The Past Year Has Been Bad For Internet Freedoms Everywhere, Says Report

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Eric Lieberman Managing Editor
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“A record number of governments” have obstructed civilian usage of mobile internet service for “political or security” reasons, according to a study from the think tank Freedom House.

The report, which accounts for 87 percent of the world’s internet user population, outlines a multitude of trends that show how internet freedom globally has declined in the past year. One is the state censoring of mobile connectivity, including many in locations populated by minority religious or ethnic groups that take issue with the government or are seeking some form of rights. The study cites parts of Ethiopia and Tibetan areas in China as examples.

Freedom House also describes the growing clamp down on virtual private networks (VPNs), a secure, encrypted web connection that empowers users with the ability to navigate the internet anonymously. Countries like Russia and China have ordered both domestic and foreign tech companies based or operating in their countries to shut off all VPNs, claiming that their usage violates certain laws. Apple eventually agreed to China’s demands and removed VPNs from its app store for that country.

Users of VPNs employ the technological capability to circumvent the countries’ firewalls, which technically prohibits people from accessing many online services and sites that are available on the global internet. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are not accessible due to the firewall, so many Chinese citizens use Sina Weibo, a similar platform that is based in China and adheres to government’s calls for targeted censorship. (RELATED: ‘Tragedy Of Policy’: Snowden Calls Out Putin For Ban On Portion Of Internet)

But it’s not just the effective ban of VPNs that makes the past year the worst for internet freedoms. Physical attacks against online journalists have “increased by 50 percent over the past year — from 20 to 30 of the countries assessed.”

“In Jordan, for example, a Christian cartoonist was shot dead after publishing an online cartoon that lampooned Islamist militants’ vision of heaven, while in Myanmar, an investigative journalist was murdered after posting notes on Facebook that alleged corruption,” the report reads.

Through distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, governments and ruling powers in countries like “BahrainAzerbaijanMexico, and China,” have attacked certain activist’s web capabilities, according to the report, citing “independent forensic analysts.”

Out of 65 analyzed countries, China was ranked the worst abuser of internet freedom in last year’s Freedom House report. This time around, China was again ranked as the worst abuser, giving it the dishonorable title three years in a row.

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