RSF protests over ‘unscrupulous’ censorship, surveillance of journos

Graphic: RSF

On World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released a report denouncing the readiness with which leading internet companies submit to the demands of authoritarian regimes in order to profit.

RSF is also concerned about the many cases of online surveillance of journalists and calls for the creation of binding international regulatory mechanisms.

The trade, plied by companies with expertise in cyber-surveillance, is lucrative but dubious.

RSF condemns the legal void that allows these companies to sell their products to regimes bent on online surveillance and censorship – just to increase their market share.

Recent revelations suggest that the Israeli company NSO is implicated in a case of arbitrary Mexican government surveillance of investigative journalist Rafael Cabrera.

Online surveillance constitutes a serious violation of media freedom.

According to a report published by Der Spiegel on February 25, Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) has spied on journalists with such international media outlets as the BBC, New York Times, and Reuters for years.

RSF also deplores the frequency with which Facebook posts and tweets are reportedly suppressed.

In Turkey, for example, Twitter deployed its local content management tool, which can be used to block access to a tweet or an account from within a given country.

After last July’s abortive coup, Twitter lost no time in complying with orders to censor the accounts of more than 20 journalists and media outlets. There is also concern about Facebook’s active cooperation with certain governments, its deletion of journalistic content, and its opaque content “moderation” policies.

The examples include the fan page of ARA News, a website that covers developments in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and other parts of the Middle East. Facebook blocked the site for several days last December without explanation.

#CollateralFreedom: five censored sites unblocked by RSF

On World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, RSF is also pleased to report that it has embarked on Operation Collateral Freedom #3, with the goal of making online information accessible in countries where it is censored and deterring “Enemies of the internet” from blocking news websites.

After unblocking access to 11 websites in 2015 and six others in 2016, this operation has created alternative access to five more news websites that are blocked in their country of origin: Ozguruz (the well-known Turkish journalist Can Dündar’s new site) in Turkey, Azathabar in Turkmenistan, Meydan TV, reporting on Azerbaijan from exile, Doha News in Qatar, and Alqst in Saudi Arabia.

This operation is based on the technique of mirroring. RSF uses the hosting services of such major companies such as Fastly, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google to create duplicates or “mirrors” of the censored sites.

“Enemies of the Internet” cannot block access to the mirrors without a collateral impact on their own access to these internet giants, hence the operation’s name – Collateral Freedom.

An extension for the Chrome browser created in 2016 facilitates access to the #CollateralFreedom mirror sites.

When someone tries to access one of the original websites from within a country where it is blocked, the icon of the “RSF Censorship Detector” app appears if the extension is installed.

Clicking on this icon automatically redirects the user to RSF’s unblocked mirror site.

RSF has to buy bandwidth to keep the mirror sites accessible. The more they are visited, the faster this bandwidth is used up.

RSF asks all internet users to help pay for this bandwidth in order to prolong access to the mirrors.

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