HELLO and welcome to Connected Rights, a new weekly newsletter about technology and your rights.
My name’s David Meyer, and I’ve been reporting on this subject for over a decade now. It only becomes more important with time, and I hope this newsletter will prove useful, entertaining and thought-provoking. Please let me know what you like about it and what you’d like to see improved – this is a work in progress, and your feedback is crucial to me. Also let me know if there’s something you’d like to see noted next week.
You can mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, you can find me on Twitter as @superglaze, but I’ve also set up a new @connectedrights Twitter feed for this newsletter, in case you’d like to avoid seeing the less relevant stuff I tweet about. If you were forwarded this, you can sign up to receive Connected Rights here: http://eepurl.com/cNqZyH
So here goes…
WHOSE LAW IS IT ANYWAY?: Someone used a fake Facebook profile to insult Austrian Greens leader Eva Glawischnig, so the party sued the social network. On Monday, the Viennese appeals court ruled that Facebook must remove “hate speech” posts, not just for people using the site in Austria, but globally. This echos the French privacy regulators’ approach to enforcing the “right to be forgotten” – there, they want Google to de-list contentious results across all its international versions, not just within EU jurisdiction. This scrub-the-whole-web stance is understandable, as global enforcement would be the most effective kind on our borderless internet. However, it risks stomping over the jurisdiction of other countries, including more free-speech-friendly places like the US. Watch this space, particularly in Europe.
– Safety in numbers: Mark Zuckerberg recently pledged to hire 3,000 more people for Facebook’s “community operations” team, which will end up 7,500 people strong. The goal is to respond quickly to video streams of people hurting themselves or other people, as well as to beef up the social network’s policing efforts on the hate speech and child exploitation fronts. For numerical context, Facebook already has 600 people working on these things in Germany alone, though Germany’s strict stance on hate speech explains why so many moderators are needed there.
COMEY SUCCESSOR: With President Trump having sacked FBI director James Comey, privacy advocates are worrying about the likely encryption stance of his successor. Comey was of course no friend to strong privacy – ask Apple – but Trump is unlikely to bring in someone with less authoritarian instincts, particularly with attorney general Jeff Sessions (who recommended Comey’s ouster) being so anti-encryption.
– Meanwhile, the British government has quietly issued a draft of the surveillance orders that will now be possible thanks to the new Investigatory Powers Act. The document describes the ability to “simultaneously intercept, or obtain secondary data from” up to 1 in 10,000 of a communications firm’s subscribers. Interception, of course, wouldn’t be possible with end-to-end encryption. As The Register noted, “the UK government will be able to simultaneously spy on 6,500 folks in Blighty at any given moment”. There’s a four-week consultation on this draft, but it’s not public. Expect to see the legal status of end-to-end encryption become a live issue in the UK very soon.
OPEN SOURCE FOR PRIVACY: Whistleblower Edward Snowden reckons the transparency of open-source software and hardware will be essential if people are to trust that their privacy choices are respected. “All systems should be designed to obey the users and they should not lie to the user,” he said in an interview with Mark Collier of the OpenStack Foundation.
NET NEUTRALITY SHOWDOWN: New FCC chair Ajit Pai wants to dismantle net neutrality in the US, but first the agency is asking the public for its opinions. After comedian John Oliver urged his viewers to demand net neutrality’s preservation, the FCC’s consultation site went down. However, the agency denied Oliver was the cause – it said someone had launched a denial-of-service attack on the site in an attempt to stop people filing comments. Then it emerged that more than 100,000 identical anti-net-neutrality comments had flooded the system, without the knowledge of the people who had supposedly sent them.
INTERNET SHUTDOWNS: What’s the impact when authorities decide to shut down internet access? David Kaye, the UN’s top freedom-of-expression advisor, asked Kashmiris to fill him in over Twitter. The Indian government regularly shuts down internet or social media access in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and people were happy to tell Kaye about the reality of the situation. “If you want to know how it was in Stone Age, come to Kashmir,” read one response. “Our tongue is cut off,” read another.
– The inconsistency of the Indian government’s approach was brought up by lawyer Mishi Choudhary at the re:publica festival in Berlin this week. She pointed out that the government encourages people to take their business online, and that its demonetisation drive sparked a 239 percent increase in the use of digital payments. “How do you have a digital economy or a digital India if there is no digital out there? If there is no internet, how do you tell a society that everything’s going to be done by the internet?” she asked, suggesting that the financial impact of shutdowns will only increase.
VICTORY FOR BLIND READERS: The EU institutions have finally agreed to implement the 2013 Marrakesh Treaty on increasing access to books for visually-impaired people. This there will be a new, pan-EU copyright exception for producing books in accessible formats such as braille and audio, and it will be easier to distribute and exchange these versions across borders. However, the European Blind Union is unhappy that the final deal “allows EU member states to impose upon blind persons organisations and libraries the payment of economic compensation for the distribution of accessible formatted copies of copyrighted works despite the fact that this distribution causes no proven harm to rights holders”.
SECURITY SCARES OF THE WEEK: Microsoft wins this one, after security researchers found a dramatic flaw in Windows’ security mechanism. It was possible for attackers to write malware that would automatically run upon being scanned by the operating system’s Malware Protection Engine. Microsoft fixed the flaw, described by researcher Tavis Ormandy as “the worst Windows remote code [executable] in recent memory”, early this week.
– Meanwhile, the Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center in New York suffered a data breach that, according to NBC News, included the “mental health and medical diagnoses, HIV statuses and sexual assault and domestic violence reports” of at least 7,000 patients. The Guardian’s Soulmates dating site also leaked email addresses and usernames thanks to “human error by one of our third-party technology providers”, leading to at least 27 people getting spammed.