Citizens and governments at odds for Internet freedom
More Internet users want to see greater freedoms online, especially in developing countries, but many governments are making this difficult.
The state of online freedom is at a crossroads. As more and more people come online, Internet literacy grows and people realize the full benefits of the Internet. This is a very empowering force, especially since tools like social media play such a critical role in connecting people around the world. The effects of just how empowering the Internet is can be seen in the numerous revolutions that have been aided by sites like Facebook and Twitter.
However, governments realize just how empowering the Internet can be and it is scaring them. Censorship laws around the world are zoning in on the Internet, especially as journalists continue to express their thoughts and opinions online. However, this is not just restricted to journalists – even Tweets that individual citizens send out can lead to government punishment.
Citizens want an uncensored Internet
A new report from the Pew Research foundation indicated that the majority of people in 22 of 24 countries want uncensored Internet access. In 12 of these countries, over 70 percent wanted a freer internet. Venezuela has by and far the largest majority at 89 percent. These figures come at a time when Venezuela has been in the midst of massive protests against the current government, further indicating just how scared governments can be.
The study found that support for online freedom was strongest in countries where a large percentage of the population is online and among the younger population. This would make sense considering these populations would best be able to leverage the capabilities of the Internet.
"In 14 nations, people ages 18-29 are more likely than those 50 or older to believe an uncensored internet is important.," the report contends. "Age gaps of 20 percentage points or more are found in Russia, Lebanon, Tunisia, Bolivia and Senegal."
Governments among the web's enemies
Much of the censorship controls that are leveled against the Internet are from governments. China, for instance, has among the most extensive online censorship policies in the world. Known as the Great Firewall, these controls block everything from Facebook to the New York Times.
The group Reporters Without Borders, which is a group that advocates for the freedom of information recently published a report on the Enemies of the Internet in 2014. On the list were oppressive governments like Belarus', but perhaps more alarming was the governments that one wouldn't expect to see – the United States and British governments.
In the past, these bodies have been staunch advocates for Internet freedom policies, but the Edward Snowden leaks indicated otherwise. The National Security Administration's invasive PRISM policy, along with a similar one carried out by the Government Communications Headquarters in the U.K. invaded the privacy rights of millions of citizens.
The report noted that these programs introduced security flaws into devices and software, which they were able to use to collect data about numerous users. In fact, the Washington Post reported that the NSA has the ability to record 100 percent of a foreign country's telephone calls. Though not directly related to the Internet, this shows just how extensive these capabilities are.
The problem is that they set a terrible precedent for the rest of the world.
"The mass surveillance methods employed in these three countries [the third being India}, many of them exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, are all the more intolerable because they will be used and indeed are already being used by authoritarian countries such as Iran, China, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to justify their own violations of freedom of information."
While citizens want more freedom, the powers at be are making it hard to attain, which could spell bad news for the future of Internet freedom.