According to the Freedom House, online freedom has been declining for the 8th consecutive year. Global ‘digital authoritarianism’ has spread as a tool to control citizens through technology. Out of 65 countries surveyed, 26 experienced a deterioration in internet freedom.

Almost half of the reductions in online freedom were related to elections. Also, based on the findings of the report, “17 countries approved or proposed laws that would restrict online media in the name of fighting “fake news” and online manipulation.” For example, the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal, when over 87 million users’ data was used for political exploitation certainly had a huge impact.

Some of the findings by the Freedom House had a more positive note. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which empowered Europeans to be more in control of their personal data online, was recognized as an important step forward for over 500 million citizens of the EU.

China – the worst abuser of online freedom

With the implementation of the infamous Cybersecurity Law, upgraded surveillance technologies, cracking down on VPNs, content censorship and manipulation, arrests of dissidents and critics, bizarre “trustworthiness” rating system, etc., China was once again the worst abuser of internet freedom.

Currently, almost a million Muslims are held in internment camps in Xinjiang, mainly due to non-violent online activities. In fact, many worrying changes are yet to come as China’s president Xi Jinping last year stated his plans to transform the country into a “cyber superpower.”

Unfortunately, China’s ambitions don’t end within the country. Many critical telecommunications infrastructure is built by China, therefore most probably personal data generated by Chinese manufactured devices can be accessed by the Chinese officials.

On top of that, according to the report, in 2018 country’s officials held seminars and organized conferences for representatives from the Philippines, Thailand, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

While it’s not clear what were the goals of the events, one of them was introduced “as an opportunity for visitors to learn about “the Chinese Dream,” others were related to cybersecurity laws or the so-called new media models.

Global internet freedom decline

Iran, Russia, Egypt, Venezuela, Belarus, China, and Cambodia have also been growing their political dominance online. For example, Russia restricted the usage of VPNs, mostly to prevent Russians from visiting banned websites, hosted mainly by foreign countries.

Also, encrypted chatting service Telegram has been blocked because the developers refused to leave backdoors for government officials to access users’ data.

While for some limitations of online freedom in China or similar authoritarian countries come by no surprise, democratic countries struggle as well.

After the US Federal Communications Commission repealed net neutrality thus allowing ISPs to prioritize and throttle internet traffic, various civil rights movements and activists expressed their concerns about the future of the internet in the US in general.

Some interesting numbers from the report:

  • Out of 65 countries assessed, 26 experienced a deterioration in internet freedom
  • Countries were internet freedom has been growing: The Gambia (+12%), Armenia (+5%), Jordan (+4%)
  • Biggest offenders: China, Iran, Syria
  • 17 countries approved or proposed laws that would restrict online media in the name of fighting “fake news” and online manipulation
  • 15 countries considered data protection laws, and at least 35 already have a data protection law on the books

 

To read more about the findings of the report, press HERE.