Internet censorship: brief country overview

Internet censorship: brief country overview

countryA report (country overview) on the internet censorship prepared by University of Pretoria in South Africa has fallen into our hands, and we would like to share with you some of the interesting findings on internet censorship per country.
Already, a report by Warf (2011) classified countries’ censorship as:
Worst Internet censors: China, Burma/Myanmar, Vietnam and Iran.
Severe Internet censors: Russia, Belarus, Pakistan, Arab World countries 
(Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, etc.).
Moderate Internet censors:Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, 
India, Central Asia, United Arab Emirates, Sub Saharan Africa and Latin America.
Light Internet censors: some Latin America countries, Southern and 
Eastern Europe.
Uncensored Internet: Western Europe and USA (most popular location of the servers of VPN providers).
Below is a brief country overview on internet censorship, for a small selection of countries (in alphabetic order) as per the South African experts:
·      Australia:
There are very strict regulations and measures against pornography in that country – to such an extent that censorship in Australia has been compared with politically focused censorship in China. Many types of content other than pornography are affected by censorship such as gaming websites. The focus is, however, not explicitly politically oriented. In-spite of the strict regulations there seems to be some public support for even more strict control of access to pornographic information. Although it might not have a real impact on government’s decisions and handling of Internet censorship, there is room for people to express themselves against Internet censorship. Government websites have been targeted by cyber-attacks.
·      Chile
Rather limited reports (in English) could be traced on Internet censorship in Chile. Some issues that stood out are the fact that it does not seem as if Internet censorship is strongly regulated and enforced, decisions on censorship often relies on the arbitrary views of a judge, and equipment such as hard drives to be destroyed in cases where people were held in police custody have been noted. Chile is noted for its network neutrality, and also attempts to make it less cumbersome for people to request public information via the Internet. It has been noted for fast speed Internet access in comparison to other countries in the region.
·     China
China is noted for severe measures of censorship and surveillance, as well as a lack of freedom of speech. Email and other forms of Internet communication are strictly monitored: it seems not possible to send anonymous email messages, and government security has been noted to infiltrate online systems for purposes of surveillance. Filtering software is used, and a wide spectrum of information resources are subject to censorship, e.g. websites, blogs, chat sessions, Internet telephone calls. China is not only noted for a very sophisticated system of censorship and surveillance, but also that it might have research limitations in terms of counteracting circumvention methods. More reports on side-stepping and countering censorship have been noted for China than for any of the other countries included in this study. These include the use of circumvention software, the use of overseas ftp sites, misspelling keywords, using allegories, using web proxy servers and cryptic codes. Harsh measures are used for censorship including Internet blackouts and Denial of Service attacks, prison sentences and intimidation of journalists, bloggers and Internet content creators.
·      Finland
As a democratic country reports on Finland mostly reflect concerns about pornography and specifically child pornography, as well as the protection of rights: intellectual property and copyright. However, it seems to be affected by terrorism incidents in other countries such as Norway to steepen up measures on surveillance. Concerns have been noted that Finland in reality covers more than pornography, and that even websites criticizing censorship have been blocked. Blocking and filtering is voluntary. There are perceptions that it is easy to side-step censorship in Finland. The blacklist of blocked sites is kept secret. Concern has been expressed that nobody seems to take responsibility for the choices of websites to be blocked.
·      Libya
That country is marked by controversial opinion on the scope and severity of Internet censorship. Although it is no longer on the list of countries under surveillance for the list of “Enemies of the Internet”, serious concerns are noted in reports, especially while Libya was under the Gaddafi rule. Although there is no formal legislation on censorship in Libya, it is nevertheless marked by strong surveillance of a variety of media ranging from email to Yahoo Chat and Skype. Very few reports were picked up on concerns about the violation of personal privacy. Under the Gaddafi government, censorship was mostly politically orientated with numerous reports on actions against conduct considered as criminal. Libya is especially noted for a lack of freedom of speech. There is strong enforced reliance on cyber cafés to cooperate in surveillance. Means of censorship include blocking, curfews, blackouts and the hacking of websites.
·      Myanmar
Internet censorship and surveillance in Myanmar is strongly associated with violations of human rights. Although there are claims by the new government that they are slackening government control, opinions are voiced that government control is actually tightening. Apart from blocking websites with content in contrast to government views, and especially those of a political nature and dealing with human rights, there is severe surveillance of Internet traffic and communication, and also limits on freedom of speech. A variety of media is monitored ranging from websites and emails to Internet telephone services. With regard to violations of privacy there is much more reported than for other countries. Myanmar is also associated with pervasive censorship, lack of Internet infrastructure for the general public and high cost for using the Internet. Apart from legislation on censorship there is also legislation on methods for circumvention of Internet censorship. Myanmar also developed means to deny the general population access to Internet content, while government officials maintain access.
·      Singapore
Although Singapore is not considered an “Enemy of the Internet” there is strong evidence of Internet censorship and restrictions on freedom of speech in that country. The motivation for censorship is based on moral grounds and especially protection against pornography; thus Singapore works from a “symbolic list of 100 websites”. Furthermore the claim is that the government gives preference to educate and prepare the general population to act responsibly. Although the proclaimed intention is to prevent ethnic and religious conflict, it seems as if criticism against the government is also censored. There is limited reliance on technology, and sometimes the blocking of websites relies on trial and error research by Internet users to identify websites to be blocked. Different guidelines apply to deciding on websites to be blocked; these are influenced by where websites originated from (e.g. from home versus an institution) and who is accessing the information (i.e. younger or older people). Universities have been reported to maintain different Internet servers for staff and students.
·      Turkey
Although there is an increase in mobile access in that country, parts of Turkey are still marked by limited Internet infrastructure and thus subject to pervasive censorship. Censorship in Turkey is aligned to the protection of families especially with regard to protection against pornography. Like in many other countries, the actual scope of censorship, however, seems wider, e.g. websites with negative information on Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (considered as the father of modern Turkey by many) being blocked. Concerns on violation of individual privacy did not quite feature in the data mined. Turkey uses a centralized system of filtering, and there is a lack of transparency in terms of websites blocked. Although there initially was no formal legislation on censorship and surveillance, there are moves in this direction. Faced by large scale national protests against Internet filtering, steps were taken to prevent attacks on government websites. There also seems to be a rise in government censorship with actions being taken against websites supporting actions against censorship. Earlier in 2012 large numbers of people participated in national protests against Internet filtering. Positive trends in Turkey include the fact that the content of blocked websites can sometimes still be accessed.
·      United Kingdom
Although a democratic country, the United Kingdom seems to have very strict rules on Internet censorship and especially Internet surveillance, owing to a strong concern for national security. Deep-packet inspection technology is used and surveillance includes the use of mobiles and YouTube. Although incidents of legal actions have been reported, these do not seem extreme when compared to countries like China or Myanmar. Recently the United Kingdom has experienced a number of cyber-attacks by groups against Internet censorship and surveillance. Although initially there was no legislation (only with regard to issues such as pornography and the protection of children), the United Kingdom has accepted legislation and is considering even further legislation on various issues related to Internet censorship and surveillance owing to national security, data protection and privacy. Current legislation gives strong control to representatives of the government – a concern for those against censorship. Much criticism against the government’s actions and plans were noted in the mined data, which points to stronger freedom of speech than in other countries monitored.

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