The 2020 Freedom on the Net reports a concerning decline in internet freedoms for the 10th year in a row. Published by watchdog Freedom House, the annual report examines 65 countries around the world which collectively account for 87% of the world’s internet users. The report looks at the following metrics:
- Obstacles to Access
- Limits on Content
- Violations of User Rights
This year's report found the decline in internet freedoms was further fueled - and accelerated - by the pandemic. As more daily activities move online and continue to take place there, censorship becomes all the more concerning and encompassing. This year’s report shares three alarming trends:
- The pandemic is fueling internet restrictions
- COVID-19 is being used to justify increased surveillance
- Cyber sovereignty is becoming a trend
The Pandemic Is Fueling Restrictions
Internet freedoms, already on the decline, were further restricted by the pandemic. As more day-to-day activities moved online control over the online space became even stronger - and the desire for this control even greater. The pandemic was used as a “pretext” to restrict information. This took place in a variety of ways, including through the blocking of news, arresting people on charges of “fake news” and by governments and those in control spreading misinformation.
Surveillence Powers Are Being Justified
The pandemic isn’t only fueling restrictions on online news and content; it’s also fueling surveillance. Authorities are using the pandemic as a justification for online surveillance measures and the introduction of new, intrusive technologies. Some of these technologies have previously been determined to be “too invasive,” but the pandemic’s severity is being used to justify their implementation. Once they are in place it’ll be hard to dial them back, even after the pandemic has subsided. For internet users this means their private information and personal data is being increasingly collected, often without transparency or recourse. Much of this activity is occurring without proper oversight since measures were pushed into action so rapidly during the health crisis.
The Internet is Splintering
Cyber sovereignty is becoming more common, as an increasing number of nations work to create their own internet experiences. What was once created to be accessible to all of the world is now splintering on a country-by-country basis, with various countries imposing regulations, imparting censorship and controlling information within their geographic borders. This is resulting in increased crackdowns, control and violation to human rights.
A Few Country-By-Country Takeaways
So where is internet freedom declining? Which countries are worst affected by this phenomenon? Here's a quick look at some of the key takeaways from the report:
- China continues to be the worst ranked country for internet freedom for the 6th year in a row. A draconian new security law that was introduced in Hong Kong was only one of the many new restrictions put into place
- Russia is in the spotlight, with new legislation in the works that will isolate the country from the international internet during emergencies. Overall, their internet freedom is on a quick decline and some reports indicate they may be considering emulating China's Great Firewall
- Iran is building their own internet system to control information within their borders and censorship is increasing. Additionally, they cut off connections during a series of protests in 2019
- Many historically more “free” countries are being affected, too. The USA threatened to ban the apps TikTok and WeChat in a move similar to that of India’s earlier this year. Internet freedom in America also declined for the 4th consecutive year
- The EU invalidated the Privacy Shield agreement this year, determining the USA violates the data-sharing agreement. Although a positive for privacy, this move contributes to a splintering of the internet around the world
To see a full list of countries and their status, plus gains and losses, we recommend reading the full Freedom on the Net report. At VyprVPN we’ve been actively advocating for policies to support a free and open internet and fighting for this experience for our internet users since our company's inception.