Myanmar shutdown marks dark year for web freedom



Internet users in a record number of countries have faced arrests and physical attacks for their posts over the past year, according to a report released on Tuesday, painting a grim picture of digital freedoms in 2021.

The annual Freedom on the Net report said internet shutdowns in Myanmar and Belarus were particularly weak, with online rights declining globally for the 11th consecutive year.

Compiled by the U.S. think tank Freedom House, the survey gives countries a score out of 100 for the level of internet freedom citizens enjoy, including the extent to which they face restrictions on the content they can. to access.

Other factors include whether pro-government trolls seek to manipulate online debates.

“This year, users have faced physical attacks in retaliation for their online activities in 41 countries,” the report said, a “record” since monitoring began 11 years ago.

Examples include a Bangladeshi student hospitalized after being beaten for alleged “anti-government activities” on social media, and a Mexican journalist murdered after posting a video on Facebook accusing a gang of murder.

The report also found that people have been arrested or convicted for their online activities in 56 of the 70 countries covered by the report – a record 80%.

They included two Egyptian influencers jailed in June for sharing TikTok videos that encouraged women to pursue careers on social media platforms.

– Internet outages –

Myanmar came under heavy criticism in the report after a military junta seized power in February and shut down the internet, blocked social media and forced tech companies to pass on personal data.

Internet shutdowns were also used to cut communications ahead of Uganda’s January elections and after the contested elections in Belarus in August last year.

In total, at least 20 countries blocked people’s internet access between June 2020 and May 2021, the period covered by the survey.

But it wasn’t all bad news, with Gambia among the countries being praised for continuing its trend of greater online freedom since dictator Yahya Jammeh was ousted in 2017.

Iceland tops the list, followed by Estonia and Costa Rica, the first country in the world to declare internet access a human right.

– China worst offender –

On the other end of the spectrum, China has been named the world’s worst abuse of internet freedoms, handing out heavy prison sentences for online dissent.

But there were bright spots, with the report noting that the Clubhouse audio app provided an “unprecedented space for users to discuss sensitive issues with people outside of mainland China” until Beijing blocked it in February. 2021.

Around the world, researchers have accused governments of using the regulation of tech companies for law enforcement purposes.

“In the high-stakes battle between states and tech companies, the rights of internet users have become the main victims,” the researchers said.

Many governments are pursuing laws that limit the vast power of tech giants like Google, Apple and Facebook – some of which are a justified bid to prevent monopoly behavior, according to the report.

But he called on countries, including India and Turkey, to pass legislation ordering social media platforms to remove content deemed offensive or undermining public order, often in “loosely defined” terms.

Legislation that requires tech giants to store local data on local servers, supposedly in the name of “sovereignty,” is also on the rise – and is susceptible to abuse by authoritarian governments, warned The report.

Under a bill in Vietnam, for example, authorities can access personal data of individuals under “loosely defined pretexts relating to national security and public order.”

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