Credit: Freedom House
A recent Freedom House report stated that Internet freedom dropped in 2014 because of new laws in many countries that criminalize certain Internet content and dissent. Freedom House is worried that this will create a snowball effect, with more and more countries wanting to pass similar laws. Eventually, a restrictive Internet could be the new status quo, globally.
According to the organization, between May 2013 and May 2014, 41 countries passed laws to restrict free speech online, increase their governments' control over the Internet, or expand their surveillance capabilities.
In 38 of the 65 surveyed countries, there have been arrests related to social or political speech online. This has been happening especially in the Middle East and North African areas, where 10 out of the 11 countries surveyed from that region had detained people for online political speech.
In countries such as Syria, Turkey, Ukraine and Egypt, citizen journalists have been attacked when trying to document anti-government protests. In other countries, governments stepped up Web regulation to identify who posts online. Russia and Vietnam passed laws that allow their prosecutor general to block "extremist" content without any judicial oversight. In the U.S., some states are using the NSA spying revelations as an excuse to augment their own surveillance capabilities.
Credit: Freedom HouseFreedom House is also concerned about a few more trends. One is that after the NSA revelations, more countries are trying to force companies to store data locally. Although this could protect their citizens' data from U.S. government access, it also allows repressive regimes to acquire data on their citizens that they previously couldn't access, because the companies had their data centers elsewhere. Such data could now be available even to local law enforcement in some countries.
In 32 out of the 65 examined countries, government critics and human rights activists have been spied upon by governments with malware.
Freedom House said that despite the global decline in Internet freedom, civil rights groups have started pushing back harder after the NSA revelations, and some Internet freedom campaigns have even managed to gather the necessary momentum to succeed.