Category: Internet Privacy

China’s Great Firewall on Internet is one of the most frightening freedom of speech violation in the world. More than sixty Internet laws have been implemented by the People’s Republic of China to repress freedom of speech on the Internet thus restricting access to information, to education and freedom of thought.

China uses censorship to supress and silence dissent and any opposition to the regime. China is, according to Amnesty International, the world’s leading jailer of journalists, today 30 journalists and 50 internet users are know to be in jail in China.

If you look up “democracy movements” on Internet in China, the page will “not be found.”

But how does it work?

The Chinese government created sophisticated ways to allow a limited access to the Internet to Chinese users, it created bottlenecks (Internet traffic to China is channelled through computers centers), checks Internet traffic for subversive material (then uses censure), and even goes as far as to ask the Chinese population itself to “self-censure” (commercial websites are responsible for the content, if Chinese authorities do not like it, the company will be held accountable.)

Authorities created “cartoon cybercops” that pop up on controversial websites “to remind Internet users they’re being watched.”

Feels like Orwell’s 1989? Wait, it gets worse.

China is also getting outside help to censure its population. China is being assisted by American firms such as for example Cisco Systems to restrict internet freedom. Even google created a censored search engine for China. According to ABC news “Outside China, users who search Google Images for “Tiananmen Square” get pictures from the 1989 pro-democracy protests that ended in crackdown that left hundreds dead and included the iconic photograph of a lone man staring down a line of Chinese tanks. Inside China, users get only tourist images of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City across the street.”

Check out this NGO website: Great Firewall of China which allows you to check which websites are blocked in China.


The NGO Freedom House published on September 24, 2012 a special report on Freedom on the Net. This report is the third part of a review of developments related to Internet Freedom, International Privacy and Censorship in 47 countries: Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belarus, Brazil, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. It reviews the countries’ achievements from January 2011 to May 2012. The report praises the new methods to protect Internet Freedom developed by many countries, however it also highlights the still existent internet censorship and internet laws restricting freedom of speech.

The report is entitled Internet Freedom on the Net 2012: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media. Please find attached the full report in PDF and a Summury of its Findings.

Freedom House Report on Internet Freedom


Two weeks ago, the French newspaper Metro reported that private messages from 2009 had been publicly available to everyone to see on Facebook Timelines in France. A Facebook spokesman declared ”A small number of users raised concerns after what they mistakenly believed to be private messages appeared on their Timeline. Our engineers investigated these reports and found that the messages were older wall posts that had always been visible on the users’ profile pages. Facebook is satisfied that there has been no breach of user privacy.” However, this statem there ent is false as many users remembered posting these messages as private inboxes. Let’s just hope you did not post anything embarrassing in a private inbox message or any personal information. What is important to know about Facebook inbox messages is that is no law protecting internet privacy on Facebook. Facebook is legally allowed to read your inbox messages. This bug is the biggest Facebook scandal related to internet privacy yet not a lot of information or press releases have been issued on this matter. It is being looked into in France, but for now hide your timeline posts completely, watch what you write on Facebook or delete your Facebook account completely if you want to be safe from internet privacy infringements.

See what the Guardian wrote on this issue

Internet freedom and privacy are major issues in the emerging Internet law. “Cyber law” is grounded in international law which makes its development harder. What is important to understand is that because the Internet has become such an important part of our daily lives, it should regulate itself instead of obeying domestic laws. The Internet has to have its own law. The European community, through the “Telecoms Package Act” started this process at the European scale. We should understand that in order to protect “Netizens (citizens of the net)” there should be a universal Internet law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 claims that freedom of speech on any media should be protected at all means. Our goal is therefore to make sure this fundamental human right is protected on the Internet. Internet censorship, as seen in China and Iran for example, has to be abolished and Internet privacy laws as well as freedom of expression on the Internet, protected.

The Global Network Initiative is an organization that helps “the information and communications technology sector navigate the complexities and obligations of Internet privacy and freedom of expression of Netizens as well as the respect online law enforcement.” GNI is a perfect example of “global civil society.” It advocates through information politics through the use of politically usable information, symbolic politics as it uses testimonies to reach a larger audience, leverage politics as it pressures governments and accountability politics by convincing governments and others to publicly change their positions while encouraging government demands that are consistent with international laws and standards of freedom of expression. The GNI initiative gather resources from government and internationals organizations as well as Human Rights groups. Their goal is to encourage governments “to be specific, transparent and consistent in the demands, laws and regulations related to freedom of expression on the Internet.” The Global Network Initiative uses information, accountability and leverage politics.

“GNI engages proactively with governments to reach a shared understanding of how government restrictions can be applied in a manner consistent with GNI’s principles.”

(GNI Website:


The EU passed the “Telecoms Reform Package” in May 2011. It limits Internet censorship and guarantees Internet Freedom and privacy. “Accordingly, these measures may only be taken with due respect for the principle of presumption of innocence and the right to privacy. A prior fair and impartial procedure shall be guaranteed, including the right to be heard of the person or persons concerned, subject to the need for appropriate conditions and procedural arrangements in duly substantiated cases of urgency in conformity with European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The right to an effective and timely judicial review shall be guaranteed.”

“The conciliation process that led to the agreement was shepherded by the European Commission.” The Telecoms Reform Package as a whole has for objective to “substantially enhance consumer rights and consumer choice in Europe’s telecoms markets, and add new guarantees to ensure the openness and neutrality of the internet”.

In the article, member states take any measures to limit internet access or use must “respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of natural persons, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and general principles of Community law”.

It also says any access or use limitations must be “appropriate, proportionate and necessary within a democratic society”, and their implementation must include “effective judicial review and due process”.

“Accordingly, these measures may only be taken with due respect for the principle of presumption of innocence and the right to privacy,” the text adds. “A prior fair and impartial procedure shall be guaranteed, including the right to be heard of the person or persons concerned… The right to an effective and timely judicial review shall be guaranteed.”


The U.S’s reaction to Wikileaks is interesting to look at regarding Internet freedom and Privacy. The United States’ argument to put Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange, on trial are the non-respect of governmental secrets and their publishing on the Internet. The legal implications of this case are related to freedom of speech on Internet. Did Assange violate Espionage Act? Is Wikileaks protected under the U.S’ First Amendment? Will Assange be indicted?

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” — The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

Read this article:

Because Facebook and Twitter posts are in the public domain, the ability to regulate it and to put it under surveillance is reduced. Morever, governments have access to some “private” data which scares many users.

Facebook allows automatic information sharing that users are not aware of. Timeline, a feature that maps everything a user has ever done on Facebook and Open Graph, an application designed “to broadcast a user’s surfing patterns and Web interests to friends and friends of friends.” There is a loss of user control combined with a lack of ability for consumers to control and protect their online reputations.

Laura Antonini, research attorney at Consumer Watchdog, says Facebook’s new sharing features “disregard the privacy of its users by making sweeping changes that expose personal information without giving users the chance to choose what information they want shared with the world.”

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes counters that Timeline and new Open Graph applications are” intended to make it easier for users to share music and other content with their friends.” He explains that Facebook uses tracking-cookie technology to monitor and correlate users’ Web activities, just as Google and other online ad networks and analytics firms commonly do. He says Facebook does so responsibly. Noyes declared “we offer numerous controls both before and after the fact” […] “all the sharing is opt-in and easily controllable.”

Mike Murray, managing partner of MAD Security, Facebook will not stop using this policy and may worsen. “The settings that are default today may not be in the future,” says Murray. “What we’ve seen from Facebook over the years is a constant, creeping advance in the amount of tracking that is done.”

Facebook has also raised fresh security concerns. New mechanisms to encourage the sharing of educational information, career and health have been promoted on Facebook.


Issues related to Internet privacy have become increasingly important. Netizens (or citizens or the net) are less anonymous than they think while surfing on Internet, blogging or even sharing images with their friends on Facebook.

A study made by the Montreal Gazette highlights these privacy violations. It shows how most high-traffic websites such as Google, Facebook, comScore and Quantcast looked at in the study, share the netizen’s username and user ID with other sites.

Jon Leibowitz,in a speech “Consumer Privacy, the FTC, and the Rise of the Cyberazzi” given in Washington, D.C. October 11, 2011, the U.S Federal Trade Commission chairman declared that this study would help the protection of netizens and their privacy on the Internet. He liked behavioral advertising and date collection to paparazzi “cyberazzi.”

The study’s author, Jonathan Mayer, a graduate Stanford student, noted that 61% of the websites he interacted used information leakage (username and ID.)

“Many times, developers are not thinking about privacy issues, and it’s a fact of life that information is going to leak to third parties. I think we have to recognize that’s just the way the web works,” said Mayer.

Mayer created accounts for sites and then tracked where the information went. On the Photobucket, a photo sharing databank, his study found that a username was sent to 31 other websites. Asked how consumers could avoid such data leakage, Mayer said, “The best thing they can do is to block advertising, because the moment content is loaded on the browser, there is a risk of tracking.”

“The study found that signing up on the NBC website shared a user’s e-mail address with seven other companies, while viewing a local ad on the Home Depot website sent a user’s name and e-mail address to 13 companies. Leibowitz applauded Microsoft Corp, Mozilla and Apple for adding “do not track” features to their browsers and said he hoped Google would soon follow suit. He added the FTC had no intention of ending behavioural advertising, but was advocating giving consumers streamlined and effective choices about the collection and use of their data.”


On November 1st a global conference on Internet Freedom was organized in London.

“Britain and the United States strongly rejected calls from China and Russia for greater Internet controls. While Western states worry about intellectual property theft and hacking, authoritarian governments are alarmed at the role the Internet and social media played in the protests that swept the Arab world this year.”

This two days talk was attended by government officials, NGOS, tech firms and security experts as well as bloggers. Britain’s Foreing Secretary William Hague opened the conference he said “the social and economic benefits of the Internet were huge and warned that any states trying to block online activity would lose out.”

“We must aspire to a future for cyberspace which is not stifled by government control or censorship, but where innovation and competition flourish and investment and enterprise are rewarded.”

Hague warned “that human rights, particularly the right to privacy and freedom of expression, should carry full force online”.

Biden echoed Hague, saying that while the Internet presented opportunities for wrongdoing “on a vast scale” from terrorism to human trafficking, child pornography to attacks on government systems, they were no excuse for censorship.

“What citizens do online should not, as some have suggested, be decreed solely by groups of governments making decisions for them somewhere on high […] No citizen of any country should be subject to a repressive global code when they send an email or post a comment to a news article. They should not be prevented from sharing their innovations with global consumers simply because they live across a national frontier. That is not how the Internet should ever work in our view.” Joe Biden

“To impose such controls on the Internet, would stifle innovation. If countries wanted the economic benefits of connectivity, he they needed openness.” Biden

The West hopes to influence mainly China and Russia in the fight against hackers and to sign a “cyber treaty.”

“Around 60 countries, including China, Russia and India, were represented at the conference as well as tech industry figures such as Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, and senior executives from Facebook and Google.”

Check out the complete videos of the London Conference on Cyberspace