The news: Global internet freedom has declined for the 10th year in a row as governments use the coronavirus pandemic as cover to restrict people’s rights, according to a report by think tank Freedom House. Its researchers assessed 65 countries, accounting for 87% of internet users worldwide. The report covers the period from June 2019 to May 2020, but some key changes took place when the pandemic struck.
The pandemic effect: In at least 20 countries, the pandemic was cited as a reason to introduce sweeping new restrictions on speech and arrest online critics. In 28, governments blocked websites or forced outlets, users, or platforms to censor information in order to suppress critical reporting, unfavorable health statistics or other content related to the coronavirus. In at least 45 of the countries studied, people were arrested as a result of their online posts about covid-19.
Many countries are also conducting increasingly sweeping surveillance of their populations, with contact tracing or quarantine compliance apps particularly ripe for abuse in places like Bahrain, India, and Russia. In China, the authorities used high- and low-tech tools to not just manage the outbreak of the coronavirus, but also to stop people from sharing information and challenge the official narrative.
Other non-pandemic related findings include:
- The US’s standing as a global leader for internet freedom is increasingly under threat. Internet freedom declined in the US for the fourth consecutive year, the report concluded. Federal and local law enforcement agencies have adopted new surveillance tools in response to historic protests against racial injustice, and several people faced criminal charges for online activity related to the demonstrations. The report directly criticized President Donald Trump for issuing draconian executive orders on social media regulation, and for helping to create and spread dangerous disinformation.
- The “splinternet” is well and truly