IGF 2020 WS #240 Investigating Internet Censorship through Open Data

Thematic Track

Organizer 1: Maria Xynou, Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI)
Organizer 2: Arturo Filastò Buzzolan, OONI

Speaker 1: Maria Xynou, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Arturo Filastò Buzzolan, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Simone Basso, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Moderator

Maria Xynou, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator

Arturo Filastò Buzzolan, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Rapporteur

Arturo Filastò Buzzolan, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Format

Birds of a Feather - Classroom - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

This session will address the following policy questions: * How can we increase transparency of Internet censorship? * How can we support evidence-based public debate on information controls?

Internet censorship can constitute a violation of human rights (such as the right to freedom of expression and the right to access information), yet there is limited transparency of where, why, and how it occurs around the world. Identifying the intentional blocking of sites and services can be challenging. For starters, cases of Internet censorship are easier to notice when they affect services that are commonly used (such as WhatsApp) and receive media coverage, while the blocking of less popular sites and services (such as the blocking of minority group sites) often goes unnoticed. The fact that an Internet service is inaccessible doesn’t necessarily mean that it is intentionally blocked by an Internet Service Provider (ISP), as there are many reasons why a service may be inaccessible. Perhaps that service is hosted on an unreliable server, or its owner is blocking all IP addresses originating from a specific country. Internet censorship can vary from network to network within a country, as different Internet Service Providers (ISPs) often block access to different websites, often as a result of vague government orders. Most censorship techniques are quite subtle, making it hard for the average Internet user to distinguish a case of blocking from a transient network failure, a case of DNS misconfiguration, or other reasons why a service may be inaccessible. There is also limited transparency and oversight over cases of over-blocking and when Internet censorship results in collateral damage. In Indonesia, for example, Vimeo and Reddit were found to be blocked on a mobile network, even though their ban had been lifted more than 2 years ago. In Egypt, the blocking of a media website resulted in the collateral blocking of thousands of other websites that were hosted on the same Content Delivery Network (CDN). In order to monitor all cases of Internet censorship and ensure that they are lawful, it is necessary to measure networks to detect such cases. The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) has therefore built free and open source software that anyone can run to measure networks and collect evidence of Internet censorship. Through this session, participants will learn how to investigate Internet censorship through the use of OONI’s censorship measurement tools and open data. As a result, they will be able to use network measurements as evidence of Internet censorship and support their advocacy and policy efforts.

SDGs

GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequalities

Description:

Internet censorship events are increasingly emerging around the world. Hundreds of media websites and human rights websites are currently blocked in countries like Iran and Egypt. Amid Venezuela’s economic and political crisis, numerous independent media websites have been blocked, along with several blogs expressing political criticism. Minority group sites (such as LGBTQI sites) are blocked in numerous countries, while social media apps (such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger) are frequently blocked during elections and protests around the world. But how can such censorship events be detected, confirmed, and analyzed? Since 2012, the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) has been developing free and open source software with the goal of empowering the public to measure Internet censorship and other forms of network interference. This session aims to introduce participants to OONI’s tools, resources, and methodologies for measuring Internet censorship. OONI has developed mobile and desktop apps -- called OONI Probe -- designed to measure the blocking of websites, instant messaging apps, circumvention tools, as well as to measure the speed and performance of networks. To increase transparency of Internet censorship worldwide, OONI openly publishes all network measurements collected by OONI Probe users around the world. Through this session, participants will learn how to investigate Internet censorship and contribute to the world’s largest open dataset on Internet censorship. More specifically, participants will learn how OONI Probe works, how they can use it to measure various forms of Internet censorship, how they can coordinate censorship measurement campaigns, and how they can use OONI’s open dataset to investigate cases of Internet censorship around the world. As part of the session, participants will be encouraged to discuss how we can increase transparency of Internet censorship and support evidence-based public debate on information controls. As an outcome, participants will have an understanding of how to use OONI’s tools and dataset to investigate cases of Internet censorship around the world. As OONI data can serve as evidence of Internet censorship, it can support advocacy and policy efforts in defense of a free and open Internet.

Expected Outcomes

As an outcome of this session, participants will have learned how to use OONI’s tools for measuring Internet censorship and how to use OONI’s open dataset for investigating cases of Internet censorship around the world. Through the knowledge and skill-share of this session, human rights defenders will be able to use censorship measurement data as part of their campaigns, journalists will be able to support their reporting with empirical data on Internet censorship, lawyers will know how to search for data that could potentially be useful in court cases, and policy researchers will know how to find censorship measurement data that could support their work. In short, through the open methodologies shared in this session, participants will be able to independently investigate cases of Internet censorship around the world and use relevant data to support their research, advocacy, and policy efforts. This session may also create opportunities for new partnerships and multi-stakeholder collaborations on the study of Internet censorship around the world.

As part of the session, participants will be encouraged to discuss how we can increase transparency of Internet censorship and support evidence-based public debate on information controls. They will also be encouraged to share feedback on OONI’s tools and methodologies, install the OONI Probe app, and use OONI Explorer to find relevant measurements from the countries that interest them.

Relevance to Internet Governance: Internet censorship is an issue that is at the heart of Internet governance. This session aims to discuss how Internet censorship is carried out around the world and to share methods for increasing transparency of Internet censorship.

Relevance to Theme: This session aims to discuss cases of Internet censorship around the world, and how the public can participate in a decentralized, citizen-led, Internet censorship observatory. This is relevant to the thematic track of Inclusion, since it pertains to Internet accessibility (and the lack thereof) and the inclusion of diverse voices on the Internet.

Online Participation

 

Usage of IGF Official Tool.