FREEDOM ON THE NET 2011 A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media Sanja Kelly Sarah Cook EDITORS April 18, 2011 FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net 2011 TABLE OF CONTENTS Page Acknowledgments i Overview: New Technologies, Innovative Repression 1 Sanja Kelly and Sarah Cook Charts and Graphs of Key Findings 12 Main Score Table 12 Global Graphs 15 Regional Graphs 19 Freedom on the Net 2011 Map 22 Score Change Explanations 23 Country Reports 29 Australia 30 Azerbaijan 41 Bahrain 47 Belarus 56 Brazil 65 Burma 76 China 88 Cuba 109 Egypt 118 Estonia 126 Ethiopia 132 Georgia 141 Germany 147 India 161 Indonesia 175 Iran 187 Italy 195 Jordan 207 Kazakhstan 214 FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net 2011 Kenya 224 Malaysia 229 Mexico 239 Nigeria 247 Pakistan 257 Russia 269 Rwanda 278 Saudi Arabia 285 South Africa 292 South Korea 299 Thailand 310 Tunisia 321 Turkey 329 United Kingdom 337 United States 345 Venezuela 355 Vietnam 368 Zimbabwe 377 Methodology and Checklist of Questions 386 Contributors 397 Glossary 399 Freedom House Board of Trustees 404 About Freedom House 405 i FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net 2011 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Completion of the Freedom on the Net publication would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of the following people.
As managing editor, Sanja Kelly directed the research, editorial, and administrative operations for the project, supported by Asia research analyst and assistant editor Sarah Cook. Together, they provided essential research and analysis, edited the country reports, and conducted field visits in Turkey, Malaysia, and South Africa. Over 40 external consultants served as report authors and advisors, and made an outstanding contribution by producing informed analyses of a highly diverse group of countries and complex set of issues. Tyler Roylance copyedited the volume and provided critical editorial and analytical insight throughout. Interns Abha Parekh and Sabrina Baum provided indispensable research, editorial, and administrative assistance.
General oversight was provided by Christopher Walker, director of studies. Helpful contributions and insights were made by Daniel Calingaert, deputy director of programs, Robert Guerra, internet freedom project director, as well as other Freedom House staff in the United States and abroad including Jake Dizard, Karin Karlekar, Rashweat Mukundu, Matthew Brady, Viviana Giacaman, Sherif Mansour, Miwa Kubosaki, Piet Khaidir, Julie Middleton, and Kerryn Shewitz. Experts from the Center for Democracy and Technology—Leslie Harris, Jim Dempsey, and Cynthia Wong—also provided valuable feedback.
This publication was produced with the generous assistance of the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) and Google. Additional contributions were also made by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The content of the publication is the sole responsibility of Freedom House and does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations, UNDEF or its Advisory Board, Google, the Dutch Ministry, USAID, or any other funder.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net NEW TECHNOLOGIES, INNOVATIVE REPRESSION:
Growing Threats to Internet Freedom By Sanja Kelly and Sarah Cook Over the past decade, and particularly in the last few years, the influence of the internet as a means to spread information and challenge government-imposed media controls has steadily expanded.
This mounting influence directly corresponds to the growth in the number of users around the world: over two billion people now have access to the internet, and the figure has more than doubled in the past five years. However, as more people use the internet to communicate, obtain information, socialize, and conduct commerce, governments have stepped up efforts to regulate, and in some instances tightly control, the new medium. Reports of website blocking and filtering, content manipulation, attacks on and imprisonment of bloggers, and cyberattacks have all increased sharply in recent years.
To illuminate the nature of the emerging threats and identify areas of growing opportunity, Freedom House has conducted a comprehensive study of internet freedom in 37 countries around the globe. An earlier, pilot version was published in 2009, covering a sample of 15 countries. The new edition, Freedom on the Net 2011, assesses a wider range of political systems, while tracking improvements and declines in the countries examined two years ago. Over 40 researchers, most of whom are based in the countries they examined, contributed to the project by researching laws and practices relevant to the internet, testing accessibility of select websites, and interviewing a wide range of sources. Although the study’s findings indicate that the threats to internet freedom are growing and have become more diverse, they also highlight a pushback by citizens and activists who have found ways to sidestep some of the restrictions and use the power of new internet-based platforms to promote democracy and human rights.
When the internet first became commercially available in the 1990s, very few restrictions on online communications and content were in place. Recognizing the economic potential of the new medium, many governments started investing heavily in telecommunications infrastructure, and internet-service providers (ISPs) sought to attract subscribers by creating online chat rooms and building communities of users around various topics of interest. Even the authorities in China, which today has the most sophisticated regime of internet controls, exerted very little oversight in the early days. However, as various dissident groups in the late 1990s began using the OVERVIEW: NEW TECHNOLOGIES, INNOVATIVE REPRESSION FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net internet to share information with audiences inside and outside the country, the government devoted tremendous human and material resources to the construction of a multilayered surveillance and censorship apparatus. Although China represents one of the most severe cases, similar dynamics are now becoming evident in many other countries.
Indeed, the country reports and numerical scores in this study reveal that a growing number of governments are moving to regulate or restrict the free flow of information on the internet. In authoritarian states, such efforts are partly rooted in the existing legal frameworks, which already limit the freedom of the traditional media. These states are increasingly blocking and filtering websites associated with the political opposition, coercing website owners into taking down politically and socially controversial content, and arresting bloggers and ordinary users for posting information that is contrary to the government’s views. Even in more democratic countries—such as Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey, and the United Kingdom—internet freedom is increasingly undermined by legal harassment, opaque censorship procedures, or expanding surveillance. The spread and intensification of internet controls in each country that showed decline generally conformed to one of the following three patterns:
Initial signs of politically motivated internet controls: In several countries that were previously free from most internet controls, the first signs of politicized censorship and user rights violations emerged, often in the period before or during elections. Many of these incidents represented the first time that a website in the country had been blocked, a user detained, or a restrictive law passed. This dynamic was particularly evident in Venezuela, Azerbaijan, Jordan, and Rwanda. In Venezuela, for example, users subscribing to internet services through the state-owned telecommunications firm CANTV reported that they were unable to access opposition-oriented blogs and a popular news site in the days surrounding parliamentary elections in September 2010.
In Azerbaijan in 2009, the authorities temporarily blocked several websites that lampooned the president, and jailed two youth activists who posted a video that mocked the government.
Acceleration and institutionalization of internet controls: In countries where the authorities had already shown some tendency toward politically motivated controls over the internet, the negative trend accelerated dramatically, and new institutions were created specifically to carry out censorship. In Pakistan, for example, where temporary blocks have been common in recent years, a new Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Evaluation of Websites was established in mid-2010 to flag sites for blocking based on vaguely defined offenses against the state or religion. In Thailand, the government has long blocked internet content and taken legal action against users, particularly those posting information that is critical of the monarchy. However, the number of detained offenders and blocked sites sharply increased over the last two years, particularly while top officials had the authority to extrajudicially order blockings under a state of emergency that lasted from April to December 2010.
Strengthening of existing internet-control apparatus: Even in countries with some of the most robust censorship and internet surveillance systems in the world, measures were taken to eliminate loopholes and further strengthen the apparatus. In China, blogs on political and social issues were shut down, the space for anonymous communication has dwindled, and the OVERVIEW: NEW TECHNOLOGIES, INNOVATIVE REPRESSION FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net government has stepped up efforts to counter circumvention tools. In Bahrain, Iran, Ethiopia, and Tunisia, intensified censorship or user arrests came in the context of popular protests or contentious elections. Following the June 2009 elections in Iran, the country’s centralized filtering system evolved to the point of being able to block a website nationwide within a few hours, and over 50 bloggers have been detained. In Vietnam, in addition to blocking websites, restricting some social-networking tools, and instigating cyberattacks, the authorities displayed their muscle by sentencing four activists to a total of 33 years in prison for using the internet to report human rights violations and express prodemocracy views.
The new internet restrictions around the globe are partly a response to the explosion in the popularity of advanced applications like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, through which ordinary users can easily post their own content, share information, and connect with large audiences. While mostly serving as a form of entertainment, over the last two years these tools have also played a significant role in political and social activism. In Egypt and Tunisia, for example, democracy advocates have relied heavily on Facebook to mobilize supporters and organize mass rallies.
Similarly, Bahraini activists have used Twitter and YouTube to inform the outside world about the government’s violent response to their protests. Even in Cuba, one of the most closed societies in the world, several bloggers have been able to report on daily life and human rights violations.
Many governments have started specifically targeting these new applications in their censorship campaigns. In 12 of the 37 countries examined, the authorities consistently or temporarily imposed total bans on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or equivalent services. Moreover, the increased user participation facilitated by the new platforms has exposed ordinary people to some of the same punishments faced by well-known bloggers, online journalists, and human rights activists. Among other recent cases, a Chinese woman was sent to a In 23 of the labor camp over a satirical Twitter message, and an Indonesian countries assessed, a housewife faced high fines for an e-mail she sent to friends complaining blogger or other about a local hospital. Because new technologies typically attract the internet user was young, some of those arrested have been teenagers, including an 18arrested for content posted online.
year old Iranian blogger writing about women’s rights and a 19-year old Tibetan detained after looking at online photographs of the Dalai Lama.
KEY FINDINGS The 2011 edition of Freedom on the Net identifies a growing set of obstacles that pose a common threat to internet freedom in many of the countries examined. Of the 15 countries covered in the pilot, a total of 9 registered score declines over the past two years. The newly added countries lack earlier scores for comparison, but conditions in at least half of them suggest a negative trajectory, with increased government blocking, filtering, legal action, and intimidation to prevent users from accessing unfavorable content. In cases where these tactics are deemed ineffective or inappropriate, authorities have turned to cyberattacks, misinformation, and other indirect methods to alter the information landscape.
OVERVIEW: NEW TECHNOLOGIES, INNOVATIVE REPRESSION FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net Political Content Increasingly Blocked, Transparency Lacking Governments around the world have responded to soaring internet penetration rates and the rise of user-generated content by establishing mechanisms to block what they deem to be undesirable information. In many cases, the censorship targets content involving illegal gambling, child pornography, copyright infringement, or the incitement of hatred or violence. However, a large number of governments are also engaging in deliberate efforts to block access to information related to politics, social issues, and human rights.
Of the 37 countries examined, the governments of Countries with substantial were found to engage in substantial blocking of politically censorship of political or relevant content. In these countries, instances of websites being social issues in 2009–10:
blocked are not sporadic or limited in scope. Rather, they are Bahrain, Belarus, Burma, China, the result of an apparent national policy to restrict users’ access Cuba, Ethiopia, Iran, Kazakhstan, to dozens, hundreds, or most often thousands of websites, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South including those of independent and opposition news outlets, Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Vietnam international and local human rights groups, and individual blogs, online videos, or social-networking groups.
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