Internet Freedom Continues Under Attack

Freedom House's study 'Freedom on the Net 2012' flew a bit under the radar (perhaps because it is nearly 700 pages long). Its findings are troubling — in particular that "restrictions on internet freedom in many countries have continued to grow, though the methods of control are slowly evolving and becoming less visible."

Bahrain, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Jordan came down hardest on internet freedom with "intensified censorship, arrests, and violence against bloggers as the authorities sought to quell public calls for political and economic reform".

Of course we are nowhere near this level of interdiction in North America.

Still, the report points out that:

In early 2012, digital rights advocates, citizens, and several technology companies enacted an internet “blackout” to voice their opposition to two Congressional bills—the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA)—that . . . would have allowed the Attorney General to order that internet service providers (ISPs) block any website containing infringing content. Both bills were withdrawn in response to public outcry. In another recent trend, social networks and microblogging sites have become more prominent targets for government monitoring of citizen activities. The microblogging site Twitter has received multiple subpoenas requesting the personal data of users, including individuals affiliated with the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks and the Occupy Wall Street movement. Twitter has challenged both of these requests in court.

As the social web becomes a platform for dissent and organizing, some Western governments are getting into quiet crusade mode — using legislation putatively targeted at online piracy, child pornography, terrorism and organized crime to muffle the sound of independent voices.

Although not covered in Freedom House's study (why not the study authors don't say), Canadians fought against Bill C30 — characterised by one newspaper as the “Spying on Every Single Canadian any Time We Feel Like it Act” — a battle that according to Russ Martin isn't over.  

(China may have a "better" strategy to restrain internet freedom. Rather than use only law, it has successfully created not only a digital firewall which prevents people from accessing global social networks, but more insidiously — like the Roman Republic's tactic of panem et circenses — it has convinced the bulk of Chinese citizens that access to Facebook and Twitter are unnecessary because their walled garden social networks like Ren-Ren and Weibo are all they need.) 

If advanced democracies like the U.S. and Canada can overstep internet freedom, and China can easily bluff its citizens, there is reason to be nervous and watchful.

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