Monday, 11 December 2017

Free speech, fake news, and a little ancient Egypt

If you want to endure in the mouth of those who hear, then listen, and speak after you have become a craftsman. If you speak to perfection, every project of yours will attain its goal. – Ptahhotep, Egyptian vizier, circa 24th century BCE 

One must wonder what Ptahhotep would say about today’s discourse hurled through cyberspace with astonishing ruthlessness. He’d probably be less impressed with the technology of the internet itself, attributing it to Heka, the ancient Egyptian god of magic.

Ptahhotep is notable for his book of wisdom, “The Instruction of Ptahhotep,” a behavior guide for young men considered one of the oldest books in the world. The book contains many notable maxims about speech, which was considered a skill to be learned and mastered. The ancient Egyptians viewed rhetorical skill as a balance between eloquence and wise silence. Looking at internet discourse, we could learn a thing or two from them.

“As for the ignorant man who does not listen, he accomplishes nothing. He equates knowledge with ignorance, the useless with the harmful. He does everything which is detestable, so people get angry with him each day.” 

“Only speak when you have something worth saying.” 

The technology of the internet may seem like a product of magic to people who wrote on wooden tablets and papyrus, but its content might seem prehistoric in its tone to people who existed even before Egypt.

Rhetoric was considered an art up to the Middle Ages, when the Church co-opted it for propaganda purposes to convert unbelievers and to keep the believing flock in check. The European Enlightenment saw the rejuvenation of rhetoric as a skill, helping to spread democratic ideals throughout European and the American colonies.

The cornerstone of those ideas is freedom of speech and press, unheard of in Ptahhotep’s time, when allegiance to the pharaoh was a requirement. Indeed, the concept of free speech is rarely mentioned in historical texts until the European Enlightenment. (While the ancient Greeks enjoyed relative free speech at times, Socrates was put to death for speaking out against the politics of his time.) Erasmus wrote, “In a free state, tongues should be free,” in The Education of a Christian Prince,” published in 1516. John Milton wrote a pamphlet in 1644 in which he argues against restrictions of freedom of the press. What follows is a progression of free speech advances: William and Mary established the English Bill of Rights in 1689. Voltaire wrote his letter to Monsieur l’abbe' in 1770. France instituted its Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789. The United States passed its Bill of Rights in 1791. 

The United Nations made it a basic right in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed on December 10, 1948. The world had just witnessed the greatest manmade destruction in human history; at least sixty million people had perished and entire cultures and civilizations were scarred for eternity. There was a genuine desire by most to end war for good.

But eras of history are too often defined by the conflicts fought within in them.

Yesterday, the UN kicked off a year-long campaign to honor this foundational human rights document. As we reflect upon the meaning of the declaration today, we do it through very different eyes than those of the post WWII era. While the latter half of the twentieth century did see significant progress in improving the lives of millions, it is alarming that this progress is being increasingly forgotten or willfully ignored, not only by those authoritarian regimes you’d expect, but by Western democracies who have been some of the greatest champions of human rights. What does it mean for the rest of us if Western democracies are discarding those principles some of us only dreamed of?

Each day we hear of attacks on free speech and press, and many of these attacks center on the internet. Hundreds or thousands of human beings languish in jails across the planet for things they have written on blogs and social media. The pathetic excuses don’t vary too much – inciting protests, blasphemy, and hate speech are the most common reasons given for detaining someone – but these are usually euphemisms for some autocrat getting his feelings hurt by online criticism or who sniffs a threat to his absolute power. “Fake news” is a recent phenomenon that is starting to be grounds for detention all over the globe, thanks to the anti-free speech and press regime that has taken up residence in the Oval Office of the United States.

But fake news really does exist, and it may have had a hand in disrupting the democratic process in the USA, the UK, and other places. Disruptive governments have employed armies of social media soldiers to spread propaganda and sow the seeds of discord wherever they feel they may benefit. The virtual monopoly that Facebook and Twitter have over online discourse without any of the constitutional guarantees provided by governments to protect speech gives a very few control over the vast majority of online global communication, but the overreliance on algorithms to patrol the message boards leaves the platforms ripe for abuse. The perils of fake news give us pause to reflect upon what free speech means in the twenty-first century and what are its limits. Like yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater, manipulating social media for destructive purposes may cross that line. In fact, when one country does it to another, it is an act of war.

With freedom comes great responsibility. Ptahhotep wrote, “Do not repeat a slanderous rumor, do not listen to it.” It is our responsibility to think before we share, to do a little research so we do not spread falsehoods. Let's put a little dignity back into online discourse for the sake of freedom of speech. Human dignity is what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is all about.

Our commitment to human rights is unwavering. It’s why we exist and why we continually seek to improve our suite of internet freedom tools. We’re not a big international company. We like to think of ourselves as a social enterprise, born of Africa but made for the world, especially for developing countries.

We want to protect activists and journalists from the prying eyes of oppressive governments who would imprison them.

We want to give citizens in oppressive countries the tools to circumvent censorship.

We will continue to provide free tools to achieve these aims. You can help us do that by purchasing a VPN subscription if you have the means to do so. Or not. It’s up to you. For the price of a giant international chain store cup of coffee, you can give internet freedom to those who need it. Together we can #StandUp4HumanRights.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Digital Divide: World Cyber Alerts - October 5, 2017

their legislation today could be yours tomorrow

Saudi flag and map

Saudi Arabia recently removed its 2013 ban on internet and voice over internet protocols (VoIP). According to the country’s Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), “This decision comes in line with recent trends in the ICT sector; the reliance on data revenues (Internet delivery) and added services is the global trend that operators in the Kingdom should take.” 

Privacy, Surveillance and Censorship
government isn't always on your side

Chinese flag and map

A leading Chinese messaging app, WeChat, has revealed that it will release the private information of users, including contacts and online searches, to Chinese authorities. WeChat currently boasts 662 million users. 

American flag and map

Cryptography experts have found a flaw in the United States National Security Agency’s push for Simon and Speck encryption protocols to become global industry standards: although the NSA maintains these are secure protocols, the organization can, in fact, break them

Chinese flag and map

China has added messaging app WhatsApp to its list of Facebook products banned in the country. The ban is seen as a measure to limit communication leading up to October 18’s Communist Party congress, which will determine future leadership. 

Research and Initiatives
making your world a more cybersecure place

Ghanaian flag and map

The continent of Africa now has its own internet domain: .africa. Users in Africa see the measure as a step towards “cyber independence” and fostering a continent-wide “internet community”. 

South African flag and map

The 2017 Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa was held in South Africa, marking the first time it was not hosted by Uganda. This year’s event recognized the second annual International Day for Universal Access to Information. 

Zimbabwean flag and map

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe recently held its second Internet Governance Multi-Stakeholder Conference. Noted digital security trainer, Natasha Msonza, “There is no digital world and a real world, just as there are no human rights and digital rights. The two are not mutually exclusive.” 

Australian flag and map

Australia plans to build a cybersecurity cooperative research center (CRC) with funding from government, industry, and research partners. The CRC is, in part, a response to the fact that Australia ranks second to last in the world for collaboration. 

the threats we all face

British flag and map 

United Kingdom-based “Big Four” accounting firm Deloitte has suffered a cyberattack. The company reports that it has contacted “each of the very few clients impacted.” 

All images credit of BOLDG/
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Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The Consequences of Internet Shutdowns

You might have seen the hashtag #KeepItOn across various social media platforms, but perhaps you don't quite grasp the severity of the problem it addresses. The hashtag was started by Access Now to bring awareness about an oft used tactic by regimes to control the online behavior of their citizens, the internet shutdown.

The excuses range anywhere from "to prevent students from cheating on exams" to "to prevent violent protests," but whatever the excuse, it is always a form of oppression.

Whether governments are blocking specific websites or shutting down the entire internet, the economic consequences are severe. The problem is particularly severe among African governments. In 2016 alone, 11 African countries disrupted internet communications. Since 2015, these interruptions have cost $235 million, according to a recent study conducted by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA). This at a time when the internet is making a significant contribution to the growth in GDP in many African countries.

You can get involved by visiting Access Now's #KeepItOn website. This shortsighted and undemocratic tactic must end.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

VPN use in the Middle East

In a recent survey of internet users in Egypt, KSA, UAE, Lebanon, Qatar, and Tunisia conducted by, 37% said they had concerns about governments checking what they do online, while 42% worried about companies checking what they do online. While these numbers are a sizable portion of the population, they are still too low.

The truth is, companies and governments alike want to know what you are doing online, not to mention thieves who salivate at the thought of getting your personal information, including your bank account. But more than money is at stake. Your life could be at stake. Government spies have used what they have gathered online against their own citizens, arresting them and imprisoning them in some cases.

Even lower than those concerned about privacy is the number of VPN users in these countries. VPN encrypts your information so that governments, companies, and cyberthieves can't see what you're doing online. Using a VPN is vital to protecting yourself and your livelihood.

In KSA in 2015, 52% worried about companies and 43% worried about government, yet only 7% said they used VPN when going online. Likewise, in Lebanon, 35% and 26% respectively are concerned about privacy, while a mere 3% use VPN. We aim to change that. With 1 GB free a month, you have no excuse to go unprotected. Get SumRando VPN today.

You can find the full study at

Friday, 1 September 2017

Digital Divide: World Cyber Alerts - September 1, 2017

their legislation today could be yours tomorrow

Indian flag and map

Privacy is the constitutional core of human dignity,” says India’s Supreme Court. The country joins the United States, Canada, South Africa, the European Union and the United Kingdom in recognizing this fundamental right. 

Chinese flag and map

China has a new internet policy: “For users who have not given identifying information, platforms for and providers of online communities may not allow posting of any kind.” In other words, real names must be used when posting online

Privacy, Surveillance, and Censorship
government isn't always on your side

American flag and map

Seven members of the United States’ National Infrastructure Advisory Council have resigned. Their letter of resignation accuses President Trump of giving “insufficient attention to the growing threats to the cybersecurity of the critical systems upon which all Americans depend.” 
Iranian flag and map 

In compliance with United States sanctions against Iran, Apple is “moving aggressively” to remove Iranian apps from its store. Most recently, the ride-hailing app Snapp was eliminated. 

Research and Initiatives
making your world a more cybersecure place

Russian flag and map

One thousand Russians protested censorship last week. The demonstration responds to measures such as a recent Putin-approved ban on VPNs, which will go into effect in November. 

the threats we all face

Pakistani flag and map 

A sustained cyber spying campaign has been carried out against India and Pakistan. Several groups working on behalf of an unnamed nation state are thought to be responsible. 

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All images credit of BOLDG/
Want more emerging economy cyber alerts? Read on!
Want Emerging Economy Cyber Alerts sent to your inbox? Sign up for our weekly newsletter ("Security Tips and News" at bottom of page). 

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