A massive number of groups representing interests as diverse as education, agriculture, the tech sector, public and private broadband providers, low-income advocacy, workers, and urban and rural community economic development entities came together on a letter to ask Congress to be bold in its infrastructure plan. They are asking the U.S. Congress to tackle the digital divide with the same purpose and scale as we did for rural electrification. It also asks Congress to focus on delivering 21st century future-proof access to every American. While so many slow internet incumbents are pushing Congress to go small and do little, a huge contingent of this country is eager for Congress to solve the problem and end the digital divide.
What Unifies so Many Different Groups? Fully Funding Universal, Affordable, Future-Proof Access
For months Congress has been hounded by big ISP lobbyists interested in preserving their companies’ take of government money. However, the big ISPs—your AT&Ts, Comcasts, and the former Time Warner Cable—want to preserve the monopolies that have resulted in our current limited, expensive, slow internet access. All Americans have the opposite needs and interests. We need a strong focus on building 21st century ready infrastructure to everyone.
At the core of all new networks lies fiber optic wires, which is an inconvenient fact for legacy monopolies that intended to rely on obsolete wires for years to come. And all this opposition is happening while a billion fiber lines are being laid in the advanced Asian markets, primarily led by China, calling into question whether the United States wants to keep up or be left behind. They’ve argued that broadband is very affordable and that efforts to promote the public model to address rural and low-income access was akin to a “Soviet” take over of broadband.
But our collective lived experience, from a pandemic where kids are doing homework in fast food parking lots in large cities to rural Americans lacking the ability to engage meaningfully in remote work and distance learning, makes clear we need a change. For cities, where it is profitable to fully serve, its clear low-income people have been discriminated against and are being skipped through digital redlining. For rural Americans who have basic internet access, they are forced to rely on inferior and expensive service that is incapable of providing access to the modern internet (let alone the future).
ISPs have obscured this systemic problem by lobbying to continue to define 25/3 mbps as sufficient for connecting to the internet. That metric is unequivocally useless for assessing the status of our communications infrastructure. It is a metric that makes it look like the U.S. has more coverage than it does, since it represents the peak performance of old, outdated internet infrastructure.
It is therefore important to raise the standard to accurately reflect what is actually needed today and for decades to come. What we build under a massive federal program needs to meet that standard, not one from the earlier days of broadband. Not doing so will mean repeating the mistakes of the past where a large portion of $45 billion in federal subsidies have been invested in obsolete infrastructure. Those wires have hit their maximum potential, and no amount of money handed over to current large ISPs will change that fact. We have to get it right this time.
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EFF to Ecuador's Human Rights Secretariat: Protecting Security Experts is Vital to Safeguard Everyone's Rights
Today, EFF sent a letter to Ecuador's Human Rights Secretariat about the troubling, slow-motion case against the Swedish computer security expert Ola Bini since his arrest in April 2019, following Julian Assange's ejection from Ecuador's London Embassy. Ola Bini faced 70 days of imprisonment until a Habeas Corpus decision considered his detention illegal. He was released from jail, but the investigation continued, seeking evidence to back the alleged accusations against the security expert.
The circumstances around Ola Bini's detention, which was fraught with due process violations described by his defense, sparked international attention and indicated the growing seriousness of security experts' harassment in Latin America. The criminal prosecution has dragging out for two years since Bini’s release. And as a suspect under trial, Ola Bini continues to be deprived of the full enjoyment of his rights. During 2020, pre-trial hearings set for examining Bini's case were suspended and rescheduled at least five times. The Office of the IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression expressed concern with this delay in its 2020's annual report.
Last suspended in December, the pre-trial hearing is set to continue this Tuesday (6/29). Ecuador’s new President, Guillermo Lasso, recently appointed a new head for the country's Human Rights Secretariat, Ms. Bernarda Ordoñez Moscoso. We hope Ms. Ordoñez can play a relevant role by bridging the protection of security experts to the Secretariat's mission of upholding human rights.
EFF's letter calls upon Ecuadors’ Human Rights Secretariat to give special attention to Ola Bini’s upcoming hearing and prosecution. As we've stressed in our letter,
Mr. Bini's case has profound implications for, and sits at the center of, the application of human rights and due process, a landmark case in the context of arbitrarily applying overbroad criminal laws to security experts. Mr. Bini's case represents a unique opportunity for the Human Rights Secretariat Cabinet to consider and guard the rights of security experts in the digital age. Security experts protect the computers upon which we all depend and protect the people who have integrated electronic devices into their daily lives, such as human rights defenders, journalists, activists, dissidents, among many others. To conduct security research, we need to protect the security experts, and ensure they have the tools to do their work.
Ola Bini's arrest happened shortly after Ecuador's Interior Minister at the time, María Paula Romo, held a press conference to claim that a group of Russians and Wikileaks-connected hackers were in the country, planning a cyber-attack in retaliation for the government's eviction of Julian Assange from Ecuador's London Embassy. However, no evidence to back those claims was provided by Romo.
EFF has been tracking the detention, investigation, and prosecution of Ola Bini since its early days in 2019. We conducted an on-site visit to the country's capital, Quito, in late July that year, and underscored the harmful impact that possible political consequences of the case were having on the security expert's chances of receiving a fair trial. Later on, a so-called piece of evidence was leaked to the press and taken to court: a photo of a screenshot, taken by Bini himself and sent to a colleague, showing the telnet login screen of a router.
As we've explained, the image is consistent with someone who connects to an open telnet service, receives a warning not to log on without authorization, and does not proceed—respecting the warning. As for the portion of Bini's message exchange with a colleague, leaked with the photo, it shows their concern with the router being insecurely open to telnet access on the wider Internet, with no firewall.
More recently, in April 2021, Ola Bini’s Habeas Data recourse, filed in October 2020 against the National Police, the Ministry of Government, and the Strategic Intelligence Center (CIES), was partially granted by the Judge. According to Bini's defense, he had been facing continuous monitoring by members of the National Police and unidentified persons. The decision requested CIES to provide information related to whether the agency has conducted surveillance activities against the security expert. The ruling concluded that CIES unduly denied such information to Ola Bini, failing to offer a timely response to his previous information request.
EFF has a longstanding history of countering the unfair criminal persecution of security experts, who have unfortunately been the subject of the same types of harassment as those they work to protect, such as human rights defenders and activists. The flimsy allegations against Ola Bini, the series of irregularities and human rights violations in his case, as well as its international resonance, situate it squarely among other cases we have seen of politicized and misguided allegations against technologists and security researchers.
We hope Ecuador's Human Rights Secretariat also carefully examines the details surrounding Ola Bini's prosecution, and follows its developments so that the security expert can receive a fair trial. We respectfully urge that body to assess and address the complaints of injustice, which it is uniquely and well-positioned to do.
APC welcomes the report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, in particular its recognition of gendered disinformation online and the recommendation to states and companies to confront it, as well as to give special attention to its consequences in the offline world.
Karisma, FLIP, ILEX, CEJIL, IFEX, Derechos Digitales and APC urge the Human Rights Council to call on the Colombian state to guarantee, respect and protect the exercise of human rights online and offline in the country.