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Freedom House: The five threats to Internet freedom you haven't heard about

Fri, 11/02/2012 - 16:13 -- OpenMedia

We've talked before about the ITU proposals that would stifle Internet freedom and personal expression online – but are you aware of lesser-known threats to your Internet use?

Share what restrictive measures to Internet use most concern you and stand up for Internet freedom at openmedia.org/Declaration.

Article by Sam duPont and Courtney C. Radsch for Freedom House

You’ve probably heard of the Great Firewall of China, which scrubs the web of any potentially subversive content for half a billion internet users. And you’ve definitely heard about the Egyptian government’s decision to switch off all internet and mobile-phone networks at the height of the uprising in 2011. But there are a host of lesser-known threats to internet freedom, some of which endanger the very nature of the net as we know it.

Next week, over 20 civil society representatives from around the world will join a Freedom House delegation in Baku, Azerbaijan, for the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), the United Nations’ flagship conference for discussing global internet policy. The delegation will be addressing a range of internet freedom issues covered in our 2012 report Freedom on the Net, including these, the top five threats to internet freedom you’ve never heard of:
 
1. WCIT
 
Next month, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will hold a major meeting in Dubai that could fundamentally alter the structure and global reach of the internet. The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) will consider whether and how the ITU should take over regulation of the internet from multistakeholder processes like the IGF. Only governments can be members of the ITU, although corporations can pony up the tens of thousands of dollars needed to buy “observer status.”

WCIT will be more or less closed to civil society actors, but we know that repressive and democratic member states alike are putting forward proposals that could stifle the internet as a force for economic development and positive social change. One European proposal would put tariffs on internet traffic between states, while another, supported by Middle Eastern countries and Russia, would give the ITU authority over cybercrime, and could have negative effects on privacy, anonymity, and human rights. What’s at stake in December is not just the open, cooperative process through which the internet has historically been governed, but also the web’s role as a creator of prosperity and an enabler of civic engagement.

2. Digital Violence

As citizens take advantage of the internet to advocate for political, civil, and human rights, governments and nonstate entities have lashed out at these online activists, seeking to silence their voices. Cyberattacks, including distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, have been used widely to take down the websites of independent media in Russia and elsewhere, while Syrian and Tibetan activists have been aggressively targeted with phishing and malware assaults that aim to steal their private information and undermine their security. While it is difficult to identify the sources of these attacks, it is all but certain that they originate with government agents. In highly repressive states, including Bahrain, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Vietnam, this digital violence can spill over into the offline world. Reports abound of citizens being tortured or even killed in police custody because of their online activities.

3. Intermediary Liability
 
Censorship is hard work. There are an awful lot of blog posts, videos, cartoons, and comments that might contain subversive messages, and any government seeking to “purify” the internet would have to spend a great deal of time and money on the project. So rather than take on the task of policing online content themselves, many governments have outsourced censorship to the private sector. They do so by making internet intermediaries—including internet service providers (ISPs), search engines, hosting services, social-media platforms, and other community forums—legally responsible for the content their users post. Read more »

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