EFF urges US tech companies to aid Tunisian protests

Posted 12 January 2011 08:00 CET by wconeybeer

Civil unrest in Tunisia prompted by government censorship of internet access and freedom of expression continues to spiral out of control this week as the nation’s officials find even more ways to stifle citizens’ pleas for support. Now, the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) has begun rallying support from American technology companies to aid Tunisian residents in making their voices heard.

The Tunisian Internet Agency is believed to be responsible for purposely embedding JavaScript code within its customers’ login pages for Gmail, Yahoo, and Facebook, and is also being blamed for a rash of recently hijacked accounts.

“Among the compromised accounts are Facebook pages administered by a reporter with Al-Tariq ad-Jadid, Sofiene Chourabi, video journalist Haythem El Mekki, and activist Lina Ben Khenni. Unsatisfied with merely quelling online freedom of expression, the Tunisian government has used the information it obtained to locate bloggers and their networks of contacts,” Reports Eva Galperin of the EFF. “By late last week, the Tunisian government had started arresting and detaining bloggers, including blogger Hamadi Kaloutcha, and cyberactivist Slim Ammamou, who alerted the world to his whereabouts at the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior using Google Latitude.”

The EFF is notifying Tunisian citizens to use HTTPS connections rather than HTTP to login to their online accounts wherever possible to avoid the alleged government-injected JavaScript code, and to change their passwords in case the information has already been compromised. The foundation is also calling upon Google, Yahoo, and Facebook to institute policies to alert their Tunisian customers of possible account security breaches, and also to instruct them on how best to safeguard their private data in light of the situation.

Facebook has reportedly already taken some technical steps to protect the privacy of users in Tunisia, though at this time it’s not clear what exactly they have done.  The EFF had recommended, however, that the company make Tunisian logins default to HTTPS connections, and consider allowing pseudonyms to protect those who are speaking out against government oppression.

The situation over in Tunisia is certainly a difficult one to watch unfold. It highlights the freedoms we take for granted every day as we surf the web and socialize with online contacts. It also raises serious questions over just how much control a government should have over its citizens’ Internet activities. I sincerely hope that something can soon be done to prevent more bloodshed from the people of Tunisia.

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