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Posts tagged ‘Internet’

Russia moves to expand state control of internet

April 11, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian lawmakers approved Thursday a bill that would expand government control over the internet and whose opponents fear heralds a new era of widespread censorship. The bill would install equipment to route Russian internet traffic through servers in the country. That would increase the powers of state agencies and make it harder for users to circumvent government restrictions.

The proposed move sparked protests of several thousand people in Moscow last month. Opponents argue it would allow the state to control the flow of information and enforce blocks on messaging applications which refuse to hand over data.

The bill’s backers have sought to play down the expanded powers for controlling traffic. Instead, they say it’s a defense measure in case Russia is cut off from the internet by the United States or other hostile powers.

Nikolai Zemtsov, a lawmaker who backed the bill, told The Associated Press a future Russia could cooperate with ex-Soviet countries on a “Runet” where news from critical Western media was restricted. “It could be that in our limited, sovereign internet we will only be stronger,” he said.

The bill passed by 322-15 in a second reading in the lower house of parliament. The second reading is when amendments are finalized, and is usually the most important. The bill must pass a third reading and the upper house before being signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.

Since last year, Russian authorities have been trying to block the messaging app Telegram, which has refused to hand over users’ encrypted messages in defiance of a court order. Telegram’s traffic used millions of different internet protocol addresses, meaning attempts to block it resembled a game of whack-a-mole. Many unrelated apps, online stores and even Volvo car repair services were temporarily knocked offline last year before Russian officials eased their pressure. The new law could make a block easier.

Russia already requires certain personal information about Russian citizens to be stored on servers in the country. That measure led to the social network LinkedIn being blocked in 2016. By moving to exert more control of the internet, which is not overseen by a central authority, the Russian government is taking a page from China’s playbook.

China subjects its 700 million internet users to extensive monitoring and tight controls. Beijing has a system of automated filters — known as the “Great Firewall” — to block political content as well as sites related to gambling and pornography. Chinese users are prevented blocked from using Western internet sites such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, leaving the market open for homegrown giants like Tencent.

Chinese regulators have ratcheted up control on local microblogs such as Weibo, ordering them to set up a mechanism to remove false information. They’ve also been cracking down on virtual private networks — software that can be used to get around internet filters by creating encrypted links between computers and blocked sites.

Kelvin Chan in London contributed to this report.

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WikiLeaks’ Assange arrested at Ecuador embassy in London

April 11, 2019

LONDON (AP) — Police in London arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy Thursday for failing to surrender to the court in 2012, shortly after the South American nation revoked his asylum.

Ecuador’s president Lenin Moreno said a tweet that his government withdrew Assange’s status for repeated violations of international conventions. Moreno described it as a “sovereign decision” due to “repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life.”

Assange took refuge in the embassy in London in 2012 and has been holed up inside ever since. “Today I announce that the discourteous and aggressive behavior of Mr. Julian Assange, the hostile and threatening declarations of its allied organization, against Ecuador, and especially the transgression of international treaties, have led the situation to a point where the asylum of Mr. Assange is unsustainable and no longer viable,” Moreno said in a video statement released on Twitter.

Police said Assange has been taken into “custody at a central London police station where he will remain, before being presented before Westminster Magistrates’ Court as soon as is possible.” Video posted online by Ruptly, the agency wing of Russia Today, showed about five to six men in suits forcibly escorting Assange out of the embassy building, surrounding him as he staggered down the steps and boarded a police van.

Police said officers were invited into the embassy by the ambassador following the Ecuador government’s withdrawal of Assange’s asylum. Assange had not come out of the embassy for years because he feared arrest and extradition to the United States for publishing thousands of classified military and diplomatic cables through WikiLeaks.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt thanked Moreno for breaking the impasse, saying on Twitter that Assange “is no hero and no one is above the law.” His arrest came a day after WikiLeaks accused the Ecuador’s government of an “extensive spying operation” against Assange.

WikiLeaks claims meetings with lawyers and a doctor inside the embassy over the past year were secretly filmed. WikiLeaks said in a tweeted statement that Ecuador illegally terminated Assange’s political asylum “in violation of international law.”

Twitter Throttled Account of Pro-Life Film ‘Unplanned,’ Users Say

BY PETR SVAB

April 1, 2019

Scores of people on Twitter are saying the social-media platform was preventing them from following the account of “Unplanned”—a movie about a former Planned Parenthood clinic director turning against abortion.

Hundreds of people said late March 31 that they clicked the “Follow” button on the movie’s Twitter account, only to return to the page moments later and see they were no longer following the account. Many reported experiencing this issue repeatedly, with some posting videos of the phenomenon.

“Every single time I follow @UnplannedMovie within seconds drops my follow—nine times in a row ‘sup @Twitter ?” wrote Salena Zito, a reporter at the right-leaning Washington Examiner, in a March 31 tweet.

She received more than 180 replies, most of which were people reporting the same issue.

Actress Ashley Bratcher, who stars in the movie, said she also encountered the problem.

“I can’t even follow my own movie. It keeps kicking me off!” she said in an early April 1 tweet.

People reported that the follower count on the movie’s Twitter page was wildly fluctuating on March 31, from anywhere between over 170,000 to mere hundreds or thousands.

Twitter Trouble

The movie had a rough start on Twitter, when its account was suspended for some time on March 30, a day after the movie’s theater debut. A Twitter spokesperson said the account was suspended by mistake.

“It wasn’t directly about this account. When an account violates the Twitter Rules, the system looks for linked accounts to mitigate things like ban evasion. In this case, the account was mistakenly caught in our automated systems for ban evasion,” the spokesperson said in an April 1 email.

“We reinstated the account as soon as it was brought to our attention. An account’s followers take time to fully replenish after it is reinstated. We are not hiding follower counts or disallowing certain people from following.”

The spokesperson said the time to “replenish“ the follower count caused the problem users complained about. “That’s why it appeared as if some people were automatically ‘unfollowing,’” the spokesperson said. “That wasn’t the case.”

The movie’s account posted a notice from Twitter, which said the follower count after suspension “may take an hour or so … to return to normal.” The Help Center on Twitter’s website states incorrect follower counts on reactivated accounts “will be fully restored within 24 hours of reactivation.”

“If it has been more than 48 hours and your counts have still not been restored, contact support for assistance,” the website says.

Actress and author Patricia Heaton, who also reported having the issue, said in an April 1 morning tweet that “this problem has been fixed.”

Indeed, during the morning hours, people started to report that their attempts to follow the account appeared to stick.

Promotional Boost

The Twitter controversy seems to have considerably added to the movie’s promotion, as its account grew from only several thousand followers on the movie’s opening day to more than 250,000 as of noon on April 1.

The movie is a biopic of Abby Johnson, a former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas who later became an anti-abortion activist. With a $6 million budget, the movie ranked fifth on its opening weekend, grossing an estimated $6.1 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider in the country, performing more than 330,000 abortions a year, according to its 2017-2018 Annual Report (pdf). Among its other frequent services are breast exams, cervical cancer screenings, pregnancy tests, and contraception.

The issue of abortion has been pushed to the forefront in recent months as several Democrat-controlled states proposed or passed bills that would allow abortions all the way up to the time of birth, with limited constraints for very late-term abortions—an apparent effort to preserve easy access to abortion in case the conservative majority on the Supreme Court overturns the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which hamstrung states’ ability to restrict abortion.

At least nine states controlled by Republicans have bills underway to restrict abortion. The bills would likely be ruled unconstitutional by federal courts under Roe v. Wade, which would likely prompt the states to try to escalate the issue to the Supreme Court.

Source: The Epoch Times.

Link: https://www.theepochtimes.com/users-complain-twitter-throttled-unplanned-movie-about-abortion_2861826.html.

Bill to route internet through Russian servers spurs protest

March 10, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — Several thousand people have rallied in Moscow to protest legislation they fear could lead to widespread internet censorship for Russian users. The sanctioned rally on Sunday was organized in response to a bill in parliament that would route all internet traffic through servers in Russia, making virtual private networks (VPNs) ineffective.

The proposed measure also would create a division in Russia’s agency that regulates communications to oversee traffic control and routing. The bill has passed the first of three readings in the Duma, the lower house of parliament.

Advocates say the bill is intended to address concerns that Russia could be cut off if the United States applies a new cybersecurity doctrine in an offensive maneuver. Critics say the bill would create an internet firewall similar to China’s.

Can Zuckerberg’s media blitz take the pressure off Facebook?

March 22, 2018

NEW YORK (AP) — In the wake of a privacy scandal involving a Trump-connected data-mining firm, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg embarked on a rare media mini-blitz in an attempt to take some of the public and political pressure off the social network.

But it’s far from clear whether he’s won over U.S. and European authorities, much less the broader public whose status updates provide Facebook with an endless stream of data it uses to sell targeted ads.

On Wednesday, the generally reclusive Zuckerberg sat for an interview on CNN and conducted several more with other outlets, addressing reports that Cambridge Analytica purloined the data of more than 50 million Facebook users in order to sway elections. The Trump campaign paid the firm $6 million during the 2016 election, although it has since distanced itself from Cambridge.

Zuckerberg apologized for a “major breach of trust,” admitted mistakes and outlined steps to protect users following Cambridge’s data grab. “I am really sorry that happened,” Zuckerberg said on CNN. Facebook has a “responsibility” to protect its users’ data, he added, noting that if it fails, “we don’t deserve to have the opportunity to serve people.”

His mea culpa on cable television came a few hours after he acknowledged his company’s mistakes in a Facebook post , but without saying he was sorry. Zuckerberg and Facebook’s No. 2 executive, Sheryl Sandberg, had been quiet since news broke Friday that Cambridge may have used data improperly obtained from roughly 50 million Facebook users to try to sway elections. Cambridge’s clients included Donald Trump’s general-election campaign.

Facebook shares have dropped some 8 percent, lopping about $46 billion off the company’s market value, since the revelations were first published. While several experts said Zuckerberg took an important step with the CNN interview, few were convinced that he put the Cambridge issue behind hm. Zuckerberg’s apology, for instance, seemed rushed and pro forma to Helio Fred Garcia, a crisis-management professor at NYU and Columbia University.

“He didn’t acknowledge the harm or potential harm to the affected users,” Garcia said. “I doubt most people realized he was apologizing.” Instead, the Facebook chief pointed to steps the company has already taken, such as a 2014 move to restrict the access outside apps had to user data. (That move came too late to stop Cambridge.) And he laid out a series of technical changes that will further limit the data such apps can collect, pledged to notify users when outsiders misuse their information and said Facebook will “audit” apps that exhibit troubling behavior.

That audit will be a giant undertaking, said David Carroll, a media researcher at the Parsons School of Design in New York — one that he said will likely turn up a vast number of apps that did “troubling, distressing things.”

But on other fronts, Zuckerberg carefully hedged otherwise striking remarks. In the CNN interview, for instance, he said he would be “happy” to testify before Congress — but only if it was “the right thing to do.” Zuckerberg went on to note that many other Facebook officials might be more appropriate witnesses depending on what Congress wanted to know.

At another point, the Facebook chief seemed to favor regulation for Facebook and other internet giants. At least, that is, the “right” kind of rules, such as ones requiring online political ads to disclose who paid for them. In almost the next breath, however, Zuckerberg steered clear of endorsing a bill that would write such rules into federal law, and instead talked up Facebook’s own voluntary efforts on that front.

“They’ll fight tooth and nail to fight being regulated,” said Timothy Carone, a Notre Dame business professor. “In six months we’ll be having the same conversations, and it’s just going to get worse going into the election.”

Even Facebook’s plan to let users know about data leaks may put the onus on users to educate themselves. Zuckerberg said Facebook will “build a tool” that lets users see if their information had been impacted by the Cambridge leak, suggesting that the company won’t be notifying people automatically. Facebook took this kind of do-it-yourself approach in the case of Russian election meddling, in contrast to Twitter, which notified users who had been exposed to Russian propaganda on its network.

In what has become one of the worst backlashes Facebook has ever seen, politicians in the U.S. and Britain have called for Zuckerberg to explain its data practices in detail. State attorneys general in Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey have opened investigations into the Cambridge mess. And some have rallied to a movement that urges people to delete their Facebook accounts entirely.

Sandy Parakilas, who worked in data protection for Facebook in 2011 and 2012, told a U.K. parliamentary committee Wednesday that the company was vigilant about its network security but lax when it came to protecting users’ data.

He said personal data including email addresses and in some cases private messages was allowed to leave Facebook servers with no real controls on how the data was used after that. Paul Argenti, a business professor at Dartmouth, said that while Zuckerberg’s comments hit the right notes, they still probably aren’t enough. “The question is, can you really trust Facebook,” he said. “I don’t think that question has been answered.”

Cambridge Analytica headquarters in central London was briefly evacuated Thursday as a precaution after a suspicious package was received. Nothing dangerous was found and normal business resumed, police said.

AP reporters Danica Kirka and Gregory Katz in London and Michael Liedtke in San Francisco contributed to this story.

UK judge upholds arrest warrant for WikiLeaks founder

February 13, 2018

LONDON (AP) — A judge upheld a British arrest warrant for Julian Assange on Tuesday, saying the WikiLeaks founder should have the courage to come to court and face justice after more than five years inside Ecuador’s London embassy.

Judge Emma Arbuthnot rejected arguments by Assange’s lawyers that it is no longer in the public interest to arrest him for jumping bail in 2012 and seeking shelter in the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden. Prosecutors there were investigating allegations of sexual assault and rape made by two women, which Assange has denied.

Arbuthnot did not mince words in her ruling at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court, saying that by jumping bail Assange had made “a determined attempt to avoid the order of the court.” She said Assange appeared to be “a man who wants to impose his terms on the course of justice.”

“He appears to consider himself above the normal rules of law and wants justice only if it goes in his favor,” the judge said, drawing exclamations of dismay from Assange supporters in the public gallery.

Assange can seek to appeal, though his lawyers did not immediately say whether he would. Swedish prosecutors dropped their investigation last year, saying there was no prospect of bringing Assange to Sweden in the foreseeable future. But the British warrant for violating bail conditions still stands, and Assange faces arrest if he leaves the embassy.

Assange’s lawyers had asked for the U.K warrant to be withdrawn since Sweden no longer wants him extradited, but the judge rejected their request last week. Assange’s attorney had gone on to argue that arresting him is no longer proportionate or in the public interest. Lawyer Mark Summers argued the Australian was justified in seeking refuge in the embassy because he has a legitimate fear that U.S. authorities want to arrest him for WikiLeaks’ publication of secret documents.

“I do not find that Mr. Assange’s fears were reasonable,” the judge said. “If the United States initiates extradition proceedings, Mr. Assange would have the ability to raise any bars to the extradition and challenge the proceedings” in a British court, she said.

Arbuthnot dismissed another plank of Assange’s case — a report from a U.N. working group which said the 46-year-old was being arbitrarily detained. “I give little weight to the views of the working group,” the judge said, noting that Assange had “restricted his own freedom for a number of years.”

Assange’s lawyer had argued that the 5½ years Assange has spent inside the embassy were “adequate, if not severe” punishment for his actions, noting that he had health problems including a frozen shoulder and depression.

The judge accepted that Assange had depression and other conditions, but said he was overall in “fairly good physical health.” Arbuthnot also rejected an argument that Assange’s actions had not stalled Sweden’s legal case, because he had offered to be interviewed by Swedish prosecutors at the embassy.

Assange’s legal team said emails recently released after a freedom of information request showed that a British state prosecutor had advised Sweden “that it would not be prudent for Sweden to try to interview Mr. Assange in the U.K.”

The judge said she could not tell from the emails she had seen whether the lawyer who sent them had behaved inappropriately. But she said Assange’s “failure to surrender has impeded the course of justice.”

“Defendants on bail up and down the country, and requested persons facing extradition, come to court to face the consequences of their own choices,” she said. “He should have the courage to do so too.”

The ruling leaves the long legal impasse intact. Apart from the bail-jumping charge — for which the maximum sentence is one year in prison — Assange suspects there is a secret U.S. grand jury indictment against him for WikiLeaks’ publication of classified documents, and that American authorities will seek his extradition.

Assange’s lawyers say he is willing to face legal proceedings in Britain, but only if he receives a guarantee that he will not be sent to the U.S. to face prosecution. That is not an assurance Britain is likely to give.

Outside the courtroom, Assange lawyer Gareth Peirce gave little indication of what might come next in the twisting legal saga. “The history of the case from start to finish is extraordinary,” she said. “Each aspect of it becomes puzzling and troubling as it is scrutinized.”

Danica Kirka in London contributed to this story.

Ecuador grants nationality to WikiLeaks founder

January 11, 2018

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Ecuador has granted citizenship to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after more than five years of living in asylum at the nation’s embassy in London, officials announced Thursday.

Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa said officials accepted Assange’s request for naturalization in December, and they continue to look for a long-term resolution to a situation that has vexed officials since 2012.

“What naturalization does is provide the asylum seeker another layer of protection,” Espinosa said. Ecuador gave Assange asylum after he sought refuge in the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden for investigation of sex-related claims. Sweden dropped the case, but Assange has remained in the embassy because he is still subject to arrest in Britain for jumping bail.

He also fears a possible U.S. extradition request based on his leaking of classified State Department documents. The Australian-born Assange posted a photograph of himself wearing a yellow Ecuadorean national soccer team jersey on Instagram Wednesday and his name now appears in the Andean country’s national registry.

The new citizenship status, however, appears to change little for Assange in the immediate future. He would still need to alert British authorities of any movement outside the embassy. “Even if he has two or three nationalities, the United Kingdom will continue in its efforts against him,” said Fredy Rivera, an expert in foreign affairs at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Ecuador.

Espinosa said Ecuador is trying to make Assange a member of its diplomatic team, which would grant him additional rights under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, including special legal immunity and safe passage.

Britain’s Foreign Office said earlier Thursday it has rejected Ecuador’s request to grant him diplomatic status in the U.K. “Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice,” the office said.

Though protected by Ecuador, the relationship between Assange and nation’s leaders has at times been dicey. Ecuador has repeatedly urged Assange not to interfere in the affairs of other countries following his frequent online comments on international issues.

The biggest crisis came in October 2016, when the embassy cut his internet service after WikiLeaks published a trove of emails from then-U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign. He was also a point of contention in Ecuador’s 2017 presidential election. Conservative candidate Guillermo Lasso pledged to evict the Australian within 30 days of taking office, while current President Lenin Moreno said he would allow him to stay. Assange later taunted after Lasso’s loss that he would “cordially invite Lasso to leave Ecuador within 30 days.”

Moreno issued a warning reminding Assange not to meddle in politics. He has also called Assange a hacker.

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