Stories from Abroad

Since 2010, the Benton Foundation and the New America Foundation have partnered to highlight telecommunications debates from countries outside the U.S.

Using Texts as Lures, Government Spyware Targets Mexican Activists and Their Families

Mexico’s most prominent human rights lawyers, journalists and anti-corruption activists have been targeted by advanced spyware sold to the Mexican government on the condition that it be used only to investigate criminals and terrorists. The targets include lawyers looking into the mass disappearance of 43 students, a highly respected academic who helped write anti-corruption legislation, two of Mexico’s most influential journalists and an American representing victims of sexual abuse by the police. The spying even swept up family members, including a teenage boy.

Britain’s broadband capital considers cutting off phone lines

The small city of Hull in northern England is planning to be one of the first places in Europe to consign its telephone lines to history. By the end of 2017, between 150,000 and 180,000 of Hull’s 210,000 buildings will be using the city’s super-fast fibre broadband network. That means it is time, according to Bill Halbert, the head of the local telecoms company KCOM, to start thinking about decommissioning the old copper telephone network. “Copper cannot handle the future,” said Halbert, who pointed out that most British households are now running seven to nine devices off their internet network and that fibre-optic cables are the only option. “It has to be fibre all the way. That’s one of the big national challenges for our economy.” If the city gets rid of its phone lines, it would follow in the footsteps of Svalbard, the Norwegian archipelago, and the Channel island of Jersey. Palaiseau, outside Paris, is also planning to ditch the old wires in 2018.

Chairman Pai Honored by Zee TV

Ajit Pai, the first Indian American to chair the Federal Communications Commission, will receive the Zee Entertainment National Leadership Award. That is coming at a Capitol Hill reception July 13. Zee TV produces Hindi programming for a worldwide audience (172 countries). “Chairman Pai’s intellect, objectivity and commitment to the law make him the obvious choice for this inaugural award,” said Sameer Targe, CEO of ZEE TV Americas. While it is the first National Leadership Award, Zee plans to make it an annual event. The award is given to "individuals who have made great strides in promoting excellence in public communications, advancing free market solutions, and encouraging creativity, integrity and growth."

Making Google the Censor

[Commentary] Prime Minister Theresa May’s political fortunes may be waning in Britain, but her push to make internet companies police their users’ speech is alive and well. In the aftermath of the recent London attacks, PM May called platforms like Google and Facebook breeding grounds for terrorism. She has demanded that they build tools to identify and remove extremist content. Leaders of the Group of 7 countries recently suggested the same thing. Germany wants to fine platforms up to 50 million euros if they don’t quickly take down illegal content. And a European Union draft law would make YouTube and other video hosts responsible for ensuring that users never share violent speech. The fears and frustrations behind these proposals are understandable. But making private companies curtail user expression in important public forums — which is what platforms like Twitter and Facebook have become — is dangerous. Outraged demands for “platform responsibility” are a muscular-sounding response to terrorism that shifts public attention from the governments’ duties. But we don’t want an internet where private platforms police every word at the behest of the state. Such power over public discourse would be Orwellian in the hands of any government, be it May’s, Donald Trump’s or Vladimir Putin’s.

[Keller is the director of Intermediary Liability at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, and previously was associate general counsel to Google]

How Russian Propaganda Spread From a Parody Website to Fox News

Born in the shadowy reaches of the internet, most fake news stories prove impossible to trace to their origin. But researchers at the Atlantic Council, a think tank, excavated the root of one such fake story, involving an incident in the Black Sea in which a Russian warplane repeatedly buzzed a United States Navy destroyer, the Donald Cook.

Like much fake news, the story was based on a kernel of truth. The brief, tense confrontation happened on April 12, 2014, and the Pentagon issued a statement. Then in April, three years later, the story resurfaced, completely twisted, on one of Russia’s main state-run TV news programs. The new version gloated that the warplane had deployed an electronic weapon to disable all operating systems aboard the Cook. That was false, but it soon spread, showing that even with all the global attention on combating fake news, it could still circulate with alarming speed and ease.

Request for Comments on the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ Implementation of a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch

Executive Order 13781,
‘‘Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch,’’ signed into effect on March 13, 2017, directs the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to present the President with a plan that recommends ways to reorganize the executive branch and eliminate unnecessary agencies. As part of this process, the Broadcasting Board of Governors will be submitting a proposal for reorganization to OMB. This request for comments seeks public input on potential reforms at the BBG that would increase the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the agency. These comments will also be considered in the development of the BBG’s 2018–2022 Strategic Plan. The BBG requests that respondents generally address the following overarching questions:
What are the most important or effective projects or programs that the BBG undertakes?
Do you think that there are any changes that BBG could make to increase the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of its media networks or the agency itself? If so, please describe those changes.
Would you propose reorganizing any parts or aspects of the BBG or its media networks to increase efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability? If so, how?
In today’s changing media landscape, how should the BBG adapt to best serve its mission to inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy?
Submit either electronic comments or information by June 30, 2017.

Facebook’s Role in European Elections Under Scrutiny

Facebook provides little information on how political parties use ads to reach undecided voters on the site. And concern has been growing since the American presidential election about the company’s role in campaigns, including about how politically charged fake news is spread online. Now, as voters head to the polls across Europe, groups in Britain, Germany and elsewhere are fighting back, creating new ways to track and monitor digital political ads and misinformation on the social network and on other digital services like Twitter and Google.

The Case for Media Impact

What does it mean for a journalistic organization to put the goal of impact at the center of its mission? In this report, we explore this question through the lens of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its explosive project, “Evicted and Abandoned,” in which a collaborative reporting project of more than fifty reporters and fifteen organizations in twenty-one countries took on the World Bank.

Part One of the report introduces the current impact conversation in the media arena and describes ICIJ’s structure and strategy. Part Two traces the forerunners to some contemporary journalists’ discomfort with the notion of impact as a goal for media, and finds that, in fact, the notion of journalistic impact is nothing new. In Part Three, we examine how ICIJ’s impact imperative affects the organization’s approach to story choice, production, and distribution. The report also covers the challenges associated with this model and suggests what other journalistic organizations can learn from the experience of ICIJ.

Top-Secret NSA Report Details Russian Hacking Effort Days Before 2016 Election

Apparently, Russian Military Intelligence executed a cyberattack on at least one US voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing e-mails to more than 100 local election officials just days before November 2016’s presidential election. The top-secret National Security Agency document, which was provided anonymously to The Intercept and independently authenticated, analyzes intelligence very recently acquired by the agency about a months-long Russian intelligence cyber effort against elements of the US election and voting infrastructure. The report, dated May 5, 2017, is the most detailed US government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light.

While the document provides a rare window into the NSA’s understanding of the mechanics of Russian hacking, it does not show the underlying “raw” intelligence on which the analysis is based. A US intelligence officer who declined to be identified cautioned against drawing too big a conclusion from the document because a single analysis is not necessarily definitive. The report indicates that Russian hacking may have penetrated further into US voting systems than was previously understood.

British Prime Minister Theresa May calls for internet regulation after violent attack

British Prime Minister Theresa May is calling for tighter internet regulation in the wake of a deadly terror attack in and around London Bridge. The British PM said in a statement that technology serves as a breeding ground for terrorism and extremism. “We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed,” May said. “Yet that is precisely what the internet and big companies that provide internet-based services provide. We need to do everything we can at home to reduce the risks of extremism online.”

May called on democratic governments to “reach international agreements that regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremist and terrorism planning.” A UK parliamentary report from May alleges that social media companies have prioritized profit margins at the expense of the public’s safety by giving home to illegal content.