Threats to net freedom increasing, diversifying

When it comes to the battle over the Internet, repressive governments have been pushing hard over the past year to gain greater control over what their citizens say and see online.  But as government tactics have evolved, cyber activists and bloggers have pushed back. These are the conclusions of a new report released 24 September by Washington-based rights watchdog Freedom House. The report, Freedom on the Net 2012, looked at the trajectory of Internet freedom in 47 countries.

“The findings clearly show that threats to Internet freedom are becoming more diverse,” said Sanja Kelly, the project director, in a statement. “As authoritarian rulers see that blocked websites and high-profile arrests draw local and international condemnation, they are turning to murkier – but no less dangerous – methods for controlling online conversations.”

The report mentioned several ways some authorities have tried keeping a tighter grip on the Internet. Some of these methods are tried and true, such as introducing new, vaguely worded laws that could severely limit the kinds of information put online or harassing or intimidating bloggers. But some countries have also have started to use the Internet against their own citizens by hiring bloggers to intimidate or drown out dissenting voices.

From TOL’s coverage region, the most pronounced cases of threats to net freedom came from Uzbekistan, Belarus, Russia, and Azerbaijan. Uzbekistan, which was included for the first time in the organization’s global Internet report, got the worst score in the region, followed closely by Belarus. However, Russia and Azerbaijan in particular were singled out as two of seven countries worldwide at a higher risk for seeing setbacks in the near future, especially as Internet penetration continues to soar.

Estonia was also mentioned in the report, but for different reasons: It is cited as the freest among the countries polled, praised for the widespread use of e-government and e-commerce. Hungary, which was also categorized as “Free,” got kudos from the report authors for a late-2011 decision by the Constitutional Court to prevent restrictive media laws from extending to online sites.  Ukraine and Georgia also barely squeaked into the “Free” category.


About the Author

Transitions Online

Transitions Online (www.tol.org) is an Internet magazine that covers political, social, cultural, and economic issues in the former communist countries of Europe and Central Asia. The magazine has a strong network of local contributors, who provide valuable insight into events in the region’s 29 countries.
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