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Sunday, March 25, 2007

BBC Hi-tech crime: A glossary

BBC on How governments censor the web

How governments censor the web
YouTube page
The YouTube clip reportedly dubbed Ataturk and Turks homosexuals
By blocking the popular YouTube website, Turkey has joined the list of countries taking steps to control what their populations can see on the internet.

How far will governments go to censor web content, and how do they do it?

YouTube was blocked by a court order in Turkey after clips were posted that, prosecutors said, insulted the memory of the nation's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Turkish visitors to the site are now greeted with a message in English and Turkish reading "Access to www.youtube.com site has been suspended in accordance with decision no: 2007/384 dated 06.03.2007 of Istanbul First Criminal Peace Court".

But controlling what people can and cannot see on the internet has become a prime interest of many of the world's more authoritarian regimes.

"Five or six years ago, very few countries controlled the internet," says Julien Pain of Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

"Very few dictators understood that they had to control the web as they did traditional media. Unfortunately, now, web censorship is spreading around the world."

Flat denial

Over a decade after the internet really began to take off, most countries' leaders recognise the desirability of being online, says Daniel Whitener of the World Wide Web consortium.

"They recognise it, if nothing else, as a critical avenue for commerce," he explains.

Internet cafe in Beijing

The great firewall of China
"What comes along with that commercial avenue though is access to quite a bit of information that can be quite threatening to authoritarian regimes."

And the ways that different countries have attempted to combat this threat are numerous.

In North Korea only selected government officials get access to the net and then on connections rented from China. It does not even have its own national net domain, .nk.

In Turkmenistan, access is denied to almost everyone. And in many other countries, access is becoming more difficult as governments recognise the potential influence of the internet.

In Burma, for example, computers in internet cafes automatically take a screen capture every five minutes to monitor what users are viewing.

In January this year Iran enacted a new law requiring bloggers to register their sites with the authorities.

But it is China which has one of the most sophisticated and ambitious internet censorship programmes.

The country's ruling Communist party was quick to latch on to the internet's potential - and was focusing on it at around the same time as Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Great firewall of China

China aims to make the internet available to everyone in the country - potentially doubling today's global figure of one billion regular users - but because of recent history, it also intends to strictly govern what can and cannot be seen.

Abdel Kareem Nabil Soliman
Soliman's sentence was condemned by human rights groups
"After Tiananmen in 1989, the government convened a whole range of crisis meetings - and in one of those meetings, put forward a plan for using the internet for control of China's government administration," says Peter Lovelock of the Telecommunications Research Project at the University of Hong Kong.

"That meant never letting the country roll out of control like it had at Tiananmen. They started building these huge internet backbones then and there... the Chinese authorities said, 'we are going to put everybody on the internet - and on our terms'."

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on building what is known as the Great Firewall Of China - a network of state-licensed internet access providers, and around 30,000 internet police censors who filter sites between China and the rest of the world.

The BBC News website, for example, continues to be blocked in China.

But Western companies have been accused of collaborating with the Chinese authorities in order to gain access to China's rapidly-growing market - Microsoft censors Chinese blogs, while Google has set up its own version of its site for the Chinese market, on which it blocks politically-sensitive terms in agreement with conditions set by Beijing.

"The major corporations are going to self-censor - they are not going to do anything which will bring them to the attention of the government for the way in which they deploy their internet access," Mr Lovelock adds.

Blogging power

Despite the risks, however, there are nearly 20 million bloggers in China - up from just 2,000 at the end of 2002.

Although Beijing views most bloggers as harmless, those who called for free elections have received long jail sentences; China jails more dissident bloggers than any other country.

RSF last year released a report saying net users have also been jailed in Egypt, Iran, Libya, the Maldives, Syria, Tunisia and Vietnam.

Mr Pain highlighted in particular the case of Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil Soliman, sentenced to four years in prison after being accused of insulting Islam on his blog and criticising president Hosni Mubarak.

"He was an easy target," said Mr Pain.

"But it shows that now, bloggers have a real power and influence over politics."

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

FROM THE BBC: 'Best blogs on the web' honoured

Best blogs on the web' honoured
Screengrab from Boing Boing
Boing Boing won the coveted overall best blog prize
The best of the web's blogs - online diaries or websites where people publish their thoughts - have been recognised in the annual Bloggies.

Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things took the top overall blog prize.

The prize for the best British blog and the lifetime achievement award went to plasticBag.org, a site dedicated to musings about people and new media.

The winners from 30 categories were announced at the SXSW Interactive Festival in Texas, US.

Boing Boing is written by Cory Doctorow, Xeni Jardin, Mark Frauenfelder, and David Pescovitz, and moved to the web five years ago though it started life as a paper-based magazine in 1988.

"We honestly didn't expect this, and we are deeply moved and grateful," Boing Boing's Xeni Jardin said on the site.

"There were many other deserving blogs up for awards, backed by talented folks who work very hard, and we raise our collective pirate-eye-patches in their honour."

Blogs have been highlighted as a growing trend amongst net users over the last 18 months.

Most are easy and free to set up, require little technical knowledge. Many are blurring the line between journalism and online commentary.

Gossip and politics

Gawker Media, a blog publishing house, and Dooce, written by one of the first people to be fired for writing a blog, dominated the annual awards, picking up four prizes each.

Heather Armstrong, a web designer, gained notoriety when she was fired from her job for what she had written on her blog about her workplace and colleagues.

She helped coin the phrase "dooced", which means to be sacked because of a weblog's content.

Her site ended the night as the best US, most humorous, best taglined, and best-written blog.

Screengrab from The Bloggies website
Gawker Media, which runs several high-profile blog sites, won best entertainment blog for Defamer, a gossip site.

It also picked up the award for best technology blog, which was handed to Gizmodo. Gawker's Wonkette blog was also named best political blog.

The site rewarded for its "community" efforts was technology blog Slashdot.

Flickr, the photo sharing and community site which lets people upload, tag, share and publish their images to blogs, won recognition for the best "meme" - a "replicating idea that spread about weblogs".

The organiser of the Bloggies, Nikolai Nolan, said there had been a lot more new finalists this year. Several entries reflected specific news events, like the Asian tsunami.

Blogs had a big year last year, with a top US dictionary naming "blog" word of 2004.

Technorati, a blog search engine, tracks more than seven million blogs and says that more than 12,000 are added daily.

But a recent Gallup survey revealed that only one in four Americans were either very familiar or somewhat familiar with blogs.

More than half, 56%, said they had no knowledge of them. Among internet users, only 32% said they were very or somewhat familiar with them.

Blogs in the annual Bloggies are chosen and voted for by the public.

Monday, March 12, 2007

نشطاء الانترنت وتغيير الواقع


ويعلق أحمد يوسف المتخصص في المواقع الالكترونية أن نشطاء الانترنت مثل كريم عامر مصرون على تغيير الواقع الاجتماعي مهما كانت العواقب، ولذلك فان المدونين رغم اختلافهم مع آراء كريم إلا أنهم ضد مبدأ الحبس نفسه، منطلقين في ذلك من رؤية أن من حقه وحقهم كمدونين أن يكتبوا ما يريدون حتى لو تضمن ذلك آراء ضد الأديان وضد المقدسات في حياتنا.

وأضاف: تناقشت مع عدد من هؤلاء النشطاء.. وسمعت منهم أن ما يكتبونه مجرد بوح مكتوب وانعكاس لما يقال أحيانا في الغرف المغلقة داخل المجتمع وتعبير عن آراء في الشارع حتى لو كانت نادرة.

ويرى أنه إذا كانت المدونات التي تقدم آراء مكتوبة تثير مثل هذه الضجة والاهتمام الآن، فان الكثير سينتج عن مدونات الفيديو وستصبح قنابل اعلامية مؤثرة ومثيرة في المستقبل القريب، مشيرا إلى أن وضع قيود على المدونين سيقود إلى الحد من الحرية المتاحة للانترنت وهذا غير مطلوب أو مفيد.

ويعتقد أحمد يوسف أنه لابد من ابتداء من اعتراف مؤسسات وكليات الاعلام بالمدونات كاعلام بديل أوصحافة شعبية، فهذا من شأنه مساهمة هذه الجهات في تقديم هذه التجربة بالشكل الافضل عما عليه الآن، وبالتأكيد نحن امام اعلام بديل مع تطور عرض صور الفيديو وسهولته عبر مواقع الانترنت والتصوير بالهاتف المحمول التي ستكتسح الاعلام في العام الحالي.

وقال: ما يشغلنا حاليا هو السؤال عن مصداقية معلومات المدونات، من حيث صحة المعلومة أو أن الصور التي يعرضونها ليست مفبركة. كمتخصص لست متأكدا من الاجابة على ذلك، ومع هذا فان هناك اقبالا من الشباب وتعاطفا مع المدونين.

وأضاف: ليس عندي شيء استطيع ان اقوله بشأن ما يجب فعله تجاه كريم.. هذا يحتاج لوجهة نظر شرعية أو دينية، لكن الاعلاميين رافضون تماما لوضع شاب في السجن لمجرد أنه اعترف بإلحاده، ويرون أن ذلك مؤشر سلبي جدا للحرية والديمقراطية.

وأوضح أحمد يوسف: أنا شخصيا أعتقد أن على المدونين أن يعبروا عن آرائهم بحرية دون المساس بالأديان وبتقاليد المجتمع أو التهجم على الآخر، فللأسف هناك سلبيات في المدونات، ولا أرضى مثلا لأختى أن تقرأ بعضها بسبب احتوائها على ألفاظ جارحة، وعندما بحثت ذلك مع كبار المدونين جاء تبريرهم بأنها ألفاظ تشبه لغة الحكومة، لكني ضد هذا الأسلوب وضد التعدي على الأديان رغم انني من أنصار المدونات والليبرالية.

وأشار إلى أن الطريقة الأفضل للتعامل مع شاب صغير مثل كريم كانت تحتاج إلى بحوث مشتركة بين رجال القانون ورجال الدين، لأن حالته لا زالت مرتبكة حاليا، فهو مصر على "خطئه" وعلى آرائه الصادمة، وفي نفس الوقت محبوس 4 سنوات، وهناك خلفية اجتماعية لم يتم الانتباه لها، فمن الواضح أن تربيته الأسرية ولدت ضغطا شديدا عليه، بالاضافة إلى ضغوط شديدة واجهها في الأزهر، ومن ثم فقد تمرد لأنه مر بحالات خاصة.
عودة للأعلى

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Egypt's bloggers test state media control

Egypt's bloggers test state media control

By Alaa Shahine
Monday, March 5, 2007; 12:32 AM

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian bloggers have come into the spotlight, on the one hand as an important forum for political debate, on the other as the target of government attempts to limit their freedom of expression.

Earlier this month, Abdel-Karim Suleiman, a 22-year-old former law student at al-Azhar Islamic university, became the first Egyptian jailed for his blogging when he was handed a four-year prison sentence.

"Despite their small number, the bloggers have established themselves as an alternative media outlet," said Ehab el-Zalaky, a senior editor at the independent weekly newspaper al-Dustor, who has written extensively on bloggers.

Blogs also provide a platform for religious and social minorities whose issues rarely find space in traditional media.

Anti-Christian discrimination in Egypt is documented in one. Blogs by lesbians discussing their desires and feelings are new outlets for self-expression.

"In a society too conservative to accept these relationships, it was the first time for such explicit bold talk to appear in an Egyptian media outlet," said Zalaky.


The case against Suleiman, a Muslim and a liberal who uses the name Kareem Amer on his blog, was based on a complaint by al-Azhar University about eight articles written since 2004.

Suleiman accused the conservative Sunni institution of promoting extremist thought and described some companions of the Prophet Mohammad as "terrorists." He also compared President Hosni Mubarak to the dictatorial Pharaohs of ancient Egypt.

Bloggers and human rights organisations have condemned the conviction of Suleiman. They fear it sets a dangerous precedent for Internet censorship in Egypt, home to some 5,000 blogs across a population of more than 70 million people.

The Foreign Ministry has criticised the reactions to the verdict and said it was an internal matter and up to the judiciary to decide on.

Writing on his blog (http://karam903.blogspot.com) shortly before his detention in November, Suleiman was defiant.

"I am not scared at all ... I will not back away one inch from what I wrote and handcuffs will not prevent me from dreaming of my freedom," he blogged.

Since Suleiman's arrest, said fellow blogger Wael Abbas, 32, Egypt's blogosphere has changed. "I cannot say I am not afraid," he told Reuters. "With this government one has to expect the worst."


Bloggers broke a major story in November when a number of them posted video footage and pictures of an Egyptian minibus driver screaming as he was sodomised, purportedly at a police station.

The images led to the arrest of two police officers who now stand trial on charges of torture.

More torture footage has since appeared on the Internet, with the latest clip posted by Abbas showing a man in a police uniform beating and insulting two civilians.

Viewed nearly 26,000 times on Abbas's blog (http://misrdigital.blogspirit.com), the video's authenticity could not be verified.

The Interior Ministry said allegations of systematic torture were exaggerated and part of a campaign to tarnish the image of the police.

Late last year, Abbas and another blogger reported what they said was mass sexual harassment of women in downtown Cairo by scores of young men.

The government denied the incident but the bloggers' detailed description sparked an outcry in the independent Egyptian media.

"The time when they (authorities) thought they had control over everything has come to an end," Abbas wrote on his blog.

Hala Botros, a blogger who writes on what she calls anti-Christian discrimination in Egypt, says that while she and many others in the religiously conservative country may not agree with Suleiman, he is entitled to express his views.


Botros, 42, says she was also persecuted by security authorities for reporting on a number of sectarian clashes between Muslims and the Christian minority in southern Egypt.

"They beat up my father at night on the street and told him: 'This is a gift from your daughter'," she said. "I was summoned to the police during the night and they treated me roughly. I was kept in solitary confinement for hours."

Prosecutors later charged Botros with harming national security and publishing false news. She was released on bail and forced to shut down her blog, Copts Without Borders.

The international group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has added Egypt to its list of Internet Black Holes.

RSF said one spur for this was a court ruling authorising the Egyptian government to block or suspend any Web site likely to pose a threat to national security.

"This could open the way to extensive online censorship," said RSF in a statement.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Imprisoned blogger's supporters say Egypt no place for UN Internet Talks

Imprisoned blogger's supporters say Egypt no place for UN Internet Talks
By Staff writers, TechWeb | 26 February 2007 07:54 AEST | General News

Human rights activists around the globe are expressing outrage over a four-year prison sentence given to a blogger for criticizing his government and university.

Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have condemned the sentencing of Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman. Human Rights Watch said it is the first time an Egyptian court has sentenced a blogger to prison. Reporters Without Borders called Thursday's sentence a "disgrace" and urged the United Nations not to choose Egypt as a location for the 2009 Internet Governance Forum.

"Such a choice would completely discredit the UN process for debating the future of the Internet," said the free press advocacy group in a statement. "It is time the international community took a stand on Egypt's repeated violations of press freedom and the rights of Internet users."

Reporters Without Borders and other groups said the sentence was meant to intimidate other Egyptian bloggers and would likely chill free speech.

Suleiman, who blogged under the pseudonym Kareem Amer, was arrested in November. Authorities accused him of spreading rumors likely to disturb the peace, inciting hatred of Islam, and insulting President Hosni Mubarak. He received three years for inciting hatred of Islam and one year for insulting Mubarak, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Suleiman, a 22-year-old former law student at Al-Azhar University, wrote that he supports human rights and opposes groups that oppress them. He called his school the "university of terrorism," according to an account on a Muslim news site based in the United States.

Bahraini blogger Esra'a Al-Shafei, who created FreeKareem.org to call for the blogger's release, was one of many readers to conclude that some of his writings were offensive -- and still supports his right to express his views.

"I cannot support his imprisonment merely because he said a few things that insult my identity," Al-Shafei wrote in a statement posted on FreeKareem. "Freedom of expression and open exchange of ideas must be respected."

Human Rights Watch said the laws that authorities accused Suleiman of violating contradict the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Egypt ratified 25 years ago. The agreement guarantees free expression through art and media. Egyptian laws, however, prohibit the dissemination of information, including news, which could disrupt security, spread horror, or harm the public interest. They also allow imprisonment for offending the president and for discrimination based on race, origin, or belief, if the "instigation is likely to disturb public order," according to excerpts published by Human Rights Watch.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said the Eyptian government should honor its commitment to free expression and release the blogger immediately.
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