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Fri Oct 30, 2015, 01:32 PM

Freedom House: World Internet Freedom Keeps Eroding

Internet censorship around the globe continues to intensify. According to a report by the independent monitoring group Freedom House, for the fifth consecutive year, more nations are censoring information online and demanding that companies and individuals remove content or face retribution.

The annually released Freedom of the Net Report assessed 65 countries and identified China as the worst offender. Gady Epstein, former Beijing bureau chief for The Economist magazine, said China has become more aggressive with censorship in the last couple of years under President Xi Jinping. “They’ve blocked Google; they’ve blocked Gmail and other Google services. They arrested more online activists, people who comment independently on a range of issues, including corruption,” said Epstein.

Freedom House said China is only one nation in which this type of crackdown has been increasing. In Russia and Iran, people who post content deemed offensive by the government can quickly and easily land in prison. “Those countries tend to block materials of political and social relevance. They tend to arrest users for writing about human rights and opposition,” said Sanja Kelly, director of the report.

Syria is the second-worst performer in the study. Bloggers, journalists and activists face execution by armed groups in the country, according to Freedom House.

In Iran, rated the third-worst nation, Tehran’s conservative powerbrokers, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, keep extremely tight control over the Internet, despite better bandwidth and the increase of 3G cellular connections.

Social media’s role

Social media, like Facebook and Twitter, increasingly play a big role in the way people get access to information in countries with restricted Web freedom. These social media services, however, are banned from nations like China and Iran. That means citizens there have to find alternative ways to use them and have contact with family and friends abroad who post content they would not otherwise be able to reach.

Threats to companies

Freedom House said that during the research for the report, which focuses on events from June 2014 through May 2015, it stumbled upon a new development: Governments increasingly attack the source now. Kelly said authorities warn individuals that they must remove offensive content or face torture or imprisonment.

The watchdog group emphasized that this new approach also extends to technology companies. “The governments are actually going to the company and saying, ‘This type of information exists on your servers. Take it down. If you don’t take it down, we’re going to either block your services or we’re going to take away your license so you will not be able to operate in our country any longer,’ ” said Kelly.

At: http://www.voanews.com/content/freedom-house-world-internet-freedom-keeps-eroding/3027570.html

According to the 2015 Freedom on the Net report cited above, the countries with the most and least internet freedom in each region are (the higher the score, the more restrictive):

*Africa: South Africa, 27; Ethiopia, 82.
*Asia: Japan, 22; China, 88.
*Europe: Iceland, 6; Belarus, 64.
*Middle East: Lebanon, 45; Iran, 87.
*North America: Canada, 16; Cuba, 81.
*South America: Argentina, 27; Venezuela, 57.
*Australia: 19 (New Zealand not available)

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