Internet freedom is in decline across much of the globe as various governments crack down on dissent and so-called fake news, according to an annual report from Freedom House, a nonprofit that receives much of its funding from the U.S. government.
Among the group’s observations:
- China is not only continuing to restrict online speech within its own borders, but also providing seminars and tours to delegations from other countries, where it promotes its restrictive techniques and tools. “While it is not always clear what transpires during such seminars, a training for Vietnamese officials in April 2017 was followed in 2018 by the introduction of a cybersecurity law that closely mimics China’s own law,” according to the report. “Increased activity by Chinese companies and officials in Africa similarly preceded the passage of restrictive cybercrime and media laws in Uganda and Tanzania over the past year.” Other countries and multinational companies have previously found a lucrative opportunity in exporting censorship tools.
- The U.S. saw a decline in internet freedom as FCC net neutrality rules were repealed and broad surveillance provisions were renewed by Congress. “Despite an online environment that remains vibrant, diverse, and free, disinformation and hyperpartisan content continued to be of pressing concern in the United States, particularly in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections,” according to the report.
- More countries are restricting online speech in the name of combating “fake news.” The Philippines has proposed a law to criminalize the malicious spread of fake news, countries including Bangladesh and Rwanda have cracked down on live streamers and bloggers, and more countries are requiring website operators and high-traffic social media accounts to register or receive permits from the government.
- Several countries are restricting VPNs and require that citizen data be stored locally, reversing the international nature of the internet. This trend is sometimes referred to as a growing “splinternet.”
- On the bright side, Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation is serving as a model for privacy regulations around the world.