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A new report from the Freedom House shows online freedom is in jeopardy

An annual study from the Freedom House advocacy group shows that the U.S. has fallen behind in online freedom and privacy.

Internet freedom in the US is declining
According to U.S. News, the Freedom House report revealed that government surveillance of Internet usage and phone calls has increased and that privacy is lacking when it comes to the digital world. The U.S. fell to sixth place out of the 65 countries on the Freedom House's list. The study gives countries a score from zero to 100. The U.S. ranked 13 in 2011, 12 in 2012, 17 in 2013 and 19 in 2014. It is evident by the numbers that the situation is getting worse.

Northern Europe leads the way in Internet freedom
As per the report, Northern Europe earned the highest scores for Internet freedom. Iceland remained at first place for digital rights, Estonia at second, Canada at third, Australia at fourth and Germany in fifth place, reported U.S. News. The lowest-scoring countries were Ethiopia, Cuba, China, Syria and Iran – not surprising given recent news regarding censorship and harassment of civilians in these countries.

The study focused on events that took place between May 2013 and May 2014, when news reports surfaced about Internet and phone surveillance by the National Security Agency in the U.S. and the Government Communications Headquarters in the U.K., according to U.S. News. Classified documents were leaked to the press by former agency contractor Edward Snowden, which resulted in public uproar regarding the extent to which the government spied on citizens.

Laura Reed, a research analyst at Freedom House commented that because of public fear over government surveillance, lawyers, journalists and activists are self-censoring themselves online and on the phone.

"People don't have as much faith in the security of their phone or Internet connections so they are not as willing to talk about sensitive topics," Reed told U.S. News.

Some foreign nations rank low because of rights violations 
Countries like China and Russia ranked low because of repression of free speech and surveillance of Internet activity. The report named 26 countries that committed rights violations and even oppressed citizens due to their Internet activity.

"In 2013, Freedom House documented 26 countries where government critics and human rights defenders were subjected to beatings and other types of physical violence in connection with their online activity; that number fell to 22 in 2014," the report said, according to U.S. News.

Ultimately, it is clear that for the fourth consecutive year, Internet freedom around the world is on the decline. NBC News reported that Russia, Ukraine and Turkey dropped the furthest on the list. In Turkey this year, Twitter was temporarily blocked, and in Russia the government censored the Winter Olympics in Sochi because of its conflict with Ukraine.

"In a departure from the past, when most governments preferred a behind-the-scenes approach to Internet control, countries are rapidly adopting new laws that legitimize existing repression and effectively criminalize online dissent," the report said, according to NBC News.

It is sad to see that with the advancement of technology governments are increasing their surveillance and harassment of citizens. In a globalized world, these activities are not hidden, even though they do limit the right to expression for many.

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