The Digital Edge
|Bruce Pannier and Andrius Kuncina||March 12th 2014|
The media freedom organization Reporters Without Borders has released its annual list of " Enemies of the Internet."
The report was issued on March 12 to coincide with World Day Against Cyber Censorship and seeks to draw attention to "government units and agencies that implement online censorship and surveillance."
Antoine Hery, the head of RSF's World Press Freedom Index, said that many chronic offenders remained on this year's list.
"Belarus, of course, and Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan, etcetera -- those countries are looking pretty much uniquely at the Russian model and the Russian model is absolutely terrible," he said. "We have a feeling that those countries are getting worse and worse every year. But that's not only related to their online activities or censorship of the Internet, it's related to [the situation of the media] in general."
Johann Bihr, the head of RSF's European and Asian desk, noted that tactics used by different governments to block or control the Internet vary. In the case of Turkmenistan, he said, the problem is basic.
"Turkmenistan remains a news and information black hole where online censorship begins before you connect to the Internet, thanks to prohibitive prices and a very poor quality," he said. "So, only less than 10 percent of the population is connected --has access to the Internet."
In Uzbekistan, where Internet access is better than in Turkmenistan, a special group has been established to monitor Internet use and screen suspect sites.
"Uzbekistan remains a digital tyranny where the Internet is tightly controlled by a commission called the Experts Commission on Information and Mass Communications," said Bihr. "This is a structure which reports directly to the Council of Ministers and which ensures that all the independent and opposition sources of information are censored."
Belarus exerts tight control over access to websites outside the country but also uses the Internet as a net to catch critics of the regime. "Belarus now has ensured that the flow of information on the Internet is tightly controlled and more and more bloggers and netizens are arrested based on various pretexts for informing online," said Bihr.
But in the Commonwealth of Independent States, it is Russia and the country's security service that seem to have the tightest grip over the Internet.
"This year, we have included the Russian security service -- the FSB [Federal Security Service]-- among the Internet enemies," said Bihr. "This is a token for the Russian surveillance system known as SORM [System of Operative-Investigative Measures], which allows the FSB to have direct access to the servers of the Internet access providers throughout the country."
Benjamin Ismail of RSF's Asia-Pacific desk says Pakistani authorities are not as technologically proficient in blocking or screening the Internet, but they still have their methods.
"Pakistan is one [of the countries included in the latest report], not maybe because its censorship is the most sophisticated that we have encountered, but because the will of the authorities [to improve it] is very strong," he said. "Last year, there was a public call for foreign technology companies to make a [bid] to the government in order for the government to implement a national filter system for the Internet in Pakistan."
Gregoir Pouget, head of RSF's new media desk, says that, despite a new president, Hassan Rohani, seen as a relative moderate, Iran remains mired in the same situation it has been in for a few years.
"We haven't noticed any difference yet between 2013 and 2014," he said. "I mean, Twitter is still blocked, Facebook is still blocked, YouTube is still blocked. There are many websites that are still blocked in Iran. [Also], Iran is still trying to create its own national Internet called the Halal Internet. So, at the moment, we haven't noticed any difference [between the current and the previous administration]." Hery also points out that this year's list includes notable newcomers.
"The very new thing for this year's edition of the 'Enemies of the Internet' report is the fact that we have included three main democracies that were not in the previous edition," he said. "These would be the United Kingdom, India, and the United States, with its famous and very secretive NSA -- the National Security Agency."
The report says intelligence agencies in the three nations "are no better than their Chinese, Russian, Iranian, or Bahraini counterparts" in terms of trampling Internet freedoms.
Bruce Pannier and Andrius Kuncina report for RFE/RL, from where this article is adapted.