Internet freedom suffers in many countries including the United States
Internet freedom is being threatened in many countries around the world and the United States is among them.
Internet freedom is still in jeopardy
According to a report from the Freedom House, Internet freedom is continuing to experience setbacks for the fourth consecutive year, reported NBC News. The countries that dropped the furthest in the report by the human rights group were Russia, Ukraine and Turkey.
Russia was noted as increasing censorship during the Sochi Winter Olympics and Turkey's block of Twitter earlier this year was widely reported on. The worst abusers of Internet freedom, however, were Iran, Syria and China. The Freedom House report surveyed 65 countries for evidence of censorship, arrests of social media users and Internet surveillance.
"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 stated, according to U.S. News.
It is clear that while the number of countries that lashed out against citizens did slightly decrease, abuse is still alive and well. Alternatively, the report noted that more people were arrested in 2014 for their online activity than ever before. It also seems that instead of operating behind the scenes, this year governments openly prosecuted citizens.
"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 added, according to NBC News.
Sadly, few countries moved up in their rankings on the Freedom House list and those that did were noted for looser enforcement of laws rather than initiatives to promote freedom of expression. The United States ranked lower than five other countries – Germany, Australia, Canada, Estonia and Iceland.
The US has fallen behind…
While the U.S. was a major proponent in creating the Internet, it is now being criticized for repeated violations to privacy and online freedom. U.S. News reported that government of surveillance of phone and Internet data in the United States, privacy breaches and increasing pressure against journalists have diminished civil rights in the country. The Freedom House's report saw the U.S. drop to sixth place out of the 65 countries assessed. In 2013 the U.S. was in fourth place, and second place in 2012. The continued lower placement of the U.S. each year shows just how seriously Internet freedom has been affected. The Freedom House report also gives countries a digital score on a scale from zero to a 100. The U.S. has moved from a score of 13 in 2011, to 12 in 2012, 17 in 2013, and now 19 in 2014.
The report by the Freedom House did not fail to mention the events that started in May 2013, when reports of U.S. government spying programs surfaced. The National Security Agency and its U.K. equivalent, the Government Communications Headquarters, had documents leaked to the press by former agency contractor Edward Snowden, in an effort to reveal and limit the extent to which the government spied on citizens.
Of particular importance to the Freedom House, according to U.S. News, was the fact that the NSA was willing to use encryption cracking tools to allow for monitoring of anonymous chats. Lara Reed, a research analyst at the human rights group, explained that journalists, lawyers and keepers of sensitive information now censor themselves online.
"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.
Free speech advocacy groups have vocalized their view that press freedom in the U.S. is being threatened. Reporters Without Borders called the U.S. and the U.K. "enemies of the Internet," joining countries like Russia and China. U.S. News also mentioned that the U.S. will remain on the list in 2015.
Lastly, the Freedom House looked at countries' efforts to connect people to the Internet. The U.S. fell behind European nations in building infrastructure to help citizens gain access to mobile signals. In North and South America, nine million people live in rural areas that cannot access mobile signals, compared to only three million in Europe. U.S. News noted that as per data from the International Telecommunications Union, wealthy individuals in Europe and the Americas still comprise the majority of Internet users.