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[liberationtech] Freedom House Study Finds Mounting Threats to Internet Freedom

Robert Guerra lists at
Mon Apr 18 07:26:15 PDT 2011


Freedom House Study Finds Mounting Threats to Internet Freedom
April 18, 2011

 Cyberattacks, politically motivated censorship, and government control over
internet infrastructure are among the diverse and growing threats to
internet freedom, according to Freedom on the Net 2011: A Global Assessment
of Internet and Digital Media,a new
study<> released
today by Freedom House.
 These encroachments on internet freedom come at a time of explosive growth
in the number of internet users worldwide, which has doubled over the past
five years. Governments are responding to the increased influence of the new
medium by seeking to control online activity, restricting the free flow of
information, and otherwise infringing on the rights of users.
“These detailed findings clearly show that internet freedom cannot be taken
for granted,” said David J. Kramer, executive director of Freedom House.
“Nondemocratic regimes are devoting more attention and resources to
censorship and other forms of interference with online expression.”
Freedom on the Net 2011,which identifies key trends in internet freedom in
37 countries, follows a pilot edition that was released in 2009. Freedom on
the Netevaluates each country based on barriers to access, limitations on
content, and violations of users’ rights.
The study found that Estonia had the greatest degree of internet freedom
among the countries examined, while the United States ranked second. Iran
received the lowest score in the analysis. Eleven other countries received a
ranking of Not Free, including Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia,
and Thailand. A total of 9 of the 15 countries in the original pilot study
registered declines over the past two years. Conditions in at least half of
the newly added countries similarly indicated a negative trajectory.
Crackdowns on bloggers, increased censorship, and targeted cyberattacks
often coincided with broader political turmoil, including controversial
Countries at Risk:As part of its analysis, Freedom House identified a number
of important countries that are seen as particularly vulnerable to
deterioration in the coming 12 months: Jordan, Russia, Thailand, Venezuela,
and Zimbabwe.
Key Trends
* Explosion in social-media use met with censorship:In response to the
growing popularity of internet-based applications like Facebook, YouTube,
and Twitter, many governments have started targeting the new platforms as
part of their censorship strategies. In 12 of the 37 countries examined, the
authorities consistently or temporarily imposed total bans on these services
or their equivalents.
* Bloggers and ordinary users face arrest: Bloggers, online journalists, and
human rights activists, as well as ordinary people, increasingly face arrest
and imprisonment for their online writings. In 23 of the 37 countries,
including several democratic states, at least one blogger or internet user
was detained because of online communications.
* Cyberattacks against regime critics intensifying: Governments and their
sympathizers are increasingly using technical attacks to disrupt activists’
online networks, eavesdrop on their communications, and cripple their
websites. Such attacks were reported in at least 12 of the 37 countries
* Politically motivated censorship and content manipulation growing: A total
of 15 of the 37 countries examined were found to engage in substantial
online blocking of politically relevant content. In these countries, website
blocks are not sporadic, but rather the result of an apparent national
policy to restrict users’ access to information, including the websites of
independent news outlets and human rights groups.
* Governments exploit centralized internet infrastructure to limit
government control over a country’s connection to international internet
traffic poses a significant threat to free online expression, particularly
at times of political turmoil. In 12 of the 37 countries examined, the
authorities used their control over infrastructure to limit widespread
access to politically and socially controversial content, and in extreme
cases, cut off access to the internet entirely.
“The ability to communicate political views, organize, debate, and have
access to critical information is as important online as it is in the
offline world,” said Sanja Kelly, managing editor of the report. “A more
urgent response is needed to protect bloggers and other internet users from
the sorts of restrictions that repressive governments have already imposed
on traditional media,” Kelly added.
Other Important Country Findings:
* China: TheChinese government boasts the world’s most sophisticated system
of internet controls, and its approach has become even more restrictive in
recent years. Blocks on Facebook and Twitter have become permanent, while
domestic alternatives to these applications have risen in popularity despite
being forced to censor their users. The authorities imposed a months-long
shutdown of internet access in the western region of Xinjiang during the
report’s coverage period, and at least 70 people were in jail for
internet-related reasons as of 2010.
* Iran: Since the protests that followed the flawed presidential election of
June 12, 2009, the Iranian authorities have waged a fierce campaign against
internet freedom, including deliberately slowing internet speeds at critical
times and using hacking to disable opposition websites. An increasing number
of bloggers have been threatened, arrested, tortured, or kept in solitary
confinement, and at least one died in prison.
* Pakistan: In recent years—under both military rule and an ostensibly
democratic civilian government—the authorities have adopted various measures
to exert some control over the internet and the sharing of information
online. In mid-2010, a new Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Evaluation of
Websites was established to identify sites for blocking based on vaguely
defined offenses against the state or religion.
* United States: Access to the internet in the United States remains open
and fairly free compared with the rest of the world. Users face very few
restrictions on their ability to access and publish content online, and
courts have consistently held that prohibitions against government
regulation of speech apply to material published on the internet. However,
the United States lags behind many major industrialized countries in terms
of broadband penetration and connection speeds, and the government’s
surveillance powers are cause for some concern.
The full embargoed report can be viewed here -
Freedom House would like to acknowledge the United Nations Democracy Fund
(UNDEF) and Google for their generous support.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports
democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and
advocates for democracy and human rights.
The report will be formally launched at an event at the San Francisco World
Affairs Council today at 6:30pm PDT. Launch event will be live streamed,
here's the link -

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