Posts Tagged ‘cyber’

Peter Navarro Blasts China and Wall Street ‘Globalists’

November 10, 2018

Image result for china, us, flags

U.S. and Chinese presidents are set to meet at the end of the month

Peter Navarro, seen here at the White House in June, is President Trump’s trade adviser.
Peter Navarro, seen here at the White House in June, is President Trump’s trade adviser. PHOTO: JIM WATSON/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

WASHINGTON—President Trump’s senior trade adviser, Peter Navarro, excoriated China and attacked Goldman Sachs and Wall Street as Beijing’s “unpaid foreign agents” who are weakening the U.S. leader before his meeting this month with China’s president.

Less than a mile away from where Mr. Navarro spoke, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis met with their Chinese counterparts to try to mend fences with Beijing, while discussing North Korea, Iran, the South China Sea and trade.

Decoding Xi Jinping's Strategy on Trade

At a mega-trade show in China, global businesses and political leaders were looking for hints of Xi Jinping’s strategy ahead of planned trade talks with President Trump. Photo: Reuters

They emerged with a consensus on some issues and differences on others.

The mixed messages reflect bitter tensions in the Trump administration about how to approach China.

Mr. Navarro and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer are deeply skeptical that China will make the kinds of the changes sought by the Trump administration and urge additional tariffs.

Other officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, have been trying to line up a deal. Mr. Trump sometimes favors one group and sometimes the other.

As a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping looms at the Group of 20 meeting in Buenos Aires, the economic council is coordinating what kind of trade deal the U.S. might accept from China. It is focusing on intellectual property, agricultural tariffs, forced technology transfer and requirements that U.S. firms form joint ventures to operate in China.

. It is focusing on intellectual property, agricultural tariffs, forced technology transfer and overturning requirements that U.S. firms form joint ventures to operate in China.

Mr. Navarro is pushing for a hard line on the talks, but made his position in an unusually personal terms.

“If Wall Street is involved and continues to insinuate itself in these negotiations, there will be a stench around any deal that’s consummated because it will have the imprimatur of Goldman Sachs and Wall Street,” Mr. Navarro said in a talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. He didn’t provide any evidence to back up his claims. A Goldman Sachs Group Inc. spokesman declined to comment.

Mr. Navarro also trained his rhetoric on Mr. Xi, who he said had failed to live up to deals with the Obama administration on demilitarizing the South China Sea and ending cyber hacking of U.S. firms. He referred to a “high-ranking member of the Chinese government,” in his address, but his description only fit Mr. Xi.

A senior White House official said Mr. Navarro didn’t speak for the administration or Mr. Trump. “It’s the president who rejuvenated the China negotiations” when he called Mr. Xi on Nov. 1, he said. Mr. Navarro “is freelancing; he’s speaking for himself.”

The security dialogue, initiated last year by Messrs. Trump and Xi, aims to boost cooperation between the two powers. Mr. Trump frequently refers to Mr. Xi as a friend and others in the administration rarely criticize him personally, as a way to create political space for potential deals.

“This was an incredibly productive conversation,” Mr. Pompeo said after the meeting in Washington with senior Communist Party official Yang Jiechi and Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe. “The United States is not pursuing a Cold War or containment policy with China, rather we want to make sure ensure that China acts responsibly and fairly.”

The two sides said they reinforced their commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and discussed Iran’s nuclear activities.

The two sides said they reinforced their commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and discussed Iran’s nuclear activities. But Mr. Pompeo said there remained “significant differences” over the militarization South China Sea islands, China’s policy toward Taiwan and human rights.

Mr. Pompeo didn’t address trade issues but senior Communist Party official Yang Jiechi suggested they discussed the subject, noting that a trade war isn’t good for either side. On trade, the fight appears to be as much within the U.S. administration as with China.

Mr. Navarro, in his talk, took a subtle jab at his main adversary, Mr. Mnuchin, who has tried to sideline Mr. Navarro and arrange talks with Beijing. Mr. Navarro said, “You’re not in good hands when negotiations get outside” of Messrs. Trump and Lighthizer.

Mr. Navarro lashed out at what he called “a self-appointed group of Wall Street bankers and hedge-fund managers” who he described as “globalist billionaires.”

“The mission of these unregistered foreign agents—that’s what they are; they are unregistered foreign agents—is to pressure this president into some kind of deal,” Mr. Navarro said.

While administration trade hawks frequently rail privately against U.S. executives who acts as back channels between the two nations, it rare for one to do so publicly. For one thing some of the executives, including Blackstone Group LP CEO Stephen Schwarzman, are friends of the president and speak to him frequently.

Others including former Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Hank Paulson, who was President Bush’s Treasury secretary, consults with Mr. Mnuchin. Mr. Schwarzman declined to comment. A spokesman for Mr. Paulson didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. complains that Beijing hasn’t given it a formal proposal, while China says that it needs to meet again, before the summit, before it can offer something concrete.

While the administration is refining what it wants from China—essentially trying to create a negotiating bottom line—it is also lining up additional tariffs should negotiations stall. So far, the U.S. has imposed tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods, about half what China sends to the U.S. Of that, the levies on $200 billion of goods are scheduled to increase to 25% on Jan. 1 from the current 10%.

The administration is also putting the finishing touches on prospective tariffs on most of the rest of Chinese imports, said the senior White House official. Administration and business officials expect that any additional tariffs would exempt mobile phones and perhaps laptops, to reduce the chance of a reaction by consumers hit with a big price increase.

Write to Bob Davis at and Gordon Lubold at

Appeared in the November 10, 2018, print edition as ‘White House Tensions Grow Over China.’



China Violated Obama-Era Cybertheft Pact, U.S. Official Says — Helped Chinese economic espionage

November 9, 2018

Senior cybersecurity official accuses Beijing of reneging on 2015 bilateral accord

SAN FRANCISCO—China has violated an accord it signed with the U.S. three years ago pledging not to engage in hacking for the purpose of economic espionage, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Thursday.

The 2015 bilateral agreement had significantly reduced the amount of Chinese cybertheft targeting American companies, but Beijing’s commitment to the deal has eroded, said Rob Joyce, senior adviser for cybersecurity strategy at the National Security Agency.

“It is clear they are well beyond the bounds of the agreement today that was forged between our two countries,” Mr. Joyce said during a panel conversation at the Aspen Cyber Summit.

Mr. Joyce’s comments were the latest—and most emphatic—sign of Washington’s rising frustration over China’s alleged violation of the pact signed between then-President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Related image

Then-President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.  Feng Li/Getty Images

Last week, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said China wasn’t adhering to the deal, in which the U.S. and China agreed not to conduct cyber operations against each other to steal intellectual property or other forms of economic intelligence.

China has repeatedly denied allegations of hacking American businesses.

Several private-sector cybersecurity firms have concluded that Beijing has been in violation of that deal roughly since Mr. Trump took office nearly two years ago. Trade hostilities between the two countries have grown during that period.

Mr. Joyce praised the Obama-Xi accord, saying that it had a marked impact on China’s economic hacking for a time. Some security experts have said they believe independent factors, including a reorganization of China’s People’s Liberation Army, may have had more to do with the temporary decline in cybertheft.

The Justice Department has prioritized combating Chinese national- and economic-security threats during the Trump administration. Last week, Mr. Sessions announced a wide-ranging “China initiative” to better combat theft of trade secrets, bribery, illegal foreign lobbying and business deals that could give foreign investors access to critical U.S. technology.

On Thursday, John Demers, who heads the Justice Department’s national security division, said he had no reason to believe the China initiative would be affected by the resignation of Mr. Sessions Wednesday at President Trump’s behest.

Federal prosecutors in recent months have unsealed several charges against Chinese intelligence officers accused of stealing information from American companies through cyberattacks and on-the-ground recruiting. Some government estimates have calculated the annual cost of Beijing’s alleged corporate raiding to the U.S. economy at hundreds of billions of dollars.

Write to Dustin Volz at

Appeared in the November 9, 2018, print edition as ‘China Said to Violate Pact on Cybertheft.’

Facebook Portal Non-Review: Why I Didn’t Put Facebook’s Camera in My Home

November 8, 2018

Facebook’s new video-calling device works great… if you can bring yourself to use it

Related image

I’ve had one of Facebook ’s FB -2.92% new video-calling gadgets, the Portal+, in my home for the last week. And by “in my home,” I mean, in the basement, in a closet, in a box, in a bag that’s in another bag that’s covered with old coats.

I just couldn’t bring myself to set up Facebook’s camera-embedded screen in the privacy of my family’s home. Can you blame me when you look at the last 16 months?

The personal data of millions of users was accessed for political purposes without consent. Whoops. False news articles were deliberately spread across our feeds to hoax us. Whoops again. Hackers gained access to nearly 50 million accounts, the largest-ever security breach at the social network. Giant whoopsies.

Ironically, Facebook thinks its first branded hardware products might help with its current challenges. Equipped with wide-angle follow-you-around cameras, microphones and screens, the $200 Portal and $350 Portal+ are all about saying good night to Pop-Pop and Grammy at bedtime, or calling Uncle George for the secret pasta-sauce recipe when you’re cooking in the kitchen. Facebook’s Portals can call other Portals, or anyone with the Facebook Messenger app.

The Facebook Portal and Portal+ come with camera covers for those times when you want to be extra sure no one is watching.
The Facebook Portal and Portal+ come with camera covers for those times when you want to be extra sure no one is watching. PHOTO: DAVID POTVIN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“People continue to use Facebook because they want to stay close to friends and family,” Facebook’s vice president of consumer hardware, Andrew Bosworth, told me. “This device is entirely focused on those deep and meaningful connections that, going back 10 years, were the core of Facebook.”

Except it is so not 10 years ago. Just over half of Facebook users age 18 or older say they have adjusted their privacy settings in the past 12 months, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Plus, people in the U.S. are spending less time on Facebook, according to Pivotal Research Group’s analysis of Nielsen data.

“We have to earn that trust back,” Mr. Bosworth says. “This device is up to the challenge and could be a part of that shift.” The problem? No matter how good this gadget is—and it is good—trust has to be earned. All of Facebook’s promises now need to be more carefully evaluated. Here’s my trust evaluation of the Portal.

Facebook’s Promise: Portal feels like being together in the same room.

My Assessment: True. The Portal+, with its 15.6-inch giant rotatable screen, is one of the most immersive video-chatting experiences I’ve ever had. (I never did set it up in my home, but I tested it at work.)

The devices provide a really great experience, especially when a couple of people are together on it. With a 12-megapixel camera, wide-angle lens and person-detection software, the system recognizes where different people are. (If you both have Portals, you can tap faces on the screen to zoom in.) The camera also pans and zooms, virtually, following the people as they move in the room. It sounds creepy, but it really did make me, in New York City, feel like I was in the room with Mr. Bosworth and Rafa Camargo, Portal team vice president, who were at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.

In addition to video calling, the Portal supports music-streaming services and selected news and entertainment apps.
In addition to video calling, the Portal supports music-streaming services and selected news and entertainment apps. PHOTO: DAVID POTVIN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Facebook has loaded the device up with fun features, too. The face masks are entertaining—at least for a few moments. The interactive children’s books are neat—if I were willing to put my son’s face in front of this thing. And Spotify’s group listening allows you to fire up your favorite song—so everyone can do the macarena. There’s even Alexa—yes, that Alexa—ready to tell you the weather and turn off the lights.

Facebook’s Promise: Facebook doesn’t listen to, view or keep the contents of your Portal video calls.

My Assessment: True. But don’t fool yourself if you think Facebook isn’t collecting some data about you from this device.

A button on the top of the device physically disables the microphone and camera.
A button on the top of the device physically disables the microphone and camera. PHOTO: DAVID POTVIN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

When I asked about the popular Facebook mic conspiracy, Mr. Bosworth assured me that “it is not true, it will continue to not be true.” On the Portals, specifically, he made a number of privacy and security assurances:

  • You can disable the camera and microphone by pressing the button on top of the device. This physically disconnects them so even if the Portal were hacked, they wouldn’t be accessible.
  • As an added measure, you can block the camera lens with an included plastic camera cover.
  • All the smart-camera technology—the person detection, etc.—happens locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. Portal’s camera doesn’t use facial recognition to identify people on the call.
  • Like all Messenger calls and messages, all communications are encrypted.
  • Like Amazon Echo or Google Home, Portal only sends voice commands to Facebook servers after you say, “Hey Portal.” You can delete Portal’s voice history in your Facebook Activity Log.

However, because this is using Facebook Messenger, the data that is typically collected from a call is still collected. That includes your call history, how long you spent talking to certain contacts, etc. Also, the sheer use of the device indicates to Facebook you’re interested in video calling, so you may be targeted for that. Speaking of ads, Facebook said there are no ads on the Portal’s screen, and the company doesn’t have plans to show ads there.

The $200 Portal, the smaller of the two devices, has a 10.1-inch display.
The $200 Portal, the smaller of the two devices, has a 10.1-inch display. PHOTO: DAVID POTVIN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Facebook’s Promise: The Portal was designed so you’re always in control of your privacy and security.

My Assessment: It’s hard to believe we really have any control of our Facebook data and privacy given the last year. I might be a little more comfortable if Facebook could just roll out the privacy controls it already promised us, but that’s not the only thing keeping me away from the social network.

Even Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg believes the company is at least a year away from fighting abuse and misinformation “at the level we want.” Plus, there have just been too many instances of inattention and sloppiness. Remember in June when a bug changed default privacy settings for 14 million users? Whoops again. With Apple , Amazon and even Google, things feel different.

Despite Mr. Bosworth’s earnest assurances, I still couldn’t bring myself to set up the Portal in my kitchen and call my mother-in-law with my son in my lap. Luckily for all of us, Facebook didn’t invent video calling.

Write to Joanna Stern at

Jailed Chinese activist’s life in ‘immediate’ danger: rights groups

November 5, 2018

China’s first “cyber-dissident” Huang Qi is in danger of dying under police custody if he does not receive medical treatment for a host of severe health conditions, human rights groups warned on Monday.

Huang, 55, who was arrested in 2016 for “leaking state secrets”, is currently being held in Mianyang Detention Centre in southwestern Sichuan province, according to his mother.

Huang ran a website called “64 Tianwang”, named after the bloody June 4, 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protesters.

© AFP/File | Huang ran a website that reported on local corruption cases, police brutality, and other topics rarely seen in ordinary Chinese media

The website, which has reported on local corruption cases, police brutality, and other topics rarely seen in ordinary Chinese media, is blocked in mainland China.

According to human rights organisations, Huang suffers from chronic kidney disease, hydrocephalus or accumulation of fluid in the brain, and heart disease.

“Huang Qi’s current condition is extremely urgent,” his 85-year-old mother, Pu Wenqing, who travelled to Beijing in October to make a case for her son, told AFP.

“I don’t want my son to die in prison. I hope the authorities will let him receive medical treatment,” she said, adding that he has been denied medical bail despite multiple pleas.

Fourteen non-profit organisations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Freedom House, released a statement calling for Huang’s immediate release.

Citing Huang’s lawyer, the organisations said that the Chinese dissident is not receiving adequate medical care in detention, and his condition is so dire that there is an “immediate threat to his life”.

“His health condition is not very good. He has high blood pressure,” Liu Zhiqing, Huang’s lawyer, told AFP, declining to speak further.

According to Pu, her son has a blood pressure of 221/147 mmHg — well above the normal range of 140/90 mmHg.

“The Chinese government must immediately and unconditionally release Huang, who has been detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression, and end its policy of denying prompt medical treatment to prisoners of conscience, which is a form of torture,” the statement said.

Mianyang Detention Centre’s deputy director declined to comment.

Related image

Tank Man —

Huang’s work has repeatedly drawn the ire of Chinese authorities.

In 2009, Huang was sentenced to three years in prison after campaigning for parents of children killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which left nearly 87,000 people dead or missing.

In 2014, Huang and at least three citizen journalists that contribute to 64 Tianwang were detained by police after the site reported on a woman who set herself on fire in Tiananmen Square.

There is currently no trial date set for Huang.

The rights groups cite the cases of other human rights defenders and ethnic group activists who died in recent years due to a lack of prompt medical care.

Image result for Liu Xiaobo, photos

Liu Xiaobo

Last year, Chinese authorities rejected international pleas for them to allow dissident Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo to leave the country to receive treatment for liver cancer abroad.

Liu died in a hospital in northeast China while still under custody after receiving medical parole from an 11-year sentence for “subversion”.



Vietnam could give tech companies one year to obey cyberlaw

November 3, 2018

Vietnam may give internet companies like Google and Facebook one year to comply with a controversial cybersecurity law, according to a draft decree that outlines how the draconian bill could be implemented.

The cybersecurity bill, which observers say mimic China’s repressive web control tools, is set to come into effect in January despite drawing sharp criticism from the US, the EU and internet freedom advocates.

The bill would require tech companies to store data in the country, and remove “toxic content” from websites and hand over user information if asked by the government to do so.

© AFP/File | The bill would require tech companies to store data in Vietnam, and remove ‘toxic content’ from websites and hand over user information if asked by the government to do so

Critics of the bill say it will be a chokehold on criticism in the one-party state where activists are routinely jailed and all independent media are banned.

According to a draft decree on how the law may be implemented, published by the Ministry of Public Security Friday, companies offering internet services in Vietnam may be given 12 months to comply.

“Enterprises… must archive data (and) set up branches or representative offices in Vietnam,” the decree said.

It did not outline the punishment for failing to comply, but any country in breach of the law could be barred from offering its services in Vietnam.

An enterprise can mean internet service providers, e-commerce sites, online payment firms and social networks.

The draft decree added that companies must store user data in the country for at least 36 months.

Personal data required to be stored includes everything from a user’s name to passport number, medical records, credit card information and biometric data.

Google declined to comment Saturday, while Facebook did not immediately respond to a request from AFP.

The public has two months to provide feedback on the decree, in line with Vietnamese law, though public comments have not traditionally led to dramatic alterations to proposed bills.

The law was passed by Vietnam’s rubber-stamp parliament in June, part of a broader crackdown on internet freedoms that has sparked outcry from the country’s activists.

This week, the government said it had set up a web monitoring unit that can scan up to 100 million items per day to sniff out “false information”. A few days later officials said 3,000 sites featuring “inappropriate content” had been blocked.

With 53 million users, Facebook is by far the leading site in Vietnam, a country of 93 million.

It is a crucial platform for activists — and many have been jailed based on Facebook posts — but also a leading site for business owners.

Any efforts to block access to the site are likely to spark widespread opposition across the country.


Australia trade minister to visit China in sign of thaw

November 3, 2018

Australia’s trade minister will travel to China on Sunday, in a sign that political tensions between the two countries may be easing.

Image result for australia, china, photos

Simon Birmingham, the first senior Australian government official to visit China in a year, will attend the China International Import Expo, or CIEE, seen as an attempt by Beijing to allay foreign concern about its trade practices.

Relations between Australia and the world’s no.2 economy have been at low ebb over accusations of China’s influence in Australia’s media, universities and politics and its use of loans to build leverage over poorer South Pacific island nations.

In August, Australia banned Huawei Technologies Co Ltd from supplying equipment for a 5G mobile network citing national security risks, a move the Chinese telecoms gear maker criticised as being “politically motivated”.

China, however, remains Australia’s top goods and services trading partner, accounting for 24 percent, or A$183.4 billion ($132.01 billion), of total trade in 2017, according to data from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Birmingham said in a statement on Saturday that Australia’s “high-level” delegation, which includes representation from state and territory governments, “reflects our ongoing commitment to our relationship with China”.

The minister’s press office would not immediately comment on whether Birmingham would meet with any senior Chinese officials on his trip to Shanghai.

Later in the week, Birmingham will visit Hong Kong where he is expected to meet with Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau, “to move forward negotiations on the Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to open the CIEE with a speech on Monday. No officials from the United States, China’s top trading partner, will attend, although leaders from 18 countries and thousands of foreign companies will be present.

US indictment accuses Chinese firm of stealing trade secrets

November 2, 2018


US Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new initiative aimed at countering China’s economic criminal activity. Getty

The US justice department has indicted three individuals and two companies based in China and Taiwan for allegedly stealing a US company’s trade secrets.

This is the fourth economic espionage case the department has brought against Chinese-based companies and individuals since September.

The department has filed a civil suit against the two companies as well.

China-US trade tensions have erupted in tit-for-tat tariffs between the world’s two biggest economies this year.

Beijing did not immediately respond to the latest move from Washington on Thursday.

“Chinese economic espionage against the United States has been increasing,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “And it has been increasing rapidly.”

The indictment alleges that the companies and the three individuals conspired to steal trade secrets from Micron, a US semiconductor company worth $100bn (£76bn).

Those secrets were said to involve Idaho-based Micron’s work with dynamic random access memory storage devices.

Mr Sessions noted during Thursday’s news conference that this was technology that Chinese firms did not have until recently.

The attorney general described it as a “brazen scheme” to steal and clone technology in order to compete with the US.

“We are here today to say enough is enough,” Mr Sessions said. “It’s time for China to join the community of lawful nations.”

One of the companies involved, Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Co, Ltd, is a Chinese state-owned company.

Last year, Micron sued both Fujian Jinhua and the Taiwanese company United Microelectrics Corp for stealing trade secrets.

Both companies are also embroiled in a civil lawsuit from the justice department, which seeks to block them from exporting any goods created from these stolen secrets.

US President Donald Trump, and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose at the Forbidden City in Beijing
US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping both began imposing tariffs in September. AFP photo

The justice department is currently prosecuting five additional cases of economic theft and attempted theft that was meant “for the benefit of the Chinese government”, Mr Sessions said.

This week, 10 Chinese agents, including two intelligence officers, were indicted for allegedly stealing US data on jetliner turbo fan engines.

The Trump administration slapped tariffs on $200bn of Chinese imports in September, causing China to retaliate with tariffs on $60bn of US goods.

Mr Trump has also accused China of meddling in US elections because of his efforts to challenge them on trade.

BBC News

Chinese-style ‘digital authoritarianism’ grows globally: study

November 1, 2018

Governments worldwide are stepping up use of online tools, in many cases inspired by China’s model, to suppress dissent and tighten their grip on power, a human rights watchdog study found Thursday.

The annual Freedom House study of 65 countries found global internet freedom declined for the eighth consecutive year in 2018, amid a rise in what the group called “digital authoritarianism.”

The Freedom on the Net 2018 report found online propaganda and disinformation have increasingly “poisoned” the digital space, while the unbridled collection of personal data is infringing on privacy.

© AFP/File | Chinese officials have held sessions on controlling information with 36 of the 65 countries assessed by a human rights study

“Democracies are struggling in the digital age, while China is exporting its model of censorship and surveillance to control information both inside and outside its borders,” said Michael Abramowitz, president of Freedom House.

“This pattern poses a threat to the open internet and endangers prospects for greater democracy worldwide.”

Chinese officials have held sessions on controlling information with 36 of the 65 countries assessed, and provided telecom and surveillance equipment to a number of foreign governments, Freedom House said.

The accusations made by Freedom House are “without basis, unprofessional, irresponsible, and have ulterior motives,” said Chinese foreign ministry official spokesman Lu Kang at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Thursday.

Cyberspace is complex, he added, and requires “the global community, including governments, businesses, think tanks and media to adopt a constructive attitude to maintain it.”

The report found 17 governments approved or proposed laws restricting online media in the name of fighting “fake news,” while 18 countries increased surveillance or weakened encryption protection to more closely monitor their citizenry.

According to the researchers, internet freedom declined in 26 countries from June 2017 to May 2018. Gains were seen in 19 countries, most of them minor.

– China’s ‘techno-dystopia’ –

One of the greatest threats, Freedom House said, is efforts by China to remake the digital world in its “techno-dystopian” image.

It cited a sweeping Chinese cybersecurity requirement that local and foreign companies “immediately stop transmission” of banned content, and compels them to ensure that data on Chinese users is hosted within the country.

This has been followed by “hundreds” of new directives on what people can and cannot do online, and tighter controls on the use of VPNs to evade detection.

The report said leaked documents and other evidence suggest as many as a million Muslims may be held in internment camps in Xinjiang, many as a result of nonviolent online activities.

China appears to be using its big tech firms involved in telecom infrastructure to extend its dominance and gain an edge in surveillance, according to Freedom House.

Companies such as Huawei — largely banned from contracts in the US and Australia — are building infrastructure in many parts of the world including Africa and Latin America, according to Freedom House board chairman Michael Chertoff, a former US secretary of homeland security.

“This opens up a potential for exploiting information in these countries by having technological backdoors that can be used by the Chinese government to collect intelligence,” Chertoff said.

– Suppressing dissent –

The researchers said online freedom is facing threats in democratic and authoritarian states.

India led the world in the number of internet shutdowns, with over 100 reported incidents in 2018 so far, claiming that the moves were needed to halt the flow of disinformation and incitement to violence.

Similar actions were taken in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

“Cutting off internet service is a draconian response, particularly at a time when citizens may need it the most, whether to dispel rumors, check in with loved ones, or avoid dangerous areas,” Freedom House researcher Adrian Shahbaz said.

“While deliberately falsified content is a genuine problem, some governments are increasingly using ‘fake news’ as a pretense to consolidate their control over information and suppress dissent.”

Shahbaz said more governments, including Saudi Arabia, are employing “troll armies” to manipulate social media and in many cases drown out the voices of dissidents.

“It has now become a tool of authoritarian diplomacy to deploy an army of electronic trolls,” he said.

The researchers said online freedom also declined in the United States in part due to the rollback of “net neutrality” rules which ensured that all data be treated equally, without “fast” or “slow” lanes for commercial or other reasons.

It said online freedom also faces threats in the US as a result of the reauthorization of a surveillance law and a “hyperpartisan” environment in social media marked by large disinformation efforts.



China exports its restrictive internet policies to dozens of countries

November 1, 2018

“Digital authoritarianism” had become a major threat to sustaining democratic governance

China’s restrictive internet policy and digital surveillance has spread worldwide over the last two years, with its government training emerging market countries on process and its companies furnishing the tools, a democracy watchdog group’s annual report says.

Freedom House, whose main financier is the U.S. government, said in its report on Wednesday that China’s export of “digital authoritarianism” had become a major threat to sustaining democratic governance in some countries.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

Image result for vietnam, free speech, photos, anti-china

Free speech/Anti-China protest in Vietnam

Freedom House research director Adrian Shahbaz said that governments had begun justifying increased censorship and diminished digital privacy protections by saying the policies combat the spread of fake news and help catch criminals.

In effect, countries are using the curbs to violate human rights, he said.

Freedom House said China has been leading the charge. It has hosted seminars on cyberspace management since early 2017 with representatives from 36 out of 65 countries tracked by Freedom House, including nations in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The 65 countries represent 87 percent of the world’s internet users, the group said.

Discussions with Chinese officials preceded new cybersecurity measures in Vietnam, Uganda and Tanzania over the last year, Freedom House said after reviewing Chinese state media articles and government press releases.

Meanwhile, Chinese technology companies have provided or are set to provide internet equipment to at least 38 of the tracked countries and artificial intelligence systems for law enforcement in 18 countries, the report said.

“Beijing has been on a clear charm offensive to woo government officials and media elites,” Shahbaz said. “Officials in Beijing hope to cultivate allies to follow its lead on global internet policy.”

To be sure, declining internet freedom has been a consistent global trend for nearly a decade. And Chinese foreign investment and influence efforts are not new.

But Freedom House said the threat to human rights has grown in severity as powerful technology becomes more accessible to governments and their people.

Image result for Uganda, police, photos

Police in Uganda respond to protesters

As fake news on social media has become a deadly problem, governments are using it as an “opening wedge for censorship,” Michael Chertoff, the group’s chairman and a former U.S. secretary for Homeland Security, told reporters by phone.

Thirteen countries, including Rwanda and Bangladesh, prosecuted people this year for allegedly spreading false information, Freedom House said.

Image result for Michael chertoff, photos

Michael Chertoff

Chertoff said governments should emphasize digital hygiene education and called on multinational firms to take a stand against governments going too far.

Freedom House senior officials said they were dismayed that the United States under President Donald Trump had emboldened attacks on democratic media and limited net neutrality, adding to the global trend.

Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Neil Fullick



See also:

Museveni’s commandments for managing protests in Uganda

U.S. Market-Manipulation Cases Reach Record

October 31, 2018

CFTC and Justice Department target spoofing and other illegal tactics, helped by data-sharing deal with key exchange



Federal regulators have ramped up their pursuit of traders who use a bluffing tactic known as spoofing to manipulate market prices, enforcement officials said, leading to a record number of manipulation cases.

As part of the push, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission earlier this year quietly began receiving daily sets of market data from the world’s largest futures exchange, CME Group Inc. CME 1.72%

CME handles around 85% of total U.S. futures-markets trading by volume. Regulators for the first time now have access to daily trading data with a one-day delay, giving them a much broader window into trading activity—and possible manipulation. Previously, the CFTC largely relied on CME staff and whistleblowers to spot spoofing.

The data-sharing agreement, effective as of February, comes as the CFTC and Justice Department both pursue traders engaged in spoofing, a practice outlawed by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. When spoofing, traders place fake orders to create the illusion of supply or demand, causing prices to swing up or down. The traders then profit from the move back as the market reverts to normal levels.

The CFTC brought a record 26 cases related to manipulative conduct and spoofing in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30. Several of those civil cases were accompanied by criminal charges filed by the Justice Department. Between 2009 and 2016, the average number of such cases brought was just five a year.

While spoofing is a problem in stock, bond and futures markets, it has been a particular focus of futures regulators and exchanges since the 2010 stock-market flash crash. Navinder Sarao, a British trader whom U.S. authorities charged with fraud, used an automated trading program to manipulate the market for S&P 500 futures contracts.

Regulators say having broader access to trading data makes it easier to identify spoofing and other market manipulations.

“Our ability to evaluate that data has helped us identify misconduct,” said James McDonald, the CFTC’s enforcement director.

In one recent case, the Justice Department charged three traders with manipulating stock-futures contracts that resulted in more than $60 million in losses for the firm that traded with them.

The data-sharing deal with CME came after the CFTC in 2014 pressed CME-operated exchanges to “continue to develop strategies to detect spoofing.” The regulator had grown frustrated by CME’s work in spotting and flagging manipulation.

Regulators and exchanges typically use statistical analysis to determine if a trader’s strategy relies on spoofing. In addition, they examine emails and other communication for signs of intent to spoof.

CME also has implemented new automated surveillance programs to monitor trader-messaging activity. This can help determine whether traders intended to engage in manipulation. The exchange employs more than 50 investigators who have experience working on antispoofing programs.

“Policing the market for disruptive trading practices continues to be a huge part of our regulatory investment and effort,” Thomas LaSala, CME’s chief regulatory officer, said in an email.

Cooperation between federal agencies was boosted by the government’s conviction of Mr. Sarao, whose 2016 guilty plea to criminal charges set a precedent for future spoofing cases. It spurred the Justice Department’s antifraud division to take on more spoofing cases, according to Mr. McDonald and Aitan Goelman, who was CFTC enforcement chief during the Sarao case. Meanwhile, the lead CFTC trial attorney on the Sarao case, Jeff Le Riche, moved to the Justice Department last year to help bring spoofing cases.

Write to Gabriel T. Rubin at