Ai Weiwei, Snowden, Pussy Riot take place of online ads to protest censorship

Messages from Edward Snowden, Ai Weiwei and Pussy Riot will be broadcast across the internet by AdBlock and Amnesty International on the World Day against Cyber Censorship, 12 March 2016.

Throughout the day, AdBlock’s 50 million users will be shown messages from Amnesty International where ads would usually appear. The messages will click through to content from people who governments have tried to silence.

Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded.
Edward Snowden

“Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded,” said Edward Snowden in one of the messages.

“Without freedom of speech there is no modern world, just a barbaric one,” said Ai Weiwei in his message.

“Authorities don’t just use handcuffs and arrests, but also media attacks,” said Pussy Riot.

Governments seeking to control the internet

Governments are avidly seeking the power to control ever greater aspects of online communication, said Amnesty International. While some governments seek laws empowering authorities to carry out intrusive mass surveillance and censor what people see online, others are trying to acquire technologies that allow them to spy on people, hack their devices, or censor free expression online.

In the last year, Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Poland and Switzerland have sought new intelligence bills that will increase their ability to spy on communications in these countries and beyond. China and Kuwait passed laws criminalising or restricting certain online expression.

In 2015 Amnesty International documented people being arrested for what they said or did online in more than 16 countries. Victims of cyber censorship range from Kazakh political activists convicted for Facebook posts authorities say incite social “discord” to Moroccan journalists and activists on trial for training people to use a citizen journalism smartphone app which the authorities believe may threaten national security by “destabilizing Moroccans’ trust in their institutions”.

When your right to digital privacy is threatened, so is your right to free expression.
Gabriel Cubbage, CEO of AdBlock.

“Some states are engaged in Orwellian levels of surveillance, particularly targeting the lives and work of the people who defend our human rights – lawyers, journalists and peaceful activists. This continuing development of new methods of repression in reaction to increased connectivity is a major threat to our freedom of expression,” said Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty.

"We’re showing you Amnesty International banners, just for today, because we believe users should be part of the conversation about online privacy. Tomorrow, those spaces will be vacant again. But take a moment to consider that in an increasingly information-driven world, when your right to digital privacy is threatened, so is your right to free expression,” said Gabriel Cubbage, CEO of AdBlock.

North Korean censorship

The ad campaign follows the launch of Amnesty International’s “Connection Denied” campaign on one of the world’s most repressive cyber censors, North Korea.

Messages from North Korean victims of cyber censorship will appear alongside those of Snowden, Ai Weiwei and Pussy Riot. North Koreans are subject to the highest levels of censorship imaginable in the world, with the vast majority completely denied access to the World Wide Web, Amnesty International warned in a report published on 9 March.

The report, Connection Denied: Restrictions on mobile phones and outside information in North Korea, highlights the intensified controls, repression and intimidation of North Koreans since Kim Jung-un came to power in 2011. The digital frontier is the latest battleground in the North Korean government’s attempts to isolate its citizens, and obscure information about the heinous human rights situation in the country.

Tech companies must defend a free internet

Amnesty International is calling on internet companies to resist government pressure to weaken privacy and free speech online, and instead develop and adopt technologies, such as encryption, that empower rights in the digital world.

Free speech online is under serious threat as governments seek ever greater powers to control the internet.
Salil Shetty

“Free speech online is under serious threat as governments seek ever greater powers - through new laws and more intrusive technologies - to control the internet. When they are not shutting down websites and arresting bloggers, they are carrying out mass surveillance of our internet use. That is not the internet we want,” said Salil Shetty.

“Last month Apple refused to reduce security on its iPhone to protect the privacy of all mobile phone users. This shows that some companies are starting to think of the big picture.”

“The world was too lax about protecting privacy and free speech on the internet. We now need a radically new approach to protecting online rights to fight back against government restrictions on online freedoms.”

Read more:

Why AdBlock Is "Un-Blocking" Amnesty Banners Today

Censorship around the world