#17 2015

Rule of law and creative innovation are necessary to counter digital control

“Thirty-four percent of writers in free countries, 44 percent in partly-free countries, and 61 percent in not free countries are actively self-censoring, and they are avoiding certain topics on social media.”

Society’s use of digital surveillance is here to stay. But we are not wholly powerless in the face of it. If we are prepared to fight for our freedom of expression there are ways to secure our protection. Writer Deji Bryce Olukotun maps several paths to follow: defend the rule of law, learn encryption technology that is becoming ever easier to use, and be creatively inventive.

A murdered blogger’s last words

Writer and blogger Ananta Bijoy Dash wrote several entries on his Facebook page just hours before he was killed in the street in the town Sylhet in Northern Bangladesh on May 12. He contributed on a regular basis to the

The battle over Turkey’s internet

The passing of law 5651 in Turkey has made it possible for the Turkish government to block access to web pages that contain ‘undesirable’ material. This is part of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğans attempt to suppress any

Online publication in Iran—a new arena for censored writers

The use of the Internet is growing in Iran—the country has more than forty-six million Internet users and half of the population have access to smart phones. This opens up new channels for publishers to make banned or

Mass surveillance and online censorship—the PEN International perspective

Since Snowden’s revelations PEN has scrutinized mass surveillance laws in several countries the world over. Sarah Clarke, International Policy and Advocacy Officer at PEN International, writes about how the introduction of

Wrong values? No money: On China’s new “social credit system”

Today China is on the digital forefront. It has the most Internet users in the world and here new technology is being tested. The country, however, also has a sad record when it comes to controlling the digital habits of

Speak to me—intelligence programmes can only read

In sci-fi literature ‘low tech’ is a way of evading control; simple technology is harder to trace than more advanced. Zeng Jinyan, blogger and human rights activist, writes about how Chinese dissidents often use a simple

Ever more information; less and less freedom

At the end of the 1990s ECHELON popped up as a new acronym on the international debating scene. Journalists, also journalists in New Zeeland, published information concerning the gathering of signals intelligence during the Cold War saying that this had not diminished. Instead it had increased to ever more astronomic proportions and was also now being used to monitor for example the network traffic of European companies. The issue was at first regarded with scepticism almost as if it was one conspiracy theory among others, until no other than James Woolsey, the former director of the CIA, confirmed that the system existed and was being used in this way. Technology had made it possible.

At the time the world was in the decade’s calmest period of détente following the fall of the Iron Curtain and before 9/11. Notwithstanding, the digital surveillance systems spread quicker than ever and security services encroached ever more on the integrity of the citizens and on business secrets—simply because it was technically possible.

To reverse technological development is neither possible nor desirable. Nobody is surprised that non-democratic countries such as China and Iran use digital surveillance to keep their citizens in control—this is the very nature of totalitarian thinking. In the meantime though democratic countries’ intelligence services and monitoring activities, with reference to the security of their citizens, are becoming a threat to the freedom of speech. In order to protect you we need to spy on you, map your face, your shopping habits, and your manner of walking—or else you are in danger. This information is then used to curtail the rights of the populace. It is now possible to apprehend anyone anywhere and to move them any place for interrogation—all in the name of freedom. Also, we are prone to disregard the fact that the data information systems have gaps and inconsistencies that can result in very warped outcomes.