The US NGO Freedom House has released the new edition of its annual report on Freedom on the Net, which is to analyze the degree of freedom on the Internet globally. The current year 2016, according to the report, saw a further decrease in the freedom of expression, which has affected not only the company especially Facebook and Twitter, as well as WhatsApp and Telegram.
The entrance of the instant messaging app with end-to-end encryption has prompted some governments to consider them as a threat, perhaps even more severe than that represented by the company. It is because of services like WhatsApp, Telegram and others are able to spread so fast secure information.
In June 2015, the freedom of the Internet had worsened in 34 of 65 countries studied by the report. This was mainly in Uganda, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ecuador, and Libya, while freedom on the net has grown in Sri Lanka and Zambia and the United States, where a law banning the collection of telecommunications metadata has been approved.
“Freedom on the Net measures the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that governments and non-state actors around the world restrict our intrinsic rights online. Each country assessment includes a detailed narrative report and numerical score, based on methodology developed in consultation with international experts,” the report says. This methodology includes three categories:
Obstacles to Access that includes barriers to access independence of regulatory bodies, legal and ownership control over internet service providers, and details infrastructural and economic.
Limits on Content that analyzes legal regulations on self-censorship, the use of digital tools for civic mobilization, technical filtering and blocking of websites, content, and the vibrancy/diversity of online news media.
Violations of User Rights that tackles repercussions for online speech and activities, privacy and surveillance such as imprisonment, extralegal harassment, or cyberattacks.
China is at the top
The figure is perhaps most worrisome in the case of China. The report found that 67% of those who criticizes the government, the army or other institutions are subject to censorship. As compared to 15 countries last year, 24 nations governments have blocked or restricted access to social media or communication tools in 2016.
Even some Democratic Governments (12 those reported by the report) have put in place some form of restriction on the use of applications with end-to-end encryption because they are considered a threat to national security.
If the block touches all of these tools, it has a particularly harmful impact on human rights defenders, journalists, and the marginalized communities, which often depend on these apps to bypass state control.
For the second consecutive year, the worst country is reconfirmed as China, where among other things, a recent law punishes with imprisonment up to seven years those who spread rumors on social media. The Asian country is followed in the ranking by Syria and Iran.
Finally, that the authorities of 38 countries have carried out arrests linked to post on social media last year, an increase of 50% since 2013. In some countries, there have been convictions in over ten years in prison.