Wednesday 28 October 2015

SumVoices: Internet Privacy in Iraq – Iraqi Diaries

Our last installment of SumVoices featured East African computer security collective AfricaHackon. This week we bring you a second installment from Iraqi photojournalist and social media trainer Bahr Jasim. The two-part report features a version in Arabic, below.

Iraqi netizens, like most in the MENA region, are not aware of their privacy online. Most of them are not conscious about their online privacy and about what can happen if they don't protect themselves online. This has led to many negative results for Iraqi internet users. Here we will talk about the most important of them.

After twelve years since the American invasion, the New Iraq is governed by politicians who are not aware of the interests of Iraq or even don't care about the interests of the Iraqi people. From the Iraqi citizen's point of view, they consider that the actual government doesn't care about the country or the citizen; they just care about the security of themselves and their families and they don't care about the problems of the citizens.

The Iraqi people said that the government makes decisions and policies without taking into consideration the result, or undertaking research or referring to experts and experienced people. One of these policies is the cybercrime law, which will not serve the Iraqi netizen if enacted.

The Iraqi cybercrime law is one of the most malleable laws in the Arab region. It contains articles that can be interpreted and used against any netizen and in any way, because the articles are not clear and don't contain straightforward language. This allows for the government to arrest without any clear reason.

Many activists confirm that it is important to set rules that are in the interest and service of the Iraqi netizen to protect their privacy online and combat cybercrime, especially in the event of war or terrorism. Nevertheless, this cybercrime law did not address this and doesn't protect human rights and freedom of expression. It was a disaster and doesn't meet international standards, according to the deputy executive director of the Middle East for the organization Human Rights Watch. This law gives the Iraqi government a new tool to suppress dissent, especially on the internet, greatly used by Iraqi journalists and activists, who are increasingly seeking information and open debate on it.

Various local organizations have worked to stop the application of this law, and one of these is the Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM), who has published articles, blogs, and held events and conferences collaborating with experts, technical advisors, and the academic community, coming up with recommendations for better protection of netizens. INSM has also held workshops to spread awareness among Iraqi netizens, and has engaged in direct discussion with decision makers to make them aware of the risks of this law if implemented. INSM bloggers also collected signatures from human rights and freedom of speech organizations. The work of INSM and other local organizations was not in vain, as everyone worked hand in hand honestly for the good of all Iraqi people. Finally, this law was withdrawn. In addition, there has been some discussion to draft a new law.

Another example of a violation of privacy in Iraq was committed by a mobile game app called Aboudi that is the same as the popular game Subway Surfer. This application was downloaded by a large number of Iraqis without taking the time to read the registration policy and the permissions given to the game developer. These permissions include: your mobile phone identity, the programs that you have in it, the dates, studio, text messages, your contact numbers and names, WIFI and calls. These kinds of permissions are considered human rights and privacy violations, as the developer of the game can check this information whenever he wants to, unless the game doesn't require this information to work.

In another example, a case has been documented as a violation committed by an influential person against the privacy of another person directly. It happened in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Basra against a student who has been suspended for 28 days after publishing on his Facebook profile that the university lacks many services and provides poor accommodation. Another student was suspended for the same reason after commenting on his post. That proves to be a clear violation of online privacy and that freedom of expression is not guaranteed. A Facebook page is a private social page where we should be free to say whatever we want, but this is not the case in Iraq.

Flagrant violations of Iraqi internet user privacy in various forms are occurring, and these abuses are the result of a lack of awareness by the majority of netizens about their online privacy. Much work must be done locally with the help of Iraqi journalists and bloggers across the country.

Bahr Jasim – Iraq

Bahr Jasim is an Iraqi photojournalist who showcases human rights issues through photography and a social media trainer for journalists specializing in the protection of their rights in cyberspace. You can read his blog at and follow him on Twitter at His previous post for SumVoices can be found at:

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