Governments are using the pandemic as an excuse to restrict internet freedom

The news: Global internet freedom has declined for the 10th year in a row as governments use the coronavirus pandemic as cover to restrict people’s rights, according to a report by think tank Freedom House. Its researchers assessed 65 countries, accounting for 87% of internet users worldwide. The report covers the period from June 2019 to May 2020, but some key changes took place when the pandemic struck.  

The pandemic effect: In at least 20 countries, the pandemic was cited as a reason to introduce sweeping new restrictions on speech and arrest online critics. In 28, governments blocked websites or forced outlets, users, or platforms to censor information in order to suppress critical reporting, unfavorable health statistics or other content related to the coronavirus. In at least 45 of the countries studied, people were arrested as a result of their online posts about covid-19.

Many countries are also conducting increasingly sweeping surveillance of their populations, with contact tracing or quarantine compliance apps particularly ripe for abuse in places like Bahrain, India, and Russia. In China, the authorities used high- and low-tech tools to not just manage the outbreak of the coronavirus, but also to stop people from sharing information and challenge the official narrative. 

Other non-pandemic related findings include:

  • The US’s standing as a global leader for internet freedom is increasingly under threat. Internet freedom declined in the US for the fourth consecutive year, the report concluded. Federal and local law enforcement agencies have adopted new surveillance tools in response to historic protests against racial injustice, and several people faced criminal charges for online activity related to the demonstrations. The report directly criticized President Donald Trump for issuing draconian executive orders on social media regulation, and for helping to create and spread dangerous disinformation. 
  • The “splinternet” is well and truly

Governments are using the pandemic to crack down on digital rights, report finds

The Freedom on the Net 2020 report, an assessment of 65 countries released Wednesday, found that the pandemic has accelerated a decline in free speech and privacy on the internet for the tenth consecutive year, and accused some governments of using the virus as a pretext to crack down on critical speech.

“The pandemic is accelerating society’s reliance on digital technologies at a time when the internet is becoming less and less free,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, which is funded by the US government. “Without adequate safeguards for privacy and the rule of law, these technologies can be easily repurposed for political repression.”

Amid the pandemic, internet connectivity has become a lifeline to essential information and services — from education platforms, to health care portals, employment opportunities and social interactions. But state and nonstate actors are also exploiting the crisis to erode freedoms online.
Nowhere has that approach been more apparent than in China, according to Freedom House, which rated the country worst for internet freedom for a sixth year in a row.
Since the coronavirus outbreak emerged in Wuhan last December, China has deployed every tool in its internet control arsenal — from digital surveillance, to automated censorship, and systematic arrests — to stem the spread, not only of Covid-19, but of unofficial information and criticism of the government, researchers found.

These practices are not unique to China, the report details.

Censoring the coronavirus outbreak

Intent on downplaying unfavorable Covid-19 coverage, authorities censored independent reporting in at least 28 countries and arrested online critics in 45 countries, per the report.

Following China’s lead, governments from Bangladesh to Belarus blocked reporting and websites that contradicted official sources, revoking credentials and detaining journalists who challenged their statistics. In Venezuela, for example, the government barred a website with

Kevin Rudd’s Petition To Investigate Murdoch Broke The Australian Government’s Website

The Ex-PM’s petition calling for a royal commission into the influence of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp is proving rather too much for the Australian Parliamentary website. So many users have reported problems trying to sign it that even the site itself admits it’s in trouble.

The Rudd Petition is having a hard time

Kevin Rudd’s petition calls for a Royal Commission into the influence of News Corporation on the Australian media landscape. While the merits of that approach are certainly debatable as a control measure, what’s not debateable is that it’s proved conceptually very popular indeed. At the time of writing some 88,747 people had signed, according to the APH web site.

That number might be much higher, however, with numerous reports over the weekend that users trying to sign the petition couldn’t. The sheer weight of numbers trying to do so brought the APH website to its knees.

As of Monday, it still appears to be an issue:

It’s proved to be so much of an issue that there’s now a disclaimer on the APH website, stating that:

“We are aware

Kevin Rudd’s Petition To Investigate Murdoch Broke The Australian Government’s Website

The Ex-PM’s petition calling for a royal commission into the influence of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp is proving rather too much for the Australian Parliamentary website. So many users have reported problems trying to sign it that even the site itself admits it’s in trouble.

The Rudd Petition is having a hard time

Kevin Rudd’s petition calls for a Royal Commission into the influence of News Corporation on the Australian media landscape. While the merits of that approach are certainly debatable as a control measure, what’s not debateable is that it’s proved conceptually very popular indeed. At the time of writing some 88,747 people had signed, according to the APH web site.

That number might be much higher, however, with numerous reports over the weekend that users trying to sign the petition couldn’t. The sheer weight of numbers trying to do so brought the APH website to its knees.

As of Monday, it still appears to be an issue:

It’s proved to be so much of an issue that there’s now a disclaimer on the APH website, stating that:

“We are aware

Five Eyes governments, India, and Japan make new call for encryption backdoors

five-eyes-cyber-panel.jpg

Five Eyes cyber panel at CYBERUK 19


Image: ZDNet/CBSi

Special feature


Cyberwar and the Future of Cybersecurity

Today’s security threats have expanded in scope and seriousness. There can now be millions — or even billions — of dollars at risk when information security isn’t handled properly.

Read More

Members of the intelligence-sharing alliance Five Eyes, along with government representatives for Japan and India, have published a statement over the weekend calling on tech companies to come up with a solution for law enforcement to access end-to-end encrypted communications.

The statement is the alliance’s latest effort to get tech companies to agree to encryption backdoors.

The Five Eyes alliance, comprised of the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, have made similar calls to tech giants in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

Just like before, government officials claim tech companies have put themselves in a corner by incorporating end-to-end encryption (E2EE) into their products.

If properly implemented, E2EE lets users have secure conversations — may them be chat, audio, or video — without sharing the encryption key with the tech companies.

Representatives from the seven governments argue that the way E2EE encryption is currently supported on today’s major tech platforms prohibits law enforcement from investigating crime rings, but also the tech platforms themselves from enforcing their own terms of service.

Signatories argue that “particular implementations of encryption technology” are currently posing challenges to law enforcement investigations, as the tech platforms themselves can’t access some communications and provide needed data to investigators.

This, in turn, allows a safe haven for criminal activity and puts the safety of “highly vulnerable members of our societies like sexually exploited children” in danger, officials argued.

“We call on technology companies to work with governments to take the following steps, focused on reasonable, technically feasible solutions,” the