Still 'partly free', but India sees biggest improvement in Internet freedom globally

Internet freedom around the world has declined for the fourth consecutive year, with a growing number of countries introducing online censorship and monitoring practices that are simultaneously more aggressive and more sophisticated in their targeting of individual users, according to a latest study by the US-based watchdog organisation Freedom House.

Freedom House conducted the study on internet freedom, titled 'Freedom on The Net', in 65 countries around the world. The study focusses on developments that occurred between May 2013 and May 2014.

"Of the 65 countries assessed, 36 have experienced a negative trajectory since May 2013, with major deteriorations in Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine," claimed the report.

However, India, with a cumulative score of 42, showed an improvement over last year's score of 47 (higher score indicates lower freedom). India figures in the "partly free" category. [The partly free countries are particularly noteworthy. As digital access increases, they have a choice - to move right, and join the countries that are high-tech but not free; or left, with the free countries that better protect expression.]

"Very few countries registered any gains in internet freedom, and the improvements that were recorded largely reflected less vigorous application of existing internet controls compared with the previous year, rather than genuinely new and positive steps taken by the government," Freedom House said.

"The year's biggest improvement occurred in India, where authorities relaxed restrictions on access and content that had been imposed in 2013 to help quell rioting in northeastern states."

The worst abusers of internet freedom were Iran, Syria, and China. Very few countries registered lasting policy improvements. One exception was Brazil, where a long-debated bill known as the Marco Civil da Internet passed with strong privacy protections and important provisions governing net neutrality.

"Authoritarian and democratic leaders alike believe the internet is ripe for regulation and passed laws that strengthen official powers to police online content," said Sanja Kelly, project director for Freedom on the Net. "The scramble to legislate comes at the expense of user rights, as lawmakers deliberately or misguidedly neglect privacy protections and judicial oversight. The situation is especially problematic in less democratic states where citizens have no avenues to challenge or appeal government's actions."

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Updated Date: Dec 05, 2014 14:00:25 IST

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