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White House To Authorise Phone Companies Hold Call Data

US media reported White House moves to legally transfer responsibility for the storage of call data to telephone companies from the practice today, where it is collected and held by National Security Agency.
Under the proposed system, NSA can access data from the companies if required. Phone companies are authorised to hold records up to 18 months unlike now where NSA holds records it collects up to five years.

“Both of these options pose difficult problems. Relying solely on the records of multiple providers, for example, could require companies to alter their procedures in ways that raise new privacy concerns,” Associated Press (AP) reported President Barack Obama saying, Tuesday. The New York Timesfirst reported on the story, Monday.
Phone companies earlier balked at the proposal fearing they could be held liable if individuals sued them for providing data on NSA’s request. During discussions they insisted that legislation be put in place that allows them to transfer such data to the NSA upon request.
NSA’s bulk collection of phone data was revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden last year.
“Under the administration’s pending legislative proposal, officials would have to obtain phone records by getting individual orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Times report said. The new court orders would require companies to provide those records swiftly and to make available continuing data related to the order when new calls are placed or received,” AP said.
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Vietnam: Tale of Two Bloggers

Dinh Nhat Uy (Pic. courtesy RSF)

The power of social media and how repressive governments like Vietnam’s have grown to fear it was evident earlier this week. Blogger Dinh Nhat Uy was given a 15-month suspended sentence – which severely restricts movement – for criticising the government on Facebook, while Nguyen Lan Thang who was taken into custody at Hanoi airport and released a day later, posted the sequence of events, also on Facebook.
Media watchdogs say the real reason for sentencing Uy is because he campaigned for his brother, blogger Dinh Nguyen Kha, imprisoned for four years for anti-government propaganda. They point out that material on which Uy was convicted was four posts written in December 2012, although he was arrested only in June this year as the campaign to release of Kha began to gather momentum.

Uy was indicted under Section 258 of Vietnam’s criminal code for “abusing democratic freedoms against the interests of the state and the legitimate rights and interests of organisations and individuals.” Under the law, he could have been jailed for seven years. Uy’s conviction is the first against a blogger using Facebook.
“A new decree for governing the Internet that came into effect on September 1 restricts the types of content that foreign companies are allowed to host on their Vietnam-related websites or social media platforms,” said, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). It added that there is no information whether Facebook will be held accountable.
The Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) said, referring to Kah, that Uy’s sentence was an example of how family members of jailed dissidents were harassed by the authorities.
RSF also deplored Uy was not granted due process. “Like the denial of defence rights during Kha‘s appeal hearing, today’s presence of 400 plainclothes police in the courtroom to create the illusion of a public hearing and the harassment of Uy’s lawyers, which led one of them, Nguyen Thanh Luong, to withdraw from the case, highlight the bogus nature of these trials, whose outcome is decided in advance.”
Meanwhile, in what appears a mild response to the stiff prison sentences and other privations by which pro-democracy activists are usually punished, Nguyen Lan Thang was released after 24 hours in police custody. He recorded the event on Facebook with an almost lighthearted, “Too much taxpayer’s money has been spent on me since yesterday. My apologies to all of you.”
However, Thang seemed prepared to face arrest and detention at the airport when returning from a meeting with human rights activists abroad. Not only was there a group of activists to receive him, but they posted a message Thanng had recorded before he set out on his return journey to Vietnam.
“‘In a video message posted by activists soon after his detention at the Hanoi airport Wednesday night, Nguyen Lan Thang said, “When you see this video, it’s certain that I have been arrested by security forces,'” reported Associated Press (AP).
Thang’s use of the media to publicise the government’s violations are reminiscent of Ai Weiwei who once used the camera to record and social media to transmit the Chinese government destroying his studio.
AP said that non-violent activists are detained for a day or two but could also be ordered long prison sentences. It quoted Human Rights Watch that up to 61 dissidents had been convicted and handed down prison sentences – many for dissent via the internet – this year which was a significant increase from 40 in 2012.

In Sri Lanka, “Media Dogs” Should Not Report Protests

The Sri Lanka Army opened fire at villagers protesting contaminated groundwater, killing at least three persons and injuring 15 others, including two journalists covering the incident. One journalist reported his camera was smashed, while the other said that she could not seek medical attention despite her injuries due to a lockdown of the area.
The demonstrations began on August 1, when authorities refused to heed repeated representations by residents of Weliweriya, a village northeast of Colombo, against a glove manufacturing factory discharging effluents. Residents said the effluents contaminated groundwater, thereby polluting water wells. The demonstrators, said to number between 4000 and 6000, were first asked to disperse by the police and army. When the crowd grew restive and began pelting stones, the army opened fine with live ammunition. The dead includes a 17-year-old boy.
The Paris-based international media freedom monitor Reporters without Borders (RSF) commenting on the incident placed it in the context of deteriorating standards of media freedom in Sri Lanka.
“We are very disturbed by the repeated use of violence against journalists in Sri Lanka,” RSF said. “At best, the police take no action when journalists report that they have been the targets of violence. At worst, the army itself, equipped with lethal weapons, organizes and executes these attacks, as it did in Weliweriya.”
Sri Lankais placed in the162nd position of 179 countries in RSF’s Press Freedom Index.
Meanwhile, there appears to have been a plan to block media coverage of the attack beforehand. Associated Press (August 1) reported, “Kanchana Dissanayake, editor of Sinhala-language ‘Ada’ (Today) newspaper, said that his photographer was admitted to a hospital after being beaten by soldiers. He claimed the soldiers said that ‘media dogs’ should not cover the protest and smashed his camera. Another female reporter said on condition of anonymity fearing reprisals that soldiers first targeted journalists because they wanted the media away before turning on the protesters. Many reporters were hiding for many hours into the night, she said.”
The female reporter referred to in the AP story, Deepika Adikari of the daily Lankadeepa, in an account to Sri Lanka’s Sunday Times (August 4) said, “‘One of the soldiers said it was the media that aggravates everything. Saying this we were taken to a side… I suffered an injury to my forehead. As a soldier attempted to grab my camera I dropped it on the ground so that a villager could take it and escape,’ she said.”
The Sri Lanka Journalists’ Trade Union in a statement on August 3 said, “She (Adikari) was assaulted by a soldier with a pole when she was on a roof trying to escape the onslaught. Despite her injuries, Adhikari was unable to receive any medical attention until around 9.30 p.m. She had to stay from 6 p.m. till around 9.30 p.m. to escape from the military attack.”
The SLJTU statement went on to say, “The journalists who were attacked last evening claim that they were subjected to such harassment even when they have identified themselves as media personnel covering the event. The military personnel have at the time referred to the media personnel as ‘dogs in the media.'”
Following the incident, the US embassy in Sri Lanka issued a one-line statement: “The U.S. Embassy is concerned about the violence in yesterday’s protest in Weliweriya, and urges the Government of Sri Lanka to respect the rights of people to protest peacefully, and urges restraint from all sides.”
Sri Lanka‘s Daily Mirror said on August 2, the Sri Lanka Army announced an internal inquiry would be launch on the incident: “Army Commander Daya Ratnayake has appointed a Board of Inquiry headed by Adjutant General of the Sri Lanka Army Major General Jagath Dias to inquire into the allegations levelled against the army during the  Weliweriya incident.”
Sri Lanka‘s military enjoys high levels impunity that has shielded it in the past. The military is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the war against Tamil rebels that ended in 2009. But fearing that the military would escape blame in a domestic inquiry, human rights observers have asked for an international investigation into the incidents. Similarly, the military was largely exonerated in the brutal crushing of a rebellion in southern Sri Lank that killed more 60,000 Sinhala youth between 1987 and 1990. Therefore it is unlikely the army inquiry will conducted justly.
Meanwhile, in a swift if clumsy move to escape censure, the Director of Government Information (the body tasked with providing State policy on the media) Ariyaratne Athugala said, “all media institutions should take the responsibility for the assault on journalists during yesterday’s incident in Weliweriya and said the government could not be held responsible for it,” reported the Daily Mirror on August 3.