After government's green light to block websites under very dubious "ethical" reasons, the Jordanian government approved today the new Publications Law, which gives authorities more power to control and censor the Internet in Jordan, Issa Mahasneh reports.
The Jordanian council of ministers approved today a new law amending the Publications and Press Law of 1998, making the new law, if approved by lawmakers, one of the biggest threats to Internet Freedom in Jordan.
"The draft law was needed to regulate work of electronic sites, make them accountable under the penal code and oblige the ones interested in covering Jordan's internal and external affairs to register and get license like the print press", our state-run news agency reported, although news websites were already included in the Press Law and classified as press publications in a 2010 Supreme Court decision, a decision met with fierce opposition from journalist, media organizations and, of course, by Jordan Open Source Association.
Today's new amendments are even more draconian, the Director General of the Department of Press and Publication is given the right to block any non-Jordan based website in case of violations. Based on what news websites are reporting, although not being a judicial figure, this Director General has now the executive power to block pieces of Internet, and to issue tsar-style ukases against any news website registered in Jordan.
Additionally, in a very discussable amendment, news websites will be totally responsible of user generated content, like comments, in case they are published. Meaning that any comment should be moderated and, actually, censored by website administrators.
The new law requires websites to store any comment for a 6-month period, it is important here to see that comments, even published or not, should be stored, what it is not clear, as the full text of amendments are not made public yet, is which control the government will have on these stored comments.
If approved by parliament and royal assent, this primitive, medieval legislation will considerably restrict press freedoms on the net, making the only real democratic space in Jordan, the only space that allows citizens to get free information and have their say, under the control of the government.
The Jordanian government is adopting stronger positions against Internet Freedom, after speaking in favor of black-censoring websites that might contain "pornographic" materials and considering a draft law to "regularize" news websites, it is now the turn of political content, officially asked to be removed from Google. Issa Mahasneh shares his fears that Internet in Jordan will not be free anymore soon.
In the last six months, Google has received more than one thousand requests from government authorities to remove content which are considered 'harmful'.
The bad story for us is that one of the new-entries is, unfortunately, Jordan, whose authorities have requested the removal of "less than 10" pieces of content, for the first time since Google started publishing these data.
The Mountain View based company started releasing publicly all the countries' requests in its "Transparency Report" since January 2010.
Although in other countries most of the requests are court orders, cases where content have been found to not comply with national laws according to the country's juridical system. In Jordan, all the requests were from the Government, which implicates that content requested to be removed are mostly allegations on political basis.
In fact, most of the requests Google receives for such removals are politically related, as explained by Dorothy Chou, Senior Policy Analyst at Google, "We’ve been asked to take down political speech" she said, adding that free expression is at risk.
Google reported that none of the Jordanian requests were fully or partially complied with. But the fear of having the government asking for more of content removal from Google is understandable.
It is now clear that the Jordanian government has strong intentions to tighten its control on the Internet, making it less free, the role of the civil society now is to not putting the censor's scissors in the hands of the government under any excuse, and if we really care about the Internet (and we do), we should really fight for its first principle, openness.
In this digital era, we should believe that Internet Freedom is one of the main freedoms we should fight for. The question we have to answer is easy; can we really give the government the authority to decide what we can see on the web or we cannot?
Starting last November, Google Chrome rose to no. 2 spot among web browsers, overtaking Firefox. Both are good, Saifallah Qasim skeptically says in this blog post, but what were the reasons of Firefox's downturn and is that so relevant to the Open Source community?
Firefox is the popular, open-source browser developed by the non-profit organization Mozilla. Firefox has always been on top of Google’s Chrome until recently, a new stats report showed that Chrome has surpassed Firefox and is now the second most-used web browser after Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE). What went wrong and why?
Google Chrome is based on the open-source project known as Chromium, with some Google-powered color scheme and features (such as the syncing feature), this browser was a big surprise to many of us as it performed pretty well. Everyone who used Chrome, even remotely, couldn't help but describing it as “snappy”. Clean UI, wide-range of extensions (no need to restart the browser) and “apps”, silent update mechanism and a Google product all make Chrome a clear winner. It launches very quickly (either cold or warm) which is, for most, a very important trait.
In my personal opinion Chrome is for those who just want to launch the browser and get going, it’s not very attractive to geeks or power users. The settings have been clearly developed for my grandparents with very limited “tinkering” and the UI is almost locked and can’t be customized. Chrome relies heavily on the memory (RAM) which could get really messy sometimes. Chrome has no personality.
Mozilla Firefox is an open-source browser that made to save humanity from the curse of IE. A very huge catalog of add-ons, the magical about:config and an unmatched customization features are the main pillars, so far, of Firefox. Yet Mozilla has succeeded to make it also a user-friendly product for those who just want something to function properly and at the same time something attractive for the nerds and hackers craving for “more”.
Since Mozilla decided to adopt the rapid-release strategy, a part of its user base, including me for sometime, has lost interest and questioned Mozilla for their decision especially that most of the updates didn’t really show any progress, user-end-wise. Some Add-ons still require the browser to restart in order to function (I wonder when will Mozilla get over this one), more time to launch, and the “complexity” of the options scare away regular users and oblige them to switch to Chrome.
No one can blame them, in addition that not many care about open-source and its philosophy. Mozilla sensed it and released a video hoping to remind people that abandoned Firefox for Chrome of their values, beliefs, and continous help for the web community.
No one can deny the role that marketing plays in this game and Google is a unique expert in that field. Their mellow ads over Youtube had great effect over some and converted them to Chrome users. Mozilla relies heavily on donations, sponsors and community support, who’s the clear winner? What’s our part? Should we even care?
What do Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have in common? All of them are giant social media websites, but the companies behind them are releasing more and more open source tools. Issa Mahasneh listed the most important ones that marked the last year.
Busy open source year for the biggest social media platforms, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter all have released some good open source tools. The companies, that strongly relied on open source for building their websites, are now giving back to the community, even as a sign of love or to benefit from others' contributions.
'Twitter Wants To Make It Harder For Governments To Snoop' - Open Sources Android Security Tool
Twitter has released in December a technology for encrypting SMSs on Android devices as open-source. The secure text-messaging client, named TextSecure, allows people to add encryption to all sent and received texts from their Android phones, and can encrypt texts for transmission if they are being sent to another TextSecure user.
The tool Twitter published its source code on Github, is owned by the micro blogging platform since its acquisition of Whisper Systems that has "always been interested in the ability for individuals and organisations to communicate freely and securely", according to Whisper Systems Development Team.
"We hope that as an open-source project, TextSecure will be able to reach even more people, with an even larger number of contributors working to make it a great product", they added.
By this move "Twitter wants to make it harder for governments to snoop", some press sources reported. "Originally built to protect activists' phone messages from being picked up by the government, Whisper's products make it harder to snoop on Android phones".
According to Mashable, open sourcing this software means that "those same dissidents can engineer new features and adapt the software for their own purposes, potentially making them even more secure".
Finally, Some Good Hip Hop Music
HipHop is a code transformer for PHP developed by Facebook, HipHop transforms PHP script code into compiled code, through converting it into optimized C++ and later to machine code. Why to use HipHop? Easy, compiled code is basically faster, with HipHop, a PHP application can be 2 to 6 times faster. Different PHP sites like Drupal, MediaWiki and WordPress have their performance boosted by HipHop.
Although released in 2010, some good news appeared a month ago, Facebook is working on a HipHop Virtual Machine (hhvm), which improved upon HipHop interpreter performance by 60% (and reduced memory usage by 90%).
If you are a computer scientist you would probably know that languages like Java and C# have a dynamic translation to native machine code (a.k.a just-in-time or JIT compilation), the current HipHop compiler and interpreter do not share a unified intermediate representation (since they have two different ASTs), with the HipHop virtual machine; a PHP, or more exactly, a HipHop bytecode is created that is turned into x64 by a dynamic translator.
Jason Evans, who announced the HipHop Virtual Machine on the Facebook Engineering blog, said "We hope that the PHP community will find hhvm useful as it matures and engage with us to broaden its usefulness through technical discussions, bug reports, and code contributions".
If you want to check it out for yourself, it’s all open-sourced on GitHub. Till now, 20 people have contributed to the HHVM project.
Facebook Opens Its Data Centers
Kudos to Facebook as well for their good decision to make their data centers' design and architecture public, acting different than other companies (like Google, that keeps its data center a highly-guarded secret), Facebook provided full specification of their infrastructure in an open way.
Starting April 2011, the social networking company initiated the Open Compute Project, in which it provided full specifications of its computing infrastructure using open source software and hardware to "democratize access to the best server, storage and data center technologies available". According to the project, the focus is on open technologies that can be multi-sourced.
Last year Facebook released as well its own Scribe log aggregation tool. If you want to know more about all the tools and technologies open sourced by Facebook check the Open Source page on Facebook Developers.
LinkedIn Open Sources Search Engine (For the 2nd Time)
LinkedIn has open sourced software obtained in October 2011 with its acquisition of the IndexTank search-engine company. "We are excited to add IndexTank to this array of powerful open source tools" said Diego Basch, LinkedIn Director of Engineering.
IndexTank is the same company that deployed search systems for other big web sites, including BitTorrent, TaskRabbit and Reddit.
LinkedIn had previously donated source code of tools related to search, including Bobo, a Java-based extension to Apache Lucene that can search semi-structured data, Zoie, a real-time search engine built on Lucene and Cleo, a library for text form autocomplete services.
IndexTank has three components; IndexEngine: a real-time fulltext search-and-indexing system designed to separate relevance signals from document text, APIs and Nebulizer, a framework to host and manage an unlimited number of indexes running over the cloud.
These components are open source (released under the Apache 2.0 license) and code can be downloaded from GitHub.
Jordan's government wants to sign an agreement with Microsoft to implement a cloud computing system for Jordan, Issa Mahasneh raises some concerns about privacy of citizens, Internet freedom and other important issues related to the project.
It is almost sure that the Government of Jordan will sign an agreement with Microsoft to develop a cloud computing strategy, the signing of the agreement is scheduled to happen at the World Economic Forum at the Dead Sea which is starting on October 21st.
As this project and its agreement could not be considered as one of the best examples of transparency, many doubts arise regarding the implementation and various future utilizations of this cloud.
Cloud Computing is Good
Let's start with the assumption that the use of cloud computing will really provide benefits to Jordan's public sector. The Ministry of Information and Communication Technology stated that with cloud computing they would be able to reduce costs, increase performance and faster response time.
Anyway, I will not raise any questions in this article about cloud computing itself as a technology, especially if we consider cloud infrastructure services (IaaS) or cloud's server layer.
To people who are not familiar to this concept this would mean having a large cloud-powered server farm for the whole public administration rather than running a bigger number of individual servers in each governmental institution. To make it clearer, this would be similar to connect houses to the electricity grid rather than having each house running its stand alone power generator.
Connecting people or collecting data?
One of the problems behind the cloud is that users' data are stored within a central repository (that in this case is under the control of the government). This is not a relatively big issue if we consider that only public employees will use the cloud and the government applications shared between the public agencies, but the project could be expanded to include normal citizens as well.
The government's intentions to push citizens into the use of its cloud are clear. In one of my previous meetings with a former Minister of ICT he explained that this is the final objective; to provide on-the-cloud technologies to every Jordanian home, especially in poorer areas.
If this would really happen, it might become a disaster. A Wikileaks cable gives an overview of the project and how it will allow accessing Internet and e-mails through the cloud (A/N: the fact that I am referring to Wikileaks shows the lack of publicly available information regarding this project).
To be more precise, the cable says that "MOICT officials have [...] discussed utilizing cloud technology (software shared by a group of users via the internet) to provide easy and cost-efficient computing to underserved parts of the country".
More details are mentioned as well, Nidal Quanadilo, Director of ICT Investment and Promotion at MOICT, said that "the GOJ is pursuing a partnership with Microsoft to set up cloud computing systems in small towns and to provide residents with low-cost desktop units they could use to access the internet and e-mail".
This is pushing me to ask myself what are the guarantees that personal data of citizens, in addition to their online activities and email records will not become under the surveillence of government? If there are already doubts concerning the monitoring of the web by the government, using software and applications on the government's own cloud (and therefore its infrastructure and data bases) will make monitoring even easier.
Why it is always Microsoft?
Quanadilo asserted that "Microsoft is excited about using this project as a prototype to test cloud technology in the developing world".
You could imply -in a traditional Jordanian way- that our citizens are going to be human guinea pigs for a big company that is testing some new technology in Jordan, but this is not the point. The real meaning of such statement is that this is the first time Microsoft implements a project like this, this let us think a lot about the level of technical expertise Microsoft has in similar cloud computing projects.
It is true, when you talk about cloud computing you will probably think of Amazon, probably IBM (that has tailor-made cloud solutions for governments), but are there convincing reasons for why Microsoft has been selected? Was there a public call for bids for this project?
If this governmental cloud will provide software and applications, will this mean that only Microsoft applications will run on it? What is the point behind forcing cloud's users to exclusively use applications of this company?
Then, the Microsoft's attitude regarding similar big government projects is not a secret. Do you remember the deal between Microsoft and former Tunisian regime to "expand government capacity to monitor its own citizens"? Who can determine this will not happen again in Jordan, since the cloud makes this technically easier? It would be also interesting to know if there are transparency criteria taken into account here.
Government Cloud Computing, the Good Way
As probably you will be told that there are several governments that are switching to cloud computing, do know that this is true, but a small research will open your eyes on the relevant differences between those projects and what is supposed to be implemented here in Jordan.
Let's take UK as an example, but you know these brits have a more technologically advanced and more intelligent government, her majesty's government is building its own cloud, not implementing one of Microsoft. By the way, there are several used tools to create cloud computing systems which are open source, and are widely effective, allowing building from scratch easily.
In fact, UK is not only using open source for the platform, the cloud will completely run on Linux and open source software, actually they want to create the cloud "to push open source into government".
John Suffolk, the UK government CIO, said that "Cost savings of just £100 per machine would total £400m across government. Unlike Windows, open source operating systems such as Linux have no licensing costs and can be used on as many machines as required".
On a highlighted Guardian article he also stressed about personal data of the citizens, although the cloud is limited to public agencies (I think this is actually the most important point to a successfull government cloud implementation) in a sense that citizens will not directly interact with the cloud (on the contrary of the Jordanian proposal), the article states that "security of data, and the data centres, would be a high priority" and that data will not be transferred outside.
But again, you know brits have a more technologically advanced and more intelligent government.