The recently published Freedom on the Net 2013 report by Freedom House shows a negative movement worldwide, even in the countries listed as “free.”
This has been a persistent trend for the three years Freedom House has conducted the survey. The tug of war between governments and Internet users continues, as some governments seek greater control of content while others seek greater regulation and security.
Using a methodology similar to The Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom, Freedom House uses a set of nine factors to measure Internet freedom, including “social media and/or communication apps blocked,” “political, social, and/or religious content blocked,” and “technological attacks against government critics and human rights organizations.”
Out of the 60 countries measured in the 2013 survey, 17 are listed as “free,” with Iceland coming in first. These are primarily in the Western world, including the United States, Australia, Europe, and Japan. But it also includes Argentina, Georgia, Kenya, the Philippines, South Africa, and Ukraine. There are 29 “partially free” countries, and 14 are “not free,” with Iran coming in dead last (as usual), edging out China, Cuba, and Syria.
Iran’s track record again illustrates the regime’s iron-fisted attempts to control its population. Recent developments since the publishing of the 2012 Freedom on the Net report leave promise of increased Internet freedom in Iran. However, the reasons for low ranking were many, including blocks of social media sites and blogs, increasingly sophisticated blocking and filtering of text messages and content before election cycles, and arrests and killing of an anti-regime blogger.
Though ranked number four in the world on the freedom scale, the United States dropped five points. There were several areas of concern, including government surveillance programs and the aggressive prosecution of Aaron Swartz, who was charged with violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act but committed suicide before sentencing. The U.S., though, remains one of the freest countries in Internet freedom.
As the Internet grows globally, so do government efforts to deal with its impact. Vigilance to preserve the Internet’s potential for individual expression and connectivity has to be constant.