The Berkman Center is Harvard’s internet and society research center and one of the leading US think tanks on all things digital. This week, they released a new report on digital communication security in the Middle East and North Africa.
The report describes the results of a month-long survey of 98 independent bloggers carried out in May 2011 in order to understand perceptions of online risks and digital security issues, including internet and cell phone usage.
In many areas of the Middle East and North Africa, methods of digital communication can become a dangerous activity especially for those using it in forms of activism, dissent and independent media efforts. Digital activism has played a major role in various political and cultural clashes and has been oftentimes met with harsh resistance by governments attempting to silence digital organizing and independent media journalists.
Using internet filtering methods as well as technological and offline sanctioning strategies, governments are going after digital activists in increasingly invasive ways.
The survey addresses blogger assumption of online risk, their knowledge of digital security practices and their reported online security functions. The survey results indicate that there is much room for improving online security practices, even among this sample of respondents who are likely to have relatively high technical knowledge and experience.
Key survey findings:
- The survey respondents, primarily bloggers residing in the Middle East and North Africa, experienced a remarkably high incidence of security incidents related to their online activity over the past year, including cyber attacks, personal threats, arrest, and detention.
- Survey respondents reported a wide range of methods employed to mitigate therisks of online activity, including self-censorship, obscuring their identities, and writing in ambiguous language.
- Design and ease of use, rather than security-related features, are reported to be themost important considerations in choosing online platforms.
- Even within this set of at-risk bloggers, only a small number reported that they understand or implement best practices related to online security.
Research for this study was done by Rob Faris, Hal Roberts, Rebekah Heacock, Ethan Zuckerman and Urs Gasser.