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6th October 2023 (11 Topics)

Global Net freedom on the decline: Freedom House report

Context

According to a new report by Freedom House, Global Internet freedom has declined for the 13th consecutive year.

About

Highlights of the Report:

  • About: The report, titled ‘Freedom on the Net 2023: The Repressive Power of Artificial Intelligence’, has raised a red flag on the increasing use of artificial intelligence by governments for censorship and spread of disinformation.
  • This is the 13th edition of an annual study of human rights online
  • The report covers developments between June 2022 and May 2023.
  • On a range of 1 to 100 where ‘100’ represented highest digital freedom and ‘1’ the worst repression.
  • Key Points:
    • Country-wise data: It evaluates Internet freedom in 70 countries, accounting for 88% of the world’s Internet users.
      • The environment for human rights online has deteriorated in 29 countries, with only 20 countries registering net gains.
      • Iceland scored 94, emerged as the country with the best climate of Internet freedom.
      • India scored 50 remained at the middle ground.
      • As per the report, the sharpest rise in digital repression was witnessed in Iran, where authorities shut down Internet service, blocked WhatsApp and Instagram, and increased surveillance in a bid to quell anti-government protests.
      • China, for the ninth straight year, ranked as the world’s worst environment for Internet freedom.
      • Also Myanmar found to be the world’s second most repressive for online freedom.
    • People faced legal repercussions for expressing themselves online in a record 55 countries this year, and the number of countries where authorities carry out widespread arrests and impose multi-year prison terms for online activity has risen sharply over the past decade, from 18 in 2014 to 31 in 2023.
    • The report also detailed how elections were a trigger for digital repression.
    • The report evaluates countries on five censorship methods
      • Internet connectivity restrictions,
      • blocks on social media platforms,
      • blocks on websites,
      • blocks on VPNs, and
      • forced removal of content
  • For India:
    • Detailing AI-enabled digital repression in India: The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules require large social media platforms to use AI-based moderation tools for broadly defined types of content — such as speech that could undermine public order, decency, morality, or the country’s sovereignty, integrity, and security, or content that officials had previously ordered removed.”
    • Warning of adverse repercussions for Indian democracy: As the country prepares for general elections in 2024, the government’s expanding censorship regime is creating an uneven playing field by silencing criticism of and independent reporting on the ruling party.
    • India also figured among the list of countries that blocked websites hosting political, social, or religious content, deliberately disrupted ICT networks, used pro-government commentators to manipulate online discussions, and conducted technical attacks against government critics or human rights organisations.
    • India engaged in all types of censorship methods, except one (VPN blocking).
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