Report Says Internet Freedom Declined Globally in 2021

Globe set on a table with a man typing on a laptop in the bakground

A new report published by US-based think-tank Freedom House paints a grim picture of internet freedom worldwide. The report states that online rights declined globally for the 11th straight year.

Freedom House publishes the report annually, giving countries a score out of 100 for the level of freedom enjoyed by its citizens. The 2021 report highlights an increase in internet blackouts, as well as a “record high” number of users facing physical retribution for online activities.

What is the “Freedom on the Net” Report?

The “Freedom on the Net” report is a survey of 70 countries to determines the level of internet freedom enjoyed by its citizens. It looks at various factors such as restrictions on content, levels of government manipulation, internet shutdowns, etc. Each country is then given a score out of 100.

It also looks at instances where citizens face violence and human rights abuse. For example, this year’s report notes that internet users in 41 countries faced physical retribution for their online actions.

Additionally, people from 56 countries have been arrested or convicted for their online activities. The report cites an example of two Egyptian influencers who were sent to jail for sharing TikTok videos that encouraged women to pursue careers on social media platforms.

At Least 20 Countries Blocked People’s Internet Access

The report adds that at least 20 countries out of the 70 surveyed blocked public internet access. Myanmar, in particular, drastically shut down the internet. After the military seized power in February, it blocked social media and forced companies to hand over personal data. Belarus and Uganda are also guilty of cutting internet access and communications in the last year.

On the bright side, the report notes that the Gambia has continued providing greater online freedom since 2017. Iceland, Estonia, and Costa Rica are the three best-performing countries on the list.

China Named The Worst Abuser of Internet Freedoms

The report names China as the worst abuser of online rights. It said that “Chinese authorities imposed draconian prison terms for online dissent, independent reporting, and mundane daily communications.”

“Officials also cracked down on the country’s tech giants, citing their abuses related to competition and data protection, though the campaign further concentrated power in the hands of the authoritarian state,” it added.

It also called out countries like India, Turkey, and Vietnam to draft legislation to take down content or store and hand over personal data under vaguely defined terms. Such legislation usually requires such action based on “sovereignty” and is open to abuse by authoritarian states.

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Technology policy researcher
Prateek is a technology policy researcher with a background in law. His areas of interest include data protection, privacy, digital currencies, and digital literacy. Outside of his research interests, Prateek is an avid reader and is engaged in projects on sustainable farming practices in India.