However, dictatorship or repression isn’t a prerequisite to being an enemy of the internet.

The internet isn’t as free as we might assume, and “free speech advocating” democracies around the world are also playing their part in controlling its freedom.

A number of supposedly free countries are gradually moving towards digital dictatorship by practicing extensive censorship. Studies by Freedom House show that global internet freedom has dropped for the eighth consecutive year in 2018.

digital surveillance

Let’s Take a Look at the Obvious Offenders

China

As netizens in democratic countries focus on the dangers lurking in the online sphere, Beijing authorities have tightened their ropes and used digital media to enhance their power.

Also, Chinese companies supply telecom hardware, data analysis tools, and facial recognition technology to some governments with not-so-impressive human rights records.

This benefits not just the repressive local authorities that purchase these tools but also Chinese intelligence services who mine the data collected by their technologies.

China is also providing assistance to Iran to create a “Halal internet”. This would be a countrywide internet that will not be connected to the World Wide Web and will be under the full control of the government.

On one hand, China wants to create a Halal internet, on the other hand, China has held a million Muslims in internment camps, mainly due to non-violent online activities.

Iran

In December 2017, a protest took place in Mashhad, Iran to show people’s discontent with the soaring prices and a failing economy.

The street protest soon gained momentum and spread out to other cities, becoming a large demonstration of dissatisfaction with the government.

The Iranian authorities responded by throttling and even shutting down the internet networks. Several apps, including Telegram and Instagram, were blocked for over a week.

In April 2018, secure messaging app Telegram was completely blocked, citing government security as the reason. It was argued that the app supported dangerous terrorist groups.

Turkey

The year 2018 saw several restrictions in the online sphere. There were instances of self-censorship, a number of blocked news websites, and arrests of people who voiced their opinion against the president’s military operations.

In January 2018, some Turkish internet users disapproved the Operation Olive Branch, a cross-border operation in Afrin, Syria. Voicing opinions against this operation counted as terrorism and resulted in several arrests.

The government also prosecuted those who “insulted” President Erdoğan on social media, leading to prison terms of up to four years.

According to the numbers released by their ministry, almost 50,000 social media accounts were investigated for terrorist content, and more than 20,000 legal actions were taken.

South Korea

While South Korea cyberspace is vibrant and creative, there are several restrictive laws that mar the online freedom of its netizens.

The National Security Act of 1948 states that expressing sympathy with or praising the North Korea regime can land you in prison for up to seven years.

Defamation (spoken slander or written libel) is also a criminal offense in South Korea and can put you behind bars for up to five years. Any content that challenges the social values of the country or “benefits” the other Korea is deleted or blocked.

Other culprits

While these countries are considered the obvious enemies of the internet, there might be more culprits.

For example, Australia has brought some extreme internet laws that allow the government to collect metadata, and it’s among the most intrusive data collection schemes in the Western world.

The Australian government also requires companies to have a “backdoor” to their encrypted technologies so the government can access whatever data they want.

Western countries are quickly becoming the enemies of the internet, even though the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution that declares internet freedom as a basic human right. It censures internet shutdowns but the trend of blocking online access has become common in several countries around the world.

But What about the Country That’s Supposed to Be the Land of the Free – the United States of America?

The United States supports online as well as offline FoE (Freedom of Expression) and there are no typical cases of individuals being prosecuted for online speech.

However, a broad picture shows that online user rights in the US have become more complex, especially the issue of government surveillance. The US supports free speech until it’s in their favor.

While the US likes and supports technology, they change their stance when the technology doesn’t suit them, as can be seen in the case of United States v. Manning.

Pervasive Acts

Ever since 9/11, the US has become strict in its War on Terror. But in that process, it has also not shown much concern for personal space.

In 2001, the government began mass wiretapping, and the Patriot Act expanded the powers of NSA.

Many experts consider the NSA’s Utah data collection facility as the biggest spy headquarter, having the ability to listen on the phone calls and read the emails of all US citizens.

The NSA and GCHQ (UK) have collectively spied on millions of people, including journalists. These spying programs have been exposed by Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower.

The USA is often criticized for its invasive online policies. Government surveillance came in the spotlight once again in January 2018, when Congress wanted to reapprove the FISA Amendments Act. This would enable them to collect communication and metadata for six more years.

And you might have heard of the Five Eyes and 14 Eyes, as described by Edward Snowden.

These are the groups of countries that snoop on their citizens and share data among each other.

The US has often used the excuse of the War on Terror to squash the civil liberties of its citizens, while also lecturing others to protect the freedom of their people. It seems that the schizophrenic attitude of the country towards online freedom has claimed the fundamental freedom and privacy of its citizens.

And the Biggest Enemy of the Internet Is…

Surveillance of communication networks helps governments of various countries to identify internet users and what data they’ve been sharing.

This surveillance results in arrests in authoritarian countries. It’s unfortunate that we perceive only countries like China and Iran to be strict in online censorship, whereas it’s actually the democratic countries that have a demented behavior towards online freedom.

The USA is among the largest superpowers in the world and it collaborates with countries like the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand to gather metadata and intercept on the communications of its people.

Should the USA be considered the biggest enemy of the internet, since it has a huge impact and is looked up to as a free state by the rest of the world?

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