By Susanne Posel
January 3, 2015
According to a study from Freedom House, the decline of internet freedom kicked into high-gear in 2014 and is expected to suffer further this year because of opinions derived from 65 nations who have access to the World Wide Web.
Since 2010, internet freedom has been eroded with restrictive applications enacted by governments and censoring of content, website filters and surveillance of user’s online behavior.
In 2015, predictions assume that the internet will be further restricted with an estimated “41 countries had either proposed or passed legislation to penalize legitimate forms of speech online.”
The report outlines key findings such as:
- Between May 2013 and May 2014, 41 countries passed or proposed legislation to penalize legitimate forms of speech online, increase government powers to control content, or expand government surveillance capabilities.
- Since May 2013, arrests for online communications pertinent to politics and social issues were documented in 38 of the 65 countries, most notably in the Middle East and North Africa, where detentions occurred in 10 out of the 11 countries examined in the region.
- Pressure on independent news websites, among the few unfettered sources of information in many countries, dramatically increased. Dozens of citizen journalists were attacked while reporting on conflict in Syria and antigovernment protests in Egypt, Turkey and Ukraine. Other governments stepped up licensing and regulation for web platforms.
Google, Twitter, Facebook and other tech corporations are projected to continue their “battle” to keep the internet searchable for everyone across the globe; however stumbling blocks in China, Russia and Turkey have proven to be difficult to circumvent.
Threats to the rights of internet users include:
- Data localization requirements—by which private companies are required to maintain data storage centers within a given country—are multiplying, driven in part by NSA revelations, which spurred more governments to bring international web companies under domestic jurisdiction. These costly measures could expose user data to local law enforcement.
- Women and LGBTI rights are undermined by digital threats and harassment, resulting in self-censorship that inhibits their participation in online culture.
- Cybersecurity is eroding as government critics and human rights organizations are subject to increasingly sophisticated and personalized malware attacks, documented in 32 of the 65 countries examined.
Back in July of 2014, the Pew Research Center (PRC) released a report regarding the threats to internet freedoms and “liberty” online due to “nation-state crackdowns, surveillance, and pressures of commercialization of the internet.”
The PRC predicts that by 2025 sharing content on the internet will be difficult because of fragmented networks.
The report reads: “The majority of respondents to this 2014 Future of the Internet canvassing say they hope that by 2025 there will not be significant changes for the worse and hindrances to the ways in which people get and share content online today. And they said they expect that technology innovation will continue to afford more new opportunities for people to connect.”
More than 1,400 participants were asked: “By 2025 will there be significant changes for the worse and hindrances to the ways in which people get and share content online compared with the way globally networked people can operate online today?”
Sixty-five percent said no while 35% answered yes.
In response to restrictions on the internet, Tim Berners-Lee (the man credited with “creating” the World Wide Web (WWW) in 1989) and advisor to the UK government, called for an internet user’s bill of rights (IUBR) to protect user’s rights and prevent governments and corporate influence.
Berners-Lee originally created the system that allows websites and links to be formed; a back-bone of the modern-day internet.
Berners-Lee said this IUBR would be a Magna Carta of sorts to ensure that the internet remain “accessible to all, from any device, and one that empowers all of us to achieve our dignity, rights and potential as humans.”
On the subject of privacy on the internet, Berners-Lee said: “These issues have crept up on us,” Berners-Lee said. “Our rights are being infringed more and more on every side, and the danger is that we get used to it. So I want to use the 25th anniversary for us all to do that, to take the web back into our own hands and define the web we want for the next 25 years.”
The Web We Want initiative (WWI), championed by Berners-Lee, endeavors to re-invent the internet with the IUBR in order to establish corroboration for national and regional campaigns to bring the internet to all citizens of every nation.
Berners-Lee explained: “The Web community – and the world at large – are wrestling with tough issues around security, surveillance, privacy, open infrastructure, net neutrality, content protection, and more.”