U.S.-based human rights watchdog Freedom House released a report about internet freedom today, and its conclusions are chilling for everyone who considers the internet to be a transformational force worldwide. The report, which assesses the internet policies and laws of 47 countries between 2011 and 2012, concludes that several regimes are combining tried-and-true techniques of filtering with newer extra-governmental surveillance. In particular, Saudia Arabia, Ethiopia and China have increased internet filtering and monitoring in response to partially-social-media driven political uprisings in the Middle East.
Of the 47 countries studied, 20 have experienced what Freedom House calls a “negative trajectory” since the previous report. The report notes that governemntal manipulation of the internet is changing. Previously, it was more visible: countries blocked sites or communication protocols. This report observes that it’s become more complex. For instance, China and Russia have inspired many countries to hire groups of pro-government bloggers. In particular, Bahrain’s government have hired “trolls” to troll comments of international articles that attack the Bahraini regime. Also, temporarily shutting down internet access during protests or social unrest is becoming common: Libya, Egypt and Pakistan have experienced internet and mobile phone shutdowns over the past year.
It’s important to note that only 4 countries out of the 20 seeing a decline in internet freedom are electoral democracies. So while the internet can clearly improve lives and help overthrow regimes, its relative freedom is still determined by the country of the user. It’s a correlation against causation situation. But the good news is that the study finds a significant uptick in citizen activism related to internet freedom, highlighted by the defeat of the SOPA in the United States. Read the whole report on–what else–the internet, here at the Freedom House website.
Photo courtesy of Justus Bluener
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