Freedom on the Internet is coming under more and more threat from governments around the world, according to the second ‘Freedom on the Net’ (FOTN) report by the Freedom Institute for 2011.
The study of 37 countries found former Soviet republic Estonia to have the freest Internet, with a restriction of just 10 points, followed by the United States with a restriction score of 13.
The most restricted Internet is for users in Iran, Cuba, China and Burma, with restriction levels of between 83 and 89 (out of 100).
The overall trend, the report found, was towards less and less freedom on the Internet as governments become more and more alarmed at or better at controller what they consider uncomfortable exchange of information and co-operation through the Internet.
“Of the 15 countries covered in the pilot [report of 2009], a total of 9 registered score declines over the past two years,” the report noted.
Freedom House is an international non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Washington DC that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights, known for its annual report on democratic freedoms in each country.
Even in the newly added countries, the report, compiled by more than 40 researchers based around the World, found evidence of a “negative trajectory,” in at least half of them in the last two years.
It found increased government blocking, filtering, legal action, and intimidation to prevent users from accessing unfavorable content and in other places, cyberattacks, misinformation, and other indirect methods to alter the information landscape, such as creating dummy sites.
“These states are increasingly blocking and filtering websites associated with the political opposition, coercing website owners into taking down politically and socially controversial content, and arresting bloggers and ordinary users for posting information that is contrary to the government’s views,” it pointed out.
It held the increased governmental nervousness in many repressed countries to the role played by Internet-based organization and communication tools like Facebook, Twitter etc..
“In 12 of the 37 countries examined, the authorities consistently or temporarily imposed total bans on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or equivalent services,” it noted.
The report found that out of the total 6.5 billion people in the World, over two billion now have access to the Internet — nearly double that of five years ago.
Specific examples of Governments blocking or manipulating Internet chronicled in the report include the following:
South Korean authorities blocked access to an estimated 65 North Korea–related sites, including the official North Korean Twitter account, launched in August 2010.
A Chinese woman was sent to a labor camp over a satirical Twitter message,
An Indonesian housewife faced high fines for an e-mail she sent to friends complaining about a local hospital.
A 19-year old Tibetan was detained after looking at online photographs of the Dalai Lama.
A Thai judge in March 2011 sentenced a web developer to 13 years in prison for comments he posted and for refusing to remove the remarks of others.
In Thailand, at least one editor is facing criminal charges over reader comments that were critical of the monarchy.
In Belarus, the country’s largest ISP, the state-owned Belpak, redirected users from independent media sites to nearly identical clones that provided misleading information, such as the incorrect location of a planned opposition rally.
In Egypt, officials shut down the Internet nationwide for five days in January in an unsuccessful attempt to curb antigovernment protests. The operation was accomplished within the span of one hour.
The award for the best anti-freedom activities on the Internet was given to the Chinese government.
Among the strategies developed by the Chinese government is hiring people to post pro-government comments in discussion fora to drown out dissenters and complainers. Such people even have a name, the “50 Cent Party”, the report noted.
“Recruiting advertisements for similar commentators have reportedly begun to appear on Russian job sites,” it pointed out.
“China has emerged as a major global source of cyberattacks. Although not all attacks originating in the country have been explicitly traced back to the government, their scale, organization, and chosen targets have led many experts to conclude that they are either sponsored or condoned by Chinese military and intelligence agencies.
“The assaults have included denial-of-service (DoS) attacks on domestic and overseas human rights groups, e-mail messages to foreign journalists that carry malicious software capable of spying on the recipient’s computer, and large-scale hacking raids on the information systems of over 30 financial, defense, and technology companies, most of them based in the United States.
“In addition, independent analysts have detected cyberespionage networks that extend to 103 countries as part of an effort to spy on the Tibetan government-in-exile and its foreign government contacts,” the Washington-based organization noted.