At a glance.
- Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit could herald an approaching cold war.
- Iran restricts internet use as protests unfold.
- US lawmakers push for better protections for domain registration data.
Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit could herald an approaching cold war.
Formed in 2001, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is an economic and political partnership helmed by China and Russia, and at the SCO summit last week, several countries including Iran, Turkey, and Myanmar announced their plans to join the partnership. With two major authoritarian governments at the wheel, the SCO promotes political and infrastructural strategies to maintain a protectionist attitude toward trade and social control over the countries’ citizens, and, as MIT Technology Review explains, this includes the use of technology that supports what experts call “digital authoritarianism.” In a 2018 report on freedom and the internet, nonprofit global democracy advocacy group Freedom House explained, “Digital authoritarianism is being promoted as a way for governments to control their citizens through technology, inverting the concept of the internet as an engine of human liberation.” In its research, Freedom House scores countries on factors like their privacy protections, censorship, and obstacles to internet access to determine how “free” a nation’s internet is. All of SCO’s members have seen their scores decline over the past ten years, with China coming in at the bottom of the charts last year. There is much debate over whether China might be intentionally attempting to foster the spread of authoritarianism, or if Western countries are merely intimidated by China’s technological influence. Some argue that the SCO, along with the infrastructural development program the Belt Road Initiative (BRI), aims to foster a cold war mentality. Indeed, in his speech at the summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping acknowledged the global cold war mentality, urging that “in such areas as trade and investment, infrastructure building, protecting supply chains, scientific and technological innovation, and artificial intelligence” be “adopted within the framework of the summit.”
Iran restricts internet use as protests unfold.
In a related story, the Record by Recorded Future reports that amid widespread protests in Iran over the recent killing of Mahsa Amini, the Iranian government appears to be limiting access to mobile networks and communication platforms. Internet access watchdogs say there are nationwide outages for users of Rightel and MCI (First Mobile), Iran’s leading mobile operator, and partial outages for Irancell. In addition, officials have placed a ban on the use of social media and communication platforms Instagram and WhatsApp. Social media platforms have become a means for protesters to share information and stirring video footage of the acts of resistance, like crowds of women burning their hijabs in the street. Alp Toker, director of internet disruption tracking organization NetBlocks, says they’ve seen a rapid increase in internet restrictions since Friday as protests escalated, with internet blackouts in Kurdistan province, and interruptions in parts of the capital Tehran. Toker added, “Perhaps the most striking is the restriction of Instagram today – Iran has already banned other platforms such as Twitter and Facebook for several years, with Instagram being a notable exception and one of the few remaining outlets for expression.”
US lawmakers push for better protections for domain registration data.
A group of US lawmakers led by Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Anna G. Eshoo have submitted a letter urging the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to improve protections over the privacy of domain registration information. Such registration records contain user names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses, and the lawmakers say it’s “highly concerning” that NTIA is not directing contractors administering .us domains to adopt any privacy protections. As the Record by Recorded Future notes, the letter comes in response to several global governments recently drawing attention to past attacks on domain registrars. The document reads, “The automatic public disclosure of users’ personal information puts them at enhanced risk for becoming victims of identity theft, spamming, spoofing, doxxing, online harassment, and even physical harm,” adding that anonymity is a requirement of free speech. The lawmakers recommend that NTIA automatically offer privacy free of charge upon registration, require users to provide affirmative consent for any transfer of their data to third parties, and require government entities to obtain a warrant if they wish to access .us user data, and alert users whenever such access is given.