freezing young womens' bank accounts for dancing is bad
and other tales of internet censorship
Egypt has a cyber crime law. It’s bad. It follows the global trend of broadly defining criminal activity in ways that can easily sweep up activists and the like.
For one thing, it’s now illegal to publish content counter to “family values.” Of course, this is being used to punish young women who express themselves freely.
Most of Eladhm’s videos feature her mouthing the words to pop songs or dancing to Arabic electronic music in fashionable dresses and crop tops. That wouldn’t be a crime in most countries, but in conservative Egypt she has become one of at least nine female TikTok users prosecuted in recent months on charges related to inciting debauchery and prostitution.
The girls are all from middle or working-class backgrounds, and some monetized their followings to earn thousands of dollars. While their content did not violate the app’s community standards, Egyptian authorities have enforced their own red lines, without clearly demarcating them.
At least one tried to flee and was tracked by her cell phone:
The next month, the nation’s Ministry of Interior issued a warrant for the 22-year-old’s arrest, accusing her of publishing videos and photographs that violated family values. Eladhm, who is the daughter of a retired policeman, fled her home in Cairo, but officers eventually found her in a suburb of the city by tracking her cellphone. She was sentenced in late July to two years in prison and fined nearly $19,000.
All were charged with “violating family values” and inciting debauchery under a controversial cybercrime bill passed by the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in August 2018. This week, the Egyptian state went one step further, passing an order from the prosecutor general and a Cairo criminal court to freeze Eladhm and Hossam’s funds.
Frozen funds will make it that much harder to flee or fight it in court. My friend Angus summed up my thinking nicely:
Neeraj K. Agrawal @NeerajKAEgypt arrests young women who use TikTok for “violating family values” and "inciting debauchery” Now their funds are being frozen. Their banks are complying with a lawful court order https://t.co/ST81wktKsh
Of course, cash is more immediately useful to someone who is fleeing an unjust law. But, setting aside the personal security risk of holding paper cash, even in America it’s not so easy to move around with it.
The outages come as governments around the world, including in Iran, Ethiopia, and India, have increasingly used internet blackouts as a tool of repression and authoritarian control to try to quash mass protests and unrest. Connectivity outages around elections have also become more common; so far this year, the governments of Burundi, Guinea, Togo, and Venezuela all disrupted social media platforms during their elections or the night before.
Breaking our reliance on centralized internet chokepoints is essential to fighting authoritarianism.
Defcon is going virtual this year, because of the thing.
In the past, Defcon has been cash only, paid at the door. The stated reason for this is to protect the hacker audience by preventing an accumulation of personal data that could then be targeted by law enforcement.
However, this year they are using PayPal. This is so they have enough personal data on each attendee to identify anyone who violates the code of conduct.
It's a far cry from past Defcons, which had a strict cash-only policy out of privacy concerns for its attendees. An FAQ for Defcon said this about credit card payments in 2019: "Do we take credit cards? Are you JOKING? No, we only accept cash -- no checks, no money orders, no travelers checks. We don't want to be a target of any State or Federal fishing expeditions."
That reason makes sense. But it does make me wonder if law enforcement will ask PayPal for the information.
Germany has an extremely strict online hate speech law. It’s often hailed as an example we should follow here in the US.
Unfortunately, it’s also hailed as the model for internet censorship laws in much less open societies. The latest example comes to us from Turkey.
Germany's "hate speech" law has been a solid generator of collateral damage since its inception. German lawmakers may believe they've ushered a new era of online enlightenment with the law, but it's inspired a number of censorial governments to create their own versions and point to Germany when anyone asks why they're silencing dissent and criticism. EFF says thirteen countries, including Venezuela, Malaysia, Russia, and the Philippines have all cloned NetzDG to better serve the continued restriction of their citizens' free speech rights.
If you can ban hate speech, and have discretion over what constitutes hate speech, that might be a tempting thing to abuse.
Here’s an op-ed about the international reach of WeChat censorship.
Left, who asked not to be identified by his full Chinese name, said he first received a warning message from WeChat administrators. Then he began receiving strangely specific messages that appeared to come from four of his friends on WeChat, all asking him for his location, what hotel he was staying at in San Francisco, what his room number was, and what his U.S. phone number was.
Then his cell phone received a warning message that someone in Shanghai was trying to log into his account.
Finally, when he wouldn’t tell them where he was staying, the same accounts all simultaneously began urging him to return to China as soon as possible.
Left told VICE News the he believes his friends only sent the messages after they were coerced by agents from the Ministry of State Security in an attempt to get him to reveal his location, and part of a much wider effort by the Chinese government to crack down on any dissenting voices who are sharing content related to the coronavirus outbreak.
It seems to me clear that there is something to that op-ed.
By the way, we launched a podcast. I’ve hosted a couple of episodes and even been a guest on the show. It’s not really about anything in particular. Here’s two recent ones.