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
In their fight against the coronavirus, some governments are introducing digital surveillance and data collection tools that could pose a lasting threat to citizens’ rights, according to a new report by research institute Freedom House.
The Freedom on the Net 2020 report, an assessment of 65 countries released Wednesday, found that the pandemic has accelerated a decline in free speech and privacy on the internet for the tenth consecutive year, and accused some governments of using the virus as a pretext to crack down on critical speech.
“The pandemic is accelerating society’s reliance on digital technologies at a time when the internet is becoming less and less free,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, which is funded by the US government. “Without adequate safeguards for privacy and the rule of law, these technologies can be easily repurposed for political repression.”
Amid the pandemic, internet connectivity has become a lifeline to essential information and services — from education platforms, to health care portals, employment opportunities and social interactions. But state and nonstate actors are also exploiting the crisis to erode freedoms online.
Nowhere has that approach been more apparent than in China, according to Freedom House, which rated the country worst for internet freedom for a sixth year in a row.
Since the coronavirus outbreak emerged in Wuhan last December, China has deployed every tool in its internet control arsenal — from digital surveillance, to automated censorship, and systematic arrests — to
The Ex-PM’s petition calling for a royal commission into the influence of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp is proving rather too much for the Australian Parliamentary website. So many users have reported problems trying to sign it that even the site itself admits it’s in trouble.
The Rudd Petition is having a hard time
Kevin Rudd’s petition calls for a Royal Commission into the influence of News Corporation on the Australian media landscape. While the merits of that approach are certainly debatable as a control measure, what’s not debateable is that it’s proved conceptually very popular indeed. At the time of writing some 88,747 people had signed, according to the APH web site.
That number might be much higher, however, with numerous reports over the weekend that users trying to sign the petition couldn’t. The sheer weight of numbers trying to do so brought the APH website to its knees.
Call me paranoid but is anyone else having trouble logging in to Kevin Rudd’s petition calling for a media royal commission?
— ????Brian Jones (@Darthspoog) October 10, 2020
So many people wanting to sign Kevin Rudd’s #MurdochRoyalCommission petition
that Morrison’s government have deemed it a cyber attack.
We’re coming for you. pic.twitter.com/SNkuRI0O8W
— Jules Knew A Spook ???? ???? ????????♂ ???? ???? (@and_spook) October 10, 2020
As of Monday, it still appears to be an issue:
Rudd’s petition calling for a #MurdochRoyalCommission has been so popular it brought down the parliament site hosting the petition and people were suspected of being bots for the sheer volume of people wanting to sign. So be patient and go sign the petition #auspol https://t.co/FOMKXVoVZ5
— Martin Andersen (@mtsandersen) October 12, 2020
It’s proved to be so much of an issue that there’s now a disclaimer on the APH website, stating that:
“We are aware