Worldwide availability of the Internet has grown considerably in recent years. In 2011, more than one-third of the world’s population had access to the Web, up from less than one-fifth in 2006. Despite the significant improvements, many oppressive governments continue to limit Internet use to control the news and social media.
Recently, Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization, published “Freedom of the Net 2012,” the third edition of its report measuring Internet use in 47 countries. The organization measured a wide range of countries, from the most democratic to the most restrictive. Based on the report, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 countries with the most oppressive Internet censorship.
Conventional wisdom suggests that only the smallest and most technologically backward countries have the greatest restrictions on access to the Internet and freedom of speech. However, a review of the data suggests this isn’t the case. Of course, many of these oppressive governments are in small or less-developed nations, such as Ethiopia, which has a GDP per capita of just $374, or Bahrain, which has an economy 1/657th the size of the United States. On the other hand, China — the second-largest economy in the world — is also on the list.
Regimes in countries with the most restrictions on Internet use have very different ways of stifling freedom. In countries such as China, sophisticated filtering services have been used to block the flow of information hostile to the government. Meanwhile, in places like Cuba, high costs to connect continue to prevent a large portion of the population from using the Web. In Iran, the government collects personal data on Internet users.
In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Freedom House representative Sonja Kelly explains that as people live more of their lives online, the measure of how free a country’s Internet access is directly correlates with a country’s overall freedom. “The Internet has really changed how we socialize, communicate and conduct business,” she notes. “Having these restrictions implemented impacts almost every single person in that country.”
Since Freedom House began the survey last year, it noticed that new methods were employed to stifle Internet expression, Kelly says. For instance, 14 countries now use government-sponsored commentators to determine which information is pro- or anti-government and to write rebuttals to anti-government posters. In addition, she notes that violent attacks against Internet bloggers have become more common. Such attacks used to primarily target traditional journalists.
The United States, on the other hand, scored near the top of Freedom House’s survey. Kelly said the group’s only concerns were some surveillance measures enacted following Sept. 11, which the government argued were in the interest of national security. The group also cited the introduction of the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, which, had they been enacted, would have clamped down on websites trafficking copyrighted material and counterfeit goods. Opponents claimed both pieces of legislation would curb free speech. Efforts to kill the bills in Congress were successful.
Regarding opposition to the proposed laws, Kelly says, “I think that just showcases that activism in civil society in this country and just living in a democratic society actually is quite self-correcting.”
When calculating a country’s Internet freedom score, Freedom House looked at three different criteria: obstacles to access, limits on content and violations of user rights. The higher the score in these areas, the greater the Internet censorship, according to Freedom House. The highest possible score was 100. From there, 24/7 Wall St. took the bottom 10 countries in terms of Internet freedom. We provided additional context on Internet access in each of these countries and included recent related news events. Gross domestic product per capita was obtained from The World Bank.
These are the 10 countries with the most aggressive Internet censorship.