Facebook is hiring a director of human rights policy to work on “conflict prevention” and “peace-building”

Facebook is advertising for a human rights policy director to join its business, located either at its Menlo Park HQ or in Washington DC — with “conflict prevention” and “peace-building” among the listed responsibilities.

In the job ad, Facebook writes that as the reach and impact of its various products continues to grow “so does the responsibility we have to respect the individual and human rights of the members of our diverse global community”, saying it’s:

… looking for a Director of Human Rights Policy to coordinate our company-wide effort to address human rights abuses, including by both state and non-state actors. This role will be responsible for: (1) Working with product teams to ensure that Facebook is a positive force for human rights and apply the lessons we learn from our investigations, (2) representing Facebook with key stakeholders in civil society, government, international institutions, and industry, (3) driving our investigations into and disruptions of human rights abusers on our platforms, and (4) crafting policies to counteract bad actors and help us ensure that we continue to operate our platforms consistent with human rights principles.

Among the minimum requirements for the role, Facebook lists experience “working in developing nations and with governments and civil society organizations around the world”.

It adds that “global travel to support our international teams is expected”.

The company has faced fierce criticism in recent years over its failure to take greater responsibility for the spread of disinformation and hate speech on its platform. Especially in international markets it has targeted for business growth via its Internet.org initiative which seeks to get more people ‘connected’ to the Internet (and thus to Facebook).

More connections means more users for Facebook’s business and growth for its shareholders. But the costs of that growth have been cast into sharp relief over the past several years as the human impact of handing millions of people lacking in digital literacy some very powerful social sharing tools — without a commensurately large investment in local education programs (or even in moderating and policing Facebook’s own platform) — has become all too clear.

In Myanmar Facebook’s tools have been used to spread hate and accelerate ethic cleansing and/or the targeting of political critics of authoritarian governments — earning the company widespread condemnation, including a rebuke from the UN earlier this year which blamed the platform for accelerating ethnic violence against Myanmar’s Muslim minority.

In the Philippines Facebook also played a pivotal role in the election of president Rodrigo Duterte — who now stands accused of plunging the country into its worst human rights crisis since the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s and 80s.

While in India the popularity of the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messaging platform has been blamed for accelerating the spread of misinformation — leading to mob violence and the deaths of several people.

Facebook famously failed even to spot mass manipulation campaigns going on in its own backyard — when in 2016 Kremlin-backed disinformation agents injected masses of anti-Clinton, pro-Trump propaganda into its platform and garnered hundreds of millions of American voters’ eyeballs at a bargain basement price.

So it’s hardly surprising the company has been equally naive in markets it understands far less. Though also hardly excusable — given all the signals it has access to.

In Myanmar, for example, local organizations that are sensitive to the cultural context repeatedly complained to Facebook that it lacked Burmese-speaking staff — complaints that apparently fell on deaf ears for the longest time.

The cost to American society of social media enabled political manipulation and increased social division is certainly very high. The costs of the weaponization of digital information in markets such as Myanmar looks incalculable.

In the Philippines Facebook also indirectly has blood on its hands — having provided services to the Duterte government to help it make more effective use of its tools. This same government is now waging a bloody ‘war on drugs’ that Human Rights Watch says has claimed the lives of around 12,000 people, including children.

Facebook’s job ad for a human rights policy director includes the pledge that “we’re just getting started” — referring to its stated mission of helping  people “build stronger communities”.

But when you consider the impact its business decisions have already had in certain corners of the world it’s hard not to read that line with a shudder.

Citing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (and “our commitments as a member of the Global Network Initiative”), Facebook writes that its product policy team is dedicated to “understanding the human rights impacts of our platform and to crafting policies that allow us both to act against those who would use Facebook to enable harm, stifle expression, and undermine human rights, and to support those who seek to advance rights, promote peace, and build strong communities”.

Clearly it has an awful lot of “understanding” to do on this front. And hopefully it will now move fast to understand the impact of its own platform, circa fifteen years into its great ‘society reshaping experience’, and prevent Facebook from being repeatedly used to trash human rights.

As well as representing the company in meetings with politicians, policymakers, NGOs and civil society groups, Facebook says the new human rights director will work on formulating internal policies governing user, advertiser, and developer behavior on Facebook. “This includes policies to encourage responsible online activity as well as policies that deter or mitigate the risk of human rights violations or the escalation of targeted violence,” it notes. 

The director will also work with internal public policy, community ops and security teams to try to spot and disrupt “actors that seek to misuse our platforms and target our users” — while also working to support “those using our platforms to foster peace-building and enable transitional justice”.

So you have to wonder how, for example, Holocaust denial continuing to be being protected speech on Facebook will square with that stated mission for the human rights policy director.

At the same time, Facebook is currently hiring for a public policy manager in Francophone, Africa — who it writes can “combine a passion for technology’s potential to create opportunity and to make Africa more open and connected, with deep knowledge of the political and regulatory dynamics across key Francophone countries in Africa”.

That job ad does not explicitly reference human rights — talking only about “interesting public policy challenges… including privacy, safety and security, freedom of expression, Internet shutdowns, the impact of the Internet on economic growth, and new opportunities for democratic engagement”.

But among the role’s listed responsibilities is working with Facebook’s Politics & Government team to “promote the use of Facebook as a platform for citizen and voter engagement to policymakers and NGOs and other political influencers”. So here it looks to be continuing its ‘business as usual’ strategy of pushing for more political activity to take place on Facebook.

If Facebook wants an accelerated understanding of human rights issues around the world it might be better advised to take a more joined up approach to human rights across its own policy staff board, and at least include it among the listed responsibilities of all the policy shapers it’s looking to hire.

From Idea to Action: Beyond the Net Selects 15 Amazing Chapter Projects!

The Beyond the Net Funding Programme is pleased to announce the results of our 2018 Grant Cycle. A total of 49 applications were received, and after a thorough reviewing process, 15 amazing projects were selected.

These projects are at the core of our mission, and will use the Internet to develop Community Networks in underserved areas, to empower women through ICT, as well as bringing awareness on  Internet policies around the world.

This is the result of months of effort from our Chapter Community. Many discussions, numerous clarifications and proposals, updates, and revisions form the Beyond the Net Selection Committee. We are proud of you all.

Please join us in celebrating the following projects!

Developing community networks in the Northern region of Brazil – Brazil Chapter

Supporting and promoting the development of the Internet to enrich people’s lives, the project aim is to contribute to the growth and improvement of community networks policies and practices in Brazilian rural areas, in order to strengthen those who are marginalized. Instituto Nupef will work to develop a new network in the state of Maranhão as well as a developing a communications plan for the Babassu coconut breakers organizations and movements. Objectives include expanding the reach of community networks with broadband Internet, monitoring of legislative and regulatory issues, and consequently documenting the work by disseminating the experiences by way of videos, photos, and texts.

Migrant Community Networks – Mexico Chapter

Aiming to understand how a particular community of migrants lives and communicates beyond societal spaces. We plan to analyze the re-appropriation of space and communication, digital connectivity and social discourse, through observation, data collection in forms of digital communication and social interaction, and by means of audiovisual recording of refugees’ everyday lives. This project doubles as an exploratory and social intervention that will help open a dialogue on connectivity among the migrant community. Objectives include implementation of a community network with trans-border communication in the Tijuana area and the creation of a digital archive of migrant communities’ experiences.

Creation of an Internet Traffic Exchange Point (IXP) – Dominican Republic Chapter

The project aims to create an IXP in a neutral, reliable, safe,  and efficient place, achieving the interconnection and exchange of traffic between those involved. Objectives are to raise awareness among local stakeholders regarding both the need and the advantages of an IXP, reducing costs of international interconnection and maintaining local internet traffic at national borders. Improvement of stability and resilience of the Internet service can optimize response times to security incidents and technical problems and the creation of a “community” of operators will give continuity to the project, promoting its expansion and operation according the best local and international practices.

Improving Livelihood of Women Through ICT Empowerment – Malaysia Chapter

The project target is to train 400 women to use the MyHelper crowdsourcing application to encourage earning extra income. This three-pronged project provides opportunities for women to develop essential entrepreneurial skills through ICT, empowering them to start their own businesses and use the Internet to improve their livelihood. Training modules will be developed in English as well as local languages such as Malay and Tagalog during a 3-month period, benefitting a large pool of women and ensuring the sustainability of the project. The creation and improvement of profiles will increase crowdsource worker visibility and the application of jobs.

Creating Networks – Youth Special Interest Group (SIG)

Firstly, the project aims to map organizations “of young people” in Latin America to identify how many work with issues related to the Internet and ICT, and leveraging its importance.  A website will be created displaying this information, followed by a capacity building phase and introduction, plus chartered topics and sessions related to individual work modules. Objectives will include, after analysis, face-to-face capacity-building sessions on Internet Governance to encourage proactiveness and general connection. Survey results will be published as well as a general guide on the development and experience of the project and the materials used, for use by the general public and in both the Spanish and Portuguese language.

“Multistakeholder Internet Governance Training”- Guinea Chapter

For the first time, a training project aims to set up a multilateral, inclusive, multistakeholder and discussion platform related to general Internet issues in Guinea and particularly on Internet Governance. Discussions will contribute to the development of the Internet at local, regional, and International level. Specific objectives are the training of approximately 70 people from different areas of life, including government, business, and civil society as well as engineers and standards development professionals. A committee will be created to ensure that Guinea’s concerned are addressed as well as addressing the need to increase Internet Governance capacity for Internet users as well as ensuring that stakeholders are well prepared for improved contributions/interactions.

Zaria Community Network and Culture Hub – Nigeria Chapter

The project seeks to use the Internet to improve the quality of education for the formally enrolled, as well as those outside the formal schooling system, as a resource for basic education, vocational development, and self-employment opportunities. A campaign will be run to enlighten communities on the opportunities available. Goals will include the implementation of free-to-use ISM band to reach research and educational institutions, community WiFi hotspots and solar-powered back-up solutions, culture hub web portals, a shared learning management system and a network monitoring infrastructure. A community engagement session for 500 teachers, students, and individuals will be conducted as well as continuous enlightenment campaigns and surveys to estimate effectiveness of strategies.

Women in Cyber Security – Kazakhstan Chapter

The implementation of the project will increase potential, and ensure that young women have the necessary skills and knowledge to understand, participate in, and benefit fully from cybersecurity and their applications as well as creating future role models thus increasing the percentage of women in the field. The aim of the training is to bridge the digital gender divide in cybersecurity in Kazakhstan by conducting 8 training sessions of approximately 50 students over a period of two years. Experienced female trainers will use up-to-date cybersecurity educational programs with the objective of increasing to up to 50% the number of women in this field over the next decade.

LibreRouter Phase 2 – Community Networks Special Interest Group (SIG)

The LibreRouter is the first multi-radio mesh router that is designed for community networks. It enables simple mesh deployment with little to no manual configuration and provides easy to follow documentation on technical aspects but also for planning and coordination. This Phase 2 project intends to cover an important missing piece: organized remote support for LibreRouter based networks. Main objectives are the design and implementation of a support system dashboard with a support request and follow-up mechanism, as well as extending LibreRouzer software tools to improve on problems identified. Other aims include the completion of documentation materials, hardware improvements and exploration of designs with the objective of lowering costs.

Spring of Knowledge – Kyrgyzstan Chapter

Schools in Kyrgyzstan have a great need for teachers with over 2500 teaching positions unfilled every year. The project aims are to improve the quality of education in Kyrgyzstan and increase the number of personnel to allow teachers to spend more time with students as well as providing additional materials to improve their own training. Objectives are to expand opportunities for studies in pilot locations, stimulating independence and responsibility and reducing the divide between school children in developed countries and those living in Kyrgyzstan in both rural and urban areas. Our aim is to increase the digital literacy of schoolchildren in Kyrgyzstan in pilot locations within 1 academic year.

Better Internet for Everyone in Lebanon – Lebanon Chapter

In Lebanon, the daily challenge is the peak time when the Internet user’s consumption outgrows the total bandwidth capacity and the quality of service is degraded for shared bandwidth offerings constituting more than 90% of the residential Internet market. Our project is a new business model for shared bandwidth offerings, consisting of a different pricing model based on the time of use as well as a subscriber panel to monitor service quality and accountability. The proof of concept will be tested first with up to 10 local community WISPs and later with other developing countries and ranging from 50 to 1000 subscribers. Comparisons will be made of aggregated graphs effects, consumption behavior, old vs new ISP revenues, and finally community polls to evaluate the new model and prepare to scale once proven.

DigiGen– Serbia Belgrade Chapter

The project aim is to explore how ICT technologies and the Internet can play a role in decreasing the existing gender digital gap and how to take into consideration gender awareness in developing new and evolving technologies. Our objective is to determine how new technologies can meet societal challenges across gender lines to promote and accelerate access to quality education, entrepreneurship, and innovation. Research topics include understanding the factors for acceptance of new technologies across genders and using the learning acquired for maximum impact and developing a leadership platform in rural areas. Our aim is also to leverage free access to the Internet through “Internet Light” as well as creating digital literacy recommendations in documented form for further program implementation in the region.

Contributing towards better ICT Policy Environment in Nepal – Nepal Chapter

The project goal is to build ICT and Internet related laws and policies in Nepal compatible with both international standards and best practices and ensuring the fundamental human rights of individuals. It will, after analysis, organize consultations with stakeholders and prepare policy recommendations aiming to ensure an open and sustainable Internet and ICT for the benefit of all. Objectives will incorporate the review of draft bills from international standards perspectives, inform major stakeholders of loopholes by sharing policy recommendations, and publishing a policy brief for the enhancement of knowledge. Our aim is to ensure the best adoption of Internet-related laws that will uphold Internet rights.

Empowering Village Development Committee Leaders – Botswana Chapter

In Botswana, Village Development Committees (VDCs), are “the main institutions charged with the responsibility for community development activities.” This project will provide training to VDCs committee leaders on use of the Internet as well as introducing the opportunities on offer. The project aims to target VDCs leaders in 2 remote regions with the aim of empowering these village leaders by showcasing to the best of its ability the benefits of using the Internet. By donating a laptop for use by the VDCs of the 4 most rural areas, we can empower these leaders to access information and facilitate communication. No local program has yet targeted these leaders and yet they are influential in community development. The full objective is to target 40 leaders in 4 regions to become Internet champions in their respective areas and contribute to village development issues in a productive way. 

KASBUY: Promoting Moroccan Women’s Participation in the Digital Economy – Morocco Chapter

Our proposition is the project KASBUY, a web platform to help cooperatives overcome marketing difficulties in advertising their products and reaching out to clients. KASBUY is an e-commerce platform and will allow any registered cooperative to have its own online space from which it will sell its products and manage its business and inventory management activities. The project will encourage the best use of the Internet for sustainable development of local communities and includes opportunities from which women and their families will benefit.  With the promotion and preservation of Moroccan artisanal heritage and the use of a universal and accessible web showroom, we aim to improve the maximum employment for women and families, particularly in rural areas.

Do you have a great idea to make your community better via the Internet? Find out if you’re eligible for a Beyond the Net grant!


Image: Nyirarukobwa Primary School in the Eastern Provice of Rwanda, which was connected to the Internet via a Beyond the Net project, ©Nyani Quarmyne

The post From Idea to Action: Beyond the Net Selects 15 Amazing Chapter Projects! appeared first on Internet Society.

UK’s mass surveillance regime violated human rights law, finds ECHR

In another blow to the UK government’s record on bulk data handling for intelligence purposes the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that state surveillance practices violated human rights law.

Arguments against the UK intelligence agencies’ bulk collection and data sharing practices were heard by the court in November last year.

In today’s ruling the ECHR has ruled that only some aspects of the UK’s surveillance regime violate human rights law. So it’s not all bad news for the government — which has faced a barrage of legal actions (and quite a few black marks against its spying practices in recent years) ever since its love affair with mass surveillance was revealed and denounced by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, back in 2013.

The judgement reinforces a sense that the government has been seeking to push as close to the legal line as possible on surveillance, and sometimes stepping over it — reinforcing earlier strikes against legislation for not setting tight enough boundaries to surveillance powers, and likely providing additional fuel for fresh challenges.

The complaints before the ECHR focused on three different surveillance regimes: 1) The bulk interception of communications (aka ‘mass surveillance’); 2) Intelligence sharing with foreign governments; and 3) The obtaining of communications data from communications service providers.

The challenge actually combines three cases, with the action brought by a coalition of civil and human rights campaigners, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Big Brother Watch, Liberty, Privacy International and nine other human rights and journalism groups based in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.

The Chamber judgment from the ECHR found, by a majority of five votes to two, that the UK’s bulk interception regime violates Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (a right to respect for private and family life/communications) — on the grounds that “there was insufficient oversight both of the selection of Internet bearers for interception and the filtering; search and selection of intercepted communications for examination; and the safeguards governing the selection of ‘related communications data’ for examination were inadequate”.

The judges did not find bulk collection itself to be in violation of the convention but noted that such a regime must respect criteria set down in case law.

In an even more pronounced majority vote, the Chamber found by six votes to one that the UK government’s regime for obtaining data from communications service providers violated Article 8 as it was “not in accordance with the law”.

While both the bulk interception regime and the regime for obtaining communications data from communications service providers were deemed to have violated Article 10 of the Convention (the right to freedom of expression and information,) as the judges found there were insufficient safeguards in respect of confidential journalistic material.

However the Chamber did not rule against the government in two other components of the case — finding that the regime for sharing intelligence with foreign governments did not violate either Article 8 or Article 10.

While the court unanimously rejected complaints made by the third set of applicants, under Article 6 (right to a fair trial), about the domestic procedure for challenging secret surveillance measures, and under Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination).

The complaints in this case were lodged prior to the UK legislating for a new surveillance regime, the 2016 Investigatory Powers Act, so in coming to a judgement the Chamber was considering the oversight regime at the time (and in the case of points 1 and 3 above that’s the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000).

RIPA has since been superseded by IPA but, as noted above, today’s ruling will likely fuel ongoing human rights challenges to the latter — which the government has already been ordered to amend by other courts on human rights grounds.

Nor is it the only UK surveillance legislation judged to fall foul on that front. A few years ago UK judges agreed with a similar legal challenge to emergency surveillance legislation that predates IPA — ruling in 2015 that DRIPA was unlawful under human rights law. A verdict the UK Court of Appeal agreed with, earlier this year.

Also in 2015 the intelligence agencies’ own oversight court, the IPT, also found multiple violations following challenges to aspects of its historical surveillance operations, after they have been made public by the Snowden revelations.

Such judgements did not stop the government pushing on with the IPA, though — and it went on to cement bulk collection at the core of its surveillance modus operandi at the end of 2016.

Among the most controversial elements of the IPA is a requirement that communications service providers collect and retain logs on the web activity of the digital services accessed by all users for 12 months; state power to require a company to remove encryption, or limit the rollout of end-to-end encryption on a future service; and state powers to hack devices, networks and services, including bulk hacking on foreign soil. It also allows the security agencies to maintain large databases of personal information on U.K. citizens, including individuals suspected of no crime.

On the safeguards front the government legislated for what it claimed was a “double lock” authorization process for interception warrants — which loops in the judiciary to signing off intercept warrants for the first time in the U.K., along with senior ministers. However this does not regulate the collection or accessing of web activity data that’s blanket-retained on all users.

In April this shiny new surveillance regime was also dealt a blow in UK courts — with judges ordering the government to amend the legislation to narrow how and why retained metadata could be accessed, giving ministers a deadline of November 1 to make the necessary changes.

In that case the judges also did not rule against bulk collection in general — declining to find that the state’s current data retention regime is unlawful on the grounds that it constituted “general and indiscriminate” retention of data. (For its part the government has always argued its bulk collection activities do not constitute blanket retention.)

And today’s ECHR ruling further focuses attention on the safeguards placed around bulk collection programs — having found the UK regime lacked sufficient monitoring to be lawful (but not that bulk collection itself is unlawful by default).

Opponents of the current surveillance regime will be busily parsing the ruling to find fresh fronts to attack.

It’s not the first time the ECHR has looked at bulk interception. Most recently, in June 2018, it deemed Swedish legislation and practice in the field of signals intelligence did not violate EU human rights law. Among its reasoning was that it found the Swedish system to have provided “adequate and sufficient guarantees against arbitrariness and the risk of abuse”.

However it said the Big Brother Watch and Others vs United Kingdom case being ruled upon today is the first case in which it specifically considered the extent of the interference with a person’s private life that could result from the interception and examination of communications data (as opposed to content).

In a Q&A about today’s judgement, the court notes that it “expressly recognised” the severity of threats facing states, and also how advancements in technology have “made it easier for terrorists and criminals to evade detection on the Internet”.

“It therefore held that States should enjoy a broad discretion in choosing how best to protect national security. Consequently, a State may operate a bulk interception regime if it considers that it is necessary in the interests of national security. That being said, the Court could not ignore the fact that surveillance regimes have the potential to be abused, with serious consequences for individual privacy. In order to minimise this risk, the Court has previously identified six minimum safeguards which all interception regimes must have,” it writes.

“The safeguards are that the national law must clearly indicate: the nature of offences which may give rise to an interception order; a definition of the categories of people liable to have their communications intercepted; a limit on the duration of interception; the procedure to be followed for examining, using and storing the data obtained; the precautions to be taken when communicating the data to other parties; and the circumstances in which intercepted data may or must be erased or destroyed.”

(Additional elements the court says it considered in an earlier surveillance case, Roman Zakharov v. Russia, also to determine whether legislation breached Article 8, included “arrangements for supervising the implementation of secret surveillance measures, any notification mechanisms and the remedies provided for by national law”.)

Commenting on today’s ruling in a statement, Megan Goulding, a lawyer for Liberty, said: “This is a major victory for the rights and freedom of people in the UK. It shows that there is — and should be — a limit to the extent that states can spy on their citizens.

“Police and intelligence agencies need covert surveillance powers to tackle the threats we face today — but the court has ruled that those threats do not justify spying on every citizen without adequate protections. Our government has built a surveillance regime more extreme than that of any other democratic nation, abandoning the very rights and freedoms terrorists want to attack. It can and must give us an effective, targeted system that protects our safety, data security and fundamental rights.”

A Liberty spokeswoman also told us it will continue its challenge to IPA in the UK High Court, adding: “We continue to believe that mass surveillance can never be compliant in a free, rights-respecting democracy.”

Also commenting in a statement, Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “This landmark judgment confirming that the UK’s mass spying breached fundamental rights vindicates Mr Snowden’s courageous whistleblowing and the tireless work of Big Brother Watch and others in our pursuit for justice.

“Under the guise of counter-terrorism, the UK has adopted the most authoritarian surveillance regime of any Western state, corroding democracy itself and the rights of the British public. This judgment is a vital step towards protecting millions of law-abiding citizens from unjustified intrusion. However, since the new Investigatory Powers Act arguably poses an ever greater threat to civil liberties, our work is far from over.”

A spokesperson for Privacy International told us it’s considering taking the case to the ECHR’s Grand Chamber.

Also commenting in a supporting statement, Antonia Byatt, director of English PEN, added: “This judgment confirms that the British government’s surveillance practices have violated not only our right to privacy, but our right to freedom of expression too. Excessive surveillance discourages whistle-blowing and discourages investigative journalism. The government must now take action to guarantee our freedom to write and to read freely online.”

We’ve reached out to the Home Office for comment from the UK government.

On intelligence sharing between governments, which the court had not previously considered, the judges found that the procedure for requesting either the interception or the conveyance of intercept material from foreign intelligence agencies to have been set out with “sufficient clarity in the domestic law and relevant code of practice”, noting: “In particular, material from foreign agencies could only be searched if all the requirements for searching material obtained by the UK security services were fulfilled.”

It also found “no evidence of any significant shortcomings in the application and operation of the regime, or indeed evidence of any abuse” — hence finding the intelligence sharing regime did not violate Article 8.

On the portion of the challenge concerning complaints that UK intelligence agencies’ oversight court, the IPT, lacked independence and impartiality, the court disagreed — finding that the tribunal had “extensive power to consider complaints concerning wrongful interference with communications, and those extensive powers had been employed in the applicants’ case to ensure the fairness of the proceedings”.

“Most notably, the IPT had access to open and closed material and it had appointed Counsel to the Tribunal to make submissions on behalf of the applicants in the closed proceedings,” it also writes.

In addition, it said it accepted the government’s argument that in order to ensure the efficacy of the secret surveillance regime restrictions on the applicants’ procedural rights had been “both necessary and proportionate and had not impaired the essence of their Article 6 rights”.

On the complaints under Article 14, in conjunction with Articles 8 and 10 — that those outside the UK were disproportionately likely to have their communications intercepted as the law only provided additional safeguards to people known to be in Britain — the court also disgareed, rejecting this complaint as manifestly ill-founded.

“The applicants had not substantiated their argument that people outside the UK were more likely to have their communications intercepted. In addition, any possible difference in treatment was not due to nationality but to geographic location, and was justified,” it writes. 

When battery life saves human life

Few would equate human life with battery life, but for many migrants escaping war or famine, a single percentage point of battery can mean getting the right information at the right time – or not surviving at all.

Smartphones today have become an integral part of a forced migrant’s journey. From navigating mountains in Central Asia using Google Maps to staying connected with family back home via WhatsApp, smartphones have transformed the migrant experience – though not always for the better.

No electron spared

In Eastern Europe, many migrants pushed back from Hungary stay along the border on the Serbian side in abandoned buildings. Volunteers visit these sites to bring supplies, including repurposed car batteries that migrants use to charge their phones.

At one abandoned building less than a mile from the Hungarian border, migrants huddle around one car battery to charge their phones, and they all agree about the importance of battery life to them. Many asked for a power bank to enable them to charge their phone when outlets are not available. Between each other, they constantly compare notes on what apps use up the most battery power, and remind each other to close apps when not in use.

Nashid, a migrant from Pakistan taking shelter in this building, says one of his primary needs at this remote outpost is for a way to charge his phone. With no regular access to electricity, he depends on the visits of volunteers to be able to charge his battery, concocting all sorts of ways to keep it alive until their next visit. Some of his strategies include making sure his phone is turned off when he sleeps at night or if he naps during the day, as well as using the lowest brightness level possible. He swears that taking out a dead battery and shaking it repeatedly provides him with a few extra minutes of phone use.

For many migrants traversing Eastern Europe to get to Western Europe, the Hungarian-Serbian border presents the final frontier. Once in Hungary, migrants will have entered the Schengen Area, the 26 EU-member zone with no border controls, making their destination countries in Western Europe significantly easier to reach. Increased security though has made this border crossing significantly harder – with many migrants being beaten and pushed back into Serbia dozens of times before they eventually make it across.

Nashid has been trying to cross into Hungary from Serbia for the past eight months. He left his family, including a wife and two kids, back in Pakistan before setting out to Europe. He says he uses WhatsApp to keep in touch with them and to stay connected to his cousin in Paris – his ultimate destination. He admits, battery constraints aside, that his phone also provides him with a reprieve from long hours spent idly waiting every day. He tries to sneak a song or two, or watch a couple of Urdu-language videos on YouTube.

One journey, a million apps

Over the last few years, Serbia has taken on the role of a major transit point for migrants trying to make it to Western Europe. The Refugee Aid Miksalište Center in the Serbian capital Belgrade, a drop-in center open 24 hours a day, is staffed by NGOs that provide services to migrants in transit. As soon as you enter the Center, you again see migrants gathered around extension cords, charging their phones and using the Center’s free Wi-Fi to access their social media and Skype with friends and family back home.

Migrants in Serbia huddle around a power strip to charge their smartphones (Photo by Ziad Reslan)

The same scene seems to repeat wherever migrants congregate. The nearly 70 million forced migrants across the world today have had to travel thousands of miles to get to a place of refuge. More than half of these migrants come from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan, and South Sudan. Syrians, the single largest forcibly displaced population, have to traverse on average more than 1,400 miles just to get to Serbia’s border with Hungary on their long trek from Aleppo to Western Europe.

From getting directions, to learning languages, to simply accessing entertainment, smartphones have become vital for migrants on these grueling journeys that can last for months – if at the very least to get some emotional support by talking to loved ones they leave behind.

At the height of the European refugee crisis in the summer of 2015, when nearly a million Syrian refugees crossed into Europe to escape a brutal civil war, Facebook and WhatsApp chat groups sprung up to let migrants know of real-time developments on the road, which smugglers to trust, and what rates to negotiate. Dropped GPS pins and Google Maps turn directions into practical routes migrants can take. In some cases, migrants on sinking boats in the Mediterranean have helped coast guards find them by sending GPS signals from their smartphones.

Migrants download German, French, English, and other language learning apps on their phones to aid them in acculturating to their eventual destination while they’re still on the move. They use Google Translate to understand road signs in Bulgarian, Serbian, and Hungarian. And with migrant journeys breaking up families, smartphones have become migrants’ only way to stay connected.

In recognition of the importance of connectivity to forcibly-displaced migrants, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) – launched “Connectivity for Refugees” in mid-2016. The initiative advocates for migrants’ right to connectivity; enables access through negotiated data rates for refugees, subsidized device prices, and internet access centers; and provides training to ensure migrants are able to fully take advantage of their smartphones. Two years in, the UNHCR plans to increase the initiative’s staffing and roll out connectivity programs beyond the current pilot countries of Jordan, Greece, Chad, Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Startups, for their part, have also been ramping up efforts to help migrants. Two Columbia architecture students, Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta, cofounded LuminAid. A startup that makes the PackLite Max 2-in-1 Phone Charger, a solar-powered phone charger and light source that the cofounders have given away to displaced migrants. With the UNHCR estimating that up to a third of a forced migrant’s income is spent on connectivity, Phone Credit for Refugees has taken on providing migrants with free data access. Others, like GeeCycle, have instead focused on collecting used smartphones from around the world and distributing them to refugees fleeing conflict.

The challenge of misinformation

NGOs like Save the Children Serbia operate out of the Refugee Aid Miksalište, a drop in center with free WIFi and available plugs. (Photo by Ziad Reslan)

For all of their benefits though, smartphones have not always improved the journeys of forced migrants. The reliance on anonymous sources on social media to navigate routes has left migrants vulnerable to smugglers and traffickers looking to take advantage of their misfortune. Even information obtained from relatives can turn out to be erroneous – with heart-wrenching consequences.

Jelena Besedic, an Advocacy Manager for Save the Children Serbia, says that the spread of misinformation has been part of the reason for the rise of unaccompanied children traversing the Balkans from Afghanistan. Parents of kids as young as eight now stuck in Serbia were falsely told that, if their kids arrive safely in Western Europe, they’re entitled to bring their parents.

Misinformation of this sort about the ease of the asylum process can lead migrants to take on increasingly dangerous journeys, only to be disappointed with the reality once they reach their destination countries. This misinformation has led organizations, like the International Organization for Migration, to start information campaigns at source countries to better educate would be migrants about the dangers of setting out west. In addition, increasingly nationalist governments, like Hungary and Italy, have started campaigns targeting the smartphones of migrants with text messages and online ads to dissuade them from coming to their countries in the first place.

Familial pressure on migrants may have always been a reality, but access to smartphones has made that pressure incessant and instantaneous. Stuck at the border between Serbia and Hungary, Nashid says he would never have made the trek if he knew what he would have to face on his more than 4,000-mile journey from Pakistan to France. But while he was still in Pakistan, he had received messages non-stop from his cousin in Paris telling him how easy it was for him to get there and how plentiful jobs are in France. Once Nashid left Pakistan, messages from his wife and two kids constantly asking whether he’d arrived in Paris have made the idea of going back home impossible.

Nashid ends our conversation by asking me to confirm a rumor he’s heard on WhatsApp. Is it true, he asks, that there are now personal battery banks that one can charge like a phone that extend a smartphone’s battery life by up to 100 hours? A charger like that, he stresses, would make a world of a difference to him out here miles away from the nearest plug.

Facebook gets leave to appeal to Ireland’s Supreme Court after failing to block data transfer referral to CJEU

Facebook has been given the go ahead to appeal to Ireland’s Supreme Court against an earlier High Court decision to refer key questions relating to the validity of EU-US data flows to Europe’s top court, the Irish Times reports.

The eventual outcome of what is already years of legal to-ing and fro-ing — in a case that’s colloquially referred to as ‘Schrems II’ — could have major implications for the thousands of companies that rely on transferring EU citizens’ personal data to the US for processing.

The case was originally lodged with the Irish Data Protection Commission by European privacy campaigner, Max Schrems — as a complaint over the legality of Facebook’s use of Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs) for transferring EU citizens’ data. Although it was Ireland’s DPC that took the decision to go to court — seeking a definitive ruling on the legality of the data transfer mechanism.

The High Court then added its concerns about another mechanism: The EU-US Privacy Shield.

Facebook is disputing the court’s earlier findings, including of “mass indiscriminate processing” of data by U.S. government agencies — under the PRISM and Upstream data harvesting programs (details of which were made public in documents released in 2013, by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden).

In May, Facebook was denied a stay against the CJEU referral by the High Court. So the decision by the Supreme Court to hear its appeal sidesteps that earlier block — albeit, the referral to the CJEU stands, and has neither been blocked nor revoked by today’s decision.

However, if the Supreme Court hears Facebook’s appeal before the end of the year — as slated — that’s likely to be before the CJEU delivers its verdict on the referred questions. So there’s at least a possibility that the outcome of the Irish appeal could feed into the CJEU judgment, i.e. when Europe’s supreme court conducts its own assessment of the validity of EU-US data transfer mechanisms.

Equally, there’s no guarantee that Facebook’s arguments will persuade Ireland’s Supreme Court judges there was anything wrong with the High Court’s findings of fact in the first place.

The company’s decision to ask the Supreme Court to hear its appeal against the High Court’s CJEU referral lacks precedent in Ireland — so the company is challenging local case law.

The Irish Times reports that the judges rejected arguments made by the DPC and Schrems against the appeal, deeming it “at least arguable” that Facebook could persuade the court that at least some of the facts under challenge should be reversed.

According to the newspaper, the court granted Facebook leave to appeal on all eleven grounds which its lawyers had presented.

It was also eleven questions that the High Court referred to the CJEU in April — seeking guidance on a range of fine-grained points around whether rights afforded to EU citizens are being adequately protected by the current data transfer mechanisms and regimes, including Privacy Shield and SCCs; how to determine which rules and regulations take precedence across borders and/or where legal priorities clash and overlap; and whether, in cases of rights violations caused by surveillance law, data protection authorities have to suspend data flows or whether they can use discretion to not do so.

The case is based on an even earlier (2013) complaint by Schrems, related to US surveillance law, when he challenged Facebook (and other tech giants) over how user data they held was accessed by US intelligence agencies under US government mass surveillance programs — arguing such bulk access contravenes Europeans’ fundamental privacy rights.

The result, in 2015, was a landmark CJEU judgement which struck down a long-standing EU-US data transfer mechanism (called Safe Harbor).

The European Commission has since negotiated an updated replacement mechanism (aka: The EU-US Privacy Shield) — which is now used by more than 3,400 companies to simplify the process of authorizing transfers of EU citizens’ personal data to the US.

However this replacement is under increasing attack at home, with European MEPs angry at decisions taken by the current US administration which they see as counter to the spirit of the agreement and/or risking undermining actual protections agreed by EU and US negotiators during the Obama presidency.

US lawmakers’ continued backing for warrantless surveillance is one example — when the hope in Europe had rather been for reform of Section 702 of FISA, not the six-year renewal that Trump signed off on.

The Trump administration has also failed to fully enact certain aspects of the Privacy Shield arrangement (two years on from launch there’s still no permanent appointment to an ombudsperson role intended to handle EU citizens’ complaints, for example).

And in June the EU Parliament’s LIBE committee called for Privacy Shield to be suspended by September 1 unless the US comes into full compliance. Earlier this month the EU parliament also adopted a resolution calling for the suspension of the EU-US Privacy Shield.

The annual review of the Privacy Shield mechanism is due to take place in October — so the Commission really needs to eke out some substantial concessions from US counterparts or face further political heat in its own backyard.

Aside from the CJEU, the Commission is the only EU institution with the power to suspend Privacy Shield, although the executive body has shown no appetite for that. Rather its priorities align with ensuring ‘business as usual’ — at least where all important data flows are concerned — vs taking a principled stance in defense of EU citizens’ fundamental rights. For that, Europeans typically have to look to the courts. Or, sometimes, the parliament.

The Irish Times reports that Facebook’s grounds for appeal to the Supreme Court in the Schrems II case include the necessity of the High Court making a reference in light of Privacy Shield — with the company arguing the court is bound by the finding on US law contained within the Privacy Shield decision. (A decision that was, however, made by the Commission, not by an EU court…)

It also argues that the High Court should have taken into account the effect of the introduction of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation on the legal context which will operate when the CJEU comes to consider the reference — with the referral taking place prior to GDPR coming into force on May 25.

The company is also claiming the court made several errors in its assessment of US law — including in its finding of “mass indiscriminate” processing; and that US laws and practices did not provide EU citizens with an effective remedy, as required under the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, for breach of data privacy rights.

We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment on the appeal.

The principled thinkers behind universal human rights | Letters

Reactions to Afua Hirsch’s opinion piece on 2018’s anniversaries of the founding of the NHS and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In reminding us of the 70th anniversary yet to come on 10 December 2018 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Celebrate the NHS at 70. But don’t forget what inspired it, Journal, 27 June), Afua Hirsch missed an opportunity to reflect that it was a Briton, HG Wells, whose The Rights of Man provided the source for much of the text of the declaration. Thus, through the work of the drafting committee chaired by a Canadian, John Peters Humphrey, the UK played a key underpinning role in its drafting.

The declaration was the principal driver in the development of the 1950 European convention on human rights, which adopted much of the UDHR but also established a court for the enforcement of the convention: the European court of human rights. Another Briton, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, played a key part in the development of the convention.

Continue reading…

Salesforce reportedly won’t cancel its contract with border agency despite employee petition

While denouncing the separation of migrant families as “inhumane,” chief executive officer Marc Benioff reportedly told employees that Salesforce will continue its contract with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) because it’s technology isn’t involved in the CBP’s U.S.-Mexico border policies. Benioff’s internal memo, obtained by Bloomberg News, was in response to a recent petition signed by more than 650 Salesforce employees asking him to reexamine the deal in response to the Trump’s administration’s policy of separating migrant families at the border.

On Tuesday, a federal judge issued an order to reunite families and end most separations. Salesforce has worked with the CPB since March, providing it with tools to manage staff recruiting and communication.

Known for his outspoken public support of progressive causes, Benioff wrote in the memo that he is “opposed to separating children from their families at the border. It is immoral. I have personally financially supported legal groups helping families at the border. I also wrote to the White House to encourage them to end this horrible situation.”

Though the contract will continue, Salesforce chief operating officer Keith Block said on Twitter that Salesforce will donate $1 million to organizations supporting separated families, while its non-profit, Salesforce.org, will match employee contributions.

Salesforce is one of several companies that have denounced the separations, but continue to do business with government agencies involved in border policies. These include Microsoft, which has a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Amazon, where employees reportedly asked chief executive officer Jeff Bezos to cancel contracts with government agencies that want to use its facial recognition tech. Google, on the other hand, reportedly decided not to renew a Pentagon contract after several employees resigned to protest its involvement with controversial AI research project Project Maven.

TechCrunch has contacted Salesforce for comment.

The Week in Internet News: Governments Shut Down Internet for School Testing

Couldn’t you just take their phones away? The government of Algeria told telecom carriers to shut down Internet service for several hours a day during high school testing season, according to several news reports. The government is trying to prevent the repeat of a situation in 2016, when exam questions were leaked online, reports Al Jazeera. The government of Iraq has taken similar action, the news agency says. It’s unclear how a short shutdown each day will prevent leaks.

Why IoT security is terrible: The headline is certainly catchy, but the IEEE Spectrum suggests that the Internet of things has some special security challenges including nation state hackers that are targeting the systems (although that’s true of other IT systems as well). Another of the six reasons: Many IoT systems, like your connected refrigerator, don’t have dedicated IT security workers looking out for them.

Score one for encryption: Using the encrypted WhatsApp, Syrian school girls banned from attending school in Islamic State-controlled territory, are taking pictures of school work and sharing it with each other, notes NakedSecurity, referencing a report on the BBC. “Education is everything, and it’s our weapon,” one of the girls says.

Not so fast, WhatsApp: The secure messaging app doesn’t always get high praise, however. The Guardian notes that critics of WhatsApp have blamed it for aiding the spread of fake news in India, Brazil, Kenya and the U.K. The privacy controls on the app make it difficult to monitor what information users are sharing, critics say.

AI against toxic trolls: In recent years, there’s been a lot of talk about using artificial intelligence to treat disease, to fight crime, and even to play chess and the game Go. One company is using the technology to combat toxic behavior in online game communities, reports VentureBeat. Spirit AI uses AI and related technologies to understand the general vibe of an online community and predict problems ahead of time.

No more online discount? The U.S. Supreme court has weighed in on a long-running dispute that allows many online retailers to avoid collecting sales tax from customers who live in a different state. But the Supreme Court has not ruled that states can force those sales tax collections, CNN reports. While some online retailers have been collecting tax for years, it appears that others may soon be joining them.

Do you know the risks of your IoT devices? No matter who you are, it pays to #GetIoTSmart.

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