Internet is Less Safe, Less Free and Less Private
The world wide web is becoming a police state in itself where users, who have paid for its construction and dissemination, are less safe and less free to navigate.
Internet freedom has declined for the fifth consecutive year, and, not surprisingly governments are the parties the bear the bulk of the responsibility for such a decrease as they are the ones imposing restrictions on the rights of Internet users and illegally monitoring their activity.
These are some conclusions of the report published by Freedom House, an organisation that analyzed the current state Internet freedom in 65 countries.
The study indicates that more and more governments try to censor information that is of general interest and puts pressure on the private sector to remove content they do not approve.
Although some of the grossest infringements on Internet freedom are though to be committed in places like China or North Korea, the truth is that western Internet users seem to be the ones who are losing their abilities to navigate the net at a higher speed.
Right now, more than 3 billion people surf the Internet, with 61% of them doing so in countries where criticism of the government, the army or families who are in power have been censured.
The 2015 Internet Freedom Report argues that there has been an escalation in arrests and intimidation on users. In 40 of the 65 countries surveyed last year they governments jailed people for having shared content through social networks.
In seven of those cases, people were handed down convictions of 7 years or more more. In China, a court sentenced an academic to life imprisonment for “encouraging separatism” through a website.
The organization conducted the study between June 1, 2014 and May 31, 2015. The classification is based on three parameters: the barriers to Internet access; the limits on content, and violations of the rights of users, including monitoring, persecution, harassment or attacks on the Internet.
According to the results obtained from the 65 countries there are 18 nations where people are “free” to navigate the net. They include Estonia, Canada, Germany and Australia. Meanwhile, most countries fall within the partly free category. This group includes Turkey, Mexico, Colombia and India. The countries that have no freedom include Cuba, Syria, Iran and Ethiopia, among others. Iceland is the country with the best grade and China is the worst.
“In many ways, the past year has been one of consolidation and adaptation of the restrictions on the Internet. Governments had already expanded their arsenal of tools to control the digital environment and are now reinforcing the application of these methods,” explains the report.
According to the study, countries that have experienced a greater fall in Internet freedom are Libya where increased violence against bloggers has risen and there have been cases of political censorship as well as a rise in prices of Internet services; Ukraine, with persecution of users because of criticism against the government in Kiev; and France, which, following the attacks in Paris, adopted restrictive legislation on the net.
Surveillance has been increasing worldwide. This is one of the major trends identified by Freedom House. In 14 democratic countries like France and Australia governments have adopted new measures authorizing these practices, “driven in part by concerns about terrorism and the spread of the Islamic State”.
Cyber-technology companies and international organizations have criticized the laws requiring the blanket retention of so-called metadata on the grounds that they violate the integrity, security and privacy of their communication systems.
Another conclusion reached by Freedom House is the turnaround when it comes to censorship of Internet content. Internet users are increasingly prepared to dodge the censorship, so governments choose to apply restrictions to both users and the private sector to achieve the removal of content that they find annoying.
In the best cases of censorship and under so-called political correctness, authorities are pushing demands to withdraw information they consider offensive. In the worst cases, law enforcement uses intimidation and torture.
Users have been restricted in their attempt to protect themselves from governments and their restrictions as authorities have sought to reduce the possibility of network protection. Now, intelligence agencies have taken steps to ban encryption and anonymity, two important tools in the case of journalists and human rights activists, for example, who use these tools to protect their freedom of expression against government oppression.
The study also collects information on positive outcomes that help improve Internet freedom. Freedom House states that 15 countries have registered improvements. The main achievements, the report says, are due to legislative changes or court decisions and it concludes: “Digital activism has been and remains the main promoter of change around the world, particularly in societies lacking political rights and press freedom.”