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Who (and What) Are the "Enemies of the Internet"?

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Your access to the Internet is determined by many factors. Your school or your local library can put limits on websites you can see. However, beyond that, most of us are used to accessing pretty much what we want on the Internet. Some households even put Internet filters on their networks, voluntarily, to prevent access to X-rated content.

Still, in most countries you can, for the most part, get access to topics and articles you're looking for.

But that's not always the case. Some countries are actively blocking Internet access for their citizens. Just like in the old days, when a government could ban books or control the media and newspapers, some countries go to great measures to limit Internet access...and suppress freedom of information.

It really comes down to this: Years ago, before the Internet, news traveled slowly. And if people wanted to share or express their views, opinions and thoughts about laws, government and conflicts, it was easy for governments to monitor events.

The Internet, especially social media sites, changed all that. The group "Reporters Without Borders" says that the Internet and social networks are today recognized as "tools for protest, campaigning and circulating information, and as vehicles for freedom. More than ever before," one of their reports says, "online freedom of expression is now a major foreign and domestic policy issue."

That assessment doesn't go well in countries where dissent isn't approved and is, in fact, squelched.

Tracking Enemies of the Internet.

There are many organizations worldwide that keep tabs on these things, and you can find information on which countries are information-friendly and which have been labeled "enemies of the Internet."

One major player in reporting on censorship is the OpenNet Initiative, or ONI, which is a joint project that examines Internet filtering, surveillance and other intrusive practices by the governments in all countries. The project is run by a team of organizations from institutions such as Harvard Law School, the University of Oxford, the University Toronto, and others.

How is censorship defined?

The OpenNet Initiative examines countries' Internet policies and practices—primarily but not limited to blocked websites—and then labels the magnitude of Internet censorship and/or filtering: A country that's undergone examination will fall into one of the following five categories:

  • Pervasive: A large portion of content in several categories is blocked.
  • Substantial: A number of categories are subject to a medium level of filtering or many categories are subject to a low level of filtering.
  • Selective: A small number of specific sites are blocked or filtering targets a small number of categories or issues.
  • Suspected: It is suspected, but not confirmed, that websites are being blocked.
  • No evidence: No evidence of blocked websites was found, although other forms of controls may exist.

What kinds of subjects, content or activity are censored or limited in different countries?

  • Political content: Views and information in opposition to those of the current government or related to human rights, freedom of expression, minority rights, and religious movements.
  • Social behavior: Views and information perceived as offensive or as socially sensitive, often related to sexuality, gambling, or illegal drugs and alcohol.
  • Conflicts, protests, social issues: Views and information related to armed conflicts, border disputes, separatist movements, and militant groups.
  • Internet technology and tools: Email; Internet hosting, search and translation; Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services; and censorship or filtering circumvention methods.

Keeping an eye out for Internet Enemies.

In 2006, Reporters Without Borders published its first list of "Enemies of the Internet." They reported that a country earns that label "not just for their capacity to censor news and information online but also for their almost systematic repression of Internet users." In 2007, a second list of countries "under surveillance" was added. Here are the lists, both of which are updated annually.

Enemies of the Internet:

  • Bahrain
  • Belarus
  • Burma
  • China
  • Cuba
  • Iran
  • North Korea
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Syria
  • Turkmenistan
  • Uzbekistan
  • Vietnam

Countries Under Surveillance:

  • Australia
  • Egypt
  • Eritrea
  • France
  • India
  • Kazakhstan
  • Malaysia
  • Russia
  • South Korea
  • Sri Lanka
  • Thailand
  • Tunisia
  • Turkey
  • United Arab Emirates

Social Media Censorship

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