Report: Internet freedom declines worldwide

A new report says Internet freedom has deteriorated worldwide in the past year, while activists are finding new ways to counter repressive measures.

Freedom House says new laws controlling web content and increased arrests of social-media users led to a decline in Internet freedom.

In its report, “Freedom on the Net 2013,” the U.S.-based non-governmental organization looked at trends in Internet freedom in 60 countries and studied obstacles to Internet access, limits on content and violations of user rights.

The project director for Freedom on the Net, Sanja Kelly, said governments are increasingly looking at who is saying what online and finding ways to punish them.

Freedom House says an increase in surveillance is the most significant new trend, finding that more than half the countries studied have broadened technical or legal surveillance programs. The report also says many governments have passed laws to limit expression online, in an effort to control social media.

The yearly report listed 34 countries as having a decline in Internet freedom, including Vietnam, Ethiopia, India, the United States and Brazil.

The United States slipped on the list of countries with the greatest degree of Internet freedom, largely due to surveillance activities revealed by Edward Snowden. But the U.S. remains among the top five countries for Internet freedom.

The report also lists the most commonly used types of Internet controls, which range from blocking and filtering to physical attacks on people. Freedom House says people were beaten, attacked or tortured in 26 countries, often in retaliation for exposing human rights abuses.

Several countries employ commentators to post online and manipulate discussions by discrediting government opponents, spreading propaganda and defending government policies while not disclosing that they work for the government.

Freedom House also cites Syria as an example of a government shutting down telecommunications infrastructure to cut off or slow Internet and mobile access. Services have also been cut in parts of China, India and Venezuela during political events or social unrest.
(Photo: ilker/