Sweeping the Net for… [take your pick]

From Ron Deibert:

The LGBTQ news website, “Gay Today,” is blocked in Bahrain; the website for Greenpeace International is blocked in the UAE; a matrimonial dating website is censored in Afghanistan; all of the World Health Organization’s website, including sub-pages about HIV/AIDS information, is blocked in Kuwait; an entire category of websites labeled “Sex Education,” are all censored in Sudan; in Yemen, an armed faction, the Houthis, orders the country’s main ISP to block regional and news websites.

What’s the common denominator linking these examples of Internet censorship? All of them were undertaken using technology provided by the Canadian company, Netsweeper, Inc.

In a new Citizen Lab report published today, entitled Planet Netsweeper, we map the global proliferation of Netsweeper’s Internet filtering technology to 30 countries. We then focus our analysis on 10 countries with significant human rights, insecurity, or public policy issues in which Netsweeper systems are deployed on large consumer ISPs: Afghanistan, Bahrain, India, Kuwait, Pakistan, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, UAE, and Yemen. The research was done using a combination of network measurement and in-country testing methods. One method involved scanning every one of the billions of IP addresses on the Internet to search for signatures we have developed for Netsweeper installations (think of it like an x-ray of the Internet).

National-level Internet censorship is a growing norm worldwide. It is also a big business opportunity for companies like Netsweeper. Netsweeper’s Internet filtering service works by dynamically categorizing Internet content, and then providing customers with options to choose categories they wish to block (e.g., “Matrimonial” in Afghanistan and “Sex Education” in Sudan). Customers can also create their own custom lists or add websites to categories of their own choosing.

Netsweeper markets its services to a wide range of clients, from institutions like libraries to large ISPs that control national-level Internet connectivity. Our report highlights problems with the latter, and specifically the problems that arise when Internet filtering services are sold to ISPs in authoritarian regimes, or countries facing insecurity, conflict, human rights abuses, or corruption. In these cases, Netsweeper’s services can easily be abused to help facilitate draconian controls on the public sphere by stifling access to information and freedom of expression.

While there are a few categories that some might consider non-controversial—e.g., filtering of pornography and spam—there are others that definitely are not. For example, Netsweeper offers a filtering category called “Alternative Lifestyles,” in which it appears mostly legitimate LGBTQ content is targeted for convenient blocking. In our testing, we found this category was selected in the United Arab Emirates and was preventing Internet users from accessing the websites of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (http://www.glaad.org) and the International Foundation for Gender Education (http://www.ifge.org), among many others. This kind of censorship, facilitated by Netsweeper technology, is part of a larger pattern of systemic discrimination, violence, and other human rights abuses against LGBTQ individuals in many parts of the world.

According to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, all companies have responsibilities to evaluate and take measures to mitigate the negative human rights impacts of their services on an ongoing basis. Despite many years of reporting and numerous questions from journalists and academics, Netsweeper still fails to take this obligation seriously.

Drumbeats

Lest we get too optimistic about 2018, this from Eliot Cohen, Director of the Strategic Studies program at Johns Hopkins:

There are sounds, for those who can hear them, of the preliminary and muffled drumbeats of war. The Chinese are reported to be preparing refugee camps along the North Korean border. Resources are being shifted to observe and analyze the North Korean military. Mundane logistical processes of moving, stockpiling, and updating crucial items and preparing military personnel are under way. Only the biggest indicator—the evacuation of American dependents from South Korea—has yet to flash red, but, in the interest of surprise, that may not happen. America’s circumspect and statesmanlike secretary of defense, James Mattis, talks ominously of storm clouds gathering over Korea, while the commandant of the Marine Corps simply says, “I hope I’m wrong, but there’s a war coming.”

Maybe nothing will happen. Maybe Donald Trump, he of the five draft deferments during the Vietnam War, will flinch from launching a war as commander in chief, in which case the United States will merely suffer an epic humiliation as it retreats from as big a red line as a president has ever drawn. Still, lots of people have an interest in war. For Russia, the opportunity to set the United States and China against each other over Korea is a dream come true. For narrow-minded American strategists, it is the only way of cutting the North Korean nuclear Gordian knot. For Kim Jong Un peeking over the edge of the precipice may cause South Korea to break with the Americans, or the Chinese to fight them. For Donald Trump it may be a moment of glory, a dramatic vindication of campaign promises, and an opportunity to distract American minds from Robert Mueller’s investigation of his campaign’s ties to the Russians. And so threats and bluster may turn into violent realities. And if they do, not tomorrow or the next day, but some time in 2018, a Second Korean War could very well make it one of those years in which history swings on its hinge.

Trump has become American media’s de-facto News Editor

Nice acerbic column by Jack Shafer. Presidents have always been able to shape the news agenda, he points out, but Trump is in his own category. Every time he burps, or tweets, the press jumps to attention and fills pages and saturates the ether with coverage and reaction.

For example, Page One of today’s Washington Post couldn’t be more Trumpian had the president designated coverage himself. Of the six stories on the page, four detail some Trump aspect or action—he is untethered to the facts; his relationship with FBI Director James Comey; his pipeline decisions; and his wall and sanctuary cities edicts. On the inside pages, another 14 stories about Trump, Trump appointees, or Trump actions dominate the paper’s news portfolio. Meanwhile, on the editorial pages, all eight editorials and op-eds sup from the Trump banquet.

Today’s New York Times strikes the same imbalance. Of the six stories on Page One, four are about Trump, with another 11 tucked inside. On the editorial pages, five of the seven pieces deal with Trump. The Wall Street Journal completes the sweep, with seven news stories and nine editorials or op-ed pieces dealing with Trump and his policies.

It should go without saying that every new president dictates the news agenda. But has any new president’s dominance been as complete as Trump’s?

You only have to ask the question to know the answer. Sigh.

Political views warp your judgement — and how

Fascinating — and scary — piece of research reported in the Washington Post. On Sunday and Monday, YouGov surveyed 1,388 American adults. Researchers showed half of them this crowd picture from each inauguration and asked which was from Trump’s inauguration and which was from Obama’s. The other half were simply asked which picture shows more people.

Simple, eh? Well, guess what?

The not-so-solid First Amendment

As I said the other day, my American friends are strangely confident that the Constitution will eventually keep Trump under control.

I wonder…

In the meantime, consider this sobering assessment by two academic lawyers in today’s New York Times:

When President Trump declared on Saturday that reporters are “among the most dishonest human beings on earth,” it was not the first time he had disparaged the press. Nor was it out of character when, later that same day, his press secretary threatened “to hold the press accountable” for reporting truthful information that was unflattering to Mr. Trump. Episodes like these have become all too common in recent weeks. So it’s comforting to know that the Constitution serves as a reliable stronghold against Mr. Trump’s assault on the press.

Except that it doesn’t. The truth is, legal protections for press freedom are far feebler than you may think. Even more worrisome, they have been weakening in recent years…

For example, the First Amendment offers no protection to journalists who are hounded and harassed by mobs dispatched by Trump and his minions.

Journalism is about to become a dangerous profession in the United States.

How did we get here?

Gary Wills has a sobering piece in the New York Review of Books. After looking at some pre-Trump demagogues — Father Charles Coughlin, Joseph McCarthy, George Wallace — he observes that Lleaders are made by followers. So…

The real question should be: what did the followers want that they could supply? Demagogues can touch exposed nerves, but some perceived crisis has to expose the nerves in the first place. Each of these men (only men) rode a turgid wave of turmoil caused by some menacing development. The Depression was the crisis Coughlin claimed to meet, by blaming it on the Jews. The cold war created the Commie scare that gave McCarthy his hunting license. The civil rights movement made Wallace a grubby improbable knight of the Old South. What is the crisis that created that parasite on the Republican Party called Trump?

What do his followers want to be saved from, even by a not-very-palatable savior? Two crises have, with some justification, been listed. First there is the shock some whites feel at having a black man in the Oval Office treated as superior to them. A second crisis is the growing income inequality, letting whatever money is still being made float inevitably up to those who are already rich. These anxieties do, undoubtedly, gnaw at Trump’s followers. But I think a deeper crisis underlies them both, not shouldering them aside but pitching in to make them both more pervasive and more intense.

This is the shuddering distrust of every kind of authority—a contempt for the whole political system, its “establishment,” the Congress, its institutions (like the Fed), its “mainstream” media, the international arrangements it has made (not only the trade deals but the treaty obligations under NATO and other defense agreements). This is a staggering injection of bile into the public discourse. It does not answer, or even address, the question: what kind of order can be maintained in a society that does not recognize the legitimacy of any offices?

What has caused this bitter disillusion? It is the burrowing and undermining infection of the Iraq war—the longest in our history, one that keeps upsetting order abroad and at home. The war’s many costs—not just in lives and money but in psychic and political damage—remain only half-visible in America, as hidden as the returning coffins that could not be photographed for years…

All true. But I suspect that for many of the folks who voted for Trump, the Iraq war was the last thing on their minds.