Last week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation profiled FinFisher and Amesys, two of the companies that had been caught selling network spying tools to despotic regimes around the world, including Hosni Mubarak's Egypt and Muammar Qaddafi's Libya. This week, EFF continues the series with profiles of Italy's Area SpA (which sells electronic tracking software to Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria) and Germany's Trovicor (which sells spyware to a dozen countries in the Middle East and North Africa).
In 2011, at the same time that news of Syria’s violent crackdown on democratic protests graced the pages of the world’s newspapers, an Italian company called Area SpA was busy helping the Syrian’s dictator Bashar al-Assad electronically track the dissidents his army was firing upon in the streets. Area SpA had begun installing “monitoring centers” that would give the Syrian government the ability “to intercept, scan and catalog virtually every e-mail that flows through the country” as well as “follow targets on flat-screen workstations that display communications and Web use in near-real time alongside graphics that map citizens’ networks of electronic contacts.”
Worse, as the violence in Syria escalated in mid-2011, “Area employees [were] flown into Damascus in shifts” in the government’s push to finish the project, according to a report from Bloomberg News.
Spy Tech Companies & Their Authoritarian Customers, Part II: Trovicor and Area SpA
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has begun to publish a series of informative corporate biographies of technology companies that make network spying equipment and sell it to torturing dictators like Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Qaddafi. These companies' publish sales material advertising their use of tools created for the express purpose of breaking domestic and international law, and operate from countries like the UK (FinFisher) and France (Amesys). EFF urges prosecutors in these countries to investigate the spyware companies for complicity in human rights abuses.
The Wall Street Journal has since reported about FinFisher’s techniques and its technology’s dangerous capabilities. It works much the same way online criminals steal banking and credit card information. Authorities can covertly install malicious malware on a user’s computer without their knowledge by tricking the user into downloading fake updates to programs like iTunes and Adobe Flash. Once installed, they can see everything the user can. The FinFisher products can even remotely turn on the user’s webcam or microphone in a cell phone without the user’s knowledge.
FinFisher doesn’t pretend to market their products for solely lawful use. In 2007, they bragged that they use and incorporate “black hat (illegal and malicious) hacking techniques to allow intelligence services to acquire information that would be very difficult to obtain legally,” according to a report by OWNI.
Spy Tech Companies & Their Authoritarian Customers, Part I: FinFisher And
In my latest Guardian column, "The internet is the best place for dissent to start," I look at Ethan Zuckerman's recent talk on the Internet and human rights, and the way that cute cats create the positive externality of a place for dissent to begin and flourish, and look at the problems this causes:
Zuckerman's argument is this: while YouTube, Twitter, Facebook (and other popular social services) aren't good at protecting dissidents, they are nevertheless the best place for this sort of activity to start, for several reasons.
First, because when YouTube is taken off your nation's internet, everyone notices, not just dissidents. So if a state shuts down a site dedicated to exposing official brutality, only the people who care about that sort of thing already are likely to notice.
But when YouTube goes dark, all the people who want to look at cute cats discover that their favourite site is gone, and they start to ask their neighbours why, and they come to learn that there exists video evidence of official brutality so heinous and awful that the government has shut out all of YouTube in case the people see it.
The internet is the best place for dissent to start
On the CBC Ideas podcast, a lecture by Ethan Zuckerman on the connection between LOLcats, Internet activism and the Arab Spring:
In the 2011 Vancouver Human Rights Lecture, Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, looks at the "cute cat" theory of internet activism, and how it helps explain the Arab Spring. He discusses how activists around the world are turning to social media tools which are extremely powerful, easy to use and difficult for governments to censor. The Vancouver Human Rights Lecture is co-sponsored by the UBC Continuing Studies, the Laurier Institution, and Yahoo.
The Vancouver Human Rights Lecture - Cute Cats and The Arab Spring
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Global Voices Advocacy have produced a guide for bloggers who believe that their work is liable to get them arrested or kidnapped by the authorities:
All bloggers should:
* Consider providing someone outside the country with the following information:
- Login credentials to your social media, email, and blog accounts
- Contact information of family members
- Information about any health conditions
* Regularly back up their blog, Facebook, email, and other accounts
* Consider mirroring your website if you want to ensure it remains up without your attention to it
* Encrypt sensitive files and consider hiding them on a separate drive
* Consider using tools like Identity Sweeper (for Android users) to secure/erase your mobile data
* Consider preparing a statement for release in case of arrest-- This can be helpful for international news outlets and human rights organizations
* Consider recording a short video identifying yourself (biographical info, scope of work) and the risks that you face and share with trusted contacts
* Develop contacts with human rights and free expression organizations*
* Think about a strategy/contingency plan for what to do if you're detained (see below)
For Bloggers at Risk: Creating a Contingency Plan
Update: Zainab is back home!
Carstenagger sez, "The blogger and human rights activist Zainab Alkhawaja has been detained since Thursday, December 15th, where she was detained after being teargassed while participating in a peaceful demonstration. Her husband and her father are imprisoned, her father sentenced to life in prison and allegedly hideously tortured. Zainab is in *great danger* of being tortured, given the present climate in Bahrain. Zainab is a very courageous activist, which prompted NY Times reporter Nicholas Kristof to tweet: 'I suggest that Bahrain officials avoid torturing and imprisoning @AngryArabiya. Some day she could be their president.' Here is how YOU can help: Zainab is a Danish citizen.
Our new Minister of Foreign Affairs is all too fond of photo ops with Hillary Clinton, but he will succumb to pressure and hopefully create a diplomatic incident to protect one of his citizens. Please drop him a line on firstname.lastname@example.org and express your concern for Zainab Alkhawaja and ask him to use his influence to demand her release [Ed: see above -- she's back home]."
Dansk aktivist anholdt i Bahrain
In TIME magazine's 2011 Person of the Year issue, this cover by artist
Shepard Fairey, portraits of more than 50
protestors from around the world, and an essay by Kurt Andersen:
Massive and effective street protest' was a global oxymoron
until-suddenly, shockingly-starting exactly a year ago, it became the
defining trope of our times. And the protester, once again, became a maker
of history....The stakes are very different in different places. In North
America and Europe, there are no dictators, and dissidents don't get
tortured. Any day that Tunisians, Egyptians or Syrians occupy streets and
squares, they know that some of them might be beaten or shot, not just
pepper-sprayed or flex-cuffed. The protesters in the Middle East and North
Africa are literally dying to get political systems that roughly resemble
the ones that seem intolerably undemocratic to protesters in Madrid,
Athens, London and New York City.
"Protester" is an interesting choice of language. "Activist," or "Occupier" if the focus is on America, would have also been apt.
The related "Runner-up" interview with Ai Weiwei is a great read, too. I was surprised not to see Julian Assange or Steve Jobs mentioned in this annual foo-fah; their lives and work certainly had an impact (though neither is a simple hero in my book). The former Apple CEO, who died this year after a long battle with cancer, isn't mentioned at all.
What do you think?
[Video Link, warning: graphic content.] Reuters reports: "Cairo police fought protesters demanding an end to army rule for a third day on Monday and morgue officials said the death toll had risen to 33, with many victims shot in the worst violence since the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak."
Below: Gotta love the cotton candy vendors who are still out there, peddling their fluffy pink wares, even as tear gas and live ammo are deployed against protesters by the military police.
Read the rest
Taghi Amirani, who's running a Kickstarter for a documentary called "We Are Many," writes, "The film is about the global protest movement linking the massive global Iraq War protests of Feb 15 2003 to the Arab Spring and now the Occupy movement. It tells the remarkable story of people power taking center stage. Actor and activist Danny Glover is a contributor and Executive Producer. Jesse Jackson and Brain Eno are featured. And writer of The Rocky Horror Show Richard O'Brien has become our biggest donor so far."
We will bring you the real story, the people's story, including interviews with those whose protest experiences catapulted them into founding 'people powered' campaigning movements. Most of the people who helped create the biggest human gathering ever seen in one day are unknown ordinary people reaching for the extraordinary.
We will demonstrate the remarkable links between the 2003 protests and the Arab Spring, as well as with the occupation of cities across Europe, and now in America too. The Occupy Movement in America and rest of the world is the latest chapter of one of the great untold stories of people power. Our cameras are there to capture the historic moments.
We Are Many
Tunisian Facebook users have plastered Obama's Facebook page with thousands of messages in support of the Occupy movement:
Among the comments, Tunisian Facebook users circulated “Arab Spring” jokes, such as: “Tunisia is the first country to recognize the American Transitional National Council,” referring the revolutionary upheaval in Libya and the global recognition of the Libyan transitional council.
The Facebook users described it as a “virtual surprise attack” on. Many of the recent entries on his 2012 presidential campaign page were bombarded with as many as 20,000 comments each.
“Tunisian people are calling the U.S. authorities to respect freedom of expression and not to resort repression and assault on the rights of American citizens,” read one comment, which was reposted by several users.
Another comment read: “Tunisian people denounce violations against the American people by the security forces, which affect the freedom of expression.”
Tunisians poke fun at Obama in assault on his Facebook page
(Image: Occupy Philadelphia || Oct 6, 2011, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from janeanger's photostream)
"Alaa’s detainment proved to be a lot tougher than I had initially hoped for. It’s a wake up call for the expensive price of freedom, and it makes one value the struggle on the one hand, but curse the incomprehensible cost on the other. I just didn’t think that the news of Alaa in military prison would affect me so strongly. But it did. As it will, when he’s released. And as it will, when our fight reaches victory."—Tarek Shalaby
. — Xeni
This weekend, Egyptian blogger, Twitter activist, and human rights advocate Alaa Abd El Fattah (@alaa), who is something of a legend, went in to a military court in Egypt for interrogation. "He refused to answer the military’s questions, refused to grant them legitimacy, and was thus detained for 15 days," Jillian York writes in this blog post about her friend.
At Global Voices, Amira Al Hussaini has more here, and Rasha Abdullah has more here. At the NYT, Bob Mackey has background on the case. Egyptian activists around the world are outraged.
This isn't the first time Alaa has gone to jail for political reasons: there was a high-profile internet campaign five years ago for his freedom, when he was held under similarly trumped-up charges. The regime hasn't changed. The images in this post are all from that campaign.
Read the rest
A U.S. company that makes Internet "filtering" systems admits that Syria has been using at least 13 of its devices to censor Web activity there. This news comes as the Syrian government cracks down on its citizens and silences their online activities.
WSJ.com (via @csoghoian)
Blue Coat Systems Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., says it shipped the Internet "filtering" devices to Dubai late last year, believing they were destined for a department of the Iraqi government. However, the devices—which can block websites or record when people visit them—made their way to Syria, a country subject to strict U.S. trade embargoes.
, a new book from FirstSecond, collects in one volume the serialized (and brilliant) webcomic
, written by two pseudonymous Iranian dissidents. It's the gripping story of a Medhi, a young man kidnapped by Iran's secret police during the election-season demonstrations of 2009, and it is a heart-rending tale of loss, hope, technology, revolution, politics, bravery and resilience. Told form the point of view of Medhi's blogger brother (who has previously been arrested for publishing political material), it features an in-the-round look at the power and limits of technology to effect revolution. Its cast includes bloggers, secret policemen, brave copy-shop/Internet cafe owners, influence peddlers, disgraced bourgeois, broken prisoners and a family devastated by loss.
And while Zahra's Paradise is an informative (if fictionalized) account of the Iranian election uprising and a vivid condemnation of the stern, joyless Khomeniest version of Islam, it is also a fantastic story, a graphic novel that races to its conclusion. The webcomic was serialized in 12 languages (including Farsi and Arabic) and the print edition is available in a dozen countries from today.
AccessNow, an NGO that works for human rights values in telcoms policy, took a resolution to the Vodafone Board meeting in London last week, holding the company to account for its network shutdown during the Egyptian revolution and asking it to endorse a plan to uphold its customers' human rights in future.
"I am asking this question as a proxy and on behalf of thousands of people from over 85 countries who have endorsed this question to the Vodafone Board.
Our question is, in recognition of the challenges that you and other telcos faced during the Egyptian revolution and the lessons you’ve learned from this experience might you be better prepared for any future crises - which is undoubtedly in the wings - by committing to doing a human rights assessment of your licensing agreements in the roughly 70 countries you operate in, to ensure that, for example, you are both able to protect your staff and the integrity of the network, but not in the position of having to once again shut down the internet or send pro-regime messages to your customers as happened earlier in the year in Egypt?
I would like to present you with a five step action plan, consistent with the GNI principles, which we believe would assist you to protect Vodafone's brand and shareholder's profits and ask that you consider adhering to the practices outlined in the action plan."
In addition to prolonging the misery and bloodshed of the Egyptian revolution, Vodafone's network shutdown also resulted in the death of Egyptians who couldn't use their phones to call ambulances during medical emergencies. Not to mention all the money the shareholders lost when millions of Egyptians lost their phone service.
Access’ Questions Vodafone’s Board At Annual Shareholders’ Meeting
(Image: vodafone in Egypt, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from emiemihuimei's photostream)