Category Archives: Enemies of the Internet

Cuba: Long live freedom (but not for the Internet)!

Ministry of Informatics and Communications

The arrival of fibre optics in the island via the ALBA-1 submarine cable from Venezuela and the unblocking of some websites have offered a glimmer of hope, but Cuba still denies most of its population free access to the Internet. The Castro government has developed its own control model based on a local Intranet, sky-high Internet access costs and an all-pervading government presence.    

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Syria: online tracking is a family affair

Syrian Telecommunications Establishment (STE), Syrian Computer Society (SCS)

In March 2011, the government of President Bashar Al-Assad violently cracked down on peaceful demonstrations calling for democratic reforms. The authorities strengthened their control over all means of communication, including the Internet. This was relatively straightforward because of the stranglehold the authorities and the Assad family have over the telecoms infrastructure through three companies – the Syrian Telecommunications Establishment (STE), the Syrian Computer Society (SCS) and Syriatel. These companies ensured a reduction in Internet capacity in order to slow down the circulation of news and images of the demonstrations and the subsequent crackdown. With the help of units within the security services, they can deploy a whole armoury of weapons to monitor the Web and trace activists and dissidents.

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Iran: Cyberspace ayatollahs

The Revolutionary Guards, the Supreme Council for Cyberspace and the Working Group for Identifying Criminal Content

Content filtering, control over Internet service providers, the interception of communications, cyber attacks and the imprisonment of bloggers and netizens are common practice in Iran. Three bodies are responsible for carrying out this policy of repression inside the country: the Supreme Council for Cyberspace, the Organized Crime Surveillance Centre and the Revolutionary Guards.

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Russia: control from the top down

FSB (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation)

During the Winter Olympics in Sochi, the world at large discovered the existence of the
formidable Russian surveillance system known as SORM. Since 2000, the authorities have exploited the issue of security to boost censorship and surveillance of the Internet,
which remains one of the main platforms for independent information. This trend
has gathered strength since 2012, after mass protests against Putin’s return to
the Kremlin.

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Arms trade fairs: Surveillance dealerships

Technology Against Crime (TAC)


ISS World (Intelligence Support Systems for Lawful Interception, Criminal Investigations and Intelligence Gathering)

In its 2012 report on surveillance, Reporters Without Borders drew attention to several western companies that were guilty of selling surveillance technology to authoritarian governments that violate human rights. The same technology was on display in 2013 at arms trade fairs that attract industrialists and government representatives from the four corners of the planet.

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Saudi Arabia: prime centre of content blocking

The Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC) the Internet Services Unit (ISU)

Surveillance and censorship of the Internet, relentless in the kingdom for many years, intensified after the popular uprisings in the Arab world in 2011, cutting still further the only free space where non-official views, news and information could be published. The latest target in the Saudi authorities’ sights is the video platform YouTube, which has been blocked since last December. Six months earlier, the Viber messaging service was cut off.

The main Internet Enemies are the Communication and Information Technology Commission and the Internet Services Unit. Far from concealing their actions, the authorities openly attest to their censorship practices and claim to have blocked some 400,000 sites.

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Bahrain: No Internet spring

Ministry of Interior and National Security Apparatus

Three years after the start of a popular uprising, the Bahrain monarchy continues to use all the resources at its disposal to gag those calling for democratic reforms and respect for human rights. As the Internet is now the space preferred by Bahrainis for expressing their demands and sharing information, the authorities are constantly trying to improve their Internet surveillance and censorship methods in order to contain the dissent and protect Bahrain’s international image. The two government bodies at the heart of the online crackdown are the Ministry of Interior and National Security Apparatus (NSA). Continue reading

United Arab Emirates: Tracking “cyber-criminals”

Telecommunications Regulatory Authority and cyber-crime units

Feeling threatened, the Emirati authorities took advantage of regional political tension in 2011 to step up control of information and communications with the aim shoring up the regime. They tried to impose a new blackout in 2013 on the trial of 94 Emiratis accused of links with Al-Islah (a party affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood) and conspiring against the government. Only carefully chosen national media were allowed to attend the hearing and two netizens were convicted for tweeting about the trial.

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USA: NSA symbolises intelligence services’ abuses

In June 2013, computer specialist Edward Snowden disclosed the extent of the surveillance practices of the U.S. and British intelligence services. Snowden, who worked for a government sub-contractor and had access to confidential documents, later exposed more targeted surveillance, focusing on the telecommunications of world leaders and diplomats of allied countries.  Activists, governments and international bodies have taken issue with the Obama administration, as the newspapers The Guardian and The Washington Post have revealed the extent of the surveillance. The main player in this vast surveillance operation is the highly secretive National Security Agency (NSA) which, in the light of Snowden’s revelations, has come to symbolize the abuses by the world’s intelligence agencies. Against this background, those involved in reporting on security issues have found their sources under increasing pressure.   

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United Kingdom: World champion of surveillance

Government Commmunications Headquarters (GCHQ)

“They are worse than the U.S.” – Edward Snowden

The widespread surveillance practices of the British and U.S. governments, unveiled by Edward Snowden in June last year, put Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and its U.S. equivalent, the National Security Agency (NSA), at the centre of a worldwide scandal.  As part of its project “Mastering the Internet”, GCHQ has developed the world’s biggest data monitoring system. Supported by the NSA and with the prospect of sharing data, the British agency brushed aside all legal obstacles and embarked on mass surveillance of nearly a quarter of the world’s communications.

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