Tag Archives: censorship

Then One Day the U.S. Decides You Shouldn’t Have a Business

JotForm is a website that allows users to create surveys and forms to collect information. On the 16th of February, without explanation, the U.S. Secret Service decided this site should no longer exist.

JotForm is a website that allows users to create surveys and forms to collect information. On the 16th of February, without explanation, the U.S. Secret Service decided this site should no longer exist.

In the wake of the Megaupload take down, and the proposition for a myriad of new bills in Congress that would severely curtail freedom on the Internet, the spotlight of U.S. authorities actions on the Internet has perhaps never been as bright as it is today. Enter the story of JotForm.

JotForm is an online application that allows someone to create forms for surveys to collect information – polls or otherwise. It is free for anyone to create a form, though there are priced options available for professional organizations or anyone who winds up having an extremely popular form to fill out and bandwidth becomes a concern. When ruminations about regulating sites that allow for “user-generated content” are discussed, JotForm is one of the countless websites that falls under that banner – they provide the back end, users create the forms on their own.

JotForm has had a problem with nefarious users taking advantage of their form software to collect information from unknowing Internet users – a process commonly referred to as phishing. The company, using filtering, discovered and deleted over 65,000 such forms within the past year – but that was apparently not enough, or not the right ones for the U.S. Secret Service. Apparently a simple order from the Secret Service to the company that controlled JotForm’s domain name, GoDaddy, was enough to remove the business from the internet without so much as a notice to the actual site owner:

Popular site JotForm doesn’t host music or movies or child pornography, all of which have led US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to seize other Internet domain names without advance warning (sometimes making serious mistakes). JotForm also doesn’t create content itself. Instead, it helps customers create online forms that can then be embedded in their websites for easy data collection.

But that didn’t spare the site from having its entire business shuttered without warning yesterday as the site’s domain name was shut down at the request of the US Secret Service. JotForm’s domain name registrar, GoDaddy, redirected the site’s nameservers to NS1.SUSPENDED-FOR.SPAM-AND-ABUSE.COM—and with that, JotForm.com became unreachable and the site’s two million user-created forms all broke.

And it all may have been done without a court order.

When he saw his site was down, JotForm cofounder Aytekin Tank scrambled. He checked in with GoDaddy, which told him that the site had been suspended as part of an ongoing investigation.

“We’re very sorry, but your business can no longer exist.”

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Canada in on Online Censorship Party: Safety Minister Calls Opponents Child Pornographers, Drops Mic

Canadian public safety minister Vic Toews (Con-MB) has a message to all you supporters of your rights online: stop watching child porn.

Canadian public safety minister Vic Toews (Con-MB) has a message to all you supporters of your rights online: stop watching child porn.

The dizzying array of newly introduced and back from the dead Internet censorship legislation from western democracies continues to grow like weeds. Originally under the guise of protecting “content creators”, these bills have faced stiff and quickly assembled grassroots resistance from an online public that doesn’t want to see the last free place in our existence turn into a regulated, metered, and corporately controlled nightmare. Facing the defeat at the hands of logic, the proponents of online censorship have moved to plan B: you’re with us or you watch kiddie porn.

First shots across the bow were fired in the United States by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), with the loaded title of “Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011“, or PCIP. Provisions of the bill would require ISPs to maintain upwards of eighteen months of all your online information just in case a judge somewhere in the country was called upon to grant a wide-ranging, ill-defined search for “something”. It makes the Stop Online Privacy Piracy Act seem downright benign by comparison. The implicit charge for standing against this bill would be, as the title goes, that you support child pornography.

Enter public safety minister Vic Toews (Con-MB) and a piece of legislation called the “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act“, or PCI… hey neat, this one is called PCIP too! With a name so similar, you have to wonder if the same clandestine interests are behind both pieces of legislation. Anyway.

Mr. Toews didn’t just stop at the suggestive name to define the opposition of the bill as Mr. Smith did. The implication that anyone standing against a piece of legislation would be in league with some of the most disgusting people that humankind has to offer is repugnant enough in its own right, but amid a debate that was already heating up in the House of Commons as to the full implications of this bill, Mr. Toews decided to go for the gold:

Critics of a bill that would give law enforcement new powers to access Canadians’ electronic communications are aligning themselves with child pornographers, Canada’s public safety minister says.

“He can either stand with us or with the child pornographers,” Vic Toews said of Liberal public safety critic Francis Scarpaleggia during question period on Monday, after Scarpaleggia asked about a bill expected to be tabled Tuesday.

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Iran Cuts Access to Popular E-mail, Social Networking Sites

Iran is currently seeing some of its heaviest Internet restrictions since the aftermath of the disputed 2009 Presidential elections.

Iran is currently seeing some of its heaviest Internet restrictions since the aftermath of the disputed 2009 Presidential elections.

As parliamentary elections slated for the 2nd of March draw closer, Iran continues to tighten its grasp on the ability for information to flow freely from the Internet to its citizens. Not yet launching a rumored “country intranet” which would effectively sever connections between the Iran citizenry and the outside world, the Islamic Republic has shuttered access to popular e-mail services GMail, Yahoo Mail, and Microsoft’s Hotmail, as well to preeminent social networks Facebook and Twitter. Thus far no explanation has been offered to citizens as to why the sites are inaccessible or when they might become view-able again – if ever.

At present, more technically savvy Iranians are able to circumvent the restrictions by using VPN servers hosted elsewhere in the world, or proxy connections – indicating that the websites are being filtered at the Internet Service Provider level. As soon as Iran completes its alleged new Intranet infrastructure, evading the Iranian censors will become significantly more difficult:

Last month the country’s information minister told the Islamic Republic News Agency that a firewalled national Internet would soon become operational. There was no word on when the government might plan to throw the switch on what essentially would be a vast “intranet,” but it could happen any day. And that prospect has cyber activists in Iran concerned. It would give the government a hand up in its cyber cat-and-mouse battle with opponents.

Right now, if Iran now blocks proxy servers and VPN connections for more than a few days, companies with branches or headquarters in the country are cut off from communicating with fellow employees around the world other than by telephone. That forces the government to open the spigot for everyone. Once the new network goes into effect, ordinary Iranians would wake up to a more censored Internet.

“I don’t know the the infrastructure that they will use but I don’t think we have a way out of that one,” said the Iranian person. “We are getting closer and closer to North Korea.”

Unplugging the country from the Internet became a key weapon in trying to fight protesters from getting the word out about the goings on inside the country after the highly controversial 2009 Presidential election that saw a new term awarded to incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even though a large percentage of the citizenry believed Mir Hossein Mousavi was the actual victor. Violent Iranian repression of its people in the weeks and months after were broadcast to the world via YouTube – and when simple blocks were not working well enough for the country, Iran shuttered all access to the Internet for days at a time. Business interests in the country were severely harmed by the lack of communication with the outside world, and could be hurt yet again if Iran moves forward with the nationwide “intranet” scheme.

The moves thus far are drawing the ire of politicians within the country, though:

But the Mehr news agency said the restrictions were not related only to email.

“It has been a while that Internet users have had difficulty accessing domestic and news websites as well as foreign search engines and email services,” it said on its website.

These difficulties include “low speed, outage and blocking” of websites, Mehr said.

A top conservative lawmaker, Ahmad Tavakoli, criticised the new “annoying” filtering and said it should be explained.

“The new filtering measure and cutting of access to the services used by most people without prior notice… will raise the ire of educated” people, he told Mehr.

“Such annoying filtering will cost the regime dearly.”

It remains to be seen if the government will speak out publicly about this issue at all before the legislative elections, or if the Internet restrictions will have any real impact on those elections.

Megaupload Fallout: Filesonic Kills Sharing Service

Under the potential threats from U.S. law enforcement, FileSonic has ended its sharing abilities effective immediately. Users will be able to download content they uploaded but nothing more.

Under the potential threats from U.S. law enforcement, FileSonic has ended its sharing abilities effective immediately. Users will be able to download content they uploaded but nothing more.

The online world and digital file locker services in particular are still reeling from the Thursday takedown of Megaupload and the arrest of the site’s staff. Acting at the behest of U.S. requests/orders, servers around the world were taken offline and those who ran the site were arrested in a case U.S. authorities have deemed the “Mega Conspiracy”.

This afternoon, Filesonic.com went all but dark:

Filesonic, one of the Internet’s leading cyberlocker services, has taken some drastic measures following the Megaupload shutdown and arrests last week. In addition to discontinuing its affiliates rewards program and not yet paying accrued money to members, the site has disabled all sharing functionality, leaving users only with access to their own files.

Filesonic taking this step on its own at least spares users what would could have been the Megaupload-esque eventuality: loss of all their data, even if it was personal and perfectly legal. Megaupload users with legitimate data have been left out in the cold by the U.S. government and look to remain there for the foreseeable future.

Even though Megaupload was a Hong Kong-based site, that was not enough to spare it the long arm of the law – lobbied and paid for by large “content creators” back stateside. While fear of repercussions has not been listed as the official reasoning for neutering the site – there has as of yet been no official announcement – that seems to be the best theory working at the moment:

While there has been no official explanation from the site as to why the above actions were taken, all eyes are turned towards events of the last week – the closure of Megaupload and the arrest of its founder and management team.

Like Megaupload, Filesonic appears to based in Hong Kong and it’s clear that the authorities there already worked with the US government to shut down Kim Dotcom’s operations and seize his assets there. Filesonic is also believed to have some US-based servers.

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U.S. Government Cares Not For Your SOPA Protest: Megaupload Shut Down Today, Workers Arrested

The day after protests for Internet freedom: The U.S. Justice Department nukes popular site "Megaupload" from orbit, arrests employees, disrupts file sharing in corporate environments around the country.

The day after protests for Internet freedom: The U.S. Justice Department nukes popular site "Megaupload" from orbit, arrests employees, disrupts file sharing in corporate environments around the country.

The optics are incredible.

Mere hours after the conclusion of a day of Internet protest that saw many of the web’s biggest sites formally protest or shut down outright for the upcoming Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), file sharing site Megaupload.com was shut down and removed from the Internet. Four people working for the site were arrested in New Zealand by local authorities. All of this was done at the behest of the FBI and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The January 5th indictment, unsealed today, charges that the website earned $175 million from “distributing illegal content”. The U.S. made use of local law enforcement in New Zealand, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Canada, Germany, the UK and the Phillipines to take this site down. To make up for the lack of a $175 million pile of cash laying around, the indictment went on to also include allegations of money laundering for selling premium accounts to people in exchange for faster downloads and uploads.

No fancy redirect page was put up, no warning was given to legitimate users of the site. One minute here, the next minute gone. This sort of action under the current system. The system that proponents for SOPA believe is not efficient enough. All that legal legwork used to get this far? That’s too difficult and too much trouble for “content owners”. SOPA seeks to streamline this process so websites can be taken down and people arrested even faster than before.

Speaking of legitimate users, by the by, Megaupload was definitely more than just a sea of pop songs and Hollywood blockbusters. The site was also a key destination for many corporate users who were looking for an inexpensive way to distribute large files to clients, coworkers, and customers – getting around the limitations imposed by e-mail systems and the security holes inherent in using FTP sites. A newly released study details just how useful Megaupload was to corporate users:

Before being shut down by the feds today, the file-sharing site Megaupload was extraordinarily popular with home Internet users—so much so that the file downloading habit was spilling over into the workplace in a significant way.

The shutdown of the site—and the arrests of four of Megaupload’s leaders today in New Zealand—are bound to have major consequences in the file sharing market. Although Megaupload’s presence in the corporate world may not have matched its overall share of Internet usage, its consumption of bandwidth was outpacing Dropbox and numerous other business-focused file-sharing services, according to a new study.

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Ahead of Legislative Election, Iran Clamps Down Hard on Internet Access

Fueled by anger over a stolen election and united through online social media, Iranians organized huge protests against the government in 2009. Iran looks to stop this from even starting come the 2013 elections.

Fueled by anger over a stolen election and united through online social media, Iranians organized huge protests against the government in 2009. Iran looks to stop this from even starting come the 2013 elections.

Learning the lessons of what happens when people - especially younger generations – have basic access to the Internet during an election that is, in many ways, just a puppet show for the direction the Ayatollah thinks the country should take, Iran is reportedly dropping very harsh restrictions on public internet access at internet cafes:

The Iranian Cyber Police published new rules on Wednesday designed to allow officials to know exactly who is visiting what Web sites. Before they can log on, Iranians are required to provide their name, father’s name, address, telephone number and national ID, according to an Iranian media report cited by Radio Free Europe. Cafe owners will be required to install security cameras and to keep all data on Web surfers, including browsing history, for six months.

Sometimes bordering on the outskirts of free and fair, and other times being overtly orchestrated with results decided long in advance, Iranian elections occur in two waves: a legislative election to elect members to the 290-seat Majlis, followed by a Presidential election in the following year. Emboldened by a 12-seat gain in the 2008 elections, supporters of the Reformist party looked to organize to try and take down President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the ballot box. While official state-run media showed that Mr. Ahmadinejad was crossing the 50% mark on his way to an easy victory, leaked results told a different tale:

2009 Iranian Presidential Election Results
Candidate Official Tally Leaked Tally
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 24,527,516 5,698,417
Mir Hossein Mousavi 13,216,411 19,075,623
Mohsen Rezaee 678,240 3,754,218
Mehdi Karoubi 333,635 13,387,104
(void) 409,389 38,716

Starting the 13th of June in 2009 and continuing for months, hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets in the hope they could affect change and end Mr. Ahmadinejad’s tenure. Dozens of deaths and thousands of arrests later, the Iranian government simply waited the protests out, and eventually “won”. In the early stages of the Iranian protests, social media sites like YouTube and Twitter were heavily relied on for the dissemination of information to other participants and the world at large. Iran would counter by cutting their country off from the Internet itself at stages, and very slowly bringing itself back online.

The new restrictions on public internet availability and anonymity are only the first stages of Iran’s ultimate goal – a permanent separation from the international Internet:

Monitoring Web surfers is an interim measure until the government is done building out its own domestic intranet that is “halal,” or pure. Initially, the Iran intranet will run in tandem with the Internet before the global Web is shut off to the 23 million Internet users in Iran, according to reports. Payam Karbasi, spokesman for Iran professional union Corporate Computer Systems, told Iranian media that the domestic network, which was announced last March, would be launched in coming weeks, the WSJ reported.

Iranians have reported that during the intranet tests this week, Internet connections have slowed down and Web sites have been blocked. Access to VPNs (virtual private networks) Iranians use to access sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have also been affected, reports said.

If these measures are in place by the 2012 and 2013 elections, then the last chance for Iranian citizens to get independent information on the happenings in their dictatorship may already be gone – along with it the easiest and most powerful way to unite and counter against continued electoral shams and a continuing religious dictatorship.

Citing Terrorism, U.S. Asks Scientific Journals To Redact Flu Findings

On the one hand it's for science. On the other hand it could lead to U.S.-sponsored censorship of the scientific community.

On the one hand it's for science. On the other hand it could lead to U.S.-sponsored censorship of the scientific community.

For the first time in U.S. history, publishers of scientific journals are being asked to voluntarily redact findings from the scientific community – specifically biomedical study findings. The request came from the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, which is overseen by the National Institutes of Health. Targeted journals were Nature and Science. The request was triggered by the revelation of a newly created strain of bird flu - A(H5N1) – by teams in the United States and the Netherlands. This version of the bird flu succeeds where the actual bird flu in the wild has thus far failed – mass transmission among humans. There have been 600 cases of bird flu before in recorded history, the earliest being 1997. Presently the virus has about a 50% mortality rate – though occurrences of the bird flu have thus far been limited to mainly underdeveloped portions of southeastern Asia.

The National Science Advisory Board does not have the power to enforce censorship, it can only offer recommendations. Those recommendations are to publish conclusions but not to publish “experimental details and mutation data that would enable replication of the experiments”. The Dutch, however, already presented the data at a virology conference in Malta this past September.

Scientists and journal editors are generally adamant about protecting the free flow of ideas and information, and ready to fight anything that hints at censorship.

“I wouldn’t call this censorship,” Dr. Bruce Alberts (editor of Science) said. “This is trying to avoid inappropriate censorship. It’s the scientific community trying to step out front and be responsible.”

He said there was legitimate cause for the concern about the researchers’ techniques falling into the wrong hands.

“This finding shows it’s much easier to evolve this virus to an extremely dangerous state where it can be transmitted in aerosols than anybody had recognized,” he said. Transmission by aerosols means the virus can be spread through the air via coughing or sneezing.

This is a very interesting moment for the scientific community, as it appears the interests of “security” have finally met up with the commitment to the dissemination of knowledge from the scientific community. What is decided here could have far-reaching implications for the future of the sharing of scientific knowledge. A possible workaround would be to create a network of “trusted” scientists which information was allowed to be shared with, while keeping that barrier to “untrusted” scientists and the rest of the public up. That’s probably going to be a lot easier said than done.

Ronald M. Atlas, a microbiologist at the University of Louisville and past president of the American Society for Microbiology, who has advised the federal government on issues of germ terrorism, said the hard part of the recommendations would be creating a way to move forward in the research with a restricted set of responsible scientists.

He said that if researchers had a better understanding of how the virus works, they could develop better ways to treat and prevent illness. “That’s why the research is done,” he said.

The government, Dr. Atlas added, “is going to struggle with how to get the information out to the right people and still have a barrier” to wide sharing and inadvertently aiding a terrorist. “That’s going to be hard.”

Media Cocoons: Selective Obfuscation of the Real World

Six out of seven episodes of the BBC's "Frozen Planet" are just fine for American consumption, so deems the Discovery Channel. The seventh, about climate change? Not so much.

Six out of seven episodes of the BBC's "Frozen Planet" are just fine for American consumption, so deems the Discovery Channel. The seventh, about climate change? Not so much.

Yesterday I discussed the soft censorship of the world as it is in the name of profit. The idea being that there is probably not a vast conspiracy to misinform or push the rest of the world to the back burner, but that instead more fluff-filled stories sell more magazines, and thus there is a positive feedback loop. This selective re-displaying of the world as it is extends beyond straight “news”, too. Frozen Planet, the latest excellent nature-in-HD production from the BBC, is a seven-episode documentary of life as it is at our polar regions – detailing the surprising diversity and amount of life that exists in climates that we would normally see as inhospitable and deadly. The same producers behind The Blue Planet and Planet Earth were also behind this series, which is currently airing on BBC One as a seven part series. The show is also being offered up for networks around the world to air. In the United States, the program will be aired by the Discovery Channel with one slight omission – about one-seventh of the series.

While the Discovery Channel found plenty of room to air the first six episodes in the series, the seventh – titled “On Thin Ice” and dealing with the subject matter of climate change and its effects on the poles – was just too much for the network to handle. For its part the Discovery Channel said that not airing the seventh episode wasn’t because of any attempt to not inform their viewers about the very real and happening-right-now effects of climate change, it was instead because of a “scheduling issue so only had slots for six episodes”.

What there is time for include shows about criminals that got caught, a show purporting to answer “the most fundamental questions facing the world today” but winds up with episodes like “Why is Sex Fun?”, a show about killing Osama Bin Laden, motorcycles, guns, and so on…

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Media Cocoons: It’s Safe & Warm Inside

You would think message control would be more difficult with so many outlets.

You would think message control would be more difficult with so many outlets.

Picking on cable television “news” is way, way too easy. With the exception of BBC News and Al Jazeera English – both of which you’ll be extremely hard pressed to find in their actually-transmitted 24-hour format, the selection of “news” programming available to Americans at best are fact-based shows wrapped in deep layers of opinion and spin. This is sadly expected these days – it’s the norm. Should a network arise that promises to report actual news on a 24-hour basis it would appear “cutting edge” and “different”.

One has to travel outside the media available to this country to see how truth and fact is being manipulated, slightly spun, or deflected far away enough from the spotlight that it misses critical public awareness it needs. Fortunately, some media makes it far too simple to stand back and look at the selective manipulation of reality that is packaged and sold to us.

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Newsbyte: Syria Sliding To Civil War, Knives Out For Google, Fishing On Europa

In today’s issue:

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