Media Law Roundup: February 20th

Welcome to the Media Law Roundup, a survey of the week’s developing media news.

Republic of Macedonia Surveillance Scandal

In the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the opposition has accused the government of monitoring the communications of twenty thousand citizens (about 1% of the population). Zoran Zaev, the opposition leader from the Social Democratic Party, has accused the Republic of Macedonia’s Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of deliberately targeting these citizens as part of extensive wiretapping surveillance. “All socially important people except Nikola Gruevski and Saso Mijalkov [Director of the Republic of Macedonia’s Administration for Security and Counterintelligence] have been eavesdropped upon. This makes it clear who did this. We have tons of material to prove this,” said Zaev during a press conference. Zaev claims that he himself was a target of surveillance for five years, despite the fact that court-sanctioned surveillance is capped at fourteen months. A week prior to the announcement, Prime Minister Gruevski accused Zaev of blackmailing and espionage, as well as with plotting a coup. This has led to a series of opposition arrests. At his press conference, Zaev provided journalists with the transcripts and audio of eleven wiretapped phone calls that he said were provided by “brave people” from within the intelligence agency. “This is just the beginning,” Zaev said.


Facebook Profile Inheritance

On February 13, 2015, Facebook announced that users would now be able to select a “legacy contact.” The legacy contact will be able to maintain partial control over a user’s Facebook profile in the event of that user’s death. In lieu of choosing a legacy contact, users can also tell Facebook to permanently delete their profiles after they die. The creation of a legacy contact was informed by firsthand user experiences, such as that of one mother who wanted to change her deceased daughter’s profile picture from a picture of a fish to a photograph of her face. The Facebook team heard “a number of poignant stories about what a legacy contact needs to do,” said Facebook product manager Vanessa Callison-Burch. Legacy contacts will be able to change the deceased’s profile and cover photos, accept friend requests on behalf of the deceased, a write a memorial post that can be pinned to the top of the timeline. Facebook will also include the word “Remembering” across the top of a user’s name so that a deceased’s page will not be viewed as an active profile. Legacy contacts will not be able to delete previously posted information or access messages. Callison-Burch explained that these choices were made to protect the privacy of others involved in message threads and to prevent legacy contacts from taking on “curation responsibilities.” Facebook is not the first to offer a digital legacy service–Google has allowed users to set up an inactive account manager since 2013. The Facebook legacy contact is currently only available to users in the United States, though future expansion is planned.


China’s Internet Censorship Fight Song

During Lunar New Year celebrations on February 10, 2015, the Cyberspace Administration of China presented what some are calling its “internet censorship anthem.” The song was performed by a full choir in formal dress and boasted lyrics written by Wang Pingjiu, who also wrote the lyrics for China’s Olympic anthem. The song opens with the lines, “Loyally watching the sky here, bearing the responsibility of building a rising power,” and continues with additional, more veiled references to internet censorship.  Domestic response to the song appeared mixed, with the production receiving applause during its presentation but failing to go viral online. One Weibo user commented, “So scary. For a minute there, it was like I’d been transported from the 21th [sic] century to the 17th.” Several videos of the performance were subsequently deleted from Chinese hosting platforms, though the video can still be viewed (with subtitles) here.


GCHQ Legally Obligated to Acknowledge Illegal Surveillance

In a surprise ruling on February 6, 2015, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruled that the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters had been engaging in illegal surveillance sharing until December 2014, when the IPT claims that disclosures made during a lawsuit against GCHQ made future surveillance legal. While various human rights groups continue to fight the ruling that GCHQ’s surveillance is now legal after forced disclosures, the February 2015 ruling means that all illegal sharing (intelligence sharing prior to December 2014), must be acknowledged, and any information collected must be destroyed. Privacy International has created a submission form for individuals who want to know if their information was illegally shared between GCHQ and the NSA.


French Decree Requires ISPs to Block Offensive Material

The French government passed a new law on February 9, 2015 that requires internet service providers to block content that involves terrorism or child pornography within twenty-four hours. Failure to comply could result in fines. Sites have the potential to become unblocked if an overview by the General Directorate of the National Police finds that the offensive content has been removed. The law was issued in the form of a decree, meaning that the President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls signed the decree into effect. Digital rights advocates criticized the new legislation, which gives the French government the power to directly order ISPs to block content, on the grounds that it may prove to be the first step toward more restrictive legislation that blocks content that the government deems offensive.  “With this decree establishing the administrative censorship for Internet content, France once again circumvents the judicial power, betraying the separation of powers in limiting what is the first freedom of all in a democracy–freedom of speech,” said advocacy group La Quadrature du Net, which plans to appeal to the French Council of State that the decree be nullified.


Twitter Transparency Report

On February 9, 2015, Twitter published its latest transparency report, finding that there has been a forty percent increase in user information requests since the last transparency report was published six months ago. The results cover the final six months of 2014 and depict the United States as the most frequent requester of information, with 1,622 requests made for over 3,000 accounts. Despite the thirty-two percent increase in requests, Twitter’s compliance rose only eight percent. Russia and Turkey also saw an increase in the number of requests lodged. Russia went from zero requests in the first six months of 2014 to 108 in the final months, while Turkey submitted 356 requests, an increase of 150 percent to. Twitter did not comply with requests from either Russia or Turkey. To read the Twitter transparency report in its entirety, click here.


Featured Photo Credit:  Some rights reserved by foto_fux1

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