey: Teenager Imprisoned Overnight for Alleged Facebook Comment

On October 21, 2015, a Turkish fourteen-year-old, known within the nation's press simply as Ü.E., was arrested and charged with violating Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code. One of the four clauses of Article 299 states, "Any person who publicly denigrates the Government of Republic of Turkey, the judicial institutions of the State, the military or security organizations shall be sentenced to 6 months to 2 years imprisonment." Reports  ave indicated that the Turkish police detained the teen outside an Internet café in the Central Anatolian province of Kayseri and accused him of "insulting" Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan online. It is still unclear what evidence the Turkish government has against Ü.E. Nina Ognianova, the program coordinator for Europe and Central Asia at the Committee to Project Journalists, noted that historically, the Erdoğan administration has employed Article 299 to limit many types of speech. "It's the million-dollar question," she explained.  "It could be a tweet. You don't have to necessarily even use the president's name — it's really up to the interpretation of authorities." The story has garnered attention in the international press [FR] [GR]. Authorities also used Article 299 a day later, on October 22, 2015, to detain Serkan Inci, the founder of a popular Turkish website, for insulting the Turkish President.