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Media (R)evolutions: Internet freedom in decline across the world

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

In its 2015 annual “Freedom on the Net” reportFreedom House, a US-based organization, analyzed 65 countries to assess the degree to which individuals enjoy rights and freedoms online within each country.

Unfortunately, the report finds internet freedom around the world has declined for a fifth consecutive year as more governments censored information of public interest while they also expanded surveillance activity and cracked down on privacy tools. Authorities in 42 of the countries analyzed required internet users or private customers to restrict or delete online content related to political, religious, or social issues, while authorities in 40 of 65 countries went a step further to imprison people for sharing information concerning politics, religion or society through digital networks.  Additionally, governments in 14 of 65 countries passed new laws to increase surveillance since June 2014, and others upgraded their surveillance tools.  Globally, democracies and authoritarian regimes alike stigmatized encryption as an instrument of terrorism, and many tried to ban or limit tools that protect privacy.

However, it is not all bad news. Nearly one-third of Internet users worldwide are in countries that are considered "Free". Internet freedom has also increased in eight countries over the past few years, including Cuba, Iran, Malawi, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, and Zambia. All of these fall into the "Partly Free" or "Not Free" categories. This occurred while many other poor performers showed further declines in freedom.

This chart, created by Niall McCarthy at Statista, shows the state of internet freedom around the world in 2015, as compiled by Freedom House.

Internet Freedom Across The World Visualized | Statista
Infographic: Internet Freedom Across The World Visualized | Statista

Towards a free, open and secure Internet

Samia Melhem's picture
Photo: Free Press/flickr
The world is becoming more digitized, interconnected and dependent on the Internet for opportunities and economic growth. Today, there are 7.4 billion cellular phone subscriptions in the world, which means citizens of the poorest countries can access cell phones more easily than toilets and sanitation.
 
The Internet of Things (IoT), which brings in the promises (and perils) of totally interconnected devices, is already mainstreamed in our everyday lives, with sensor-equipped cars, phones, utility meters and even houses. Our refrigerators, equipped with sensors, are making decisions for us, based on their capacity to analyze data and execute embedded algorithms related to dietary needs.
 
But how can these advances help ensure more free, open, secure and empowering connectivity rather than a host of undesirable side effects?
 
According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – which surveys the ICT sector on an annual basis through a formal survey involving regulators, operators and original equipment manufacturers – the Internet of Things (IoT) is currently composed of 25 billion connected devices around the world. According to the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC), this number will grow to 50 billion devices worldwide by 2020.  These devices collect vast amounts of information on industrial, organizational and personal behavior, and gathers users’ preferences that can be leveraged to improve delivery of products and services, health, education, entertainment and shopping.
 
Therefore, IoT will bring important socio-economic advantages to those connected – but without guidance, proper policies, legislation and globally adopted codes of conduct (“netiquette” as we used to call it), it could also bring a range of challenges.

Privacy is so 20th Century

Sina Odugbemi's picture
Modern life is life on the grid: credit cards, smart phones, internet connections, social media presence and so on. And here is the truth: Life on the grid is life in a fishbowl erected on stilts in a bazaar. As a result, something that we once thought was important to us as citizens is not simply lost, it is irretrievably lost: it is the idea of privacy.

The concept of privacy itself is notoriously difficult to define. In reading around the subject, I found this description of it by Larry Peterman in a 1993 essay in The Review of Politics titled ‘Privacy’s Background’:

We look upon the private as that part of our lives insulated against the communal or public broadly constructed, protected from unwarranted intrusion by others, including political authorities, and the place where, in the last resort, we can clothe ourselves in anonymity.


I think that is exactly right. It is what Grant Mindle, in an earlier essay, calls ‘concealment and seclusion’ that protected place where we can have parts of our lives that will not leak into the public arena.