Welcome to the Media Law Roundup, a weekly digest of developing media news stories from around the world. This week’s issue covers Uganda’s social media shutdown during elections, Apple’s fight with the FBI, India’s new $3.67 smartphone, and more.
On February 18, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni blocked social media during Uganda’s highlight contested presidential elections. President Museveni, who is seeking to extend his 30-year rule, blocked social media because he felt citizens were lying and said, “some people misuse those pathways. You know how they misuse them – telling lies.” Candidate Dr. Kiiza Besigye, does not believe the elections will be fair and free. Another top candidate, former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, tweeted instructions for using a VPN to circumvent Museveni’s restrictions. Ahead of the elections, PC Tech published four of the candidate’s positions on the ICT sector, which has been given very little attention in the election. Incumbent President Museveni of the National Resistance Movement applauds the party’s accomplishments during his term, such as reducing the average unit cost of internet bandwidth from $650 per MB per month to $300. Dr. Kiiza Besigye and the Forum for Democratic Change hardly acknowledge ICT in their plan to enhance the economy, and aim to expand STEM education by 40% within 5 years. Amama Mbabazi and the Go Forward party emphasize ICT in their platform and aim to “transform our economy, education, government and society through radical ICT interventions.” The party aims to create an information-based educated society, strengthen legal frameworks supporting the ICT sector, and promote enhance of the ICT sector to meet 21st century standards.
On February 17, Indonesia’s Information Ministry banned Tumblr, a popular blogging platform, due to “pornographic content.” However, the government softened its stance the next day, saying it has asked Tumblr to block pornographic content and “self censor.” Unlike Facebook and several other social media sites, Tumblr does not restrict adult content. According to Azhar Hasyim, e-business director of the Information Ministry, the ministry blocked the site without consulting Tumblr first. “We must ban the site first, and tell them later,” said Hasyim. In response to the government’s decision to block Tumblr many users protested on social media and drafted a petition with 11,000 signatures, which led the government to reconsider the ban. The initial ban is part of a larger Indonesian internet crackdown—nearly 500 sites have been blocked this week. Earlier this February, the government banned” emojis of same-sex couples and has threatened to block any messaging service that does not remove these emojis.
American journalist Anna Therese Day was detained and then deported by the Bahraini government for covering the fifth anniversary of Bahrain’s Arab Spring protests. Day and her crew were arrested during a demonstration in Sitra for taking part in an illegal protest and entering the country under false pretext. Upon arresting Day’s team, Bahrain’s Ministry of the Interior tweeted about the incident in Arabic, saying, “Those arrested worked in media without a permit in addition to committing acts which break the law. Legal action has been taken against them and they have been referred to the public prosecutor.” Bahrain frequently denies journalists, human rights activists, and NGO workers access to the country to avoid criticism for its crackdowns on protests. Many who do enter the country and cover news are arrested, such as Ahmed Al Fardan, a photojournalist who was sentenced to 3 months in prison for taking pictures of protests. The Committee to Protect Journalists has declared Bahrain “one of the worst jailers of journalists in the Arab world.”
On February 16, a federal judge ordered Apple to extract information from one of the San Bernardino shooters’ encrypted iPhone. As Apple iPhones automatically erase phone data after 10 incorrect password attempts, the FBI is asking the company to circumvent this feature in order to crack. According to FBI Director James Comey, sophisticated encryption technologies make it more difficult for law enforcement to investigate serious crimes such as murder and drug trafficking. Apple CEO Tim Cook responded later that day saying that the demand, “would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.” While Apple has provided the FBI with iCloud backups of data from San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone, the company refuses to create a backdoor to the iPhone because they believe it is “too dangerous to create.” Many tech CEOs, such as Google CEO Sundar Pichai have sided with Apple, saying the FBI’s request “could be a troubling precedent.” Many San Bernardino residents feel differently in the aftermath of the shooting, such as 27-year-old Rudy Garcia. “I think the FBI has to have the right so we can be safer,” Garcia said. “So nothing like that will ever happen again.”
Google bends to European pressure on right to be forgotten rule, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
On February 11, Google announced that it would expand Europe’s right to be forgotten rule across all Google search sites, not just those within the European Union. For example, if someone from France successfully requests to have a link about themselves blocked, the link would be blocked if on all Google search engines including google.fr, google.com, and google.jp.. Privacy regulators were concerned that someone within the European Union could simply use Google.com rather than their country’s Google domain to access information about people exercising their right to be forgotten. Although Google’s gesture is intended as a compromise, it is unclear whether it will satisfy regulators. A spokeswoman from the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés, France’s data-protection agency, did not indicate whether the agency would accept or reject Google’s proposal, saying, “an inquiry is currently under way into the new elements Google has provided.” The European Union adopted the right to be forgotten (RTBF) in 2014. The RTBF allows people to request that search engines remove links to information that is old, irrelevant, or infringes on their privacy. Since May 2014, Google has evaluated 1.4 million links and removed 42.5% of them after considering privacy rights versus public interest in the information.
Russia’s internet censorship grew nine-fold in 2015, THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE
On February 16, Agora, a Russian human rights group, released a report that revealed increased censorship in Russia. In the report, “The Triumphs of Censorship,” Agora found that incidents of censorship increased from 1,019 in 2014 to 9,022 in 2015. Russia blacklists web content about child pornography, suicide, drugs, unsanctioned rallies, and extremist views. The report noted that Russia is prosecuting more individuals for posting online content, stating, “The number of people sentenced to actual prison terms for expressing their opinion on the web has multiplied.” One of the authors, human rights lawyer Damir Gainutdinov, believes we will see more censorship in Russia in 2016. “They will attempt to block announcements of demonstrations,” said Gainutdinov. He believes there will be increased pressure on international companies such as Facebook and Twitter, and cracking down on sites that publish suggestions for circumventing censorship through VPNs. “Prison terms for posting ‘likes’ and shares (on social media) are meant to frighten people and make them stop discussing social problems,” the report said. Taboo topics include corruption, LGBT rights, and the conflict with Ukraine. “The goal is to have most people give up and go back to watching television,” said Gainutdinov, because television is highly regulated by the state.
On February 17, the Indian company Ringing Bells revealed the Freedom 251 phone, a smartphone that costs only 251 rupees (3.67 USD). The phone resembles the iPhone 4, with 8 GB storage, front and back cameras, icons, and a home button. The phone went on sale February 18 on the company’s website, however the company has temporarily stopped accepting order as the site crashed due to high demand. Ringing Bells promised to manufacture the phones locally, however it has no factory in India. Many are skeptical about the extremely low price tag, including Tarun Pathak, an analyst with Counterpoint Technology Research. “It looks like it is highly subsidized by the company and it is not clear how they plan to sustain this,” Pathak said. According to Ringing Bells’ website, the company aims to “empower citizens, even in the remotest rural and semi-urban centres of India, with the latest in digital technology at incredible affordable prices and cascade knowledge.” The company has promised to deliver its first round of phones on June 30.