Weekly Roundup 18 July, 2022

By Tristan Gutbezahl | July 20, 2022

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St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow, Russia
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Photo Credit: Photo by Дмитрий Трепольский: https://www.pexels.com/photo/the-famous-saint-basil-s-cathedral-in-russia-8285167/
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Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an expansion to the “foreign agents” law on the 14th of July, allowing  Roskomnadzor, the Russian communications watchdog,  to block websites of foreign agents with only the authority of a request from the Justice Ministry. Under the new expansion, an entity can be designated a foreign agent with no evidence of foreign financing, and the restrictions on foreign agents include teaching, selling to the government, and receiving government support for art. 

The investigative research and journalism group Bellingcat and The Insider, a media partner of Bellingcat which operates in Russia, were designated foreign agents in October 2021 but were leveled up to “undesirable” organizations on the 15th of July, making it illegal for them to operate in Russia, for Russians to cooperate with them, or even to cite their work. These escalations follow a pattern of media and online repression which increased after the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the beginning of 2022. The expansion of the foreign agents law was accompanied by over one hundred other laws, many of which also target freedom of expression online.  Bellingcat has provided resources for those impacted by the ban who still wish to access their reporting.

Global Tech Policy

  • Members of the European Parliament are protesting a potential policy that could require online service providers (such as websites and online apps) to pay internet service providers. The legislators wrote in an open letter to the European Commission that going through with this policy would upset decades of delicate net neutrality policy, which has sought to strike a delicate economic balance between telecom companies and Big Tech companies.
  • Hong Kong’s government is requiring that all residents enter their legal names in the city’s contract tracing app, which has been mandatory throughout the pandemic. Democratic activists fear that this is just the latest attack on Hong Kongers’ privacy as the city moves to emulate the approach of mainland China, which has enacted strict lockdowns to combat the coronavirus throughout the pandemic. 
  • USAID has recently introduced the Digital Government Model to help clarify the vocabulary and key components surrounding existing frameworks of digital government. Though comprehensive, the model is not prescriptive, outlining only what governments have invested in thus far.
  • The Council on Foreign Relations has recently released a task force report recommending a new American foreign policy in the realm of cyberspace. The report is premised on the idea that American aspirations for an open, global internet have ended in the era of great power competition. 

Open Internet

  • TikTok has rebuffed calls to preserve content being produced in combat zones in Ukraine, which lawyers and activists say constitutes vital evidence of war crimes. Archiving content on TikTok has long been a serious challenge, given the app’s content moderation policy that results in the deletion of 90% of removed content and the countries in which TikTok stores data, including China, where its parent company ByteDance is headquartered.

Cybersecurity

  • Researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology have found a way that hackers can identify key information about anonymous users on all major browsers, without the user’s knowledge. If unsuspecting victims visit a malicious website, this hack analyzes subtle features of the target’s browser activity, including accounts that the user is logged into (such as YouTube, Facebook, Dropbox, etc). The attack works against every major browser, including Tor, and is considered a particular threat to journalists and political protests organizers.  

Disinformation

  • Participants at last month's Summit of the Americas highlighted the growing influence of Russian disinformation in Latin America. Propaganda has grown increasingly rampant as Russia seeks to sway non-Western countries to back its illegal invasion of Ukraine.
  • A recent study has mapped the operational hierarchy of CCP-backed bot networks on Twitter, which have been some of the most egregious purveyors of disinformation regarding China’s COVID-19 and Uighur detention policies. The study demonstrated that these networks are led by a select few accounts that create original content, whose tweets are then shared and amplified by an army of bots.

Other Tech News

  • Scientists recently discovered a radio signal emanating from billions of light-years away, with an eerily regular beat. The periodic nature of the signal’s beats represents a rarity in Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs), which typically only last a few milliseconds. 


 

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