Internet Freedom Deteriorates

Freedom on the Net 2013 is the fourth report in a series of comprehensive studies of internet freedom around the globe and covers developments in 60 countries that occurred between May 2012 and April 2013. Over 60 researchers, nearly all based in the countries they analyzed, contributed to the project by researching laws and practices relevant to the digital media, testing the accessibility of select websites, and interviewing a wide range of sources, among other research activities. This edition’s findings indicate that internet freedom worldwide is in decline, with 34 out of 60 countries assessed in the report experiencing a negative trajectory during the coverage period. Broad surveillance, new laws controlling web content, and growing arrests of social-media users drove this overall decline in internet freedom in the past year. Nonetheless, Freedom on the Net 2013 also found that activists are becoming more effective at raising awareness of emerging threats and, in several cases, have helped forestall new repressive measures.

In June 2013, revelations made by former contractor Edward Snowden about the U.S. government’s secret surveillance activities took center stage in the American and international media. As part of its antiterrorism effort, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting communications data on Americans and foreigners on a much greater scale than previously thought. However, while the world’s attention is focused on Snowden and U.S. surveillance—prompting important discussions about the legitimacy and legality of such measures—disconcerting efforts to both monitor and censor internet activity have been taking place in other parts of the world with increased frequency and sophistication. In fact, global internet freedom has been in decline for the three consecutive years tracked by this project, and the threats are becoming more widespread.

Of particular concern are the proliferation of laws, regulations, and directives to restrict online speech; a dramatic increase in arrests of individuals for something they posted online; legal cases and intimidation against social-media users; and a rise in surveillance. In authoritarian states, these tools are often used to censor and punish users who engage in online speech that is deemed critical of the government, royalty, or the dominant religion. In some countries, even blogging about environmental pollution, posting a video of a cynical rap song, or tweeting about the town mayor’s poor parking could draw the police to a user’s door. Although democratic states generally do not target political speech, several have sought to implement disproportionate restrictions on content they perceive as harmful or illegal, such as pornography, hate speech, and pirated media.


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