Media: Internet freedom in danger, report says - New Europe


Due to the large number of countries that are currently minimizing liberty on the internet, the US Freedom House has published the report Freedom on the Net 2012, which analyses the impact of new rules and laws that affect citizens´ rights and even their security.

Nerea Rial, New Europe, 27.09.2012 The internet has become almost something indispensable in our lives. Today, thousands of people around the world use the net to connect with others, to be informed, to work or express their political ideas. It is this last activity that governments don´t like and some of them are trying to control online communications with authoritarian measures. Control of the internet is growing and some regions are using “invisible” tactics, like hiring internet users to write positive comments about the government and also discredit the opposition, explained Sanja Kelly, Director of Freedom House´s project. These strategies are more evident in countries like Saudi Arabia, China or Iran, where authorities imposed strong restrictions after the political uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, in which social media played an important role. However, there are also prohibitions indemocratic countries like Estonia and the US. Despite both of them being in the top two positions of the ranking, their scores are under 30 (which means they respect liberty) but they are not 100% free. “No country has a perfect score”, said Sanja Kelly. The report studies 47 countries and shows that 14 countries registered a positive trajectory, but others such as Bahrain, Pakistan and Ethiopia are now more restrictive than the previous year. Because of the independent voices that write their opinion on the internet, governments started their own manipulations and now citizens cannot differentiate between real information and propaganda. Physical and technical attacks against bloggers, journalists and internet users have also been on the rise during 2011 and 2012. Those tactics used with professionals of the media are now been used also with citizens. Nevertheless, not everything is negative. Citizens are more aware about these kind of violent actions and their activist movements have generated several victories. For instance, some European countries expressed their disagreement about ACTA, in the US there were similar reactions about SOPA, and in Turkey 50,000 demonstrated against a mandatory filtering of content. New laws, arrests, paid commentators, hijacking attacks, surveillance and physical attacks, are some of the restrictive measures that authoritarian, or not, countries are using to destroy internet freedom. But, the report also highlights that with collaboration between regions, companies and citizens, the situation can change. In Europe companies have their own responsibilities, but sometimes this is not enough and there should be a strategy to respect citizens´ rights on the net. “Europe should take the opportunity to be the leader on internet freedom”, stated Marietje Schaake, MEP and Repporteur for the EU strategy on digital freedom in foreign policy. Europeans have to be aware of the problems and human rights defenders and journalists must spread the word to avoid these situations within the Member States, she explained. Besides, in December 2011 the European Commission presented the “No-Disconnect” strategy, which will develop tools to help activists bypass restrictions, will educate them about pros and cons of ICT and will generate co-operation between all the actors. Andrea Glorioso, Member of DG Connect, explained that human rights are always included in the Commission´s plans, including the future project on cybersecurity.