Freedom on the Net 2018 shows decline in Internet freedom

1 Nov 2018

Freedom House's report Freedom on the Net 2018: The Rise Of Digital Authoritarianism shows key findings that: 

  • Declines outnumber gains for the eighth consecutive year, with almost half of these being election-related.
  • China trains the world in digital authoritarianism.
  • Internet freedom declined in the United States (mostly due to a decline in net neutrality protections).
  • Citing fake news, governments curbed online dissent (17 countries).
  • Authorities demand control over personal data (18 countries increased surveillance).

In his introduction to the report, Fake news, data collection, and the challenge to democracyAdrian Shahbaz said 'Events this year have confirmed that the internet can be used to disrupt democracies as surely as it can destabilize dictatorships'  [...] 'With or without malign intent, the internet and social media in particular can push citizens into polarized echo chambers and pull at the social fabric of a country, fueling hostility between different communities.'

 

                                                                               Changes in Internet Freedom 2018 Freedom House

Explore the issues

Privacy and data protection are two interrelated Internet governance issues. Data protection is a legal mechanism that ensures privacy. Privacy is usually defined as the right of any citizen to control their own personal information and to decide about it (to disclose information or not). Privacy is a fundamental human right. It is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in many other international and regional human rights conventions. The July 2015 appointment of the first UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age reflects the rising importance of privacy in global digital policy, and the recognition of the need to address privacy rights issues the the global, as well as national levels.

The human rights basket includes online aspects of freedom of expression, privacy and data protection, rights of people with disabilities and women’s rights online. Yet, other human rights come into place in the realm of digital policy, such as children’s rights, and rights afforded to journalists and the press.

The same rights that people have offline must also be protected online is the underlying principle for human rights on the Internet, and has been firmly established by the UN General Assembly and UN Human Rights Council resolutions.

Encryption refers to the scrambling of electronic documents and communication into an unreadable format which can be read only through the use of encryption software. Traditionally, governments were the only players who had the power and the know-how to develop and deploy powerful encryption in their military and diplomatic communications. With user-friendly packages, encryption has become affordable for any Internet users, including criminals and terrorists. This triggered many governance issues related to finding the right balance between the need to respect privacy of communication of Internet users and the need for governments to monitor some types of communication of relevance for the national security (potential criminal and terrorist activity remains an issue).

The Internet’s success lies in its design, which is based on the principle of net neutrality. From the outset, the flow of all the content on the Internet was treated without discrimination. New entrepreneurs did not need permission or market power to innovate on the Internet. With the development of new digital services, especially the ones consuming high bandwidth such as high-quality video streaming, some Internet operators (telecom companies and ISPs) started prioritising certain traffic – such as their own services or the services of their business partners – based on business needs and plans, justifying such an approach with a need to raise funds to further invest in the network. Net neutrality proponents strongly fight back such plans arguing this could limit open access to information and online freedoms, and stifle online innovation.

Several international instruments guarantee the right to freedom of expression. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that this right includes the freedom to hold opinion without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas. The Internet, with the opportunity it offers people to express themselves, is seen as an enabler of the exercise of this particular human right. Although these freedoms are guaranteed in global instruments and in national constitutions, in some countries freedom of expression is often curtailed through online censorship or filtering mechanisms, imposed by states, often for political reasons.

Internet access is growing rapidly, yet large groups of people remain unconnected to the Internet. As of 2015, about 43% of people had access to the Internet (in developing countries only 34%). Access to ICTs is part of the Sustainable Development Agenda, which commits to ‘significantly increase access to ICTs and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020’ (Goal 9.c).

One of the main sociocultural issues is content policy, often addressed from the standpoints of human rights (freedom of expression and the right to communicate), government (content control), and technology (tools for content control). Discussions usually focus on three groups of content:

 

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