We’ve seen a lot of censorship this year, from content blocking to flat out surveillance and control through “great firewalls.” Freedom House’s 2015 Freedom on the Net even reported that worldwide Internet freedom declined for the 5th year in a row – a very concerning fact. Our Top 10 list takes a look at some of this year’s most alarming censorship events in countries around the world.
10 – Draft Cyber Crime Bill: Pakistan
Pakistan introduced a very strict draft cyber crime bill earlier this year, called the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, which has some scary implications. Furthermore, their inter-ministerial committee that was previously responsible for censorship was dissolved, and the government regulator put in charge of censorship and managing content on the Internet instead.
9 – Draft Online Regulation Policy: South Africa
A less well-known bill that was announced this year is South Africa’s Draft Online Regulation Policy, produced by the country’s Film and Publication Board (FPB). The law includes many disturbing provisions, and as distilled by the EFF means “any online platform can be ordered to take down any content distributed online that the Board may deem to be potentially harmful and disturbing.” Part of the reason this was so surprising is that South Africa generally enjoys a free and open Internet experience.
8 – Data Localization Law & Increased Control: Russia
A country known for restrictions, Russia signed a new data retention law back in 2014 that went into effect on September 1 2015. This law includes some alarming provisions, including requirements for companies to store data about Russian citizens on Russian soil (also known as “data localization”).
7 – Video Game Ban: Saudi Arabia
One of the more restrictive countries in the MENA region, Saudi Arabia continued its censorship practices this year. It reportedly banned Fallout 4, a very popular video game, likely due to content of the game including violence and other negative behaviors. Further, “The Saudi government continued to employ strict filtering of internet content” in early 2015, and people exercised self-censorship when commenting on sensitive issues such as politics, religion and the ruling family online.
6 – Blocking of VOIP Services: Egypt
Egypt reportedly blocked popular Voice Over IP services (like Skype) earlier this year. Egypt already has a “not free” Internet experience, and saw self-censorship and arrests based on content or messages posted online increase as well.
5 – Plans for a Great Firewall (and to Intercept Encrypted Communications): Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan announced plans for its own “Great Firewall,” to begin operation in 2015. This firewall will intercept encrypted communications, opening up citizens to increased government surveillance, monitoring and censorship. There were also reports of the government cutting off mobile and Internet service temporarily in the wake of events in the country. Already ranked “not free” for its Internet freedom, news of this Great Firewall is particulairly alarming.
4 – Social Media Ban: Bangladesh
Bangladesh banned social networks like Facebook, WhatsApps and others after protests this year – twice. The bans were put in place very briefly in January, and then again in November.
3 – Plans for a [Another] Great Firewall: Thailand
Thailand announced plans for its own “Great Firewall” – a single gateway Internet that would allow them to control all the information going in and out of the country. This move was met with a lot of resistance, and concerns about this restrictive and censorious firewall were echoed from various parties.
2 – Turkey
Turkey blocked twitter several times this year, and also blocked reddit for a short period of time this fall. Just last week, Turkey continued to display disdain for Twitter when they fined Twitter over what they referred to as “terrorist propaganda.” As reported in Freedom on the Net 2015, “In the first half of 2015, 92 percent of all court orders to remove content received by Twitter worldwide originated in Turkey.”
1 – China
China tops our list, as it continues its pervasive Internet censorship program under the Great Firewall. The citizens of China continue to suffer from oppressive censorship and Internet restrictions, and do not have access to a free or open Internet experience. China ranked dead last in terms of Internet freedom around the world in the Freedom on the Net 2015 report. It was reported that 16 of the top 30 websites were blocked, and Wikipedia went from being partially blocked to completely blocked. Censorship is so extreme, it’s even curbing the innovation of startups in the country. China also blocked many VPN providers this year (not VyprVPN – our Chameleon technology defeats VPN blocking and continues to provide access in China). Meanwhile, China’s top censor continues to deny that Internet censorship is occurring.
We’re disheartened by the news that Internet freedom has declined further since 2014, and can only hope that things will improve in 2016. Good resources for learning more about censorship are the Freedom on the Net 2015 Report, as well as Golden Frog’s Vision Paper, outlining our vision for a free, open and unrestricted Internet experience.
Sources: Linked throughout this post, as well as Freedom on the Net 2015 report.