Freedom House Identifies New Threats

October 19, 2012 • Press Freedom • by

Third-annual report brings news of progress despite the prevalence of new and sophisticated threats to Internet freedom.

Freedom House’s newest report, “Freedom on the net 2012: A global assessment of Internet and digital media,” contains an array of new threats to Internet freedom.  The report provides an in-depth analysis of innovative government techniques specifically designed to quell the free flow of information on the Internet. The report, which assesses Internet freedom in 47 countries using a rating criteria consisting of barriers to access, limits on content, and violation of user rights, warned that, “threats (against Internet freedom) are more diverse and dangerous than ever.”

Estonia, the United States, and Germany received the three highest scores in terms of online freedom, while Iran, Cuba, and China received the lowest.  In addition Italy and the United Kingdom also made the top ten, however according to the report’s authors, Italy tallied the lowest scores in the EU in terms of “Internet penetration.”

Freedom House, an independent watchdog group located in the United States, compiled the report with the help of 50 researchers, most of which were based in the countries they analyzed. The lengthy report included detailed and extensive analysis of current threats to Internet freedom, and showed that secrecy is the most difficult aspect in the fight to secure Internet rights.

“The findings clearly show that threats to Internet freedom are becoming more diverse,” said Sanja Kelly, project director for Freedom on the Net at Freedom House. “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.”

Governments have added to their repertoire while actively working to block content, with new techniques listed in the report including deliberate connection problems issued during protests and civil gatherings as well as the use of paid commentators to infiltrate chat rooms and message boards with pro-government rhetoric.

Despite progress in both the Middle East and northern Africa, reports of increased censorship, arrests, violence against bloggers, and sanctions against social media and news outlets continue.

Some of the report’s most notorious offenders include China, Iran, Russia, Pakistan, Egypt, and Azerbaijan.  While the U.S. received high ratings in terms of Freedom House’s rating criteria, recent developments in both the House and the Senate could further threaten Internet freedom through legislation that ultimately restricts online free speech.

As governments seek to control access to the world’s greatest communication tool, the report included many “small victories” in the battle to protect Internet rights across the country. 14 countries included in the report showed ratings gains in terms of press freedom, with Tunisia and Burma experiencing the largest improvements.

On the other hand, 19 of the 47 countries included in the report passed laws within the past year that restrict free speech in some capacity, and for the sixth year in a row the majority of countries polled showed regression from the previous years results.

To view the full report, click here.

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