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The Europe Roundup: The Art of Surveillance

BY Antonella Napolitano | Wednesday, January 18 2012

Photo: nolifebeforecoffee / Flickr
  • EU | A Parliament Inquiry on Internet Freedom

    Dutch news website reports that an inquiry on Internet freedom will be conducted by the European Parliament in the coming months. This research work will result in a resolution that will likely shape the foreign policy of the EU in the field of Internet freedom and human rights.

    The inquiry will be led by Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake, a committed politician on these issues that has voiced the issue of EU credibility, in the past few months. It has in fact been acknowledged that European companies develop many of the surveillance tools used by Middle-East regimes to monitor online communications of citizens (and eventually track dissidents and activists).

    The Dutch MEP has been frequently pointing out the central role that Europe plays and the subsequent need for a comprehensive European approach both in a global market and in a community of shared values.

    Schaake, who has been defined by the Wall Street Journal as the most wired politician in Europe, is a frequent speaker at PdF events, where she has explored these topics thoroughly. Here's her speech on the importance of EU decisions in a globally connected world that she delivered at PdF 2011:

  • Germany | Germany's Criminal Agency Is Testing a Spyware Program

    The German government, is reportedly testing a commercial spyware program, FinSpy, a surveillance application that was used by the Mubarak government in Egypt.

    The surveillance software is being tested by the federal criminal agency BKA. The news has been confirmed by the German government, replying to an inquiry addressed by Green Party MP Konstantin von Notz.

    The news may cause many concerns, especially in a country like Germany, whose government and politicians in general have always been on the forefront when it comes to protecting citizens' privacy: MP Von Notz raised in fact more questions on his blog.
    As reported by Deutsche Welle:

    In his blog, von Notz questions whether the BKA has been given access to the source code of the FinSpy software, which can be used to tap Internet telephony calls. He received no confirmation. 

    "It would be unusual if BKA didn't have access to the source code," Dirk Kollberg, a specialist with the anti-virus software firm Sophos, told Deutsche Welle. "There may be some reasons. May the government doesn't have the people trained to analyze such code." 

    Von Notz also questioned whether the government was aware of the FinSpy surveillance technology being used by authorities of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

    On Deutsche Welle John Blau also writes that "the government confirmed that the BKA acquired in early 2011 a license to test FinSpy for a limited period. The deal was signed previous to the decision that the government would establish its own software surveillance development program."

    Back in October the Chaos Computer Club, the largest group of activist hackers in Europe, released a report of their analysis on a backdoor Trojan allegedly used by the German police of the state of Bavaria during investigations on a suspect.

  • Surveillance According to Artists and Collectives published a retrospective of significant artists' works on video surveillance in public places.
    From art to hacking and back: examples include the works of street artist Banksy but also that of hacker collective barrio feliz that diverted the transmission signal of the video images of 48 cameras installed by the municipality of Madrid in the popular Lavapies neighbourhood to a different channel so that the surveillance system became useless.

    The topic is not new for collectives, as Owni's Ophelia Noor explains:

    Since the mid-90s several informal collectives have been addressing the issue of video surveillance in public places, particularly in the United States. The Surveillance Camera Players draw the attention of their fellow citizens to the subject by performing plays, such as Ubu Roi or passages from Orwell’s 1984, with placards in view of New York City street cameras. “These groups also contain academics, members of the IAA (Institute of Applied Autonomy) which in the past distributed “Routes of least surveillance” – maps showing the areas of New York which were not under surveillance,” explains Samira Ouardi, author of the book Artivisme.

Google sued in France over autocomplete
The Irish Department of Education will monitor Facebook and Twitter
The European Union is on Google +

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.


wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.


The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.


tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.


Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.


monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.