Recently, Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization, published “Freedom of the Net 2012,” the third edition of its report measuring Internet use in 47 countries. Based on the report, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 countries with the most oppressive Internet censorship.
Conventional wisdom suggests that only the smallest and most technologically backward countries have the greatest restrictions on access to the Internet and freedom of speech. However, a review of the data suggests this isn’t the case. Of course, many of these oppressive governments are in small or less-developed nations, such as Ethiopia, which has a GDP per capita of just $374, or Bahrain, which has an economy 1/657th the size of the United States. Not surprisingly, China — the second-largest economy in the world — is also on the list.
Regimes in countries with the most restrictions on Internet use have very different ways of stifling freedom. In countries such as China, sophisticated filtering services have been used to block the flow of information hostile to the government. Meanwhile, in places like Cuba, high costs to connect continue to prevent a large portion of the population from using the Web. In Iran, the government collects personal data on Internet users.
Since Freedom House began the survey last year, it noticed that new methods were employed to stifle Internet expression. For instance, 14 countries now use government-sponsored commentators to determine which information is pro- or anti-government and to write rebuttals to anti-government posters. In addition, violent attacks against Internet bloggers have become more common. Such attacks used to primarily target traditional journalists.
The United States, on the other hand, scored near the top of Freedom House’s survey. Kelly said the group’s only concerns were some surveillance measures enacted following Sept. 11, which the government argued were in the interest of national security. The group also cited the introduction of the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, which, had they been enacted, would have clamped down on websites trafficking copyrighted material and counterfeit goods. Opponents claimed both pieces of legislation would curb free speech. Efforts to kill the bills in Congress were successful.
When calculating a country’s Internet freedom score, Freedom House looked at three different criteria: obstacles to access, limits on content and violations of user rights. The higher the score in these areas, the greater the Internet censorship, according to Freedom House. The highest possible score was 100. From there, 24/7 Wall St. took the bottom 10 countries in terms of Internet freedom.
10. Saudi Arabia – less than half the population had access last year. The government vigilantly monitors content and has imprisoned bloggers.
9. Bahrain – the government has increasingly limited the information that can be accessed.
8. Vietnam – numerous bloggers have been arrested and imprisoned. In August, prominent blogger and activist Le Quoc Quan — previously jailed for his activism in 2007 — was beaten with iron bars by men he suspects were sent by local police.
7. Myanmar – For decades, Myanmar had a notorious reputation for cracking down on information painting the government in a negative light.
6. Ethiopia – Access to the Internet is already incredibly low — only 1% of the approximately 87 million Ethiopians are online. Even for the few who are plugged in, access is limited. Sites like Blogger have been down since the disputed 2005 elections, and very slow Internet speeds make watching videos on social media impossible.
5. Uzbekistan – The country has a centralized, state-owned telecommunications infrastructure that enables the government to monitor and restrict Web access.
4. Syria – the government has responded to violence by shutting down mobile and Internet networks, filtering more websites hostile to the current regime and “various sophisticated means of monitoring and tracking Internet users online activity.” Many bloggers and other Internet users have been arrested,
3. China – in March, 16 websites were closed and at least six people were arrested after rumors regarding infighting among government leaders was disseminated online
2. Cuba – unlike many larger countries that use sophisticated tracking and blocking software, Cuba primarily relies on high costs to access computers and the Internet to keep people from accessing sensitive information. The Cuban Internet is like their old cars — Cuba is stuck at Web 1.0,
1. Iran – The crackdown on Internet freedom in Iran has been well documented since mass protests over the presidential election in the summer of 2009 led to crackdowns by the government. As tensions escalated after the election, the Iranian government blocked many news websites and lowered bandwidth, sometimes shutting off Internet service altogether. Since the protests ended, Internet restrictions have gotten more subtle.
Thanks to Samuel Weigley and Alexander E. M. Hess and 24/7 Wall St. and
Thanks for “listening”, because you have the freedom to do so.
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