Wednesday, May 20, 2009

IGIF - Methodology

Freedom House Freedom on the Net

Freedom on the Net Methodology

This 2009 pilot Freedom on the Net provides analytical reports and numerical ratings for 15 strategic countries. The countries were chosen in order to provide a representative sample with regard to geographical and regional diversity and economic development, as well as varying levels of internet and digital media freedom. The ratings and reports included in this pilot primarily cover events that took place between January 1, 2007, and December 31, 2008.

What we measure

The Freedom on the Net index aims to measure each country’s level of internet and digital media freedom on the basis of two key components—access to the relevant technology and the free flow of information through it without fear of repercussions. Given increasing technological convergence, the index measures not only internet freedom, but also access and openness of other digital means of news media transmission, particularly mobile phones and text messaging services.

Freedom House does not maintain a culture-bound view of freedom. The index methodology is grounded in basic standards of free expression, derived in large measure from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.

This standard applies to all countries and territories, irrespective of geographical location, ethnic or religious composition, or level of economic development.

In measuring digital media freedom, the index is particularly concerned with the transmission and exchange of news and other politically relevant communications, as well as the protection of users’ rights to privacy and freedom from both legal and extralegal repercussions arising from their online activities. At the same time, the index acknowledges that in the some instances freedom of expression and access to information may be legitimately restricted. The standard for such restrictions applied in this index is that they be implemented only in narrowly defined circumstances and in line with international human rights standards, the rule of law, and the principles of necessity, and proportionality. As much as possible, censorship and surveillance policies and procedures should be transparent and include avenues for appeal available to those affected.

The index does not rate governments or government performance per se, but rather the real-world rights and freedoms enjoyed by individuals within each country. While digital media freedom may be primarily affected by state actions, pressures and attacks by nonstate actors, including insurgents and other armed groups, are also considered. Thus, the index ratings generally reflect the interplay of a variety of actors, both governmental and nongovernmental, including private corporations.

The scoring process

The index aims to capture the entire “enabling environment” for internet freedom within each country through a set of 19 methodology questions, divided into three categories, which are intended to highlight the vast range of issues that can impact digital media freedom. Each individual question is scored on a varying range of points. Assigning numerical points allows for comparative analysis among the countries surveyed and facilitates an examination of trends over time. Countries are given a total score from 0 (best) to 100 (worst) as well as a score for each category. The degree to which conditions in each country enable the free flow of news and information via the internet and other information and communication technologies (ICTs) determines their overall classification as “Free,” “Partly Free,” or “Not Free.” Countries scoring from 0 to 30 points overall are regarded as having a “Free” internet and digital media environment; 31 to 60, “Partly Free”; and 61 to 100, “Not Free”. An accompanying country report provides narrative detail on the points covered by the methodology questions.

The methodology examines the level of internet and ICT freedom through a set of 19 questions and 90 subquestions, organized into three baskets:

  • Obstacles to Access—including governmental efforts to block specific applications or technologies; infrastructural and economic barriers to access; and legal and ownership control over internet and mobile-phone access providers

  • Limits on Content—including filtering and blocking of websites; other forms of censorship and self-censorship; manipulation of content; the diversity of online news media; and usage of digital media for social and political activism

  • Violations of User Rights—including legal protections and restrictions on online activity; surveillance and other privacy violations; and repercussions for online activity, such as prosecution, imprisonment, physical attacks, and other forms of harassment

Index Checklist Questions

  • Each country is ranked on a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 being the best and 100 being the worst.

  • A combined score of 0–30 is Free, 31–60 is Partly Free, and 61–100 is Not Free.

  • Under each question, a lower number of points is allotted for a more free situation, while a higher number of points is allotted for a less free environment.

  • Unless otherwise indicated, the subquestions listed are meant to provide guidance as to what issues should be addressed under each methodology question, though not all will apply to every country.

  1. Obstacles to Access (0–25 points)

  1. Does the government block access to digital media or particular Web 2.0 applications permanently or during specific events? (0–6 points)

  • Does the government place limits on the amount of bandwidth that access providers can supply?

  • Does the government use control over internet infrastructure (routers, switches, etc.) to limit connectivity?

  • Does the government centralize telecommunications infrastructure to facilitate control of content and surveillance?

  • Does the government block protocols and tools that allow for instant, person-to-person communication (VOIP, instant messaging, text messaging, etc.), particularly those based outside the country (e.g., Facebook)?

  • Does the government block protocols and Web 2.0 applications that allow for information sharing or building online communities (video-sharing, social-networking sites, comment features, blogging platforms, etc.)?

  • Is there blocking of certain tools that enable circumvention of online filters and censors?

  1. Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to internet and other ICTs? (0–6 points)

  • Does poor infrastructure (electricity, telecommunications, etc.) limit citizens’ ability to receive internet in their homes and businesses?

  • Is there widespread public access to the internet through internet caf├ęs, libraries, or other venues?

  • Is there a high degree of internet and mobile-phone penetration?

  • Is there a significant difference between internet penetration and access in rural versus urban areas?

  • Are broadband services available in addition to dial-up?

  1. Is access to the internet and other ICTs prohibitively expensive or beyond reach of certain segments of the population? (0–3 points)

  • In command economies, does the state set the price of internet access prohibitively high?

  • Do financial constraints, such as high costs of telephone/internet services, make internet access prohibitively expensive for large segments of the population?

  • Do low literacy rates (linguistic and “computer literacy”) limit citizens’ ability to use the internet?

  • To what extent are online software, news, and other information available in the main local languages spoken in the country?

  1. Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that prevent the existence of diverse business entities providing access to digital technologies? (0–6 points)

Note: Each of the following access providers are scored separately:

1a. Internet-service providers (ISPs) and other backbone internet providers (0–2 points)

1b. Cybercafes and other businesses that allow public internet access (0–2 points)

1c. Mobile-phone companies (0–2 points)

  • Is there a monopoly in place or do users have a choice among access providers, including some that are privately owned?

  • Is it legally possible to establish a private access provider or does the state place extensive legal or regulatory controls over the establishment of providers?

  • Are registration requirements for establishing an access provider unduly onerous or are they approved/rejected on partisan or prejudicial grounds?

  • Does the state place prohibitively high fees on the establishment and operation of access providers?

  1. To what extent do national regulatory bodies overseeing digital technology operate in a free, fair, and independent manner? (0–4 points)

  • Are there explicit legal guarantees protecting the independence and autonomy of any regulatory body overseeing internet and other ICTs (exclusively or as part of a broader mandate) from political or commercial interference?

  • Is the appointment process transparent and representative of different stakeholders’ interests?

  • Are decisions taken by the regulatory body seen to be fair and apolitical and to take meaningful notice of comments from stakeholders in society?

  • Are efforts by access providers and other internet-related organizations to establish self-regulatory mechanisms permitted and encouraged?

  • Does the allocation of digital resources, such as domain names or IP addresses, on a national level by a government-controlled body create an obstacle to access?

  1. Limits on Content (0–35 points)

  1. To what extent does the state censor internet and other ICT content, particularly on political and social issues? (0–8 points)

  • Is there significant blocking or filtering of internet sites, web pages, blogs, data centers, or text-messaging content, particularly those related to political and social topics?

  • Are other procedures—judicial or extralegal—used to order the removal of content from the internet, either prior to or after its publication?

  • Are certain contentious issues, such as official corruption, the role of the armed forces or the political opposition, human rights, religion, or foreign news sites systematically targeted for online censorship?

  • Do state authorities block or filter information and views from inside the country—particularly concerning human rights abuses, government corruption, and poor standards of living—to prevent them from reaching the outside world, for example by intercepting e-mail, text messages, etc.?

  1. To what extent is censorship of internet and ICT content transparent, proportional to the stated aims, and accompanied by an independent appeals process? (0–4 points)

  • Are there national laws, independent oversight bodies, and other procedures in place to ensure that decisions to censor content are legitimate and proportional to their stated aim?

  • Are state authorities transparent about what content is blocked or filtered (both at the level of public policy and at the moment the censorship occurs)?

  • Do state authorities block more types of content than they publicly declare?

  • Do independent avenues of appeal exist for those who find content they produced to have been subjected to censorship?

  1. Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? (0–4 points)

  • Is there widespread self-censorship by online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users in both state-run online media and privately run websites?

  • Are there unspoken “rules” that prevent an online journalist or user from expressing certain opinions in ICT communication? 

  • Is there avoidance of subjects that can clearly lead to censorship or harm to the author?

  1. To what extent is the content of online sources of information determined or subtly manipulated by the government or a particular partisan interest? (0–6 points)

  • To what degree do the government or nonstate actors subject online news outlets to editorial direction or pressure?

  • Do authorities issue official guidelines or directives on coverage to online media outlets, blogs, etc.?

  • Are the funding, ownership, and management of websites transparent?

  • Do government officials or other actors bribe or otherwise put economic pressure on online journalists, bloggers, website owners, or service providers in order to influence the online content they produce or host?

  • Does the government employ, or require access providers to employ, individuals to post progovernment remarks in online bulletin boards and chat rooms?

  1. To what extent are sources of information that are robust and reflect a diversity of viewpoints readily available to citizens, despite government efforts to limit access to certain content? (0–4 points)

  • Are people able to access a range of local and international news sources via the internet or text messages, despite efforts to restrict the flow of information?

  • Does the public have ready access to media outlets or websites that express independent, balanced views?

  • Does the public have ready access to sources of information that represent a range of political and social viewpoints, including those of vulnerable or marginalized groups in society?

  • To what extent do users employ proxy servers and other methods to circumvent state censorship efforts?

  1. To what extent are individuals able to use the internet and other ICTs as sources of information and tools for mobilization, particularly regarding political and social issues? (0–6 points)

  • Are internet sources (news websites, blogs, etc.) a primary medium of news dissemination for a large percentage of the population?

  • To what extent does the online community cover political developments and provide scrutiny of government policies, official corruption, or actions by other powerful societal actors?

  • To what extent do online media outlets and blogs represent diverse interests within society, for example through websites run by community organizations or religious, ethnic, and other minorities?

  • To what extent are online communication or social-networking sites used as a means to organize politically, including for “real-life” activities?

  • Are mobile phones and other ICTs used as a medium of news dissemination and political organization, including on otherwise banned topics?

  1. Are there economic constraints that negatively impact users’ ability to publish content online or online media outlets’ ability to remain financially sustainable? (0–3 points)

  • Is there a high degree of ownership concentration within the online services and advertising industry?

  • Are connections with government officials necessary for online media outlets to be economically viable?

  • Are users required to pay varying fees for different degrees of access and publication rights (i.e., are there limitations on “net neutrality”)?

  • Do users have access to free or low-cost blogging services, web hosts, etc. that allow them to make use of the internet to express their own views?

  • Does the state limit the ability of online media to accept advertising or investment, particularly from foreign sources, or does it limit advertisers from conducting business with disfavored online media?

  1. Violations of User Rights (0–40 points)

  1. To what extent do the constitution and other laws contain provisions designed to protect freedom of expression, including on the internet, and are they enforced? (0–6 points)

  • Does the constitution contain language that provides for freedom of speech and of the press generally?

  • Are there laws or legal decisions that specifically protect online modes of expression?

  • Are online journalists and bloggers accorded the same rights and protections given to print and broadcast journalists?

  • Is the judiciary independent and do the Supreme Court, attorney general, and other representatives of the higher judiciary support free expression?

  • Is there implicit impunity for private and/or state actors who commit crimes against online journalists, bloggers, or other citizens for their online activities?

  1. Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online and ICT activities? (04 points)

  • Are there specific laws criminalizing online expression and activity such as posting or downloading information, sending an e-mail or text message, etc.? (Note: this excludes legislation addressing harmful content such as child pornography or activities such as malicious hacking.)

  • Do laws restrict the type of material that can be communicated in online expression or via text messages, such as communications about ethnic or religious issues, national security, or other sensitive topics?

  • Are restrictions of internet freedom narrowly defined, closely circumscribed, and proportional to the legitimate aim?

  • Are vaguely worded penal codes or security laws applied to internet-related or ICT activities?

  • Are there penalties for libeling officials or the state in online content?

  • Can an online outlet based in another country be sued if its content can be accessed from within the country (i.e., do the laws encourage “libel tourism” and similar practices)?

  1. Are individuals prosecuted or punished by other legal means for posting or accessing information on the internet or disseminating information via other ICTs, particularly on political and social issues? (0–6 points)

  • Are writers, commentators, or bloggers subject to imprisonment or other legal sanction as a result of posting material on the internet?

  • Are citizens subject to imprisonment, civil liability, or other legal sanction as a result of accessing or downloading material from the internet or for transmitting information via e-mail or text messages?

  • Does the lack of an independent judiciary hinder fair proceedings in ICT-related cases?

  • Are penalties for “irresponsible journalism” or “rumor mongering” applied widely?

  • Are online journalists, bloggers, or others regularly prosecuted, jailed, or fined for libel or defamation (including in cases of “libel tourism”)?

  1. Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or require user registration? (0–4 points)

  • Are website owners, bloggers, or users in general required to register with the government?

  • Are users able to post comments online or purchase mobile phones anonymously, or must they use their real names or register with the government?

  • Are users prohibited from using encryption software to protect their communications?

  • Are there laws restricting the use of encryption and other security tools, or requiring that the government be given access to encryption keys and algorithms?

  • Can the government obtain information about users without legal process?

  1. To what extent is there state surveillance of internet and ICT activities without judicial or other independent oversight, including systematic retention of user traffic data? (0–6 points)

  • Do the authorities regularly monitor websites, blogs, and chat rooms, or the content of e-mail and text messages?

  • Where the judiciary is independent, are there procedures in place for judicial oversight of surveillance, and to what extent are these followed?

  • Where the judiciary lacks independence, is there another independent oversight body in place to guard against abusive use of surveillance technology, and to what extent is it able to carry out its responsibilities without government interference?

  • Is content intercepted during internet surveillance admissible in court?

  1. To what extent are providers of access to digital technologies required to aid the government in controlling and monitoring the access of their users? (0–6 points)

Note: Each of the following access providers are scored separately:

1a. Internet-service providers (ISPs) and other backbone internet providers (0–2 points)

1b. Cybercafes and other businesses that allow public internet access (0–2 points)

1c. Mobile-phone companies (0–2 points)

  • Are access providers legally responsible for the content transmitted via the technology they supply, and are they prosecuted for opinions expressed by third parties via such technology?

  • Are access providers legally required to filter the content accessed or transmitted by their users?

  • Are access providers required to monitor their users and supply information about their digital activities to the government (through either technical interception or manual monitoring, such as user registration in cybercafes)?

  • Are access providers prosecuted for not doing so?

  • Does the state attempt to control access providers through less formal methods, such as codes of conduct?

  1. Are bloggers, other ICT users, websites, or service providers subject to extralegal intimidation, physical violence, or technical attacks by state authorities or any other actor? (0–8 points)

  • Are individuals subject to murder, injury, harassment, threats, abduction, expulsion, arbitrary detention, or torture as a result of online activities, including membership in certain online communities?

  • Do armed militias, organized crime elements, insurgent groups, political or religious extremists, or other organizations regularly target online commentators?

  • Have online journalists, bloggers, or others fled the country or gone into hiding to avoid such action?

  • Are websites or blogs subject to targeted “technical violence,” such as service attacks, hacking, etc., as a result of their content?

  • Have cybercafes or property of online commentators been targets of physical attacks or the confiscation or destruction of property?

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