The United States wants China to pull back from its gambit to try to rewrite the East China Sea's status quo, but the Chinese are having none of it. On Dec. 2, the U.S. State Department said China's newly-declared air defense identification zone (ADIZ), a California-sized swath over the East China Sea that includes a disputed island chain the Chinese call the Diaoyu and the Japanese call the Senkaku, has "caused confusion and increased the risk of accidents." U.S. Vice President Joe Biden sounded a similar warning while in Tokyo, before departing for Beijing this week.
Chinese have heard this argument before, and they are still not convinced.
Dozens of people have died in the coastal Chinese city of Qingdao, and authorities are sorry -- but, most Chinese think, not sorry enough. Early on Nov. 22, a crude oil pipeline owned and operated by Sinopec, a state-owned petrochemical giant, began to leak. It exploded later that morning, ripping through the road with sufficient force to overturn cars above it, killing an estimated 55 and injuring over 100. Both officials and executives have scrambled to manage the public relations aftermath with a combination of apologies and state media coverage touting clean-up efforts.
But many Chinese are unsatisfied. A public apology from Sinopec, one of China's largest corporations, backfired on Nov. 25 when the company sent Li Chunguang, a vice president, to deliver the official apology, instead of President Fu Chengyu. Li admitted, albeit vaguely, that Sinopec had "failed the city of Qingdao and the people of this country." On Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, a user who claimed to hail from Qingdao condemned Li's "robotic, cold recitation," arguing that if he was truly sincere, he would have stood up and bowed instead of remaining seated. More subdued users called for Li's resignation, while more extreme ones urged him to commit suicide. Others demanded to know why Fu did not appear at the hearings himself. (Fu expressed condolences during a Nov. 23 television appearance lasting less than one minute, and has not publicly appeared since.) "If he was the head of a private company," wrote one Weibo user, "he would have been arrested."
Beijing has just thrown down the latest gauntlet in a long-simmering territorial dispute with Tokyo -- and China's citizens are cheering. On Nov. 23, China's Ministry of Defense released a map showing the "Chinese Air Defense Identification Zone," a wide swath over the East China Sea, and stated China had the right to monitor and possibly take military action against foreign aircraft that come into that territory. But the area also covers territory currently administered by Japan, including the disputed Diaoyu Islands, which the Japanese call the Senkakus.
The move sharply raised tensions not only with Japan, but with the United States: U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement that he was "deeply concerned" by the "destabilizing" announcement, while Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida warned it could "trigger unpredictable events." But on China's Internet, where much of the country's political expression finds its fullest voice, the reaction is far different: Web users hailed China's move against what they derisively call the "abnormal nation" of "little Japan." And they want the United States to stay out of it.
After the Third Plenum, a high-level meeting to discuss China's future, ended on Nov. 12, Beijing released a major document likely to affect many of its 1.3 billion citizens' lives for years. Western media responded to the 5,000-plus character document, called the Plenum Communiqué, with a collective head scratch -- CNBC and the Wall Street Journal both promptly declared it "vague." But the confusion isn't the result of language, or even cultural differences: Many Chinese citizens also cannot make heads or tails of this document.
If they're failing, it's not for lack of trying: On Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, a search for "third plenum" yielded over 2.7 million recent mentions, and among those comments, over 154,000 used the word jiedu, which roughly means "to decode." Frustration is palpable online. One Weibo user complained, "I glanced at the Third Plenum communiqué; it surpasses my ability to understand it." Another wrote, "I made myself dizzy reading it three times." And another: "It's a pile of words on top of words, without saying anything." And this: "I can't understand why after a meeting lasting three days, the only thing they can produce is ... a document that has to be decoded. It's like a high school exam."
Readers who think they're smarter than the masses of confused Chinese citizens should boil up a pot of coffee, then try to decipher the below, a particularly turgid sentence from an unofficial translation posted on the blog China Copyright and Media:
The Plenum stressed that to comprehensively deepen reform, we must hold high the magnificent banner of Socialism with Chinese characteristics, take Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important 'Three Represents' thought and the scientific development view as guidance, persist in beliefs, concentrate a consensus, comprehensively plan matters, move forward in a coordinated manner, persist in the reform orientation of the Socialism market economy, make stimulating social fairness and justice, and enhancing the people's welfare into starting points and stopover points, further liberate thoughts, liberate and develop social productive forces, liberate and strengthen social vitality, firmly do away with systemic and mechanistic abuses in all areas, and strive to open up an even broader prospect for the undertaking of Socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Some media outlets have tried to illuminate the document by turning to statistical analysis. Tengxun, a Chinese news portal, released an infographic ranking the words most often mentioned in the communiqué. (The winner was "reform," followed by "system," "development," and "economy.") The Beijing News, a liberal Chinese newspaper, compiled a detailed set of graphs, one (above) showing how mentions of the word "reform" were higher than in any previous Third Plenum release.
That's not insignificant; mentions of "reform" are likely to please many hoping for just that. And in the communiqué's defense, it is meant only to provide a broad sketch of where China is headed and to set the tone for implementing steps that will take years. Its function is to signal to high-level actors what they will need to prioritize, not to explain each reform in exacting detail. The document may also be trying to shoot the moon, somehow satisfying all readers at the same time. One Weibo user speculated, "In the end it's not important whether the document is consistent from beginning to end, because everyone can find what they need in it."
The communiqué may contain the right words, but Chinese are struggling to pick up the logical thread connecting them. Any readers who breezed through the earlier quote (and hold a Chinese passport) may wish to sign up for the nation's civil service exam, scheduled for Nov. 24. We hear the Chinese government is hiring.
Updated: A New York Times spokeswoman has told FP that T Magazine's Chinese language site is "once again accessible" in Mainland China. Although the cause of the outage is "unclear," it "appears to be technical and has been resolved."
The New York Times' flagship English and Chinese-language websites are already blocked in China. Now, the Times' latest hope for avoiding the wrath of censors there may have suffered a setback. Portions of the Chinese-language site of T Magazine, the Times' lifestyle publication, have been inaccessible in Mainland China since the afternoon of Nov. 13, Beijing time.
Problems accessing the site first came to light when social media users complained on Sina Weibo, a popular microblogging platform, where T Magazine maintains an active presence. A Nov. 13 test using the servers of Greatfirewallofchina.org, a site that tests web addresses for accessibility behind China's so-called Great Firewall, found that T Magazine's Chinese site is "most likely NOT accessible" from the Mainland. A Tea Leaf Nation contributor in Beijing said that while she was able to access the magazine's front page without the aid of a virtual private network, articles she clicked on would not load.
It is unclear why T Magazine's Chinese-language site is not currently accessible from the Mainland; it could be censorship, or merely a glitch. A spokesperson for the New York Times told FP via phone that the publication is "aware there is an issue" with site accessibility, but is still investigating the cause.
If there's a block, it's impossible to say how long it will last. Beijing does not officially admit the existence of the Great Firewall, publish a list of blocked sites, or officially confirm or deny what it has censored. However, the timing is suspicious, falling soon after a Nov. 8 New York Times report stating that Bloomberg News editors spiked two stories likely to be offensive to Chinese authorities, one detailing financial links between a Chinese tycoon and some of China's top leaders. (Bloomberg has denied the allegations.)
T Magazine has been a source of optimism for a news organization that had run afoul of Chinese censors before. The T Magazine Chinese-language site launched Oct. 10, 2013, about 10 months after Chinese authorities blocked both the English and Chinese language sites of the New York Times, likely in retaliation for the outlet's Oct. 2012 story about possible corruption associated with family members of then-Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. T Magazine's Chinese language site does not publish stories about politics, economics, or foreign policy, focusing instead on less controversial topics like fashion, design, education, and real estate. The day of the launch, the Times thought it possible the T Magazine site could, according to the Wall Street Journal, "pave the way for the unblocking of the publication's English and Chinese news websites" in Mainland China.
The New York Times is not alone among international media in its struggle with Chinese censorship. The Chinese-language site of the Hong Kong-based newspaper South China Morning Post is intermittently blocked in the Mainland. Bloomberg's news sites were blocked in China after the service ran a June 2012 story about the wealth of Chinese President Xi Jinping's extended family. On July 17, censors deleted the official Weibo account of Asahi Shimbun, Japan's second-largest newspaper. Time will tell whether the Great Firewall has just added another brick.
Over the past 10 days, two horrific attacks have shaken China -- but Chinese Internet censors seem interested in only one. On Oct. 28, five people died and dozens were injured when an SUV plowed into a crowd right near Tiananmen, the massive public square in the heart of Beijing. Authorities called it an act of terrorism by Uighurs, an ethnic minority mostly located in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, and censors clamped down hard, scrubbing virtually any mention of the incident from online discourse.
Then, on Nov. 6, an unknown perpetrator, or perpetrators, detonated what appear to have been home-made bombs outside a government building in Taiyuan, the capital of northern Shanxi province, killing one and injuring eight. That bombing, however, triggered a flurry of candid, often vitriolic online discussion lauding violence against the government and speculation about possible links to the first attack. Mei Xinyu, an economist and columnist, wrote on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, that the explosion "was rather expertly done, probably the work of a terrorist organization." Another user invoked a recent U.S. tragedy: "Was this a terrorist attack like the one in Tiananmen? I am beginning to get a taste of how the evil Americans felt after 9/11 happened." Yet the censors appear to have done little to halt the discussion.
What does the divergent reaction say about what the Chinese government may be thinking? It's almost impossible to divine the thoughts and motivations of an apparatus so opaque and multifarious. But the stark contrast between the reactions of the propaganda apparatus to the two incidents suggests Chinese authorities probably do not think Uighurs were responsible for the Taiyuan incident. In the case of the Tiananmen attack, Beijing worried anti-Uighur chatter could go viral, potentially raising ethnic tensions that have turned deadly in the past. With Taiyuan, however, censors have allowed thousands of comments to flow, even those speculating about Uighur involvement. If the authorities believed the two attacks were connected, they would have subjected chatter about the Taiyuan bombing to a much stricter fate.
That doesn't mean information has flowed freely. Local papers in and around Taiyuan did not carry front-page coverage of the news in their Nov. 7 editions. But when Weibo users mocked these omissions, their comments made it onto the Chinese social web -- and stayed there.
A collection of sex education videos have just gone, ahem, viral on the Chinese Internet. On Oct. 29, a three-person team calling itself the "Nutcracker Studio" released three one-minute clips addressing tough topics in childhood sex education, such as "Where Do Babies Come From?", "Why Are Boys Different from Girls?", and (the far less lighthearted) "How Minors Can Prevent Molestation." Funded by the popular Chinese tech site Guokr, the "One-Minute Sex Ed" videos rose to become the second most popular search on Baidu, China's largest search engine, and have drawn over one million views on Youku, China's YouTube.
These slickly produced videos, which depict a hand drawing cartoon figures, are likely not aimed at young ones, but instead at parents searching for narratives to pass on to their children: The rapid-fire voiceovers use some high-school level vocabulary, including two bleeped cusswords hopefully outside most primary school students' lexicon. Given a widespread reluctance to talk birds and bees -- in China's version of the stork story, parents often tell children that they were picked up "out of a garbage dump" -- the video's narrator is something of a myth-buster for the young and for the ill-informed. The language and visual illustrations have amused adult viewers with hilariously off-color comparisons: In the first video, the narrator explains insemination by comparing it to an injection received at a hospital. The second clip, "Why Are Boys Different from Girls?", addresses anatomical differences by likening male and female reproductive organs to electrical outlets and plugs. (The caption on the photo, from the second video, states: "Why does that boy have a little pee-pee and you don't?")
Because of China's long-standing need for accessible, accurate sex ed, young adults might also find the videos edifying. On Sept. 29 Hu Zhen, an academic specializing in sex education issues, told China's largest state-run news agency, Xinhua, that sex education in Chinese schools lagged "at least 60 years behind" Sweden and other developed countries, and emphasized that only about ten of China's 180,000 primary schools, and only 500 to 600 of China's approximately 500,000 secondary schools, were providing sex ed. Three short video clips, embedded below, won't hasten the plodding progress of sex education in China's state system. But given the dearth of frank discourse about sex in China, Internet users there may be happy to take what they can get.
Now viral in China: A failed attempt at photo doctoring. On the evening of Oct. 29, Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, lit up with mockery at an image (above) posted online Oct. 12 by the government of Ningguo, a small city in China's central Anhui province, purporting to show vice-mayor Wang Hun pay a friendly visit to an elderly woman. There's only one problem: The image, which appears to show Wang floating above a particularly tiny woman, has clearly been modified.
That might not seem like much, but it's manna for Chinese netizens, who feast on concrete examples of government dishonesty. In June 2011, officials from Huili county in Sichuan province were also spotted "floating" in a clearly doctored photograph that purported to show them inspecting a local highway. Web users reacted with derision and outrage, even though, as the Guardian wrote in June 2011, the visits were real; a photographer had decided one of the original images was "not suitably impressive." Photoshopping is such a favorite target that the term "PS" has even become a widely-recognized part of Chinese online slang.
It's unclear who first discovered the image on the Ningguo government's website, which features a series of (otherwise seemingly real) images depicting the city's vice-mayor joining a bevy of other local officials to pay visits to women aged 100 years or older, in honor of the Double Ninth Festival, a holiday that honors ancestors.
Now that netizens have found a new target, they seem unlikely to let go any time soon -- regardless of the motive behind the modification. Not only has the Weibo account of Communist Party-run newspaper People's Daily joined in the derision, but some web users have pointed out that Yu Anlin, a local bureaucrat pictured standing (not floating) to Wang's right, appears to be wearing, well, a watch. That too sounds innocent enough, but Chinese officials have become leery of being spotted with timepieces, lest online slueths discover them to be too expensive for an honest official to afford. That revelation felled the career of another provincial bureaucrat named Yang Dacai, an erstwhile safety official who was sentenced in September to 14 years in prison on corruption changes.
Now, Wang and Yu are famous too, and for all the wrong reasons. The impact of this snafu on their careers is uncertain, but they can be sure China's social web will be watching them closely.
On Oct. 28, a Jeep drove into a crowd in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, killing five people and injuring 38. While the story is still breaking and details remain sparse, the response by both police and censors has been swift. On Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, the official account of the Beijing Police Department wrote that the crash occurred at 12:05 p.m on Monday. By 1:09 p.m., it continued, "traffic at the scene had returned to normal." Images on social media purporting to depict the accident show a fiery wreck mere feet from the giant portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong, which overlooks the square.
Photographs by Western photographers who arrived shortly thereafter (see top image) show plainclothes officers erecting green police barriers, obscuring the scene.
China's thousands of online censors have been just as speedy -- and frighteningly successful, even by their own standards. While some official accounts of the incident have survived online, many seemingly anodyne ones, including updates from mainstream media sources like the business magazine Caijing and newsmagazine China Weekly, have not. In fact, a search on Freeweibo.com, which tracks deleted Weibo posts, shows that many related tweets from widely-followed sources were removed so fast that they were able to generate only a handful of comments. One Weibo user complained, "Just because it's Tiananmen, all related images have been deleted; is this necessary?" Chinese censors seem to think so, emphasizing rapidity over precision and ensnaring even innocuous posts in their net.
From the perspective of Chinese censors, this all makes perfect sense. Weibo's interface groups all comments to a tweet in one place, allowing discussions by tens of thousands of users to coalesce around particularly popular or resonant posts. Authorities want to keep online chatter splintered instead. First, they never know what (potentially dangerous) direction such massive online discussion might take. They are also probably aware that Western media now watches Weibo closely: once a thought or meme goes viral, subsequent censorship is often insufficient, because Western reports will find a way to redound back into the Mainland. As the Chinese saying goes, "Once the word is out, four horses can't run it down."
The stakes are particularly high where Tiananmen Square is concerned. The massive public square in the center of Beijing was the site of the 1989 student uprising and subsequent crackdown, as well as major protests before and since, including the so-called May Fourth Movement in 1919 and, as recently as 2011, self-immolations by disgruntled citizens.
Despite Tiananmen's sensitivity, Weibo users have found clever ways to discuss it. On June 4, 2013, the most recent anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, Chinese netizens photoshopped giant rubber ducks over a famous image of tanks facing down a 1989 protester.
But anniversaries are different, because both web users and censors have ample time to plot strategy. In that scenario, it's almost inevitable that some of the memes and coded phrases invented by the Weibo-using masses will slip through, particularly those deployed in the middle of the night in China, when most censors are asleep. With this latest incident, where discussion remains highly fragmented, censors are likely receiving plaudits for a job well done.
When it comes to censorship, "Chinese Internet users can do little," wrote Taiwanese politician and senior opposition party member Hung Chih-kune on Facebook on Oct. 19. "But messing with a Taiwanese like me? [They're] in for some bad luck."
On Oct. 15, Hung (pictured above on the right) wrote on Twitter and Facebook that he had retained a lawyer named Liu Weiguo (pictured above on the left) to sue Sina Weibo, one of China's most popular social media sites, in mainland China; he stated he will also sue the company in the United States and Taiwan. According to Hong Kong's Apple Daily, a popular tabloid newspaper, Hung claimed Sina accepted over $34 in annual VIP membership fees from him -- but frequently censored his posts, even deleting his Weibo account on 50 separate occasions without warning. Hung has used Weibo to share his thoughts about the Taiwan-China relationship and human rights in China. (Sina did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)
Hung is one of 30 executive committee members of Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the country's main opposition party. The DPP is known for its strong advocacy for both human rights and Taiwanese independence from mainland China. While many Chinese Internet users adamantly believe that Taiwan is a part of China, they also admire Taiwan's democratic system and Internet freedom, a sharp contrast to mainland China's one-party political system and censored web.
Hung, who first joined Weibo in February 2013, is fighting censorship in his own way. He belongs to the "Reincarnation Party," a group of Weibo users who repeatedly rejoin Weibo after censors delete their accounts. Censorship on Sina Weibo is often uneven, so "reincarnated" users sometimes escape immediate notice. But Hung's accounts are often deleted as soon as they appear, perhaps due to his predilection for posting political content.
It's not clear whether mainland Chinese courts will even accept lawsuits brought by censored users. In May 2011, a woman surnamed Yu successfully sued Sina after it deleted her Weibo account, but Sina appealed the verdict. Yu claims that in April 2013, the courts overturned the verdict, ruling that the matter was not within its jurisdiction. In addition, Sina, a NASDAQ-listed company worth over $5.7 billion, could almost certainly outspend Hung in a protracted legal battle.
Hung's David-versus-Goliath quest may seem quixotic. But if fighting Internet censorship through legal channels seems ridiculous, Hung's suit is also a sad reminder of a sadder status quo.
Fair use (via Liu Weiguo/Twitter)
Sure, it's not all that surprising that Google and Facebook are the most visited websites in almost every country. But what's more interesting is where they're not. Using public data from the web traffic service Alexa, the Oxford Internet Institute's Information Geographies blog has mapped the most popular websites by country (the colonial-style map above is entitled, "Age of Internet Empires"). And while researchers found that Google and Facebook reigned supreme among Internet users across the globe, there were some notable exceptions.
The al-Watan Voice newspaper, for instance, is the most visited site in the Palestinian territories, while a Russian email service, Mail.ru, dominates in Kazakhstan. Japan and Taiwan are Yahoo!'s last bastions, and in Russia the search engine Yandex tops the list. There are also blind spots in the survey; Alexa lacks information on countries with small Internet populations, including much of Sub-Saharan Africa.
China is a particularly interesting case: The Chinese search engine Baidu is the most visited website in the country, but its success may be engineered in part by the government. As the speculation goes -- and some evidence suggests -- Chinese officials have colluded with local business interests to limit Google's share of the market in favor of Baidu and other companies (cases have been reported of Chinese users visiting Google, only to be mysteriously redirected to Baidu, though Baidu denies that the government is giving it a leg up on the competition). Today, Baidu controls around 80 percent of the Chinese search market and, according to Alexa data that the Oxford researchers question, recently became the market leader in South Korea as well (Google left mainland China in 2010, but still runs a Hong Kong-based portal). The countries below are sized based on the size of their Internet populations (click to expand the map):
But don't doubt Google's supremacy just yet. Not only is Google the top site in 62 countries of the 120 countries tracked, but the researchers note that "among the 50 countries that have Facebook listed as the most visited visited website, 36 of them have Google as the second most visited, and the remaining 14 countries list YouTube (currently owned by Google)."
It makes you wonder: Just what are the implications of so few companies controlling worldwide access to so much information?
Internet hackers have found a new home from which to spread online mayhem , and it's not where you might expect. According to a new report from cloud computing provider Akamai, Indonesia became a hotbed of hacking activity during the first quarter of 2013, rocketing to second place behind China among the most prevalent sources of Internet attacks.
In the final three months of 2012, Indonesia played host to a mere .7 percent of all Internet hacking activity, but during the following three months that figure ballooned to 21 percent. Accounting for a full 34 percent of Internet attacks, China remains the global hacking superpower, but Indonesia's sudden rise in the tables is indicative of how diffuse networks of hackers around the globe can exploit weaknesses in the web. (It's theoretically possible that detection has improved but that's still a pretty incredible jump.)
BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images
As Egypt's political crisis has swelled in recent days, key actors ranging from ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsy to the opposition Tamarod movement have taken to Twitter to stake out their positions in the conflict. Now, a team of researchers is mining hashtags on the microblogging service to monitor those very tensions.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Samuel Johnson once said that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." Patriotism, and bad analogies.
For the uninitiated, Godwin's Law is one of the cardinal rules of the Internet. Coined in 1990 by Internet law expert Mike Godwin, the principle -- confirmed by countless contentious comment threads across the web -- is that the longer an online discussion persists, the greater the odds become that someone will make a comparison to Nazis or Adolf Hitler, to the point of near-inevitability. Nothing ends a debate faster than the hyperbolic unsupported counterfactual: "You know who else did [INSERT SUBJECT OF ARGUMENT HERE]? Hitler!"
But Hitler and the Nazis aren't the only recurring straw men used to end debates. Over the past 12 years, it's become clear that the longer a national security debate persists, the more likely it becomes that someone will try to end it by suggesting something -- some policy, some person, some technology -- "could have prevented 9/11."
The implication is that if something "could have prevented 9/11," then it must be justified. It's a trump card, a conversation-ender -- and it's impossible to prove. But that hasn't stopped people from using it -- from FBI Director Robert Mueller testifying on the Hill on Thursday to actor Mark Wahlberg's 2012 tough-guy claims. Here's a brief sampling of the people and policies that "could have prevented 9/11."
Assessments of the 9/11 attacks -- by everyone from members of the independent 9/11 Commission to Bush administration officials -- have time and again pointed out that there was no single point of failure that allowed the attacks to occur, and no "silver bullet" that could have prevented them. But acknowledging that is no way to cut short a debate about national security.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Forget PRISM, the National Security Agency's system to help extract data from Google, Facebook, and the like. The more frightening secret program unearthed by the NSA leaks is the gathering and storing of millions of phone records and phone-location information of U.S. citizens.
According to current and former intelligence agency employees who have used the huge collection of metadata obtained from the country's largest telecom carriers, the information is widely available across the intelligence community from analysts' desktop computers.
The data is used to connect known or suspected terrorists to people in the United States, and to help locate them. It has also been used in foreign criminal investigations and to assist military forces overseas. But the laws that govern the collection of this information and its use are not as clear. Nor are they as strong as those associated with PRISM, the system the NSA is using to collate information from the servers of America's tech giants.
Metadata is not protected by the Fourth Amendment. Content of emails and instant messages -- what PRISM helps gather -- is. An order issued to Verizon by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court instructs the company to supply records of all its telephony metadata "on an ongoing, daily basis." Although legal experts say this kind of broad collection of metadata may be legal, it's also "remarkably overbroad and quite likely unwise," according to Paul Rosenzweig, a Bush administration policy official in the Homeland Security Department. "It is difficult to imagine a set of facts that would justify collecting all telephony meta-data in America. While we do live in a changed world after 9/11, one would hope it has not that much changed."
By comparison, PRISM appears more tightly constrained and operates on a more solid legal foundation. Current and former officials who have experience using huge sets of data available to intelligence analysts said that PRISM is used for precisely the kinds of intelligence gathering that Congress and the administration intended when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was amended in 2008. Officials wanted to allow intelligence agencies to target and intercept foreigners' communications when they travel across networks inside the United States.
The surveillance law prohibits targeting a U.S. citizen or legal resident without a warrant, which must establish a reasonable basis to suspect the individual of ties to terrorism or being an agent of a foreign power. In defending PRISM, administration officials have said repeatedly in recent days that the FISA Court oversees the collection program to ensure that it's reasonably designed to target foreign entities, and that any incidental collection of Americans' data is expunged. They've also said that press reports describing the system as allowing "direct access" to corporate servers is wrong. Separately, a U.S. intelligence official also said that the system cannot directly query an Internet company's data.
But the administration has not explained why broadly and indiscriminately collecting the metadata records of millions of U.S. citizens and legal residents comports with a law designed to protect innocent people from having their personal information revealed to intelligence analysts. Nor have officials explained why the NSA needs ongoing, daily access to all this information and for so many years, particularly since specific information can be obtained on an as-needed basis from the companies with a subpoena.
Here's why the metadata of phone records could be more invasive and a bigger threat to privacy and civil liberties than the PRISM system:
1. Metadata is often more revealing than contents of a communication, which is what's being collected with PRISM. A study in the journal Nature found that as few as four "spatio-temporal points," such as the location and time a phone call was placed, is enough to determine the identity of the caller 95 percent of the time.
2. The Wall Street Journal reports that in addition to phone metadata, the NSA also is collecting metadata on emails, website visits, and credit card transactions (although it's unclear whether those collection efforts are ongoing). If that information were combined with the phone metadata, the collective power could not only reveal someone's identity, but also provide an illustration of his entire social network, his financial transactions, and his movements.
3. Administration officials have said that intelligence analysts aren't indiscriminately searching this phone metadata. According to two intelligence employees who've used the data in counterterrorism investigations, it contains no names, and when a number that appears to be based in the United States shows up, it is blocked out with an "X" mark.
But these controls, said a former intelligence employee, are internal agency rules, and it's not clear that the FISA Court has anything to say about them. In this employee's experience, if he wanted to see the phone number associated with that X mark, he had to ask permission from his agency's general counsel. That permission was often obtained, but he wasn't aware of the legal process involved in securing it, or if the request was taken back to the FISA court.
4. The metadatabase is widely available across the intelligence community on analysts' desktops, increasing the potential for misuse.
5. The metadata has the potential for mission creep. It's not only used for dissecting potential homegrown terror plots, as some lawmakers have said. The metadata is also used to help military forces overseas target terrorist and insurgent networks. And it is used in foreign criminal investigations, including ones involving suspected weapons traffickers.
For all these reasons, and probably more yet to emerge, it's the metadata that's of bigger concern. By comparison, PRISM is a cool name, a lame PowerPoint presentation -- and business as usual.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
This afternoon, the Syrian Electronic Army, a group of hackers supportive of Bashar al-Assad's regime, appeared to briefly hack into the Onion's Twitter feed. Over the course of about an hour, the SEA tweeted seven times from @TheOnion, and claimed responsibility for the attack on the Onion's @ONN account (the satirical newspaper's parody of 24-hour news networks) before the messages were deleted.
You could say the SEA's attacks have been a bit hit or miss over the past several months. The group's members promoted an alternate narrative of the Syrian civil war when they hacked into @60Minutes last month, but also tweeted fat jokes about the emir of Qatar, a backer of the opposition, when they hacked the BBC's weather account ("Earthquake warning for Qatar: Hamad Bin Khalifah about to exit vehicle").
In one of their strangest strikes yet, the SEA broke into the Twitter feed of the television channel E! on Sunday to "out" Justin Bieber and then to tweet, "Angelina Jolie admits, in E! latest issue, that Jordan is to blame for the Syrian refugees' atrocious conditions" -- a sentence that under no circumstances would ever appear on E!
Today, the SEA fell back on fat jokes about Qatar's ruler ("NASA: 9th planet discovered and identified as the Qatari Emir") and also took a few jabs at Israel -- "UN's Ban Ki Moon condemns Syria for being struck by Israel: 'It was in the way of Jewish missiles;'" "The #Onion CEO: 'We regret taking zionist money to defame Syria. now the hackers are up our ass;'" "Poland to double flights from the Middle East, anticipating Israeli mass exodus. 'The bagel bakery ovens are working over time' ~ Larry" -- after the Israelis reportedly launched two airstrikes against weapons depots in Damascus in the past week.
Whoever was behind the hacking demonstrated a fairly proficient knowledge of the Onion's style (for example, attributing a quote without context to "Larry") and included a well-timed "Futurama Fry" meme as Twitter followers wondered if @TheOnion had been hacked, or if the tweets were simply more satire:
Though the Onion is first and foremost a satirical site, it has also hosted some of the most trenchant commentary on the Syrian civil war, leaving little doubt about why it was targeted. Darkly humorous articles from the past year and a half have included titles such as, "'Help Has To Be On The Way Now,' Thinks Syrian Man Currently Being Gassed," "Having Gone This Far Without Caring About Syria, Nation To Finish What It Started," "Target Pulls All Sponsorship From Publicly Ignored Syrian Conflict," "Alien World To Help Out Syria Since This One Refuses To," and an op-ed by Bashar al-Assad titled, "Hi, In The Past 2 Years, You Have Allowed Me To Kill 70,000 People."
So perhaps it's not a surprise that when the news outlet finally regained control over its Twitter feed, it had this to say:
Syrian Electronic Army Has A Little Fun Before Inevitable Upcoming Deaths At Hands Of Rebels onion.com/11ctVJg— The Onion (@TheOnion) May 6, 2013
On Thursday, I wrote about Google's decision to change "Palestinian Territories" to "Palestine" on the Palestinian edition of its search engine -- a move that at the very least acknowledges the quest for Palestinian statehood. Unsurprisingly, Israel is not happy about the change.
"This change raises questions about the reasons behind this surprising involvement of what is basically a private internet company in international politics -- and on the controversial side," Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Agence France-Presse.
Google, meanwhile, is defending the decision as part of an effort to put the company in line with international standards. "We're changing the name 'Palestinian Territories' to 'Palestine' across our products. We consult a number of sources and authorities when naming countries," Google spokesman Nathan Tyler told the BBC. "In this case, we are following the lead of the U.N., Icann [the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers], ISO [International Organisation for Standardisation] and other international organisations."
Google's action comes on the heels of November's overwhelming U.N. vote to grant Palestine non-member observer state status, a move bitterly opposed by the United States and Israel. Following the vote, Palestinian officials asked international companies, including Google, to refer to "Palestine" rather than the "Palestinian Territories." Google's move "is a step in the right direction, a timely step and one that encourages others to join in and give the right definition and name for Palestine instead of Palestinian territories," Sabri Saidam, an advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told the BBC.
Given current prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, I suppose the Palestinians will take whatever victories they can get.
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
It's been more than a year since Omar Hammami, an American-born jihadist in Somalia who made a name for himself with lo-fi propaganda rap productions, posted a video telling viewers he feared for his life. The threat he felt came not from the Somali government, which he had come to fight against in 2008, or from the U.S. government, which has branded him a wanted terrorist, but from his own comrades in al-Shabab, the Somali affiliate of al Qaeda.
Since then, Hammami has been hiding out in Somalia, but he's hardly kept a low profile online. He is the apparent operator of the @abumamerican Twitter account, from which he has criticized al-Shabab's leadership and communicated with journalists and terrorism analysts -- he even gave an interview for a profile by Danger Room's Spencer Ackerman. In the past week, though, his luck living on the lam has been running out.
Last Thursday, Hammami live-tweeted what he claimed was an assassination attempt in which an al-Shabab gunman shot him in the neck in a coffee shop (he quickly posted pictures of blood running down his neck and soaking his shirt). Then his hideout was assaulted by militiamen who, after a shootout, reportedly hauled Hammami before an al-Shabab tribunal. According to Hammami's account on Twitter, the tribunal released him and several members of al-Shabab's leadership issued a fatwa protecting Hammami, but others in the organization still promised to pursue him. Yesterday, as Shabab-affiliated forces closed in around the village where he remains in hiding, Hammami seemed to think he could be killed shortly:
May not find another chance to tweet but just remember what we said and what we stood for. God kept me alive to deliver the mssg 2 the umah— abu m (@abumamerican) April 29, 2013
Today he did find another chance to tweet, reporting that a militia from the Somali province of Gedo is threatening to kill him "even if they lose 100 despite defections."
The apparent end of Hammami's life on the run is certainly high drama, but it's also a rare glimpse into the divisions in al-Shabab's leadership. There have been tensions in the organization before, but "it has not, to my knowledge, resulted in such a public display of discord," wrote Katherine Zimmerman, a senior analyst for the American Enterprise Institute's Critical Threats Project, when reached by email by FP.
There seems to be bad blood between Hammami and al-Shabab's emir, Ahmed Abdi Godane, who also goes by the kunya Abu Zubayr. In Hammami's telling, he went into hiding after a fight he had with Godane over the role of foreign fighters, taxation issues, and trial procedures. "i told him every last detail in person," Hammami told Ackerman in his interview, "leading to the beginning of the oppression." As militiamen gathered last Friday to drag him to the tribunal, Hammami saw Godane's hand: "abu zubayr has gone mad," he tweeted. "he's starting a civil war."
Hammami believes the decision to pursue him has driven a wedge between Godane and his deputies. And sure enough, after he was released by the tribunal, several senior leaders -- Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, the deputy emir, Hassan Dahir Aweys, a Shabab official who ran a rival militia until 2010, and Ibrahim Haji Jama Mead, a member of al-Shabab's Shura Council -- issued a fatwa protecting Hammami. "The fatwa," Zimmerman writes, "does indicate that these three have, and will continue to, position themselves on the side of protecting Hammami."
But that doesn't necessarily mean al-Shabab is headed for civil war, as Hammami suggests. "It is still not clear to me that the divisions over the treatment of Hammami and the fighters with him will result in an actual split within al Shabaab," Zimmerman writes, stressing previous tensions in the organization's senior leadership. Specifically, she cited Robow's 2010 decision to withdraw his troops from Mogadishu after rejecting Godane's strategic approach to the city, Aweys's public disagreement with Godane over whether al-Shabab should have a monopoly on jihadist groups in Somalia, and a message Mead addressed to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in which he expressed opposition to Godane's leadership. Despite their differences, Zimmerman points out, they've all remained stakeholders in the organization: "When these divisions surface, some are quick to assume that the group is weaker, but time and again, the group has remained united despite the divisions."
What's more, the internal fight over Hammami's fate doesn't split along what seems to be al-Shabab's largest internal fault line. That would be the fight "between the 'globalists' and the 'nationalists,'" writes Zimmerman, "those who sought to establish an Islamic caliphate in Somalia for the purpose of supporting al Qaeda's vision of jihad, and those who appeared to seek an Islamic caliphate as an end-state." Both Godane and Hammami are in the globalist camp (Hammami's even rapped about it); Robow and Aweys have tended to side with nationalists.
At the end of the day, Hammami seems to be caught in the middle of these rivals' power plays. And though the debate over his fate might not tear the organization apart, his desperate tweets do shine a light on the leadership's stark divisions.
MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
After the Associated Press tweeted, "Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured," it literally took only seconds for people to debunk the bomb scare.
from here in the WH basement, this acct seems hacked RT @ap: Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured— E McMorris-Santoro (@EvanMcSan) April 23, 2013
Please Ignore AP Tweet on explosions, we've been hacked.— Sam Hananel (@SamHananelAP) April 23, 2013
The fake @ap tweet was tweeted via web. Real AP tweets come from SocialFlow. Carry on.— Ethan Klapper (@ethanklapper) April 23, 2013
AP immediately locked down the account (and it remains suspended as I write), but that wasn't before the Dow dropped 70 points (it rebounded within 10 minutes).
The Syrian Electronic Army, a group of pro-Assad hackers that has been targeting major news organizations for months now, quickly took credit for the false tweet. In the AP's story about the hacking of its own Twitter feed, it stated that the incident "came after hackers made repeated attempts to steal the passwords of AP journalists." The SEA defaced the homepages of Al Jazeera and Reuters last year, and more recently they've been targeting social media accounts in particular. Last month, for instance, they got into the BBC's weather feed. In the past week alone, they've hit NPR and 60 Minutes. They've also gone after non-media targets, including Human Rights Watch and Columbia University.
The SEA's level of tact varies: Hackers weren't above making a fat joke about the emir of Qatar when they hacked @bbcweather last month. Other times, as when they broke into @60Minutes, they promoted the Assad regime's narrative that the United States is empowering terrorist groups in Syria. The "media scare" approach seems to be a new development, but it is unclear to what extent SEA attacks are planned and coordinated, or whether they are directly affiliated with the Assad government.
There's the FitBit for fitness fanatics, the Pebble Watch for people who think their cell phones are too big, and Google Glasses for fancy sportsmen or irritating entrepreneurs. And now, there are high-tech life-trackers for human rights activists too -- devices that might save their lives.
Designed by Civil Rights Defenders (CRD), these high-tech bracelets -- dubbed the "The Natalia Project" after activist Natalia Estemirova who, in 2009, was abducted from her home in Chechnya and murdered for her activism -- are designed to serve as the first assault alarm system for human rights defenders at risk of being kidnapped or killed, according to a press release published by the organization on Friday.
When triggered -- either by the wearer or by the device being forcibly removed -- the durable bracelet/personal alarm uses GPS and smartphone technology to send a message with the time and the bracelet's location to the phones of colleagues in close proximity and to CRD headquarters in Stockholm. In an interesting social media twist, CRD will also notify anyone around the world who has signed up to receive distress signal alerts via SMS, Facebook, and Twitter. The organization hopes that those who have signed up to monitor the activists' safety will in turn spread the word via social media, raising awareness and putting pressure on those responsible for the attack or kidnapping.
It's a life-tracking device that could very well live up to its name.
The U.S. Embassy in Cairo's Twitter feed disappeared for about an hour today following an online sparring match with a feed operated by the office of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy over Jon Stewart's impassioned defense of Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef. When the embassy's feed returned, a tweet linking to the Daily Show clip had been deleted, and State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters that embassy officials "came to the conclusion that the decision to tweet it in the first place didn't accord with post management of the site."
There's bad diplomacy, and then there's the Twitter fight that followed this afternoon between the Muslim Brotherhood's English-language Twitter account (@IkhwanWeb) and American radio show host and media personality Rick Sanchez (@RickSanchezTV). The improbable feud started when the Muslim Brotherhood tweeted an Al Jazeera report featuring a comment Sanchez made in 2010 that was widely reported as being anti-Semitic and led to his firing from CNN. The Muslim Brotherhood pointed to the incident as an example of the West's "double standards" about free speech:
The Muslim Brotherhood's confusion about the government-ensured rights of an individual vs. the rights of private employees notwithstanding, Sanchez came looking for a fight this afternoon. Armed with a loose understanding of the situation, Sanchez eagerly began trolling @IkhwanWeb.
The Muslim Brotherhood responded, and from there, it was a good, old-fashioned troll fight. @IkhwanWeb was right that Sanchez didn't have his facts straight, but their defense of Egypt's freedom of speech rang a bit hollow given the circumstances:
.@ricksancheztv Mr. Shanchez, we value freedom of speech, it's what Egyptians fought for & no power can take this fundamental right away— Ikhwanweb (@Ikhwanweb) April 3, 2013
.@ricksancheztv perhaps u shld get facts first. He wasn't arrested, but questioned and released re complaint brought by pvt citizen, not us— Ikhwanweb (@Ikhwanweb) April 3, 2013
.@ricksancheztv absolutely false, we've nothing to do w investigations, it's a fact & if u ve evidence to contrary plz announce to the world— Ikhwanweb (@Ikhwanweb) April 3, 2013
Sanchez then declared victory. Several times.
And that's today's installment of how Twitter is making politics weird. Remember, folks: Don't feed the trolls.
China's People's Daily may have taken some heat this week for publishing what the Shanghaiist described as a "leering" slide show of a "beautiful" journalist, but some news outlets in Kazakhstan have been one-upping the Communist Party daily when it comes to misogyny. This week, in honor of International Women's Day on March 8, the Kazakh website Vox Populi is hosting a Miss Military Kazakhstan contest -- encouraging readers to vote not for models but for "beauties" from various military and law-enforcement units who "wear shoulder straps" and guard the country.
On Wednesday, Kazakhstan's Tengri News reported on the competition as if it were a horse race:
Judging by the current results of voting the National Guard of Kazakhstan has the most beautiful officers. Three girls from the National Guard of Kazakhstan have taken the leading positions in the rating: Sergeant of the National Guard Bibigul Sauytova from Astana is in the first place, Junior Sergeant of the National Guard Saltant Bayzhumanova from Astana is in the second place and Sergeant of the National Guard Natalya Fokina is in the third place.
It's not clear how many times this particular contest has been held, but Tengri News reports that authorities in the country do host an annual Lady of Kazakhstan Police contest, with the winner appearing on the cover of a police magazine.
Which brings us back to International Women's Day. According to the website for the century-old celebration, the "tradition sees men honouring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts." In keeping with that tradition, Vox Populi will award Miss Military Kazakhstan with a digital camera. And in a separate development, Tengri News is reporting that police in the country will give female drivers flowers and forgive them traffic violations in honor of the holiday. So, there's that.
HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images
When a 10-ton meteorite exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia on Friday, Feb. 15, it injured more than 1,500 people, caused $30 million in damage, and sparked nearly 3,000 financial aid applications from residents. Now, it seems, Russians -- including government officials -- are trying to get that money back, using the very rock that caused the losses in the first place.
This week, authorities in Chelyabinsk announced a design contest for a memorial to mark the "interplanetary visit," and also unveiled plans to develop a logo that entrepreneurs can slap on calendars, magnets, booklets, and other souvenirs. The region's geography and history museum, meanwhile, has already opened an exhibition on the meteorite that will include photos, videos, and meteorite fragments. "The authorities say they will try to make the memory of last Friday's event a great tourist attraction," the Voice of Russia reported.
Then there's the mayor of Chebarkul, who has himself tried to dig up some meteorite fragments by sending divers into the town's lake, where the meteor crashed. And he recently tried to galvanize his constituents by launching a competition for business ideas that would allow Chebarkul to profit from the global attention. The window may be closing fast, though, since Russian scientists say the fragments will soon be covered by snow or blown away by the wind.
Efforts to capitalize on the meteor strike got underway almost as soon as the extraterrestrial stone blew up, spewing tiny fireballs that buried themselves just inches deep in the ground and quickly cooled into little collectibles. Residents rushed to the scene of the explosion and began to dig up bits of meteorite that were often no larger than a centimeter. Apparently enough people were eager to see the meteor that some locals started taxiing them over for a steep price.
Many of the fragments have made their way onto the Russian classified ad website Avito.ru, where prices range from 500 to 300,000 rubles ($16 to $10,000), though the size of the fragments doesn't vary nearly as much. But meteorite aficionados beware: Many of the space particles for sale are raising some eyebrows, and Chelyabinsk police have already looked into a local man who has sold a few chunks for 15,000 rubles ($492) apiece that they believe could be fakes. Given the uncertainty, you might be better off with a good old-fashioned souvenir.
Reddit was once a site by, for, and about the concerns of "internet people." But in the past year, it has seen its popular AMA (ask me anything) sub-forum has become a popular way for celebrities, scientists, politicians and others to gain legitimacy with the online masses. Even President Obama did one.
The latest aspiring leader to allow Reddit users to ask him anything is Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi, a long-shot candidate for the Iranian presidency. Amirahmadi is a professor at Rutgers who left Iran for the United States in 1975 because of the political situation. He registered as a candidate for the 2005 presidential election but allegedly was disqualified by the Guardian Council for his joint U.S. citizenship.
Here are some of the highlights from yesterday's session:
In 2005, I put my name down as a candidate, but it was not really serious. I entered the race about one month before the election day and my purpose was not really to stay the course, but rather to make a statement. Much of Iran's intelligentsia was boycotting that election and I was afraid that by boycotting, we are going to get someone elected that will not be hospitable to democracy and human rights. History proven me right.
In my administration there will be no restriction on any type of media. I believe in free speech.
The biggest problem for Iran is a lack of trust between the US Iran. I have lived 40 years in the US, I understand both cultures and laungages. I can easily build trust between the two countries. particularly because I have never been part of the problem between the US and Iran. I have tried to be part of the solution for 25 years.
Why is he doing this? Well according to Amirahmadi:
At this point, no candidate (not me, not Messrs. Ghalibaf, Velayati, etc.) is allowed to publicly campaign in Iran. In that sense, all candidates are in the same boat. No candidate can publicly campaign until he gets the approval of the Guardian Council, which will be delivered in late-May. So far, my campaign has been very active campaigning in the United States, Dubai, and the United Kingdom. We will be travelling to Iran in March, but not for public campaigns. With your help, we want to take our message of peace around the world.
Several Iran watchers, expatriates and Iranians (using proxies to gain access to Reddit) came out claiming that many of Amrahmadi's proposals aren't even within the scope of presidential power, even if he manages to obtain permission from the Guardian Council to run. They're still waiting for a response.
Amirahmadi has promised another AMA on February 12 starting at 6 PM EST. Iran's election is scheduled for June 14, 2013. I suppose an Ahmadinejad AMA might be too much to hope for.
It's an odd match, to be sure: a country with some of the most restrictive internet laws in the world (not to mention its other laws), and a company that still claims "Don't be evil" as its motto, and has been burned by authoritarian governments before. But the AP is reporting that Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt will be traveling to North Korea soon -- possibly as early as this month -- accompanied by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
The news comes a day after a rare New Year's Day speech by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that called for a "revolution" in science and technology in the poverty-stricken Hermit Kingdom. But it also comes just a few weeks after the country received international condemnation for a sneakily-timed rocket launch.
Google didn't officially confirm the story to AP and Schmidt has yet to make a public statement on why he's visiting the isolated country, which does hardly any business at all with U.S. companies. Also, it's not yet clear who exactly Schmidt and Richardson will be meeting with once they arrive. However, Schmidt has been working with former State Department Adviser Jared Cohen on a book called "The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business," and has long been an advocate of the power of internet access to improve quality of life and openness.
Still, North Korea controls its internet with a far heavier hand than China, which Google has tangled with in the past. Those who have computer access mostly log on to a system known as the Kwangmyong, essentially a country-wide intranet run by a lone, state-run ISP provider (the BBC story linked to above includes the amazing detail that any time Kim Jong Un is mentioned on this intranet, his name is displayed slightly larger than the text around it). Just a few dozen families have unfiltered access to the real thing.
Can the power of "connectivity for the individual" be harnessed in a country where the government still cracks down on cell phones that can dial the outside world? Here's hoping Schmidt speaks up soon so we can hear what exactly he has in mind.
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
Egypt's increasingly influential Salafis won a victory this week by pressuring the government to finally implement a 2009 court ruling, enacted under former President Hosni Mubarak, to ban pornography. On Wednesday, Egyptian Prosector Abdel Maguid Mahmoud instructed authorities to "to take the necessary measures to block any corrupt or corrupting pornographic pictures or scenes inconsistent with the values and traditions of the Egyptian people and the higher interests of the state."
There are already strong reactions, with many on twitter using #EgyPornBan to either advocate mass downloading before the ban is enacted or to question the legitimacy of restricting freedom of expression.
While it has not been made public how and when the ban will actually be enforced, there are those like journalist and presidential advisor, Ayman El-Sayad, who think that the government should be "more concerned about the drafting of Egypt's new constitution" and other more pressing issues.
The ban does have serious consequences, however, as it upholds the ruling that the "freedom of expression and public rights should be restricted by maintaining the fundamentals of religion, morality and patriotism." How Egyptians decide to tackle the issue of who gets to decide what their values are, could have far reaching consequences down the road. There is also the dangerous precedent set by countries such as Russia, China and the United States, who have been accused of using anti-child-pornography laws to implement web censorship.
Egypt's porn ban will make it harder to spread "harmful" content on the internet, but for the Islamist's moral purposes, it probably won't work.
Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
In June, when Mohamad Morsi was elected president of Egypt, replacing the military transition government, he claimed that he would fulfill 64 promises within the first 100 days. That very same day, the website MorsiMeter was up and running to keep track of his progress. It's been about a week since the 100 day mark has passed and the weighing in has begun.
MorsiMeter is the creation of social entrepreneurs Amr Sobhy, Abbas Ibrahim and Safwat Mohamed, modeled after PolitiFact's Obameter. By crowdsourcing through their mobile app and website, MorsiMeter compiles information from a variety of sources (official, opposition and social media) in addition to direct communication with the presidential office to document initiatives implemented or in progress. MorsiMeter is as 2012 recipient of the U.N World Summit Youth Award which the team also won in 2011 for the anti-corruption initiative Zabatak. They consider MorsiMeter to be a "data tool" and strive to "empower the average citizen through sharing of information about crimes and corruption" while staying as neutral as possible.
Their report is now out and according to MorsiMeter, the baseline stats say that the president has achieved 10 out of 64 goals and that another 24 are in progress. This leaves 30 more promises "not spotted", to use to their terminology.
To provide a more nuanced look at what has actually been done, objectives are broken down into five categories: Traffic, Security, Fuel, Bread and Environmental Cleanliness. Many plans in progress are geared toward using financial incentives tied to citizen satisfaction to promote performance in civil servants and police, coordinating between the government and civil society, or using social institutions such as Friday sermons to promote civic behavior such as not throwing trash on the street.
The president's achievements include cracking down on fuel smugglers, providing waste disposal services for reasonable fees, using radio reports to decrease traffic congestion, and increasing the nutritional value of bread while subsidizing bakeries for potential crises.
Several of the "not spotted" promises, such as building new government centers out of urban areas, are additionally large undertakings that couldn't be accomplished in a 100 days. And to be honest, even if there are campaigns to make people follow road rules and traffic lights, it's not going to take effect immediately.
Is it fair to judge Morsi based on 100 days alone? Maybe, maybe not. Online voters at MorsiMeter have an overall satisfaction level of 39 percent. But given the recent clashes and all the hype surrounding this rather arbitrary deadline, Egyptians need to figure out what their real expectations are.
In the wake of a series of cyber attacks from Chinese I.P. addresses at the height of the Senkaku/Diaoyu island dispute, Yomiuri Shimbun reports that Japan is pushing a plan to create a "cyber defense network" consisting of Japan and 10 ASEAN countries.
"Under the system, the government intends to share information about cyber-attack patterns and technology to defend against the attacks. It also plans to carry out exercises to verify the effectiveness of the system within the current fiscal year."
More details will be discussed during meetings on information security in Tokyo this week, but the countries reportedly interested in participating include Thailand and Indonesia.
While the network's present plans -- sharing technology and information about attack patterns -- don't seem particularly innovative or groundbreaking, the fact that the network is being formed could be seen as another sign of widespread, cross-border fears of Chinese hackers.
More than a dozen Japanese websites belonging to banks, a government minister, a hospital, and some courts were hit during the row over the Senkaku Islands, many altered to display Chinese flags or to proclaim that the Diaoyu islands belong to China. Similar attacks took place on websites in the Phillipines - again related to a territorial spat over an island - earlier this year (although in fairness, Filipino hackers struck back) while last week saw a flurry of reports claiming that Chinese hackers had targeted the White House in a cyberattack (the White House said the attacks were a simple spear-phishing email, and that no harm had been done).
Yomiuiri Shimbun also reports that ASEAN countries might be interested in the network because their protections against cyberattacks haven't kept up with the increased use of computer equipment that has accompanied economic development.
TEH ENG KOON/AFP/Getty Images
A recently discovered video from online hacker group, Anonymous, has threatened to expose collaborators of the Los Zetas Mexican drug cartel in retaliation for the kidnapping one of the members of the online collective. The video claimed that they would release the names of journalists, taxi drivers and others who have worked with Los Zetas in the past.
The video, published on Oct. 6, and picked up today by major media outlets, was in response to an alleged kidnapping of an Anonymous member following a street protest in the Veracruz state. The video deptics a man wearing a suit and a Guy Fawkes mask delivered his threat in Spanish. The style is similar to other videos put out by Anonymous group in the past. The original video is embedded below, with a translated version provided by The Guardian linked here.
Global intelligence company, STRATFOR, released a report several days ago, where they argued that any action by Anonymous was certain to lead to more violence on the part of the cartels. In the report, they specified that this could be especially detrimental on bloggers and journalists who have risked their lives to report on the drug cartels activities.
Last month, a separate set of online activists who used social media platforms to deliver news and reports about the drug cartels to local citizens, were found hanging from a bridge. A message found next to their bodies was clear to all passersby: "This is what happens to people who post funny things on the Internet. Pay attention." As a result, many journalists and activists may face a new threat in their quest to increase transparency and report on the crisis facing Mexico.
The Saturday night train crash in eastern China that killed around 40 and injured around 200 (different reports give different figures) has provoked a firestorm reaction on the Chinese internet. A number of locals have accused the Chinese government of burying the trains to cover up evidence. The accusations were picked up and circulated on the Chinese microblogging site and rumor hub Sina Weibo, and even official state outlet Global Times has quoted family members of the accident victims questioning the official death toll.
Official reports have said that the crash was caused by a lightning strike. If so, it's at least the second time in the last three weeks that thunderstorms have caused malfunctions on high-speed rail trains. The first of these incidents occurred on July 10 on a train traveling the newly opened Beijing-Shanghai rail line, though a subsequent investigation from the Shanghai Oriental Post (translated here by the University of Hong Kong's China Media Project) cast doubt on this explanation.
Chinese state media outlet Xinhua says that the government has recovered the "black box" from the latest crash, so an updated report on the cause of the accident should be forthcoming. But a report from Chinese muckraking magazine Caixin argues that the accident would have been "entirely preventable" had the train's automated data collecting system been functioning properly.
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.