Internet freedom in India declined for a third straight year, as government authorities increasingly shut off connectivity to suppress anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests, said a report.
The Freedom House report said spyware campaigns targeting human rights defenders added to the already restrictive environment for privacy.
“Meanwhile, both the CAA protests and the COVID-19 pandemic led to an information environment plagued by disinformation, often pushed by political leaders themselves. Within this environment, women, religious, and marginalized communities, in particular, experienced online harassment and trolling,” the report said.
The report said despite the Supreme Court establishing certain safeguards to be followed by the government before ordering internet shutdowns, India still registered to be home to more government-imposed internet shutdowns than anywhere else in the world.
The move was justified by authorities for reasons including the need to counter disinformation, protests, communal violence, and cheating on exams.
According to the report, more political, social, and cultural content was either removed or blocked for India-based users during the coverage period, including information on Twitter about Kashmir and criticism of the government on streaming platforms.
It also said government officials attempted to control the online narrative around the COVID-19 pandemic by issuing restrictions on reporting, arresting and detaining numerous people for their online speech. This also included, reportedly forcing users to remove content from their social media accounts.
According to the report, digital monitoring during the COVID-19 pandemic using apps, like Aarogya Setu, raised concerns over a lack of transparency, oversight, and other protections for fundamental freedoms.
The report found two separate coordinated spyware campaigns targeting journalists, activists, lawyers, and other human rights defenders.
However, internet penetration continues to improve in the country.
“However, inadequate infrastructure still remains an obstacle to
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
Governments around the world have seized on the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to expand digital surveillance and harvest more data on their citizens, according to a report out Wednesday from Freedom House, a democracy and human rights research group.
Why it matters: Privacy advocates have warned since early in the pandemic that the tech behind efforts to conduct contact tracing and enforce quarantines and other public safety protocols could be abused and made permanent, particularly in authoritarian countries like China.
What’s happening, according to the report:
Dozens of countries have rolled out government-backed contact-tracing apps without effective laws to protect people from overly expansive data collection.
- China, Russia, India, Singapore, Ecuador and Bahrain were among the countries that Freedom House found implemented apps that either send reams of data unchecked to government servers or make invasive data and health documentation demands.
Governments in at least 28 countries censored websites and social media posts to suppress information like unfavorable health statistics and corruption allegations.
- Many have also imprisoned those who speak out online against government mishandling of the pandemic, and some have at times imposed total internet blackouts on their citizens.
By the numbers: As documented in a release summing up the findings:
Authorities censored reporting on the virus in 28 countries and arrested online critics in 45 countries.
In at least 20 countries, the pandemic was cited as a justification to impose vague or overly broad restrictions on speech. Residents of at least 13 countries experienced internet shutdowns…
In at least 30 countries, governments are invoking the pandemic to engage in mass surveillance in direct partnership with telecommunications providers and other companies.
— Freedom House
Of note: China was found to have the world’s worst conditions for internet freedom for the sixth consecutive year, but the U.S. was
Internet freedom has declined for the 10th consecutive year as governments around the world are using the coronavirus pandemic as a “cover” to expand online surveillance, crack down on dissent, and build new technological systems to control society, Freedom House says in a new report.
The Washington-based human rights watchdog’s annual Freedom Of The Net report, released on October 14, said the authorities in dozens of countries have cited COVID-19 “to justify expanded surveillance powers and the deployment of new technologies that were once seen as too intrusive.”
As a result, Internet freedom has worsened in 26 of the 65 countries covered by the report, while only 22 registered gains.
And just 20 percent of the estimated 3.8 billion people using the Internet live in countries with a free Internet, according to the democracy research group.
Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan, India, Ecuador, and Nigeria suffered the largest declines during the coverage period — between June 2019 and May 2020. Internet freedom worsened in the United States for the fourth consecutive year.
“The pandemic is accelerating society’s reliance on digital technologies at a time when the Internet is becoming less and less free,” Freedom House President Michael Abramowitz.
“Without adequate safeguards for privacy and the rule of law, these technologies can be easily repurposed for political repression.”
Freedom On The Net measures the level of Internet freedom in 65 countries, based on 21 indicators pertaining to obstacles to access, limits on content, and violations of user rights. Each country receives a numerical score from 100 to 0 that serves as the basis for an Internet-freedom-status designation of “free,” “partly free,” or “not free.”
China was the worst-ranked country for the sixth consecutive year.
The report said authorities “combined low- and high-tech tools not only to manage the outbreak of the coronavirus, but also