27 Aug 2014

Online freedoms in Serbia still under threat, analysis shows

By Guest author

SHARE Foundation, an organisation dedicated to protecting digital rights in Serbia, analysed the state of online media freedoms in the country. Examples of technical attacks on media websites, threats and insults to online journalists show a worrying trend of pressure in the digital environment.

During the devastating floods that hit Serbia and the region in May 2014, many cases were witnessed where freedom of expression and information online were endangered. Websites that published information criticising the actions of the Serbian government during the floods were attacked and the entire blog section on a popular daily newspaper website was taken down after a satirical post. Also, citizens were questioned by the police because they expressed their opinion on social media. In the following two months, the situation did not improve to an appreciable extent.

These issues caused reactions from the international community. OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, expressed her concerns because of the incidents, while the Head of the European Union Delegation in Serbia, Michael Davenport, and the United States Ambassador to Serbia, Michael Kirby, called for the respect of the right to free speech on the Internet. Member of the European Parliament Marietje Schaake sent a letter to European Commissioner Stefan Füle regarding the media situation in Serbia.

Several Serbian media websites, as well as a blog written by two journalists, could not be accessed on multiple occasions due to offensive technical measures, such as distributed denial-of-service (DdoS) attacks. For example, pescanik.net, a web portal of an independent radio station promoting civil society values, was attacked during June 2014 after it published articles about the allegedly plagiarised PhD thesis of the Serbian Minister of Internal Affairs and the allegedly non-existent London PhD of the former rector of a well-known private university in Serbia. One of the authors of the articles about the PhD scandals claimed that her private email correspondence has been illegally accessed. Another example is the website of the daily newspaper Kurir, which was also attacked and made inaccessible several times, the most recent attack occurring on 10 August 2014. It should be noted that these are not the first cases of media websites being under attack. Last December, the website of the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS) was hacked after it published a story about self-censorship in the Serbian online media. They suffered technical attacks again this February.

Pressure on journalists has also become frequent in Serbia, especially on the local level. Natalija Miletic, a Serbian journalist working in Germany, asked Prime Minister of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic questions about alleged media censorship and plagiarism during a joint press conference in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She did not receive answers. After the conference the Serbian Embassy in Berlin told her not to request press passes in the future. RTV journalist Mladenovac Dragan Nikolic was arrested because of a post on his Facebook profile about the recent floods – because he allegedly “damaged the reputation” of a high-ranking official of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SPP).

These examples taken from the analysis by the SHARE Foundation show that the state of freedom of expression and media in the Serbian online sphere is of considerable concern. The great number of different cases that happened during the past two months highlights that state bodies need to be more active in solving problems and reacting to violations of digital rights and freedoms. Tendencies of different actors to discourage citizens and media to express themselves freely on the Internet create a “chilling effect” and we must continue our struggle for the Internet as a place of open access, as well as free and decentralised exchange of information. It is very important to openly speak about all problems that endanger freedom of speech and information on the Internet so they do not become “business as usual”.

To create awareness for freedom of speech and other digital civil rights issues in the region, EDRi, the SHARE Foundation and Wikimedia are organising an event “Energise! Network! Mobilise!” on 4-5 September in Belgrade, Serbia. The two-day event consisting of panels and workshops will gather activists, civil society organisations and citizens interested in learning more about these issues to exchange their experiences, share knowledge and network.

Analysis of Internet freedoms in Serbia

Energise! Network! Mobilise! in Belgrade, 4-5 September

Internet remembers everything

Government online censorship in Serbia worrying trend, says OSCE media freedom representative (27.05.2014)

Letter to Štefan Füle concerning censorship in Serbia (11.06.2014)

The big Serbian information shutdown (07.07.2014)

Online and citizen media on a turning point: if they wish, web platforms can be equalled with media (06.08.2014)

(Contribution by Bojan Perkov, SHARE Foundation, Serbia)



27 Aug 2014

Europe vs. Facebook class action attracts over 60 000 plaintiffs

By Guest author

Privacy activist Max Schrems, founder of the “Europe-v-Facebook” initiative, is known for his battles involving Internet social network giant Facebook. However, all the lawsuits he filed in Ireland haven’t led to meaningful outcomes, so far.

Therefore, Mr. Schrems now takes a different approach, by suing Facebook Ireland Ltd. This time he has filed suit in front of a court in his home country, Austria, and he asked the public to join him: it was possible for any Facebook user of age who is not located in the USA or Canada to join the legal battle against Facebook’s numerous alleged violations of European privacy laws. This is due to the fact that every Facebook user worldwide, living outside of the US or Canada, has a contract with Facebook Ireland Ltd. Mr. Schrems is claiming 500 Euro in symbolic damages per contributing joint plaintiff for alleged privacy violations such as Facebook contributing to NSA´s PRISM program, Graph Search, the Facebook app or third party tracking via “Like Buttons”.

Within just a few days, more than 25 000 people signed up at www.fbclaim.com in order to participate in the class action suit. This turned the initiative, almost overnight, into the largest privacy class action throughout Europe. It also forced Europe-v-Facebook to close the registration early, as every joint plaintiff has to be reviewed separately. However, one can still register as an interested person. Max Schrems and his team may later decide to add more registered users to the class action. Also, an increasing number of people who indicate they want to take part in the class action may strengthen the public position of Mr. Schrems and his team.

On 21 August, the group took their first successful step in the legal proceedings: the Vienna Regional Court ordered Facebook Ireland to respond to the class action within four weeks, with a possibility that thedeadline could get extended by four further weeks.

At the time as the court order was announced, already more than 35 000 additional individuals had registered at www.fbclaim.com.

Facebook class action: Registration for interested parties

Class action against Facebook attracts 60,000 users (21.08.2014)

Facebook needs to defend Austrian privacy violation case (22.08.2014)

Press Announcment: Class Action: Facebook ordered to submit counterstatement (21.08.2014)

Vienna Regional Court: Request for Facebook to respond (19.08.2014)

Facebook class action – FAQ

(Contribution by Josef Irnberger, EDRi-member Initiative für Netzfreiheit, Austria)



27 Aug 2014

Ukraine: Sanctions against Russia to result in media censorship?

By Heini Järvinen

On 12 August, the Ukrainian parliament (Verkhovna Rada) approved in first reading a draft law (No. 4453) to impose sanctions on Russian companies and individuals over their alleged support and financing of separatism in Ukraine. The draft law included provisions to allow the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council (RNBO) to shut down or block any website or TV or radio station without a court order on the grounds of national security.

The draft law was submitted to the parliament by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on 8 August, only four days before the first reading, with no input from outside advisers. It was made available to the public only once it had passed the first reading, with an impact study stating that

“the bill does not require consultation with civil society”.

Local journalists and media activists as well as international press freedom organisations immediately criticised the draft law, calling it a “major setback for freedom of information in Ukraine”, and accusing the government of using concerns about national security as an excuse to introduce censorship.

As a response to the quick reaction from civil society, Mykola Tomenko, parliamentary deputy and head of the parliament’s committee on freedom of speech, announced on 13 August that the parliament was working to remove the media censorship elements from the draft law.

Tetiana Semiletko, a lawyer working for the Kyiv-based Media Law Institute stated that

“we also see that our own media might be banned, shut down or restricted, with nothing more than a decision by the security council and a presidential decree.”

On 14 August, the parliament voted to adopt the national security law. 244 parliamentarians out of 450 supported its adoption. The law establishes a legal right to implement sanctions against 172 individuals and 65 entities in Russia and other countries for supporting “terrorism” in Ukraine. The sanctions include a provision to halt natural gas transit from Russia through Ukrainian territory, and to target Russia’s defence, financial and transport sectors.

Compared to the draft law approved on first reading, most of the censorship measures were removed or softened, and the law will not have impact on the freedom of media. However, even if the suggested media provisions were finally dropped, the parliament has proposed moving some of them into existing media laws to achieve more control over media and to simplify imposing bans. The threat is therefore very much alive.

Ukrainian parliament approves very dangerous draft law on first reading (12.08.2014)

Ukrainian law would allow authorities to block websites, along with other media (13.08.2014)

New sanctions bill raises free-press fears in Ukraine (13.08.2014)

Ukraine approves bill to impose sanctions on Russia (14.08.2014)

In the fight against Russia, Ukraine flirts with kremlinesque Internet censorship (14.08.2014)

Ukraine passes law on Russia sanctions, gas pipelines (14.08.2014)



27 Aug 2014

Google now supports AND opposes the “right to be forgotten”

By Joe McNamee

In April 2014, the European Court of Justice ruled, unremarkably, that Google should amend search results that are unfair to individual users – if they are clearly out of date and irrelevant, for example. Google’s reaction was ferocious – it launched a major press campaign to try to undermine the legal basis for the ruling, it actively contacted journalists telling them that their articles had been consigned to some sort of Orwellian “memory hole”, it set up a committee of wise elders to advise them on how to deal with this terrible decision.

Although the ruling could have been significantly clearer, Google’s interpretation is unquestionably wrong. It claims that the Court is demanding that Google take arbitrary decisions that limit fundamental freedoms. However, this interpretation is quite obviously legally impossible, as this would mean that the Court made a fundamental mistake in law, contradicting Article 52 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which explicitly says that restrictions on fundamental freedoms must be provided for by law.

The media avalanche has now given additional ammunition to those countries in the Justice Council that are seeking to kill or weaken ad absurdum the European Commission’s proposal to update and clarify European data protection rules – not that this was Google’s intention, of course.

But then, after Google’s energetic opposition to fixing unfair, damaging search results for private individuals, Google images threw up an unfair, damaging search result for a company. At 15.29 on 19 August, a Twitter user sent a message to the British company Greggs, pointing out that searches for the company’s name led to Google displaying a satirical version of their logo. Greggs responded two minutes later. Fifty-nine minutes, Google confirmed that it had amended its search results with no complaints, no court case, no committee of wise internet elders to advise them on the challenge of the right thing to do when search results are manifestly unfair.

Greggs’ famous pies and pastries have far more consistency than Google’s policy on amending search results.

Exchange of tweets between Google and Greggs bakery (19.08.2014)



27 Aug 2014

Canadian data broker tries to sell hacked online customer data

By Guest author

A Canadian man, Jason Ferguson, is currently under an ongoing investigation after he tried to resell hacked data of 650,000 customers of the Irish bookmaker, Paddy Power, for the price of 7,600 Euro (or a fraction over one cent per person). The hacked files, containing the names, email addresses, emails and birthdates were initially illegally obtained in 2010 before Jason Ferguson allegedly bought it from an unnamed online seller in Malta.

While personal data of thousands of consumers have been exposed in this incident, Ferguson believes he did not commit any crime as he claimed to have legally purchased those data for marketing purposes before trying to sell it as a “data broker”.

This data breach also puts the light on the lack of oversight in the activities of data brokers. While Canada and the EU have an established adequacy mechanism for the protection of personal data, it did not suffice to stop Ferguson from buying hacked data or to punish the infringement. At a time where the EU is trying to adopt a new framework for data protection, enhancing users’ control over their personal information, greater control over data brokers operation must be adopted.

Studies have already pointed out the incredible journey your personal data can take, when purchasing online for instance, leading your information to end up in the hand of businesses or persons you never heard of before, such as Jason Ferguson.

International instruments exist to fight against cybercrime in order to reduce the number of these types of incidents, such as the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime. It is unfortunate however that several countries, such as Canada, who was involved in the drafting process and signed this Convention feel no particular need to implement measures to address such abuses nor, indeed, to sign or ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Processing of Personal Data.

Broker tried to sell details of 650,000 Paddy Power customers for €7,600 (12.08.2014)

Commission decisions on the adequacy of the protection of personal data in third countries

The big deal with personal data (only in German)

Council of Europe Convention on Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data

(Contribution by Estelle Massé, EDRi member Access, International)



27 Aug 2014

Internet Ungovernance Forum – civil society counterbalance to IGF

By Guest author

The ninth Internet Governance Forum (IGF) will be held on 2-5 September 2014 in Istanbul, with the theme “Connecting Continents for Enhanced Multistakeholder Internet Governance”. Although civil society and activists who are fighting for a free Internet are reassembled in the IGF meetings, governments and corporations have a much larger representation. As an attempt to shift the balance towards the civil society, The local Turkish EDRi member Alternative Informatics Association will therefore be organising an Internet Ungovernance Forum (IUF) on 4-5 September, to discuss the problems facing the free and open Internet in an open and non-hierarchical atmosphere that is in line with the spirit of Internet.

The main focus of the event will be censorship and surveillance issues, along with the measures to circumvent them. In addition to the panel discussions, there will also be a workshop concentrating on the Internet governance with the participation of Milton Mueller, Professor at Syracuse University School of Information Studies, USA, and other specialists working in this area. The workshop will aim to shed light on:the complicated and overlapping institutions that claim to be working on Internet governance, how activists concerned with local censorship and surveillance fit into these global structures, and how the IGF, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), and Netmundial are relevant to our collective activities.

Internet Ungovernance Forum

Governance or Ungovernance – A strategy workshop for Internet activists

Internet Governance Forum

(Contribution by Melih Kirlidog, EDRi member Alternatif Bilisim, Turkey)



27 Aug 2014

ENDitorial: ISDS Consultation – redefining “omnishambles”

By Joe McNamee

Earlier this year, the European Commission was faced with a problem. The inclusion of dangerous, anti-democratic “investor-state dispute resolution” (ISDS) in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the planned EU/US trade agreement, was threatening to become a major political problem. There was a particular danger for the Commission that this would become an issue in the European Parliament elections. The temporary solution that was found by the Commission was to launch a “consultation”. By appearing not to have made up its mind on the issue, this was intended to take the heat out of the debate until it was too late for democratic input by European citizens. The strategy worked very well for the European Commission as it did, indeed, reduce the impact of ISDS on the election campaign.

However, the European Commission would still have preferred to be told that it was correct to include ISDS in trade agreements. In a spectacular example of “worst practice” in framing what was (in theory, at least) a neutral, open consultation, the Commission included propaganda explaining why it believed that ISDS was necessary and asked citizens to answer the questions “bearing in mind” the sales pitch that the Commission had provided. This is not politically competent. This is not methodologically competent. This is not an open consultation in any reasonable understanding of those words.

The consultation generated a huge number of responses from citizens opposing the sell-out of European democracy and judicial systems. Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht was baffled. He could not understand why citizens would not do what they were told and simply believe the propaganda that they were given. He could not understand the temerity of ordinary people expressing views different from those that his staff put in his briefing papers. His response was to describe the large volumes of responses as an “attack” on the Commission.

But it gets worse, now it transpires that, at the same time as the Commission was claiming that it wanted to get feedback on ISDS, it had included provisions in the Canada-EU Trade Agreement (CETA). Not alone this, but analysis of the leaks shows (in perfect consistency with the European Commission’s approach) that the Commission has abjectly failed to include the safeguards that it had previously promised, and, according to analysts, was unaware of this! DG Trade cannot, it appears, even do bad properly.

EU re-think following discovery of major flaw in CETA shows the benefits of transparency (19.03.2014)

Wikipedia: Omnishambles

EDRi: EU Commissioner on ISDS consultation: “An outright attack” (30.07.2014)

Statement of concern about planned provisions on investment protection and ISDS in the TTIP

20 Aug 2014

Energise! Network! Mobilise!

By Heini Järvinen

On 4-5 September EDRi will organise an event Energise! Network! Mobilise! in Belgrade, Serbia, to create awareness for digital civil rights issues, exchange experiences, transfer knowledge and network.


The two day event will be organised in cooperation with the Share Foundation, Wikimedia Deutschland and Vikimedija Srbije.

The panels and workshops will cover a wide scale of digital rights issues, including a panel on violations of Internet freedoms in Serbia (by Share Foundation), a copyright advocacy strategy workshop (by Dimitar Dimitrov, Wikimedia), technical workshops (by kheops, Telecomix), and a panel on civil society capacity-building (by Katarzyna Szymielewicz, Panoptykon).

We invite everyone interested to join us and register here.



04 Aug 2014

EU Commission wants to exchange views with civil society in preparation of the IGF – we want your input!

By Kirsten Fiedler

In preparation of the next Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which will be held in Istanbul on 2-5 September, the European Commission organises an exchange views with civil society and invited us to participate in a webinar on 7 August (see agenda below). The IGF is a platform where activists, industry, academics and policy-makers discuss and develop solutions to Internet governance problems.

While we welcome the EU Commission’s effort to increase the involvement of civil society, we are less sure if this is the solution to ensure “the multistakeholder model works well”. Especially after the NETmundial conference, the future of the “multistakeholder” approach has been heatedly discussed. Hopefully, the upcoming IGF will not only be an opportunity to move forward on this question but also to tackle real problems in Internet governance.

In order to make sure that important issues such as freedom of speech, surveillance, privacy and Turkey’s recent censorship activities are being discussed and tackled, EDRi-member Alternative Informatics Association is organising an Internet Ungovernance Forum (IUF) with logistical support from the Bilgi University.

If you wish us to ask your questions and raise your concerns regarding the upcoming IGF during the webinar organised by the Commission, you can tweet them mentioning #EUIGF #IGF2014 – or send us an email before 6 August to brussels [at] edri.org!

Here is the draft agenda of the webinar:

1. An intense year for Internet governance – taking stock of Internet governance developments
Debrief by the European Commission and exchange of information and views with participants

2. Preparations for the Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul
Debrief by the European Commission and exchange of information and views with participants

3. How can civil society play a bigger role in Internet governance discussions, and in particular in the IGF?
Debrief by the European Commission and exchange of views on on-going fundraising efforts for the IGF Trust Fund and other possibilities for in-kind contributions.

Btw, if you cannot make it in person to the next IGF, you can register for remote participation in the IGF before 15 August.


31 Jul 2014

Good Lord! Lords forget their own right to be forgotten analysis

By Joe McNamee

This week, the House of Lords adopted a report on the Google/Spain case. In their report, they made it very clear that the nonsense around the term “the right to be forgotten” is indeed simply that… nonsense.

The Minister described the expression as “an inaccurate and unhelpful gloss on what happened”. There is no right to be forgotten. All our other witnesses who addressed the issue agreed.*

So far, so sane.

The Lords then appear to have reflected on finding a catchy headline. After all, what is the point in putting out a press release if nobody publishes it? What would be a good headline, they must have wondered… what phrase does the press like so much that none of the facts of the case matter? The choice was obvious… the inaccurate and unhelpful “right to be forgotten”.

‘Right to be forgotten’ is misguided in principle and unworkable in practice, say Lords .

So, when it comes to Google/Spain, the old adage remains faithfully respected and unforgotten – never, ever let the truth get in the way of a good story. Even, it seems, if you have already described your own misrepesentation of the facts as “inaccurate and unhelpful”.

*Emphasis added.