Internet freedom faces increasing threats from authoritarian governments, study shows

Repressive regimes are increasingly nervous about the internet. They are doing everything they can to stamp out new forms of dissent.

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Vladimir Putin just doesn't like new media
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The Commentator
On 20 April 2011 14:28

Authoritarian governments are taking active steps to clamp down on new freedoms provided by the explosion of the internet across the globe, a new study by Freedom House has shown.

The Washington based think tank said this week that Facebook, Twitter and everyday bloggers faced increasing intimidation as governments came to terms with the difficulty of controlling new media platforms.

“Freedom House identified a number of important countries that are seen as particularly vulnerable to deterioration in the coming 12 months: Jordan, Russia, Thailand, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe,” the group said in a statement on its website.

“In response to the growing popularity of internet-based applications like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, many governments have started targeting the new platforms as part of their censorship strategies. In 12 of the 37 countries examined, the authorities consistently or temporarily imposed total bans on these services or their equivalents”.

Freedom House noted that bloggers and even everyday users increasingly faced the threat of arrest, that regimes were mounting cyber attacks against the websites of their critics, that content manipulation and censorship was growing and that the authorities were using centralised internet infrastructure to limit people’s access and ability to share information.

“The ability to communicate political views, organize, debate, and have access to critical information is as important online as it is in the offline world,” said Sanja Kelly, managing editor of the report. “A more urgent response is needed to protect bloggers and other internet users from the sorts of restrictions that repressive governments have already imposed on traditional media,” Kelly added.

Russia is widely charged with having mounted the most prolific cyber assault in modern times with an attack on the internet infrastructure in the former Soviet republic of Estonia in 2007 which crashed sites across the country.

China also takes active steps against internet freedoms, as do many other regimes around the world.

“The Chinese government boasts the world’s most sophisticated system of internet controls, and its approach has become even more restrictive in recent years. Blocks on Facebook and Twitter have become permanent, while domestic alternatives to these applications have risen in popularity despite being forced to censor their users,” Freedom House said.

The situation was similarly dire in Iran:

“Since the protests that followed the flawed presidential election of June12, 2009, the Iranian authorities have waged a fierce campaign against internet freedom, including deliberately slowing internet speeds at critical times and using hacking to disable opposition websites. An increasing number of bloggers have been threatened, arrested, tortured, or kept in solitary confinement, and at least one died in prison”.

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