The Russian government is currently discussing plans to build its own independent internet infrastructure that will be used by BRICS member states 204 Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.
The Russian Security Council has today formally
asked the country's government to start the building of a global DNS system that Russia and fellow BRICS member states could use to take control of the internet as used within the BRICS countries.
Russia and fellow BRICS nations would have the
option to flip a switch and move Internet traffic from today's main DNS system to their own private system. The states will then have absolute and direct control of sites to be blocked. Furthermore, the alternative DNS system also allows oppressive
regimes to deanonymize Tor traffic and hunt for dissidents, via an attack called DefecTor.
Russia, China, and many other countries have criticized the US for hoarding control over the domain naming system (DNS), a position they claim has allowed
the US to intercept and tap global Internet traffic. Last year, the US handed over control over the DNS system to ICANN , an independent organization. While Russia and China welcomed the move, they actually wanted the DNS system to be controlled by the
United Nations' International Telecommunication Union. This is because the two countries have more power in UN matters than control over an NGO, like ICANN.
Governments around the world are dramatically increasing their efforts to manipulate information on social media, threatening the notion of the internet as a liberating technology, according to Freedom on the Net 201 7 , the latest
edition of the annual country-by-country assessment of online freedom, released today by Freedom House.
Online manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 18 countries over the past
year, including the United States, damaging citizens' ability to choose their leaders based on factual news and authentic debate. The content manipulation contributed to a seventh consecutive year of overall decline in internet freedom, along with a rise
in disruptions to mobile internet service and increases in physical and technical attacks on human rights defenders and independent media.
"The use of paid commentators and political bots to spread government propaganda was
pioneered by China and Russia but has now gone global," said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. "The effects of these rapidly spreading techniques on democracy and civic activism are potentially devastating."
"Governments are now using social media to suppress dissent and advance an antidemocratic agenda," said Sanja Kelly, director of the Freedom on the Net project. "Not only is this manipulation difficult to detect,
it is more difficult to combat than other types of censorship, such as website blocking, because it's dispersed and because of the sheer number of people and bots deployed to do it."
"The fabrication of grassroots
support for government policies on social media creates a closed loop in which the regime essentially endorses itself, leaving independent groups and ordinary citizens on the outside," Kelly said.
Freedom on the Net 2017
assesses internet freedom in 65 countries, accounting for 87 percent of internet users worldwide. The report primarily focuses on developments that occurred between June 2016 and May 2017, although some more recent events are included as well.
Governments in a total of 30 countries deployed some form of manipulation to distort online information, up from 23 the previous year. Paid commentators, trolls, bots, false news sites, and propaganda outlets were among the techniques
used by leaders to inflate their popular support and essentially endorse themselves.
In the Philippines, members of a "keyboard army" are tasked with amplifying the impression of widespread support of the government's
brutal crackdown on the drug trade. Meanwhile, in Turkey, reportedly 6,000 people have been enlisted by the ruling party to counter government opponents on social media.
Most governments targeted public opinion within their own
borders, but others sought to expand their interests abroad--exemplified by a Russian disinformation campaign to influence the American election. Fake news and aggressive trolling of journalists both during and after the presidential election contributed
to a score decline in the United States' otherwise generally free environment.
Governments in at least 14 countries actually restricted internet freedom in a bid to address content manipulation. Ukrainian authorities, for example,
blocked Russia-based services, including the country's most widely used social network and search engine, after Russian agents flooded social media with fabricated stories advancing the Kremlin's narrative.
"When trying to
combat online manipulation from abroad, it is important for countries not to overreach," Kelly said. "The solution to manipulation and disinformation lies not in censoring websites but in teaching citizens how to detect fake news and
commentary. Democracies should ensure that the source of political advertising online is at least as transparent online as it is offline."
For the third consecutive year, China was the world's worst abuser of internet
freedom, followed by Syria and Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, the government shut down mobile networks for nearly two months as part of a state of emergency declared in October 2016 amid large-scale antigovernment protests.
one-quarter of the world's internet users reside in countries where the internet is designated Free, meaning there are no major obstacles to access, onerous restrictions on content, or serious violations of user rights in the form of unchecked
surveillance or unjust repercussions for legitimate speech.
Governments manipulated social media to undermine democracy : Governments in 30 countries of the 65 countries assessed attempted to control online discussions. The practice has become significantly more widespread and
technically sophisticated over last few years.
State censors targeted mobile connectivity : An increasing number of governments have restricted mobile internet service for political or security reasons. Half of all
internet shutdowns in the past year were specific to mobile connectivity, with most others affecting mobile and fixed-line service simultaneously. Most mobile shutdowns occurred in areas populated with ethnic or religious minorities such as Tibetan areas
in China and Oromo areas in Ethiopia.
More governments restricted live video : As live video gained popularity with the emergence of platforms like Facebook Live, and Snapchat's Live Stories internet users faced
restrictions or attacks for live streaming in at least nine countries, often to prevent streaming of antigovernment protests. Countries likes Belarus disrupted mobile connectivity to prevent livestreamed images from reaching mass audience.
Technical attacks against news outlets, opposition, and rights defenders increased: Cyberattacks against government critics were documented in 34 out of 65 countries. Many governments took additional steps to restrict
encryption, leaving citizens further exposed.
New restrictions on virtual private networks (VPNs) : 14 countries now restrict tools used to circumvent censorship in some form and six countries introduced new
restrictions, either legal bans or technical blocks on VPN websites or network traffic.
Physical attacks against netizens and online journalists expanded dramatically : The number of countries that featured physical
reprisals for online speech increased by 50 percent over the past year--from 20 to 30 of the countries assessed. In eight countries, people were murdered for their online expression. In Jordan, a Christian cartoonist was murdered for mocking Islamist
militants' vision of heaven, while in Myanmar, a journalist was murdered after posting on Facebook notes that alleged corruption.
Since June 2016, 32 of the 65 countries assessed in Freedom on the Net saw internet freedom deteriorate. Most notable declines were documented in Ukraine, Egypt, and Turkey.
In the wake of the latest destabilizing cyber attacks, some Western leaders like Theresa May are joining Russia and China to urge state policing of the internet. This is not wise. By Alexander Klimburg
Theresa May has urged world leaders to do more to censor online extremism, saying the fight against so-called Islamic State is moving from the battlefield to the internet.
Speaking about counter-terrorism at the G7 summit in Sicily, the PM said more
pressure should be put on tech companies to remove extreme material and to report such content to the authorities. She led a discussion on how to work together to prevent the plotting of terrorist attacks online and to stop the spread of hateful
extremist ideology on social media.
She said that the industry has a social responsibility to do more to take down harmful content. She acknowledged that the industry has been taking action to remove extremist content, but said it has not gone far
enough and needs to do more.
She called for an international forum to develop the means of intervening where danger is detected, and for companies to develop tools which automatically identify and remove harmful material based on what it contains,
and who posted it.
Norway is considering introducing uniformed police profiles which would patrol Facebook looking for criminal activity.
Kripos, Norway's National Criminal Investigation Service, is reportedly examining the legal aspects of how police
accounts could be given access to areas of Facebook that are not open to the public. It would mean police gaining access to closed groups and interacting with members as they search for evidence of criminal activity.
Police in Norway and elsewhere
have previously used fake Facebook profiles to investigate crimes including smuggling alcohol and tobacco.
The 2017 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reflects a world in which attacks on the media have become commonplace and strongmen are on the rise. We have reached the age of post-truth, propaganda, and suppression of
freedoms 203 especially in democracies.
RSF's latest World Press Freedom Index highlights the danger of a tipping point in the state of media freedom, especially in leading democratic countries. (Read our analysis entitled
Journalism weakened by democracy's erosion.) Democracies began falling in the Index in preceding years and now, more than ever, nothing seems to be checking that fall.
The obsession with surveillance and violations of the right to
the confidentiality of sources have contributed to the continuing decline of many countries previously regarded as virtuous. This includes the United States (down 2 places at 43rd), the United Kingdom (down 2 at 40th), Chile (down 2 at 33rd), and New
Zealand (down 8 at 13th).
Donald Trump's rise to power in the United States and the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom were marked by high-profile media bashing, a highly toxic anti-media discourse that drove the world into a
new era of post-truth, disinformation, and fake news.