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Source: Engadget

A vote carried out by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has agreed to affirm an expanded resolution on online rights.

The non-binding resolution that was passed by the UNHRC on Friday formally condemned countries which take actions to block or disrupt their citizens’ access to ther internet. The resolution entitled ‘The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet’ which effectively extends human rights held offline to the internet, was passed by consensus by the UNHRC’s 47-member council. The resolution primarily defends individuals’ online and offline rights, such as “freedom of expression” and choice of media deserve the same protections by calling for the international community to reject efforts aimed at blocking internet access.

Based on a 2015 Freedom of the Net report issued last year by rights group Freedom House, more than half of the world’s population lives in countries that have some form of restricted internet and media access (34% countries heavily restrict internet access and 23% countries partially restrict internet access), with internet freedom deteriorating for the fifth year in a row as of October last year. The report went on to relate how online surveillance was on the rise and even democratic nations such as France and Australia have authorized new surveillance in response to terrorism or the threat of it.

In addition, the digital rights group, Access Now, that applauded the passage of the resolution, has accounted for at least 15 internet shutdowns around the globe in 2015, and 20 in the first half of this year.

“This resolution marks a major milestone in the fight against internet shutdowns. The international community has listened to the voices of civil society — many of whom have suffered under shutdowns themselves — and laudably pushed back on this pernicious practice,” said Deji Olukotun, a senior global advocacy manager at Access Now.

“Shutdowns harm everyone and allow human rights crackdowns to happen in the dark, with impunity. Citizens can’t participate fully in democratic discourse during elections. The Human Rights Council’s principled stance is a crucial step in telling the world that shutdowns need to stop,” he said.

It is not the first resolution of its kind on digital rights adopted by the UNHRC, with the council having passed two previous resolutions by consensus on 5th July 2012 and 26th June 2014. However, this latest third resolution does seem to go further than the prior ones, with additional sections to focus on internet censorship; emphasizing the importance of an accessible and open Internet to the achievement of development goals, and calling for accountability for violence, detentions, harassment and other violations against people for expressing themselves online.

The resolution was submitted to the U.N. Council by Brazil, Nigeria, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey and the US, although first seeing several amendments to the text which had been tabled by China and Russia rejected by the sponsor countries who argued they were an attempt to dilute its focus, while another was withdrawn.

Among the key extracts in the resolutions are:

  • That people have the same rights online as offline, “in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice.”
  • That human rights violations enacted against people due to making their views known online are “condemned unequivocally,” and states are held accountable for any such violations.
  • Any measures to “intentionally prevent or disrupt access” to the internet are also “condemned unequivocally,” and all states should “refrain from and cease such measures.”

 

UN

Source: Edward Snowden Twitter

Furthermore, this resolution also recognises the need to bridge the digital and gender divide, noting the need to remove disparities in internet access between women and men. Specificially, it stresses “the importance of empowering all women and girls by enhancing their access to information and communications technology”, to encourage digital literacy on top of supporting them to pursue careers in IT fields.

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For further reading on the latest resolution, click here.

 

Sources

[1] Article 19

[2] The Hill

[3] Engadget

[4] Tech Crunch

[5] Voice of America

[6] Washington Times

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US customs

Photo source: The Journal

The next time you are entering the United States, you may just be facing a different set of questions on your immigration forms that you are normally accustomed to. That is because the US Customs and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have entered a new proposal into the US federal register for foreign nationals entering the United States to hand over their social media handles at a cost of almost $300 million a year. Based on the notice posted, the proposal entered suggested for a new field in which travellers entering the country are requested to declare their social media accounts and usernames.

Albeit responding to the questions remain optional, but the new proposed field will naturally open the door to customs officials to the foreign travellers’ online presence, an additional scrutiny on top of already being photographed, fingerprinted, and in-person interviewed, alongside numerous database checks.

“Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case,”  the proposal writes.

The change in the proposal would see the additional field applied to the arrival and departure forms, Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) forms and Form I-94, which foreigners travelling to the U.S. without a visa must fill out, although the proposal would also be applicable to foreigners whom are travelling through the recently updated visa waiver program in its electronic form.

Extra note: The visa waiver program allows citizens from 38 countries to travel to the U.S for business or vacation for up to 90 days without first needing a visa. It was recently updated to bar people from using the expedited program if they recently traveled to Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Sudan or Syria, with some limited exceptions.

Under the proposed changes, the forms would stand to consist of a new data field giving the option to visitors to “Please enter information associated with your online presence”, followed by blank spaces for travellers to fill out their usernames across various platforms.

While it remains vague on the process in which officials would take to investigate the social media profiles, this new form of social media snooping would certainly add a new level of scrutiny to potential visitors.

Currently, the U.S. Customs are seeking out considerations on the proposal until the 22nd of August, giving the public 60 days to comment on it before it is formally considered. Public comments are open via mail to to the Customs and Border Protection at its Washington office.

 

The rise of global terrorism

Given that at the moment the U.S. government still does not require employees to submit any social media accounts during security clearance reviews due its nature of skirting the line between civil liberties, there has however been an increased pressure from immigration and intelligence agencies to key in on social media profiles in which they attribute to the rise of global terrorism.

Giving grounds that the spread and recruitment of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria amidst cases such as the ISIS Paris attacks last November which were supposedly planned through encrypted chats, the government has targeted social media as a valuable tool to gain oversight on online extremism. In the wake of the terror attack in the San Bernardino shooting last December, the government now believes that social media can hold a cache of important information; especially since after Tashfeen Malik, one of the shooters in the attack, posted a public announcement on Facebook during the shooting and mentioned her belief in jihad in a private message on Facebook.

Crucially, the private messages were sent before receiving her visa, making it news which provoked some criticism, although investigators would still have needed significantly more than a screen name to see the messages. State Department officials claimed to be reviewing the visa application processes in the wake of the attacks.

At the end of the day, the proposed changes raises a flurry of questions. Will any beneficial outcome come from asking tourists and visitors to give customs their social media handles? Would it actually prevent terrorists from entering the country? If there were any dubious individuals passing through, would they choose to reveal their online presence if asked? What about potential terrorists already living in the U.S. as the country’s citizens? And eventually, would it be just yet another approach to impinge on the privacy of individuals?

 

If you are interested in further reading on the proposal, click here.

 

Sources

[1] Federal Register

[2] The Verge

[3] The Hill

[4] ZD Net

[5] NY Daily News

[6] Refinery 29