Internet freedom lessens throughout world, but activists voice their discontent
A new report indicates that internet freedom around the world has regressed over the last year, however activists are not taking to these limitations lightly.
The Internet has come to the forefront of many people's mind over the course of 2013. With the news of the United States' PRISM program, as well as the actions of many "hacktivist" groups such as Anonymous, a number of people are concerned about the various actions that governments have been taking to secure their hold on what people can access.
There are a variety of ways in which these ruling powers have attempted to limit these freedoms from the formerly secret surveillance programs of the U.S. to the outright firewalls of the Chinese government, however, those who oppose such actions are becoming more vocal about these oppressions.
Freedom House has conducted a report on the state of Internet freedom throughout the world and its findings are both discouraging but hopefully. The organization explains that 35 of the 60 countries that were examined have expanded their technical or legal surveillance powers over the course of the year. In countries like the U.S. this is concerning, but it is even more so in countries where citizens are further repressed as a result.
Other legislation has sought to limit expression on the internet, with 24 of these countries adopting legal action that prohibits certain kinds of speech over the web, since May 2012 – some even with prison sentences attached to them.
"While blocking and filtering remain the preferred methods of censorship in many countries, governments are increasingly looking at who is saying what online, and finding ways to punish them," said the Project Director for the report, Sanja Kelly. "In some countries, a user can get arrested for simply posting on Facebook or for "liking" a friend's comment that is critical of the authorities."
Methods of control
The report explains that a number of different methods have been used to control Internet access. Outright blocking or filtering of certain content was common among 29 of the countries assessed with China, Iran and Saudi Arabia being among the top offenders.
Another common method has been through cyberattacks against those who are critical of their ruling governments. The source explains that at least 31 of the countries involved in the study have attempted to sabotage websites that spoke out against the government.
Among the most serious of these violations was the use of physical attacks an murder which occurred in an alarmingly high 26 countries, five of which saw fatalities. This was most common in certain countries like Syria, Mexico and Egypt which have been embroiled in conflict recently.
Change on the horizon?
Though freedom regressed in a number of countries throughout the world, some countries could see improvement in the near future. Iran, for example, ranked in the bottom three of the countries examined, however, recent measures may change this.
The citizens of the country experienced a brief blip of internet freedom earlier this year, as the newly elected President Hassan Rouhani promised to implemented greater internet freedoms during his election. While this brief day was said to be a technological glitch by government officials, the prospects of a freer Internet are still possible in the country.
The Guardian explains that Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and President Rouhani shared a brief exchange over the social media platform following an interview on CNN. In his Tweet to Dorsey, the President said that his efforts were aimed at making all information on the Internet available to Iran's citizens. To this Dorsey offered his own help to make these goals a reality.
While the internet has become more controlled as of late, such gestures provide a sense of optimism about its future. The next step is seeing these governments follow through on their word.