Freedom on the Net 2014 is the fifth annual comprehensive study of internet freedom around the globe, covering developments in 65 countries that occurred between May 2013 and May 2014. The report finds internet
freedom around the world in decline for the fourth consecutive year, with 36 out of 65 countries assessed in the report experiencing a negative trajectory during the coverage period.
In a departure from the past, when most governments preferred a behind-the-scenes approach to internet control, countries rapidly adopted new laws that legitimize existing repression and effectively criminalize online
The past year also saw increased government pressure on independent news websites, which had previously been among the few uninhibited sources of information in many countries, in addition to more people detained or
prosecuted for their digital activities than ever before.
Between May 2013 and May 2014, 41 countries passed or proposed legislation to penalize legitimate forms of speech online, increase government powers to control content, or expand government surveillance capabilities.
Since May 2013, arrests for online communications pertinent to politics and social issues were documented in 38 of the 65 countries, most notably in the Middle East and North Africa, where detentions occurred in 10 out of
the 11 countries examined in the region.
Pressure on independent news websites, among the few unfettered sources of information in many countries, dramatically increased. Dozens of citizen journalists were attacked while reporting on conflict in Syria and
antigovernment protests in Egypt, Turkey and Ukraine. Other governments stepped up licensing and regulation for web platforms.
Freedom House identified three emerging threats that place the rights of internet users at increasing risk:
Data localization requirements, by which private companies are required to maintain data storage centers within a given country, are multiplying, driven in part by NSA revelations, which spurred more governments to bring
international web companies under domestic jurisdiction. These costly measures could expose user data to local law enforcement.
Women and LGBTI rights are undermined by digital threats and harassment, resulting in self-censorship that inhibits their participation in online culture.
Cybersecurity is eroding as government critics and human rights organizations are subject to increasingly sophisticated and personalized malware attacks, documented in 32 of the 65 countries examined.
Despite overall declines in global internet freedom, pushback by civil society was amplified this year by reactions to the NSA surveillance revelations. Awareness of the threats to fundamental rights expanded beyond civil
society, as ordinary users around the world became more engaged in securing their privacy and freedom of expression online. In select cases, long-running internet freedom campaigns finally garnered the necessary momentum to succeed.
The five eyes mass snooping partners, the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, have joined forces to nobble a UN General Assembly committee's statements on digital privacy.
While the General Assembly's human rights committee has adopted a non-binding resolution saying that unlawful or arbitrary mass surveillance, interception and data collection are highly intrusive acts and a violation of the right to
However, metadata collection, revealing most of what people are up to the internet, was dropped from the privacy violations noted in the resolution, at the behest of the US and its allies.
New Zealand film censors at the Office Of Film & Literature Classification have been censor ratings for the major films and games from 2012-13.
Ratings from Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Ontario, New Zealand and Singapore were compared using a scale of age and restrictiveness. The report examined 260 feature films and 112 video games..
According to the report the comparisons for games show that;
Overall, game classifications in New Zealand are less restrictive than those of the United Kingdom and Ontario, and more restrictive than those of Singapore, Australia, and the United States.
The average strength of game classifications in different jurisdictions (for 2012/13) is similar to our last report (for 2010/11).
There have been changes since our last analysis however: the United Kingdom is included in the games comparison as it began enforcing the European PEGI system in 2012, and Australia began using an R18+ classification for games in 2013.
Having adopted the European PEGI system and legally enforced its age ratings, the United Kingdom now has the most restrictive classification system for games of any jurisdiction in our study. Game classifications in the United Kingdom are most
consistent with New Zealand's: 89% of titles in our sample received a relatively consistent classification in both jurisdictions.
Game classifications in the United States are the least consistent with New Zealand's, with just 18% of the sample receiving a relatively consistent classification.
For games classified in Australia in 2012, only 14% of titles were relatively consistent with New Zealand's, but this rose to 49% in 2013 after the introduction of an Australian R18+ classification for games. The overall impact
of the introduction of R18+ is that games were more restrictively classified in Australia in 2013 than in New Zealand.
The ESRB system in the United States is the least restrictive system for game classification because it is not legally enforced. However, when fully enforced in Ontario, the system is more restrictive than New Zealand's.
Singapore's game classification system is considerably less restrictive than its system for films, and is one of the least consistent in this regard when compared with other jurisdiction.
Overall the NZOFLC stated that the Restrictiveness of NZ classifications is closest to UK's .
The New York Times newspaper has apologised for a cartoon on India's Mars Mission following a few readers' whinges that it mocked India.
The cartoon showed a farmer with a cow knocking at the door of a room marked Elite Space Club where two men sit reading a newspaper on India's feat. The cartoon was carried with an article titled India's Budget Mission to Mars.
Andrew Rosenthal, Editorial Page Editor of New York Times, wrote in a Facebook post that a large number of readers had complained about the cartoon. He grovelled:
The intent of the cartoonist, Heng Kim Song, was to highlight how space exploration is no longer the exclusive domain of rich, Western countries.
Mr Heng, who is based in Singapore, uses images and text - often in a provocative way - to make observations about international affairs. We apologise to readers who were offended by the choice of images in this cartoon.
Mr Heng was in no way trying to impugn India, its government or its citizens.
Saudi Arabia repeatedly interrupted an American NGO at an extraordinary meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, as the organisation read out a statement criticising their imprisoning of a man on charges of atheism and running a liberal online
The Center for Inquiry, a US non-profit advocating secular and humanist values, was stopped from speaking on three occasions by the delegation from Saudi Arabia who protested against their raising of specific incidents of human rights abuse.
The case raised was that of Raif Badawi, co-founder of the Saudi Arabian Free Liberals website, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a $266,000 fine in May. He was convicted of violating Islamic values and slurring Saudi
Arabia's religious symbols, which drew the ire of Amnesty International who described the ruling as outrageous .
The Center criticised Badawi's conviction at the Council, saying Mr Badawi is a prisoner of conscience who is guilty of nothing more than daring to create a public forum for discussion and peacefully exercising the right to freedom of
expression, which prompted the Saudi delegation to interrupt the statement.
We believe that what is being said by this organisation is completely outside of the mandate of this report, said a Saudi delegate, adding we request that they stop their intervention.
Four member states, including the United States, then responded to the intervention, supporting the right of NGOs to raise specific human rights cases during Council sessions. This allowed the Center for Inquiry's spokesperson to continue
speaking and call for Badawi's conviction to be quashed.
We call on Saudi Arabia, as a newly elected member of this council, to release Raif Badawi immediately and unconditionally, and drop any pending charges against him and others for 'blasphemy', 'insulting Islam', or 'apostasy', the
spokesperson said. As an elected member of this Council, Saudi Arabia is obliged to 'uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights' and 'fully cooperate with the Council', they added.
Global press freedom has fallen to its lowest level in over a decade, according to a Freedom House
report released today. The decline was driven in part by major regression in several Middle Eastern states, including Egypt, Libya, and Jordan; marked setbacks in Turkey, Ukraine, and a number of countries in East Africa; and deterioration
in the relatively open media environment of the United States.
Freedom of the Press 2014 found that despite positive developments in a number of countries, most notably in sub-Saharan Africa, setbacks were the dominant trend in every other region. The share of the world's population with media rated
"Free" remains at just 14%, or only one in seven people. Far larger shares live in Not Free (44%) or Partly Free (42%) media environments.
Karin Karlekar, project director of the report, said:
We see declines in media freedom on a global level, driven by governments' efforts to control the message and punish the messenger. In every region of the world last year, we found both governments and private actors attacking reporters,
blocking their physical access to newsworthy events, censoring content, and ordering politically motivated firings of journalists.
In 2013 we saw more cases of states targeting foreign reporters and media outlets. Russian and Chinese authorities declined to renew or threatened to withhold visas for prominent foreign correspondents, but the new Egyptian government went a
step further by detaining a number of Al-Jazeera staff on charges of supporting terrorism.
Key Global Findings:
Of the 197 countries and territories assessed during 2013, a total of 63 (32%) were rated Free, 68 (35%) were rated Partly Free, and 66 (33%) were rated Not Free.
All regions except sub-Saharan Africa, whose average score leveled off, showed declines, with the Middle East and North Africa suffering the worst deterioration.
Triggers for country declines included governments' overt attempts to control the news--whether through the physical harassment of journalists covering protest movements or other sensitive stories, restrictions on foreign reporters, or
tightened constraints on online news outlets and social media--as well as the role of owners in shaping media content through directives on coverage or dismissals of outspoken journalists .
Country improvements were largely driven by three factors: a growing ability of private firms to operate television and radio outlets; greater access to a variety of views via online media, social media, and international outlets; and improved
respect for legal protections for the press.
China and Russia maintained a tight grip on local media while also attempting to control the more independent views provided either in the blogosphere or by foreign news sources.
The world's eight worst-rated countries remain Belarus, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
The regional average score worsened to its lowest level in five years, and just 2% of the population in Latin America lived in Free media environments.
Scores dropped in Honduras, Panama, Suriname, and Venezuela.
Paraguay's rating improved to Partly Free.
Conditions in the United States deteriorated due primarily to attempts by the government to inhibit reporting on national security issues.
Only 5% of the region's population had access to Free media in 2013.
China, rated Not Free, continued to crack down on online speech, particularly on microblogs, and also ramped up pressure on foreign journalists.
Press freedom deteriorated in Hong Kong, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and several Pacific Island states, including Nauru, which was downgraded to Partly Free.
Burma and Nepal registered score improvements.
The overwhelming majority of people in the region (97%) lived in Not Free media environments.
Conditions in Russia remained grim, as the RIA Novosti news agency was closed and the government enacted additional legal restrictions on online speech.
Ukraine was downgraded to Not Free for 2013 due primarily to attacks on journalists covering the Euromaidan protests, and further erosion took place in Azerbaijan.
Positive developments occurred in Kyrgyzstan and Georgia.
This region enjoys the highest level of press freedom, but the regional average score registered the second-largest drop worldwide in 2013.
The Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden were rated the world's top-performing countries.
Significant decline took place in Turkey, which fell into the Not Free category, as well as in Greece, Montenegro, and the United Kingdom.
A modest numerical improvement was noted in Italy, which remains Partly Free.
Middle East and North Africa:
Only 2% of the region's people lived in Free media environments, while the vast majority, 84%, lived in Not Free countries or territories.
Backsliding occurred in Libya, which fell back into the Not Free category, and Egypt, where the military-led government limited press freedom.
Significant deterioration took place in Jordan and to a lesser extent in Iraq and the United Arab Emirates. Press freedom declined further in Syria, in the midst of an especially brutal civil war that posed enormous dangers to journalists.
Improvements took place in Algeria (upgraded to Partly Free), Yemen, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Israel (upgraded back to Free).
The majority of people (56%) lived in countries with Partly Free media. Improvements in the legal and economic spheres in 2013 were balanced by declines in the political category.
Declines occurred in South Sudan and Zambia (both downgraded to Not Free), the Central African Republic, and several countries in East Africa, including Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda.
West Africa saw a number of improvements, including the upgrade of Côte d'Ivoire to Partly Free and numerical gains in Mali, Senegal, and Togo.
Other gains were recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, the Seychelles, and Zimbabwe.
The United Kingdom registered both positive and negative trends in 2013, leading to a net decline from 21 to 23 points. A long-awaited reform of the libel laws raised the threshold for initiating cases and has the potential to curb libel
tourism. However, a number of negative developments stemmed from the government's response to the revelations of surveillance by the NSA and its British counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Authorities used the
Terrorism Act to detain the partner of investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the story; raided the offices of the Guardian newspaper and destroyed hard drives containing potentially sensitive source materials; and subsequently
threatened the Guardian with further action. In the wake of the 2011 News of the World phone-hacking scandal and the Leveson inquiry that followed, the establishment of a new regulatory body to oversee print media also raised concerns among some
This year's Freedom of Expression Awards 2014 were awarded to a diverse group of remarkable individuals and organisation from the young female Egyptian Rapper to a Pakistani internet campaigner, from an Indian digital pioneer to an
The Freedom of Expression Awards recognise the bravest journalists, artists and activists from around the world. From Edward Snowden to FreeWeibo and David Cecil to Colectivo Chuhcan, their remarkable true stories remind us that the right to free
expression must be defended at all costs. Index is proud to bring these voices to London and shine a light on their work for the world to see.
Index Arts award: Mayam Mahmoud , Egyptian Hip-hop Artist A finalist on Arab's Got Talent, Hijab wearing Egyptian rapper Mayam Mahmoud uses hip-hop to address issues such as sexual harassment and to stand up for women's rights in the
country that, after the hope of Tahrir Square, is slipping back into authoritarianism.
Google Digital Activism award: Shubhranshu Choudhary , Indian Journalist Choudhary is the brains behind CGNet Swara, a mobile-phone based news service that allows some of India's poorest citizens to upload and listen to hyper-local reports
in their own dialect, no smartphone required! CGNet Swara is both circumventuing India's strict radio licencing laws and creatively providing an outlet for those overlooked people on the wrong side of the digital divide.
The Guardian Journalism award: Azadliq , Azerbaijani independent Newspaper One of the last independent media outlets in Azerbaijan, Azadliq has continued to report on government corruption and cronyism in spite of increasing pressures and
a financial squeeze enforced by the authorities.
Doughty Street Advocacy award: Shahzad Ahmad , Pakistani Campaigner Shahzad Ahmad leads the fight against online censorship in Pakistan. He has sued the Pakistani government over their suspected use of surveillance software, FinFisher, and
he is suing the government over its ongoing blocking of YouTube which is depriving his people of one of the world's most popular video channels.
Natalia Radzina of Charter97, a Belarusian news website whose criticism of the government is often censored, was attending an
OSCE-organized conference in Vienna on the Internet and media freedom in February 2013 when she ran into someone she would rather not have seen: a member of the Operations and Analysis Centre, a Belarusian government unit that coordinates
Internet surveillance and censorship. It is entities like this, little known but often at the heart of surveillance and censorship systems in many countries, that Reporters Without Borders is spotlighting in this year's Enemies of the Internet
report, which it is releasing, as usual, on World Day Against Cyber-Censorship (12 March).
Identifying government units or agencies rather than entire governments as Enemies of the Internet allows us to draw attention to the schizophrenic attitude towards online freedoms that prevails in in some countries. Three of the government
bodies designated by Reporters Without Borders as Enemies of the Internet are located in democracies that have traditionally claimed to respect fundamental freedoms: the Centre for Development of Telematics in India, the Government Communications
Headquarters (GCHQ) in the United Kingdom, and the National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States.
The NSA and GCHQ have spied on the communications of millions of citizens including many journalists. They have knowingly introduced security flaws into devices and software used to transmit requests on the Internet. And they have hacked into the
very heart of the Internet using programmes such as the NSA's Quantam Insert and GCHQ's Tempora. The Internet was a collective resource that the NSA and GCHQ turned into a weapon in the service of special interests, in the process flouting
freedom of information, freedom of expression and the right to privacy.
The mass surveillance methods employed in these three countries, many of them exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, are all the more intolerable because they will be used and indeed are already being used by authoritarians countries such
as Iran, China, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to justify their own violations of freedom of information. How will so-called democratic countries will able to press for the protection of journalists if they adopt the very practices they
are criticizing authoritarian regimes for?
Private sector and inter-governmental cooperation
The 2014 list of Enemies of the Internet includes "surveillance dealerships" -- the three arms trade fairs known as
ISS World, Technology Against Crime and Milipol . These forums bring companies specializing in communications interception or online content blocking together with government officials from countries such as Iran, China and Bahrain. Here
again, the contradictory behaviour of western democracies should be noted. France hosted two of these forums in 2013 -- TAC and Milipol. At the same time, it issued a
notice in December 2013 requiring French companies that export surveillance products outside the Europe Union to obtain permission from the General Directorate for Competition, Industry and Services (DGCIS).
The censorship and surveillance carried out by the Enemies of the Internet would not be possible without the tools developed by the private sector companies to be found at these trade fairs. Ethiopia's Information Network Security Agency has
tracked down journalists in the United States thanks to spyware provided by
Hacking Team , an Italian company that Reporters Without Borders designated as an Enemy of the Internet in 2013. Even the
NSA has used the services of Vupen , a French company that specializes in identifying and exploiting security flaws.
Private-sector companies are not the only suppliers of surveillance technology to governments that are Enemies of the Internet. Russia has exported its SORM surveillance system to its close neighbours. In Belarus, Decree No. 60 on "measures
for improving use of the national Internet network" forces Internet Service Providers to install SORM.
China has begun assisting Iran's uphill efforts to create a Halal Internet -- a national Internet that would be disconnected from the World Wide Web and under the government's complete control. An expert in information control ever since building
its Electronic Great Wall, China is advising Iran's Revolutionary Guards, the Supreme Council for Cyberspace and the Working Group for Identifying Criminal Content. Deputy information minister Nasrolah Jahangiri announced this during a recent
visit by a delegation from China's State Council Information Office.
The NSA and GCHQ, Ethiopia's Information Network Security Agency, Saudi Arabia's Internet Services Unit, Belarus' Operations and Analysis Centre, Russia's FSB and Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Service are all security agencies that
have gone far beyond their core duties by censoring or spying on journalists and other information providers
the objections of many human rights groups , France's parliament cavalierly adopted a
Military Programming Law in December 2013 that allows the authorities to spy on phone and Internet communications in real time without asking a judge for permission. The grounds given are vague and general, ranging from the need for
"intelligence affecting national security" and "safeguarding the essential elements of France's economic potential" to "preventing terrorism, criminality and organized crime."
In Tunisia, the government gazette announced the creation of a Technical Agency for Telecommunications (ATT) on 12 November 2013 for the purpose of monitoring communications in order to assist judicial investigations into "information and
communication crimes." Its sudden creation by decree without any consultation with civil society triggered immediate concern, as it revived memories of the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI), the symbol of online censorship under ousted
President Zine el-Abine Ben Ali. The lack of any safeguards and mechanism for controlling its activities is particularly alarming.
Dangerous monopoly of infrastructure
In countries such as Turkmenistan, Syria, Vietnam and Bahrain, the government's control of Internet infrastructure facilitates control of online information. In Syria and Iran, Internet speed is often reduced drastically during demonstrations to
prevent the circulation of images of the protests.
More radical measures are sometimes used. In November 2012, the Syrian authorities cut the Internet and phone networks for more than 48 hours. In China, the authorities disconnected the Internet for several hours on 22 January 2014 to stop the
reports about the use of offshore tax havens by members of the Chinese elite . In Sudan, the authorities disconnected the Internet throughout the country for
24 hours on 25 September 2013 to prevent social networks being used to organize protests.pour satisfaire to
Censors enlist Internet Service Providers
Internet Service Providers, website hosting companies and other technical intermediaries find themselves being asked with increasing frequency to act as Internet cops.
Some cases border on the ridiculous. In Somalia, for example,
the Islamist militia Al-Shabaab banned using the Internet in January 2014 . As it did not have the required skills or technical ability to disconnect the Internet, it ordered ISPs to terminate their services within 15 days. Ironically, to
ensure that the public knew of the ban, it was posted on websites sympathetic to Al-Shabaab.
More insidiously, gender equality and anti-prostitution laws in France have increased the burden of responsibility on technical intermediaries for blocking content after being notified of it.
Article 17 of the law on gender equality requires ISPs and hosting companies to identify and report any content inciting or causing hatred that is sexist, homophobic or anti-disability in nature.
In Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro has forced ISPs to filter content of a sensitive nature. The authorities ordered them to
block about 50 websites covering exchange rates and soaring inflation on the grounds that they were fuelling an "economic war" against Venezuela. This did not prevent a wave of protests against shortages and the high crime rate. On
24 February, when many photos of the protests were circulating on Twitter, the authorities ordered ISPs to
block all images on Twitter .
the latest amendments to Law 5651 on the Internet, voted on 5 February 2014, turn ISPs into instruments of censorship and surveillance , forcing them to join a new organization that centralizes requests for content blocking or removal. If
they do not join and install the surveillance tools demanded by the authorities, they will lose their licence. Law 5651 also requires ISPs and other technical intermediaries to keep user connection data for one to two years and be ready to
surrender them to the authorities on demandpour satisfaire to. The law does not specify what kinds of data must be surrendered, in what form or what use will be made of them. Experts think the required data will be the history of sites and social
networks visited, searches carried out, IP addresses and possibly email subjects.
Legislation is often the main tool for gagging online information. Vietnam already has penal code articles 79 and 88 on "crimes infringing upon national security" and "propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam" but
the information and communications ministry decided to go one step further with
Decree 72 . In effect since September 2013, this decree restricts the use of blogs and social networks to the "dissemination" or "sharing" of "personal" information, effectively banning the sharing of
news-related or general interest content.
In Bangladesh, four bloggers and the secretary of the human rights NGO Odhika were arrested in 2013 under the
2006 Information and Communication Technology Act , which was rendered even more draconian by amendments adopted in August. Its definition of digital crimes is extremely broad and vague, and includes "publishing fake, obscene or
defaming information in electronic form."
The Electronic Crimes Act that Grenada adopted in 2013 prohibits use of "an electronic system or an electronic device" to send "information that is grossly offensive or has a menacing character." Here again, vaguely-worded
legislation is posing a real threat to freedom of information.
Permission to publish
The creation of a licencing system for news websites serves as an administrative and sometimes economic barrier and is a widely-used method for controlling online information.
the authorities have created a major economic barrier for online news media . Under a measure that took effect in June 2013, news websites that post more than one article a week about Singapore and have more than 50,000 Singaporean visitors
a month need a licence that requires depositing "a performance bond" of 50,000 Singaporean dollars (39,500 US dollars). The licence has to be renewed every year.
This overview of censorship and surveillance is far from exhaustive. During the coming months, we will probably learn about more surveillance practices from Edward Snowden's files, which Glenn Greenwald and other journalists have been serializing
since June 2013. The latest and perhaps most outrageous practice to come to light so far is
GCHQ's "Optic Nerve" programme, used to capture the personal images of millions of Yahoo webcam users . It suggests that there are no limits to what the intelligence agencies are ready to do.
What forms of response are possible in order to preserve online freedom of information? We think it is essential to:
Press international bodies to reinforce the legislative framework regulating Internet surveillance, data protection and the export of surveillance devices and software. Read Reporters Without Borders' recommendations.
Train journalists, bloggers and other information providers in how to protect their data and communications. Reporters Without Borders has been doing this in the field for several years. It has organized workshops in many countries including
France, Switzerland, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
Continue to provide information about surveillance and censorship practices. That is the purpose of this report.
The Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index 2014 has created a little news around the world.
China seems intent on dropping further down the table by appropriately censoring the press from mentioning the countries rock bottom rating of 175 out of 180.
A directive from the press censors of the State Council Information Office translated as:
All websites are kindly asked to delete the article 180 Countries Ranked in 2013 Press Freedom Index; China at 175th and related content.
While this kind of state-imposed censorship is hardly a new occurrence in ultra-paranoid China, in fact it is a daily occurrence, this particular decree is somewhat ironic given the subject matter of the banned article.
The UK has slipped three places down the league, to 33rd. According to RSF, this was due to the country distinguishing itself by its harassment of The Guardian following its publication of the NSA and GCHQ leaks by the whistleblower Edward
That incident, and the White House administration's reaction to the Snowden affair and the jailing of Chelsea Manning over the Wikileaks revelations, also resulted in the United States falling by 13 places to 46th in the list.
Thailand again improved slightly, moving up five positions to 130th place in this year's index, It was ranked 135th last year and 137th in 2012.