There was a time when the internet was a free place, a true example of a world without chains, of information without borders. That time ended long ago. The internet is gradually becoming a much more segregated place, either politically (for example Iran’s “national internet project” and the Great Firewall of China) or geographical restrictions on content on YouTube and the BBC.
Adult content was the first target of the Great Censors – now it is political opinion, news, multimedia content, VOIP providers like Skype and file-sharing websites.
A new report by the OpenNet Initiative, a collaboration between three groups – the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk school of global affairs, Harvard University’s Berkman centre for internet & society and the SecDev Group in Ottawa – ranks global censorship by country.
Unfortunately it does not include commercial restrictions or government monitoring, but is nonetheless a good guide for those who live overseas and require unfiltered internet access (such as can be provided by a Virtual Private Network, or VPN).
According to the authors of the report, the spectrum of internet filtering has grown quickly to include political and social comment. That is why popular social media websites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter cannot be accessed in these counties without a VPN.
For each country, the ONI looks at the following four categories of filtering and gives each a rank ranging from “No evidence of filtering” to “Pervasive filtering”. It also indicates how transparent the filtering is – indicating the level of covert monitoring taking place.
|Content opposing the current government or its policies; can also relate to human rights, freedom of expression, minority rights or religious movements||Content that might be perceived as offensive by the general population such as sexuality, gambling, illegal drugs, etc||Content related to armed conflicts, border disputes, militant groups and separatist movements||Tools enabling users to communicate with others, circumvent filtering or that otherwise provide a service.|
China was the most significant major nation to impose advanced censorship – it is important because it is home to over 1 million permanent foreigners and tens of millions of temporary overseas visitors a year. China has “pervasive” political and conflict/security filtering, along with “substantial” internet tools and social filtering.It also has a low transparency score, meaning users never know when a website or internet service might be blocked. 42 websites have been shut down this year alone, with many hundreds more blocked. Internet cafes require customers to provide real IDs and many major social media services, such as Sina Weibo, require real-name registration to create an account, making it easier for internet activity to be monitored.For Ronald Deibert, ONI principal investigator and Citizen Lab director, a new trend is emerging whereby governments move to “next-generation filtering”, a process that involves targeted surveillance and temporary filtering content for time it is important, such as an election or social/political scandal.
“We’re seeing a trend away from traditional internet censorship and towards next-generation controls,” he told the Guardian. “The future is not in the great firewall but in the way countries like Iran have come to filter content.”
This means that internet access is going to become even more unpredictable, with websites blocked from time to time, and users never knowing what service next they won’t be able to access. This is why anybody who uses the internet regularly should be equipped with the ultimate free internet access tool: a VPN.
|United Arab Emirates||Substantial||Pervasive||Pervasive||selective|
|South Korea||no evidence||Selective||no evidence||pervasive|
|Russia||Selective||Selective||no evidence||no evidence|