October 31, 2015
Internet Freedom On Decline For 5th Straight Year

Progress is not inevitable:

  • Content removals increased: Authorities in 42 of the 65 countries assessed required private companies or internet users to restrict or delete web content dealing with political, religious, or social issues, up from 37 the previous year.
  • Arrests and intimidation escalated: Authorities in 40 of 65 countries imprisoned people for sharing information concerning politics, religion or society through digital networks.
  • Surveillance laws and technologies multiplied: Governments in 14 of 65 countries passed new laws to increase surveillance since June 2014 and many more upgraded their surveillance equipment.
  • Governments undermined encryption, anonymity: Democracies and authoritarian regimes alike stigmatized encryption as an instrument of terrorism, and many tried to ban or limit tools that protect privacy.

In the early years of the internet governments did not have the technology, expertise, or awareness needed to clamp down. But the market for freedom-suppressing technologies is a market like any other. If there is sufficient demand the products will get built. Also, tips and techniques will be swapped around between government agencies across borders.

Iceland has the best freedom score, followed by Estonia. Canada is in third place followed by the United States and Germany.

Is the decline in internet freedom set to continue? How far down? Will advances in machine learning models make it progressively easier for governments to monitor speech, detect the expression of banned thinking, and cut isolate wrong thinkers?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2015 October 31 11:58 AM 

Jennifer Shearer French said at November 8, 2015 4:21 PM:

It is the worst kind of wrongdoing to construct freedom-suppressing technologies, and far worse in the sense of our global future than manufacturing guns. Our global sustainable future depends on a sweeping improvement in our global political system, and to achieve that, we don't only need things like global online voting, we need the freedom to construct positive future scenarios that don't necessarily mesh with the interests of individual nations and their bureaucracies.
Your comment that governments didn't have the skills when the internet started up to attack cryptography etc isn't right- they certainly saw the threat to their creeping domination of their own nations, and made best efforts to, for example, try and regulate the use of cryptography. Like many freedoms that the early users of the internet fought hard for, there is a comfortable assumption amoung users of the internet that things will remain the same. They aren't - you have have made a timely and much needed point that freedoms are being eroded steadily and that this is a major concern.
Human machine collaboration should be about constructing a complex, multifaceted new global governance system based on sustainability and fairness, not about a market that enables governments to spy on their own citizens, which is something, unfortunately, they have always been keen to do.
There should be a global law against the constructing of freedom-suppressing technologies.

Matt C said at November 9, 2015 7:22 AM:

Is the decline in internet freedom set to continue?

Of course. I remember what the internet was like in the 90's. The first thing to go was notorious hackers - corporations planting themselves on the net got wise to "moral ground" hackers and built more impregnable systems. The second thing to go was the "wild west" feeling. The internet stopped being a giant factory full of cool stuff, and became a trailer park strewn with bars and 7/11's.

Later, corporations began to build cities they owned and trademarked. The trailer parks became ghetto high-rises, and the bigger stores became self-sustaining cities all to themselves - not only cutting their own slice of the internet to control, but edging in on the real world in the process. In today's world, the internet is ingrained into everything. Your website can be infinitely more important than your physical store front. And just as governments control their physical realms, they must now strive to control their online realms too.

Result? Just like "real life" in the USA, freedom online will continue to degrade too. Freedom is something that requires critical mass to achieve, and can only self-sustain for so long. It always degrades. It will always fall flat. And when it falls far enough to reach critical mass, a new freedom will emerge.

Where? How? Who knows. But that next freedom IS coming. Somewhere.

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