The 2012 list of the Enemies of the Internet
- Bahrain [new entry]
- Belarus [new entry]
- North Korea
- Saudi Arabia
Two countries, Bahrain and Belarus, have been moved from the under surveillance category to the Enemies of the Internet list, joining the ranks of the countries that restrict Internet freedom the most: Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. They combine often drastic content filtering with access restrictions, tracking of cyber-dissidents and online propaganda. Iran and China, in particular, reinforced their technical capacity in 2011 and China stepped up pressure on privately-owned Internet companies in order to secure their collaboration.
Iran has announced the launch of a national Internet. Iran and Vietnam have both launched a new wave of arrests, while the bloody crackdown on protests in Syria is hitting netizens hard and is enabling the regime to perfect its mastery of online surveillance with Iran’s help. Turkmenistan has fought its first battle in the war over Information 2.0 while North Korea, which is developing its online presence for propaganda purposes, is confronted with an increase in smuggling of banned communications equipment across the Chinese border. In Cuba, bloggers supportive of the government and those critical of the regime argue online.
Saudi Arabia has continued its relentless censorship and suppressed coverage of a provincialuprising. Uzbekistan took measures to prevent Uznet from becoming a forum for discussing the Arab springs. There is one light of hope: the situation is improving in Burma, where the military have permitted the release of journalists and bloggers and the unblocking of news websites, but the legislative and technical tools for controlling and monitoring the Internet have yet to be dismantled.
Bahrain offers an example of an effective news blackout based on a remarkable array of repressive measures: keeping the international media away, harassing human rights activists, arresting bloggers and netizens (one of whom died in detention), smearing and prosecuting free speech activists, and disrupting communications, especially during the major demonstrations.
In Belarus, President Lukashenko’s regime has increased his grip on the Web as the country sinks further into political isolation and economic stagnation. The Internet, a space used for circulating information and mobilizing protests, has been hit hard as the authorities have reacted to revolution via the social media. The list of blocked websites has grown longer and the Internet was partially blocked during the silent protests. Some Belarusian Internet users and bloggers have been arrested while others have been invited to preventive conversations with the police in a bid to get them to stop demonstrating or covering demonstrations. The government has used Twitter to send messages that are meant to intimidate demonstrators, and the main ISP has diverted those trying to access the online social network Vkontakte to sites containing malware. And Law No. 317-3, which took effect on 6 January 2012, reinforced Internet surveillance and control measures.
The 2012 list of countries under surveillance
- India [new entry]
- Kazakhstan [new entry]
- South Korea
- Sri Lanka
The countries under surveillance list still includes Australia, whose government clings to a dangerous content filtering system; Egypt, where the new regime has resumed old practices and has directly targeted the most outspoken bloggers; Eritrea, a police state that keeps its citizens away from the Internet and is alarmed by its diaspora’s new-found militancy online and on the streets of foreign cities; France, which continues its three-strikes policy on illegal downloading, with suspension of Internet access, and where administrative filtering is introduced by an internal security law and appears with increasing frequency in decrees implementing laws; and Malaysia, which continues to harass bloggers (who have more credibility that the traditional media) in the run-up to general elections.
The under surveillance list also includes Russia, which has used cyber-attacks and has arrested bloggers and netizens to prevent a real online political debate; South Korea, which is stepping up censorship of propaganda from its northern neighbour and keeps an array of repressive laws; Sri Lanka, where online media and journalists continue to be blocked and physically attacked; Thailand, where the new government sends bloggers to prison and is reinforcing content filtering in the name of cracking down on lese-majeste; Tunisia, where freedom of expression is still fragile and content filtering could be reimposed; Turkey, where thousands of websites are still inaccessible, alarming filtering initiatives have been taken and netizens and online journalists continue to be prosecuted; and the United Arab Emirates, where surveillance has been reinforced preventively in response to the Arab Spring.
Since the Mumbai bombings of 2008, the Indian authorities have stepped up Internet surveillance and pressure on technical service providers, while publicly rejecting accusations of censorship. The national security policy of the world’s biggest democracy is undermining freedom of expression and the protection of Internet users’ personal data.
Kazakhstan, which likes to think of itself as a regional model after holding the rotating presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2010, nonetheless seems to be turning its back on all its fine promises in order to take the road of cyber-censorship. An unprecedented oil workers strike, a major riot, a strange wave of bombings and the president’s ailing health all helped to increase government tension in 2011 and led to greater control of information, especially online information: blocking of news websites, cutting of communications around the city of Zhanaozen during the riot, and new, repressive Internet regulations.
Venezuela and Libya are no longer under surveillance.
Thailand put on Warning
If Thailand continues down the slope of content filtering and jailing netizens on lese-majeste charges, it could soon join the club of the world’s most repressive countries as regards the Internet.