Freedom House has in the previous days released its yearly report on internet freedom, Freedom on the Net 2013. Notable fallouts from the report show that internet freedom worldwide slowly decreases; nevertheless are internet activists becoming more efficient and creative going around systems of censorship and data filtering. The report also shows that many governments fear the power of social media and as an effect from it try to pass new legislations that threaten internet freedom. The most repressive countries in term of internet freedom were for the second year in a row China, Cuba and Iran whereas Iceland, Estonia and Germany top the list to be the countries with most internet freedom as of 2013.
China to lift ban on Internet sites and to welcome foreign telecommunication companies within the Shanghai Free-trade ZoneSeptember 24th, 2013 Theme: Internet Freedom
Beijing recently reported considering lifting the ban on foreign websites such as Twitter, Facebook and The New York Times within the Shanghai Free-trade Zone, reports the Hong Kong based South China Morning Post (SCMP). The Chinese government is also to open up for foreign telecommunication companies to be able to act in the same region, which according to sources is likely to expand over the upcoming years to cover the whole Pudong district, which covers 1,210.4 square kilometers, SCMP says.
Could this be the beginning of a new and liberal Internet policy for China ahead? Facebook and Twitter played an important role in the recent political movements in the Middle East and the Chinese authorities are still concerned about “the impact of new media on social stability”, SCMP says.
China’s new anti-defamation laws are according to analysts without a doubt a smokescreen for the government to control general online views. On September 9, the Chinese government announced new anti-defamation laws which are being criticized for cracking down the freedom of speech. Chinese officials say that “people have been hurt and reaction in society has been strong, demanding with one voice serious punishment by the law for criminal activities like using the internet to spread rumors and defame people” meanwhile analysts uphold that “the new guidelines are clearly a way to crack down or control general online views.” China has lately experienced a wave of embarrassing political scandals with the effect of resignation of several prominent officials. In the wake of that a lot of journalists as well as a high-profile blogger have been arrested in recent weeks. With the new laws, people whose rumors are visited at least 5000 times or being quoted at least 500 times would be liable for prosecution and could therefore face up to three years in prison.
Gary King, Jennifer Pan and Margaret Roberts recently made an experimental study of censorship in China with deeper analysis on which criteria published material being censored on the internet. With the already known fact that the system is based on passive, observational methods, with well known inferential limitations, they generated casual and descriptive inferences through participation and experimentation. They did among others create numerous accounts on social media sites, submitting different randomly assigned types of social media texts and from there on detecting which types particularly being censored. They did also set up confidential interviews and meetings with Chinese firms to install the same censoring technologies as existing sites, pretending to set up their own social media site in China. They came to conclusion that material that criticizes the state, its leaders, and their policies are more likely being published than material with collective action and that social media sites have more flexibility than was previously understood.
On September 14, 1987, red the first e-mail sent from China: “Across the Great Wall we can reach every corner in the world.” This line appears perhaps a bit bizarre with the fact that China today possesses one of the most efficient and advanced censorship systems in the world when it comes to the internet. The Economist explains briefly in its article how China managed to break the net with controlling it though its so-called Great Firewall and Golden Shield. China is ranked as the third most restricted country in the world for internet freedom in 2012, only preceded by Iran and Cuba.
Article from TIME Magazine
TIME Magazine recently published an interesting and deep-going article about the Cuban net life. Cubans were legally allowed earlier this year to go online at so-called “cyber points”, nevertheless with restriction and need of handing over identity papers before logging on. The article brings opinions from dissident Cuban citizens who bid defiance to the governmental restrictions of net freedom as well as tells us more about how the citizens in the country succeed taking part of modern internet phenomenon such as “Gangnam Style” in spite of national restrictions. With only 25 % of the population online, Cuba is “the Western Hemisphere’s last frontier”, according to the writer of the article. Read the article
Owners of internet cafes as well as some private households in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic in Azerbaijan have since August 24 experienced a reduced internet access. Malahat Nasibova, a human rights defender, is of conclusion that the majority of internet cafes in the city of Nakchivan have been shut down. This act is according to her and other human rights defenders a try from the government to reduce online activism on the eve of election and they fear that such measures may be applied in Baku and other regions as well. The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology of Nakhchivan denied all cognizances.
Ranked as the 8th worst country in the world for Internet freedom in 2012, Vietnam is to plummet further with its new Decree 72 that bans the publishing of material that “opposes” the Socialist Republic of Vietnam or “harms national security”. According the new legislation, social-media users cannot quote “general information” or “information from newspapers, press agencies or other state-owned websites” but can only “provide or exchange personal information”. Reporters Without Borders said in a statement that “the decree is both nonsensical and extremely dangerous”.
A backlash against social media currently takes place in the Arab world and in Turkey and is the latest version of perennial, systematic attempts by authoritarian-leaning regimes to control their citizens through fear and repression. However, it only draws attention to the human rights abuses these governments seek to hide, and reveals despots’ fear of the growing power of citizen voices, writes Freedom house in a recent article.
The blogger Ali S. Novruzov discusses the concept of Internet freedom in a recent post and argues that “freedom is more a social phenomenon rather than technical phenomenon, thus the Internet is being technically free doesn’t mean that the Internet is totally free.”