Internet freedom has declined for the 10th consecutive year as governments around the world are using the coronavirus pandemic as a “cover” to expand online surveillance, crack down on dissent, and build new technological systems to control society, Freedom House says in a new report.
The Washington-based human rights watchdog’s annual Freedom Of The Net report, released on October 14, said the authorities in dozens of countries have cited COVID-19 “to justify expanded surveillance powers and the deployment of new technologies that were once seen as too intrusive.”
As a result, Internet freedom has worsened in 26 of the 65 countries covered by the report, while only 22 registered gains.
And just 20 percent of the estimated 3.8 billion people using the Internet live in countries with a free Internet, according to the democracy research group.
Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan, India, Ecuador, and Nigeria suffered the largest declines during the coverage period — between June 2019 and May 2020. Internet freedom worsened in the United States for the fourth consecutive year.
“The pandemic is accelerating society’s reliance on digital technologies at a time when the Internet is becoming less and less free,” Freedom House President Michael Abramowitz.
“Without adequate safeguards for privacy and the rule of law, these technologies can be easily repurposed for political repression.”
Freedom On The Net measures the level of Internet freedom in 65 countries, based on 21 indicators pertaining to obstacles to access, limits on content, and violations of user rights. Each country receives a numerical score from 100 to 0 that serves as the basis for an Internet-freedom-status designation of “free,” “partly free,” or “not free.”
China was the worst-ranked country for the sixth consecutive year.
The report said authorities “combined low- and high-tech tools not only to manage the outbreak of the coronavirus, but also