#UK: #GCHQ Order’s Destruction of Snowden Files, Hard Drive’s, Memory Cards, Under `Watchful Gaze’ of Surveillance Agency”
#AceNewsServices says `Video Released by Guardian shows destruction of `Snowden Fles’ on `GCHQ’s’ Orders’
The Guardian has released a video of the newspaper’s editors destroying hard drives and memory cards with encrypted files leaked by Edward Snowden – under the watchful gaze of experts from GCHQ, the government’s surveillance agency.
It is the first time the footage has been published on-line since The Guardian’s hard drives were demolished on July 20, 2013, in the basement of the newspaper’s London offices.
Three Guardian staff members – deputy editor Paul Johnson, executive director Sheila Fitzsimmons and computer expert David Blishen – are seen taking angle-grinders and drills to the internal components of computers to destroy information on them.
It took three hours to smash up the computers. The journalists then fed the pieces into the GCHQ-provided degausser high-tech equipment, which destroys magnetic fields and erases data, The Guardian said.
Initially, GCHQ officials wanted to inspect the material before destruction, carry out the operation themselves and take the remnants away. But the Guardian refused to let them.
The classified information was stored on four computers, none of which was ever connected to the Internet or any other network.
The UK government saw the destruction of the computers as a way to stop further publications of leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. It gave The Guardian an ultimatum to either hand the Snowden material back, destroy it, or face an injunction. UK Prime Minister David Cameron sent Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood to convey the message.
“We can do this nicely or we can go to law,” Heywood told The Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger during one of their meetings in June and July.
“A lot of people in government think you should be closed down,” he added, The Guardian reported.
Initially reluctant to comply with the government’s demand, The Guardian eventually took the decision to demolish the hard drives with the information on them – as it was seen as the only way to protect the newspaper and its team.
The measure, however, did not stop the flow of #NSA- and #GCHQ- related revelations. Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger told government officials that several copies of the secret documents existed, but only one in the UK. It was known that The Guardian’s columnist Glenn Greenwald, who met Snowden in Hong Kong, had leaked material in Rio de Janeiro. There were further copies in the US, according to Rusbridger.
After the destruction of the hard drives, the paper continued to consult with the government before publishing national security stories.
The release of the video comes a week before a new book by Guardian correspondent Luke Harding, “The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man,” is due to be published.
- Footage released of Guardian editors destroying Snowden hard drives(theguardian.com)
- The day GCHQ came to call on the Guardian(theguardian.com)
#AceSecurityNews says `Snowden’ can extend his asylum every year – lawyer or even apply for `Citizenship’his choice.
Snowden will make up his mind very soon, his legal representative in Russia, Anatoly Kucherena, told Kommersant newspaper.
Meanwhile, a top Russian lawmaker has indicated that Russia will most likely extend Snowden’s asylum. “He will not be sent out of Russia,” Aleksey Pushkov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of Russia’s lower house of Parliament, said Friday at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “It will be up to Snowden,” The New York Times quoted him as saying.
Kucherena did not rule out that Snowden will apply for an extension of his asylum and maybe even seek Russian citizenship in the future.
In an article published by The New Yorker earlier this week, Snowden dismissed as “absurd”accusations from US lawmakers that he might have spied on behalf of Russia when taking troves of classified US government documents. Snowden insisted that he “clearly and unambiguously acted alone, with no assistance from anyone, much less a government.”
Snowden asked why he would have initially fled to Hong Kong and why was he “stuck in the airport forever” – in reference to the forty days he spent stranded in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport – if he was a spy. “Spies get treated better than that,” he said.
Snowden’s statement follows accusations made by the chairs of both the House and Senate intelligence committees last Sunday, which insinuated that he might have collaborated with Russia’s special services.
Speaking to RT earlier this week, Kucherena dismissed any accusations against his client, stressing that he has spent a lot of time with Snowden since June of last year and would have been aware if he had cooperated with the Russian government.
“But I assure everyone that all day-to-day issues, housing rental etc. – all these questions he resolves himself or with my help.”
The lawyer reminded that Snowden recently obtained a job after spending nearly all of his savings.
“So in this case I cannot say that there is any government involvement, because there is none. His life is modest.”
#AceSecurityNews says latest information and opinions from RT on the release of the “TTPP Uncovered: WikiLeaks releases draft of highly-secretive multi-national trade deal” documents together with download at this link PDF
The anti-secrecy group published on Wednesday a 95-page excerpt taken from a recent draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a NAFTA-like agreement that is expected to encompass nations representing more than 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product when it is finally approved: the United States, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, New Zealand and Brunei.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 13, 2013
US President Barack Obama and counterparts from 11 other prospective member states have hammered out the free trade agreement in utmost secrecy for years now, the result of which, according to the White House, would rekindle the economies of all of those involved, including many countries considered to still be emerging.
“The TPP will boost our economies, lowering barriers to trade and investment, increasing exports and creating more jobs for our people, which is my number-one priority,” Obama said during a Nov. 2011 address. The deal, he said, “has the potential to be a model not only for the Asia-Pacific but for future trade agreements” by regulating markets and creating opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses in the growing global marketplace.
Upon the publication of an excerpt obtained by WikiLeaks this week, however, opponents of the act are insisting that provisions dealing with creation, invention and innovation could serve a severe blow to everyone, particularly those the internet realm.
Although the TPP covers an array of topics — many of which have not been covered by past agreements, according to Obama — WikiLeaks has published a chapter from a draft dated August 30, 2013 that deals solely on Intellectual Property, or IP, rights. Previous reports about the rumoured contents of the TPP with regards to IP law have raised concern among activists before, with the California-based Electronic Frontier Foundation going as far warn that earlier leaked draft text suggested the agreement “would have extensive negative ramifications for users’ freedom of speech, right to privacy and due process and hinder people’s’ abilities to innovate,” all of which is being agreed upon without any oversight or observation. Indeed, the thousands of words released by WikiLeaks this week has concreted those fears and has already caused the likes of the EFF and others to sound an alarm.
The newly leaked TPP text confirms it’s a serious threat to users’ rights. Help us stop it:https://t.co/JEfZ5SNMhJ
— EFF (@EFF) November 13, 2013
The IP chapter, wrote WikiLeaks, “provides the public with the fullest opportunity so far to familiarize themselves with the details and implications of the TPP,” an agreement that has largely avoided scrutiny in the mainstream media during its development, no thanks, presumably, to the under-the-table arguments that have led prospective member states to the point they’re at today.
Julian Assange, the Australian founder of the whistleblower site who has been confined to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for over a year now, had particularly harsh words for the TPP in a statement published alongside the draft release.
“If instituted, the TPP’s IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons,” Assange said. “If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.”
Within the IP chapter, the partaking nations in one excerpt agree to “Enhance the role of intellectual property in promoting economic and social development,” but elsewhere suggest that the way such could be accomplished would involve serious policing of the World Wide Web. Later, the countries write they hope to “reduce impediments to trade and investment by promoting deeper economic integration through effective and adequate creation, use, protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights, taking into account the different levels of economic development and capacity as well as differences in national legal systems.”
“Compared to existing multilateral agreements, the TPP IPR chapter proposes the granting of more patents, the creation of intellectual property rights on data, the extension of the terms of protection for patents and copyrights, expansions of right holder privileges and increases in the penalties for infringement,” James Love of Knowledge Ecology International explained after reading the leaked chapter. “The TPP text shrinks the space for exceptions in all types of intellectual property rights. Negotiated in secret, the proposed text is bad for access to knowledge, bad for access to medicine and profoundly bad for innovation.”
Opponents have argued in the past that stringent new rules under the TPP with regards to copyrighted material would cause the price of medication to go up: potentially catastrophic news for residents of member state who may have difficulties affording prescriptions. Public Citizen, a Washington-based consumer advocacy organization, has warned that US Trade Representatives privy to the TPP discussions have demanded provisions that “would strengthen, lengthen and broaden pharmaceutical monopolies on cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS drugs, among others, in the Asia-Pacific region.” Indeed, the leaked chapter suggests drug companies could easily extend and widen patents under the TPP, prohibiting other countries from producing life-saving pills and selling them for less. Outside of the world of medicine, though, the implications that could come with new copyright rules agreed upon my essentially half of the world’s economy are likely to affect everyone.
“One could see the TPP as a Christmas wish-list for major corporations, and the copyright parts of the text support such a view,” Dr. Matthew Rimmer, an expert in intellectual property law, told the Sydney Morning Herald. “Hollywood, the music industry, big IT companies such as Microsoft and the pharmaceutical sector would all be very happy with this.”
WikiLeaks wrote in response that the enforcement measures discussed have “far-reaching implications for individual rights, civil liberties, publishers, internet service providers and internet privacy, as well as for the creative, intellectual, biological and environmental commons.”
“Particular measures proposed include supranational litigation tribunals to which sovereign national courts are expected to defer, but which have no human rights safeguards,” warned WikiLeaks. “The TPP IP Chapter states that these courts can conduct hearings with secret evidence.”
According to the whistleblower site, the IP chapter also includes provisions that rehash some of the very surveillance and enforcement rules from the abandoned SOPA and ACTA treaties that were left to die after public outrage halted any agreement with regards to those legislation.
“The WikiLeaks text also features Hollywood and recording industry inspired proposals – think about the SOPA debacle – to limit internet freedom and access to educational materials, to force internet providers to act as copyright enforcers and to cut off people’s internet access,” Burcu Kilic, an intellectual property lawyer with Public Citizen, explained to the website TorrentFreak.
SOPA, or the Stop Online Privacy Act, was abandoned last year after massive public campaign thwarted the US Congress’ attempt to censor access to certain internet sites were copyrighted content may be incidentally hosted. One of the bill’s biggest opponents, Kim Dotcom of file-sharing sites Megaupload and Mega, was quick to condone WikiLeaks for their release of the TPP draft and condemned those responsible for drafting a bill that he warned would have major consequences for all if approved, including residents of New Zealand such as himself.
“No wonder they kept it secret. What a malicious piece of US corporate lobbying. TPP is about world domination for US corporations. Nothing else. We will stop this madness in New Zealand,” he told RT’s Andrew Blake.
According to WikiLeaks, the Obama administration and senior heads of state from other potential TPP nations have expressed interest in ratifying the agreement before 2014. All of that could now be put in jeopardy.
- Press release: Secret Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) – Environment Chapter(acenewsservices.com)
- WikiLeaks Releases Secret TPP Negotiation Documents: US Pressure, Disagreements, Country Positions(leaksource.wordpress.com)
- TPP Threatens Freedom of the Internet(acenewsservices.com)
#AceSecurityNews says today, 15 January 2014, WikiLeaks released the secret draft text for the entire TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) Environment Chapter and the corresponding Chairs’ Report. The TPP transnational legal regime would cover 12 countries initially and encompass 40 per cent of global GDP and one-third of world trade. The Environment Chapter has long been sought by journalists and environmental groups. The released text dates from the Chief Negotiators’ summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 19-24 November 2013. PDF
The Environment Chapter covers what the Parties propose to be their positions on: environmental issues, including climate change, biodiversity and fishing stocks; and trade and investment in ‘environmental’ goods and services. It also outlines how to resolve environmental disputes arising out of the treaty’s subsequent implementation. The draft Consolidated Text was prepared by the Chairs of the Environment Working Group, at the request of TPP Ministers at the Brunei round of the negotiations.
When compared against other TPP chapters, the Environment Chapter is noteworthy for its absence of mandated clauses or meaningful enforcement measures. The dispute settlement mechanisms it creates are cooperative instead of binding; there are no required penalties and no proposed criminal sanctions. With the exception of fisheries, trade in ‘environmental’ goods and the disputed inclusion of other multilateral agreements, the Chapter appears to function as a public relations exercise.
Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ publisher, stated: “Today’s WikiLeaks release shows that the public sweetener in the TPP is just media sugar-water. The fabled TPP environmental chapter turns out to be a toothless public relations exercise with no enforcement mechanism.”
The Chairs’ Report of the Environment Working Group also shows that there are still significant areas of contention in the Working Group. The report claims that the draft Consolidated Text displays much compromise between the Parties already, but more is needed to reach a final text. The main areas of contention listed include the role of this agreement with respect to multilateral environmental agreements and the dispute resolution process.
The documents date from 24 November 2013 ─ the end of the Salt Lake City round. They were requested by the Ministers of the TPP after the August 2013 Brunei round. The Consolidated Text was designed to be a “landing zone” document to further the negotiations quickly and displays what the Chairs say is a good representation of all Parties’ positions at the time. The WikiLeaks Consolidated Text and corresponding Chairs’ Report show that there remains a lot of controversy and disagreement within the Working Group. The Consolidated Text published by WikiLeaks is not bracketed, as per the IP Chapter released in November 2013, as it is drafted by the Chairs of the Working Group at their responsibility. Instead, the accompanying Chairs’ Report provides commentary on the draft Consolidated Text and is the equivalent of bracketed disagreements for the countries that have not agreed on certain Articles, and provides their positions.
Current TPP negotiation member states are the United States, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, New Zealand and Brunei. This is the third in the series of Secret Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) leaks published by WikiLeaks.
- The Secret, Scary Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): What You Need to Know(protectingourwaters.wordpress.com)
- Copyright Week: Transparency and the TPP(policynotes.arl.org)
- Press release – Secret Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP)(worldwright.wordpress.com)
- WikiLeaks Exposes Obama Administration’s Weakening of Environmental Policies in TPP(ecowatch.com)
- WikiLeaks Exposes What Obama’s Secret Trade Deal Would Do To The Environment(huffingtonpost.com)
- Obama Trades the Environment for a Trade Deal(thewire.com)
- Administration Is Seen as Retreating on Environment in Talks on Pacific Trade(nytimes.com)
- LEAKED: Secret Trade Document Reveals Weak Environmental Standards(sierraclub.typepad.com)
- Noam Chomsky Says The Trans-Pacific Partnership Will Lower Wages And Increase Insecurity(alternet.org)
- #TPPA Environment Chapter & Chair’s Commentary: WikiLeaks Issues for NZ 1(acenewsservices.com)
One major unresolved issue is the relationship between “the most dangerous leaker in American history” and #WikiLeaks, an organization with an admitted antagonism toward the U.S. and a cozy history with the Kremlin.
Given WikiLeaks’ penchant for facilitating U.S. government leaks, its early involvement in the Snowden saga deserves scrutiny.
On June 12, the same day he leaked specific details of #NSA hacking in China to the South China Morning Post, Snowden contacted #WikiLeaks. The organization subsequently paid for his lodgings and sent top advisor Sarah Harrison to help.
#Snowden and his closest supporters contend that he was on his way to Latin America when the U.S. government stranded him inMoscow, but there are several reasons to doubt that claim.
First, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Janet Reitman of Rolling Stone that he advised #Snowdon against going to Latin America because “he would be physically safest in Russia.”
#WikiLeaks told BI that the Ecuadorian document was meant help #Snowden leave Hong Kong, which raises the question of why he would need it if his passport was still good. The organization has not explained why it would send the #NSA-trained hacker to Russia knowing he would land with a void passport and a bunk travel document.
On July 12, #Snowden’s Moscow lawyer Anatoly Kucherena explained that #Snowden “is in a situation with no way out. He has no passport and can travel nowhere; he has no visa.”
Third, even if #Snowden had proper travel documentation, it’s unclear if Russia’s post-Soviet security services (FSB) would have allowed a systems administrator who beat the NSA vetting system and stole a bunch of intel to simply “pass through the business lounge, on the way to Cuba.”
On Aug. 1 Kucherena, who is employed by the FSB, explained why Russia granted Snowden temporary asylum: “Edward couldn’t come and buy himself tickets to Havana or any other countries since he had no passport.”
We would like to thank the Russian people and all those others who have helped to protect Mr. Snowden. We have won the battle–now the war.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) August 1, 2013
Beyond its role in Snowden’s getaway and its friendliness with Russia, WikiLeaks is also connected to three of the main people with access to the leaked NSA files. This fact does not necessarily tarnish their reporting, but it is intriguing in light of #Wikileaks’ deep involvement with#Snowden.
Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, two journalists contacted by Snowden and then given tens of thousands of documents by Snowden in Hong Kong, sit on the board of a foundation that launched in December 2012 to crowd-source funding for WikiLeaks.
Jacob Appelbaum, a close friend of Poitras and lead author of at least one Der Spiegel story citing the #Snowden leaks, is known as “The American WikiLeaks Hacker” and has co-authored others articles drawing from “internal #NSA documents viewed by SPIEGEL.”
Appelbaum is not a journalist and does not hide his disdain for the #NSA. This week he ended a talk — during which he presented never-before-seen #NSA documents — by saying: “[If] you work for the #NSA, I’d just like to encourage you to leak more documents.”
Assange told the same audience to “join the CIA. Go in there. Go into the ballpark and get the ball and bring it out … all those organizations will be infiltrated by this generation.”
That is the same man largely credited with extricating #Snowden from extradition to the U.S. by sending him to Moscow. The 42-year-old Australian has also hosted a Kremlin-funded TV show. And his political party recently met with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who is staunchly backed by the Kremlin.
No wonder Greenwald told Rolling Stone that “Julian stepping forward and being the face of the story wasn’t great for #Snowden.”
All things considered, Snowden’s affiliation with Assange and WikiLeaks raises a legitimate question: Is the fact that his life is now overseen by a Russian security detail more than an extraordinary coincidence?
Editor’s note: Here’s a graphic that we put together in November to summarize the Snowden saga:
- Re: Edward Snowden’s Relationship With WikiLeaks Should Concern Everyone(wikileaks-forum.com)
- House Intelligence Chairman: Snowden Had Help(businessinsider.com)
- Julian Assange Gave A Very Peculiar Response When He Was Asked About ‘Getting Snowden Out Of The US’(businessinsider.com)
- An Ominous Warning From 1996 About The Huge Risk Involving People Like Edward Snowden(businessinsider.com)
#AceWorldNews says according to a post today in EcoWatch written by Ilana Solomon it was yesterday, Congress pulled a rusty, old tool from the bottom of its toolbox. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Rep. Camp (R-MI) introduced the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014, otherwise known as “fast track,” which could facilitate passage of deeply flawed trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact with limited public and Congressional input. If fast-track legislation is approved by Congress, the President would be able sign the #TPP and then send it to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote—with no room for amendments and limited floor debate. If that sounds backward, it’s because it is.
The#TPP agreement could devastate communities, our climate and our environment. It would open the floodgates for the expansion of natural gas exports and fracking across the U.S. Graphic courtesy of the Electronic Frontier Foundation
First, fast track is an outdated and inappropriate mechanism. It was first passed in 1974 when trade pacts focused on traditional trade issues, like tariffs and quotas. Today, trade pacts like the #TPP cover a broad range of issues including the environment, investment, labour, government procurement, consumer protections and many more things we face in our everyday lives. It is therefore critical that Congress maintain its constitutional authority to oversee trade policy and ensure that trade pacts protect communities, workers and the environment before the pacts get finalized.
Second, fast track is undemocratic. After congressional approval, the President could submit signed trade pacts to Congress for an up-or-down vote within 90 days with all amendments forbidden and a maximum of 20 hours of debate. Even more atrocious is that it would actually allow the President to write legislation that would change U.S. laws to make them conform to the terms of the secretly negotiated trade agreement.
In other words, fast-track authority eliminates a critical constitutional check-and-balance structure that aids most other democratic processes. By stripping Congress of its ability to fully debate and amend the language of today’s all-encompassing trade pacts, fast-track authority renders Congress unable to ensure that trade negotiations result in agreements that benefit communities and the environment.
Third, it’s a risky endeavor that could help rubber-stamp very harmful trade pacts such as the #TPP. The #TPP agreement could devastate communities, our climate and our environment. It would elevate corporations to the level of nations, thus allowing foreign companies to directly sue governments in private trade tribunals over laws and policies that corporations allege reduce their profits. It would also open the floodgates for the expansion of natural gas exports and, therefore,fracking across the U.S.
And the real kicker is that—despite these any many other consequences—there has been virtually no opportunity for public discussion of the trade pact, as no draft text has been publicly revealed. So Congress is actually voting on whether to quickly pass trade agreements it’s never even seen!
Now is the time we need a full discussion about the true costs of the #TPP and other trade pacts—not a process to rush flawed deals through the finish line.
The bottom line is that fast track would set us up for failure. It’s critical that Congress has the ability to effectively oversee trade negotiations and ensure that the contents of our trade agreements protect our workers, communities and environment in the U.S. and abroad. The public and members of Congress have effectively been left in the dark for too long. Now it’s up to Congress to take the reins and oppose fast track. On behalf of the Sierra Club and our 2.1 million members and supports, I urge members to oppose this fast-track bill and retain their right to ensure that the U.S. trades responsibly.
Courtesy of Ilana Solomon
- Guest: Should Congress give Obama fast-track authority for trade deals? No(seattletimes.com)
- The Next Corporate-Friendly Trade Pact(inthesetimes.com)
- Uprising as Obama plans to skirt Congress on ‘New World Order’(mobile.wnd.com)
- Congress tires to “fast track” secret trade deals without comment or oversight(treehugger.com)
- James P. Hoffa: It’s Time to End the Secrecy Surrounding TPP(huffingtonpost.com)
#AceGuestNews says according to a recent article in RFS the authorities have used the issue of national security to expand Web monitoring and censorship – even while continuing to promote and develop Internet access for the population at large. The Web has played a key role in the political debate prompted by legislative and presidential elections and in the post-election mobilization of the opposition and civil society. These developments provoked a strong official response. The blogosphere has grown stronger and better organized in the face of state attacks.
Government anti-“extremism” campaign hits Internet content and access
Prime Minister (now President-elect) Vladimir Putin said on 9 February 2012: “Negative phenomena exist everywhere, including on the Internet, and should not be used as a pretext to limit Internet freedom.” However, the authorities have used the justification of preventing violence to reinforce their control of the Internet, with the Federal Security Service (FSB) taking steps to close a number of online organizations in late 2011. Most of these groups have clearly called on their members to respect the law and not to let themselves be provoked into violence.
The government list of “extremist” content, as well as the boundaries of the category itself, keep growing. It now includes everything touching on religion and issues of ethnicity, which have become taboo subjects on RuNet – as the Russian Internet is known. That list is the basis of official demands to take down content, and of actions to block site access (see the Russia chapter in the 2011 report on Enemies of the Internet).
The process of domain name registration could affect freedom of expression online by leading to closure of more sites. New rules promulgated by Nic.ru, the biggest Russian domain name-registration company, allow the cancellation of domain names for inciting violence, “extremist” activity, advocating overthrow of the government, activity in conflict with human dignity or religious beliefs. The rules reflected new official regulations. Domain name-registration companies are authorized to suspend names in the .ru and .rf (pΦ) domains upon written notification from “agencies conducting an investigation.” That provision would potentially authorize prosecutors, the FSB, the police, or the drug enforcement agency (FSKN) to order such a move.
In Tomsk, Siberia, the broadcast arm of Roskomnadzor, the federal mass communications supervisory agency, has recently pressured the regional television network TV-2 to stop transmitting two news programs by Dozhd, the first Internet TV network in Russia, whose content is critical of the government.
Anatoly Baranov, owner of the forum.msk.ru discussion platform, states that the Yandex search engine filtered out news items from his site on Yandex.News searches.
Danger of the spread of online monitoring and censorship
Roskomnadzor, whose regulatory authority extends to information technology and mass communications, has announced that it has installed on-line software to detect “extremist” material. The sites identified through this process will be given three days to take down content that meets this ill-defined standard. If a site does not comply, two additional warnings will be sent. The site will then be shut down.
The software was to go into operation in test mode in December, 2011. Its full deployment has beenpostponed indefinitely. Nevertheless, it carries the risk of system-wide monitoring of the Russian Weband could lead eventually to the taking down of all content that displeases the authorities.
The justice ministry, for its part, has invited bids to create its own monitoring system of content on the Internet. Such a system would allow close examination of all content touching on Russian government and justice systems, and any European Union statement concerning Russia.
Bloggers under pressure
Prison sentences and violent attacks were less frequent in 2011, except during the election campaign period. Yet legal proceedings and pressures of all kind continue – above all when the activities of netizens focus on sensitive topics and powerful interest groups.
Maj. Igor Matveev of the interior ministry garrison in Vladivostok has been prosecuted on charges that seem to have been prompted by his revelations last June of practices in the military region where he served. He reported that troops were served dog food in cans falsely labelled as containing beef stew. He faces a possible 10-year sentence.
Yuri Yegorov, a former employee of the regional government of Tatarstan’s human rights ombudsman’s office, received a six-month suspended sentence last June, as well as two years of probation, for defamation. He had revealed a case of alleged corruption in the ombudsman’s office, headed by Rashit Vagiov, that took place from February to July 2007.
Leonid Kaganov, a prominent blogger, was forced last May to house his site abroad. In 2009, the FSB had demanded, through his hosting service, the removal of an anti-Semitic poem that was on his site because he had mocked it.
Roman Hoseyev is the target of administrative action for having quoted from “Mein Kampf” on a site in 2005, before the 2010 banning of the book in Russia. He had drawn comparisons between statements by US President George W. Bush and Hitler.
No information has been received about the fate of a Navy conscript who blogged under the nameVasily, publishing on Twitter under the name Sosigusyan. He denounced hazing and poor living conditions in his unit. His Twitter account was hacked and the content about the military taken down, except for the last three posts, which were written by another person.
Propaganda and cyber-attacks
In addition to mounting a campaign of repression against on-line oppositionists, the Kremlin deploys its own cyber-weapons. Several thousand Twitter accounts were hacked at the end of 2011 in order to flood social media with pro-government messages, using hashtags popular with oppositionists (notably, #navalny, from the name of the well-known political activist and anti-corruption bloggerAlexei Navalny, and #триумфалънпая, from Triumfalnaya Square in Moscow).
Many Russian bloggers have pointed to a wave of “bots” unleashed against the LiveJournal social media platform. Oleg Kozyrev, an opposition blogger, has counted more than 2,000 of these software weapons.
Oppositionist Navalny’s e-mail inbox has been hacked, with the contents displayed on a site called navalnymail.kz. According to several bloggers, this action could be part of a government-organized campaign to discredit Navalny.
The wave of cyber-attacks peaked at the time of the legislative elections last December. A series of Distributed Denial of Service attacks paralyzed sites critical of the government before and during the vote, apparently to silence the dissidents. Access to LiveJournal, which hosts blogs critical of the Kremlin, was blocked for three days, starting on 1 December 2011. The site had already suffered a DDoS attack the month before.
Among other Web targets are:
- Echo of Moscow radio’s site, Echo.msk.ru
- The independent daily Kommersant’s site, komersant.ru
- The election-monitoring NGO’s site, golos.org
- KartaNarusheniy.ru, an interactive map created by Golos to track reports of election fraud
- Gazeta.ru, an independent news site
- Lenizdat.ru, a Saint Petersburg-based independent news site
- Slonl.ru and Newtimes.ru, opposition sites which posted the Golos map after Gazeta.ru took it down
- Ridus.ru, a citizen-journalism site
- Doshdu.ru, the site of Dosh, an independent news magazine about the Russian Caucasus
- Zaks.ru, a news site on the northwest region.
Some media organizations and opposition groups, having anticipated these developments, migrated to social networks and called on their readers to follow them on Twitter and Facebook in the event that their sites went down.
Disputed elections, attempted control of online political debate
Most traditional media organizations, notably television networks, are under Kremlin control, genuine political discussions have been possible only online. Any measure deemed necessary to uphold the country’s strongman, Putin, has been considered appropriate.
Even before and during the legislative elections, debates had been hindered by cyber-attacks and by the arrests of journalists and bloggers. Those detained included Alexey Sochnev, the editor of the independent news site Besttoday.ru; Maria Plieva, a prominent blogger in Ossetia; and the president of Golos, Lilia Chibanova.
Golos’ interactive election-fraud monitoring map proved to be a great success as the elections unfolded. Thousands of videos showing irregularities at voting places were posted to the site, prompting Russians to take to the streets in great numbers to denounce election fraud. Navalny and many journalists were arrested during these post-election demonstrations,
The great majority of traditional media organizations – especially television networks – ignored these events. Instead, they provided largely favourable coverage of Putin’s party, United Russia, which swept the legislative elections.
The social media site Vkontakte, which has more than 5 million members in Russia, found itself in the government spotlight. The FSB told the site’s founder and director, Pavel Durov, to shut down seven groups calling for demonstrations last December (including a group rallying to defend the ruling party). A Russian blogger estimated that up to 185,000 netizens subscribed to protest-organizing groups. A spokesman for Vkontakte said publicly that the site would not practice censorship and would not carry out the FSB order. Following the statement, Durov was summoned to appear before prosecutors in Saint Petersburg on 9 December.
Regional discussion forums, very popular at the provincial level, with most participants anonymous, have become a favourite resource for political debate among Russian netizens, and a nightmare for the authorities. However, these sites are less powerful than the national media and easy to censor, though that has not prevented netizens from migrating to other sites, hosted abroad. At least three forums were closed or suspended during the months leading up to the early December elections.
One of these sites is the Kostroma Jedis regional forum, which was targeted following the posting of two satirical videos criticizing Igor Slyunyaev, governor of the Kostroma region, some 300 km northwest of Moscow. In November, other forums were shut down or purged of all political content by their administrators. One such case occurred in the Arzamas, a city 410 km east of Moscow, affecting the mcn.nnov.ru site. Another took place in the west-central city of Miass, 95 km west of Chelyabinsk, affecting the forum.miass.ru site. It is not clear if these were cases of official action or self-censorship. In either case, the closing of these forums signifies a narrowing of the possibilities for political debate on the Russian Web.
In the run-up to the presidential election in March, Golos, the election-monitoring NGO, put up a new version of its interactive map to track election fraud, with stronger defences against cyber-attack. Navalny, the activist and blogger, mounted a site, Rosvybory.org, to assist citizens in becoming presidential election observers.
The campaign of repression mounted for the legislative elections illustrated the official attitude toward protest. And the official response was designed to create a deterrent to popular action in the presidential election period. Tensions grew during the months between the two elections. On 17 February, Reporters Without Borders denounced a wave of intimidation aimed at national independent media. Major targets included Echo of Moscow; Novaya Gazeta, an independent newspaper, and Dozhd, the online television operation. The latter organization received a fax on 16 February from the Moscow prosecutor’s office, demanding detailed information on the “network’s financing for coverage of mass demonstrations on 10 and 24 December.”
These barely veiled accusations against Dozhd track precisely with statements by Prime Minister Putin, who had publicly accused demonstrators of having acted at the encouragement of the US state department. Roskomnadzor, the mass communications authority, had already required Dozhd to defend its coverage of the December protests. After examining in detail the images that the network had transmitted, the agency finally concluded that they contained nothing objectionable.
Journalists were again arrested and beaten during the post-election demonstrations of 5 March 2012. The clear goal was to prevent coverage of the demonstrations. However, contrary to what was seen in December, cyber-attacks seem to have been set aside – for now.
Export of the Russian model of Web control?
Russia has played a leading role on the international scene in promoting its vision of the Internet and exporting its Web control strategy. Moscow has proposed to the UN, together with China, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, an Internet conduct code designed to provide “information security.”
The impact of the Kremlin’s policy is all the greater because the RuNet sphere of influence extends throughout the region, influencing countries such as Belarus and Kazakhstan in their Internet monitoring and censorship programs.
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