Internet freedom around the world has declined for the fourth consecutive year, with a growing number of countries introducing online censorship and monitoring practices that are simultaneously more aggressive and more sophisticated in their targeting of individual users, a new Freedom House report concludes.
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, according to Sanja Kelly, Madeline Earp, Laura Reed, Adrian Shahbaz, and Mai Truong, co-authors of Freedom on the Net 2014.
As a result, more people are being arrested for their internet activity than ever before, online media outlets are increasingly pressured to censor themselves or face legal penalties, and private companies are facing new demands to comply with government requests for data or deletions….The growing restrictions at the national level are also changing the nature of the global internet, transforming it from a worldwide network into a fragmented mosaic, with both the rules and the accessible content varying from one country to another.
Blocking and filtering—once the most widespread methods of censorship—are still very common, but many countries now prefer to simply imprison users who post undesirable content, thereby deterring others and encouraging self-censorship. This approach can present the appearance of a technically uncensored internet while effectively limiting certain types of speech. Meanwhile, physical violence against internet users appears to have decreased in scope.
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.
Key Reasons for Decline in Internet Freedom, 2013–14:
- Proliferation of repressive laws
- Increased surveillance
- New regulatory controls over online media
- More arrests of social-media users
- Intensified demands on private sector
- New threats facing women and LGBTI population
- More sophisticated and widespread cyberattacks