Wednesday, May 20, 2009

IGIF - Overview Essay

Freedom House Freedom on the Net

Access and Control:

A growing diversity of threats to internet freedom

By Karin Deutsch Karlekar and Sarah G. Cook

As the internet and other new media come to dominate the flow of news and information around the world, governments have responded with measures to control, regulate, and censor the content of blogs, websites, and text messages. Indeed, the recent case of an Iranian blogger who died in police custody is a disturbing reminder that expressions of political dissent or even independent thought circulated through the internet carry as much risk as those circulated via underground journals in an earlier era. And just as authoritarian regimes once devoted massive resources to controlling the print media and the airwaves, so today China employs a small army of functionaries tasked with monitoring and censoring the content of websites and blogs.

The mounting assault on digital freedom is taking place in an environment of explosive growth in the use and, more significantly, the influence of new media forms. An increasing number of organizations and civic initiatives use websites to inform the public about their causes and question government performance. Recent years have also featured a “blogging revolution,” as millions of people have begun keeping online journals, commenting and sharing opinions on a vast number of cultural, social, and political issues. This expansion has taken place in developed and developing countries alike, in countries where the press is under duress as well as in vibrant democracies.

Even as new information sources become more prevalent and influential, governments, and in some cases private actors, have begun to push back through the development of techniques designed to control what people read, view, and discuss. Predictably, some of the world’s most repressive regimes, like those in China and Iran, have created a pervasive, sophisticated, and multilayered system of censorship that significantly limits the content that citizens can access or post on the internet and transmit via mobile phones, particularly when it comes to topics deemed sensitive by the authorities. Harsh laws, an apparatus of monitoring and surveillance, torture, and imprisonment await those who cross the “red lines” separating acceptable from unacceptable thought. In settings that are somewhat less repressive—such as Egypt, Russia, and Malaysia—the internet has emerged as a haven of relatively free speech in otherwise restrictive media environments. In these societies, however, the space for free comment and open circulation of ideas is slowly closing, as governments devise subtle methods to manipulate online discussion and apply vague and flexible security laws to arrest and intimidate bloggers. As with traditional media, the result of this sophisticated harassment is an insidious form of self-censorship among journalists and commentators. Even in more democratic countries—such as the United Kingdom, Brazil, and Turkey—internet freedom is increasingly undermined by legal harassment, opaque filtering procedures, and expanding surveillance. On the whole, threats to internet freedom are growing and have become more diverse, both in the array of countries that impose restrictions and in the range of methods employed.

This dynamic of increasing digital media use worldwide accompanied by more systematic and sophisticated methods of control is the core finding of this study, a pilot report on internet and new media freedom. On the basis of a newly developed set of 19 indicators, the study evaluates the level of internet and mobile-phone freedom experienced by average users and activists in a sample of 15 countries across 6 regions: China, India, and Malaysia in Asia; Cuba and Brazil in Latin America; Egypt, Tunisia, and Iran in the Middle East and North Africa; Kenya and South Africa in sub-Saharan Africa; Russia, Estonia, and Georgia in the former Soviet Union; and the United Kingdom and Turkey in Europe. Covering the calendar years 2007 and 2008, the index addresses a range of factors that might affect such freedom, including the state of telecommunications infrastructure, government restrictions on access to technology, the regulatory framework for service providers, censorship and content control, the legal environment, surveillance, and extralegal attacks on users or content producers. The selected indicators capture not only the actions of governments but also the vigor, diversity, and activism of the new media domain in each country, regardless of—or despite—state efforts to restrict usage.

Key findings and trends

Access to and usage of internet and mobile-phone technologies have grown exponentially in recent years. In six of the countries examined, internet penetration doubled between 2006 and 2008, and in three, mobile-phone penetration similarly doubled. This greatly expanded access, however, has been met in most cases with the clear emergence of new and multiple threats to other aspects of internet freedom, particularly restrictions on certain content or heightened prosecution and surveillance of users.

Negative trends:

  • Expanding forms of censorship: Censorship and control of online content was present in some form in all 15 countries studied, with authorities in 11 targeting political content in at least one instance. Censorship takes a number of forms and can include not only technical filtering, but also manual removal of content as a result of government directives, intimidation, requests from private actors, or judicial decisions. Some regimes even engage in the sophisticated manipulation of online conversations using undercover government-sponsored agents.

  • Privatization of censorship: There is a growing trend toward “outsourcing” censorship and monitoring to private companies, as opposed to direct intervention by government agencies. In a range of countries with differing levels of democracy, private entities and their employees—including service providers, blog-hosting companies, cybercafes, and mobile-phone operators—are being required by governments or other actors to censor and monitor information and communication technologies (ICTs). This has been the case for local and multinational enterprises alike.

  • Lack of transparency and accountability: In both democratic and authoritarian settings, there is a serious lack of transparency surrounding censorship decisions and the use of surveillance. In the majority of the countries examined in this study—whether they censor pornography or legitimate political content—there is no public list of blocked websites, little or no possibility of appeal for those who find that content they have posted online is inaccessible to others, and limited independent judicial supervision of the use of information obtained through the monitoring of either the content or the traffic data of internet and mobile-phone communications.

  • Legal threats: Methods of control and censorship that were developed to restrict content in traditional media—particularly in the legal sphere—are beginning to seep into the new media environment, though they are not yet as common or extensive as in the older context. Multiple countries saw their first blogger sentenced to prison or their first internet-restricting legislation introduced during the coverage period.

  • Technical attacks: In addition to imprisonment, harassment, torture, and intimidation, internet activists are experiencing forms of “technical violence” that are not present in the traditional media sphere. These hacking or denial-of-service attacks are increasingly being employed by a range of actors, and they are negatively affecting internet freedom in a number of countries.

Positive trends:

  • Poverty not a barrier to new media freedom: Developing countries, although hindered by infrastructural constraints, can perform well overall in the index if they enact good policies regarding access, content, and the legal framework. From an economic perspective, liberalization of the market for service providers was found to have reduced the cost of access and significantly increased penetration rates in a number of countries.

  • Growing civic activism: Even in highly repressive countries, citizens are making use of ICTs in inventive ways in order to create and disseminate news and information, add to the diversity of viewpoints and opinions, perform a watchdog role, and mobilize civic groups “offline” in order to address particular political, social, and economic issues.

  • Internet freedom greater than press freedom: Every country examined—with the exception of the United Kingdom—performed better on internet freedom than on media freedom in general, as measured by Freedom House’s annual Freedom of the Press index. These differences were smaller among the best and the worst performers, and were most pronounced in the middle range of countries.

Wide variation in the environment for internet freedom

A principal aim of the pilot study was to choose a set of countries that demonstrate the varying levels of internet freedom in the world and showcase the range of issues and restrictions that prevail in different media environments.

Free: Countries that scored in the Free range (0–30 points out of a possible 100) include Estonia, clearly the best performer with a total score of 10; the United Kingdom and South Africa, with scores of 20 and 21, respectively; and Brazil, with 26. These countries all have a generally open environment for new media, with few or no government obstacles to access, a low level of content control, and few violations of individual users’ rights. Even within this range, however, there are issues of concern. The United Kingdom’s score suffered from problems related to libel laws, lack of transparency, and extensive surveillance, while in Brazil judicial decisions that lead to content censorship are a growing threat. In South Africa, many obstacles to access are infrastructural shortcomings rather than deliberate government policies. Estonia stands out as having particularly widespread access and strong protections for user rights and personal data, though it has recently come under pressure from the European Union to change such policies.

Partly Free: The middle band of countries ranked in the Partly Free category (31–60) range from relatively strong performers such as Kenya and India to more restrictive environments like Georgia, Malaysia, Turkey, Egypt, and Russia. These countries all have some limits to access (either infrastructural or imposed by the government), some controls or state influence over content and on users’ ability to mobilize via digital resources, and varying levels of denial of user rights, including legal interventions, interference with privacy, and physical harassment or attacks. In many of these countries there is a wide gap between internet freedom and the levels of freedom for print and broadcast media. While digital media do face efforts at state control in these societies, the internet and other new technologies serve as relatively open outlets in what are otherwise difficult environments for freedom of expression.

Not Free: In the Not Free category (61–100) are China, Iran, and Tunisia, which all have significant government-imposed restrictions on access to certain technologies, extensive technological filtering and other forms of content control, and systematic violations of user rights, including prosecutions, extralegal attacks, and invasion of privacy. Of the three, China’s apparatus for censoring and controlling content is the most sophisticated and prison sentences imposed the longest, while in Tunisia and Iran, there are greater infrastructural limitations on usage. Although the level of internet freedom is higher than that of general media freedom and provides a key open space in restrictive media environments, these governments all take a range of measures to control the new media and are especially determined to prevent them from facilitating the mobilization of political opposition.

Worst of the Worst: Rounding out the pilot study is Cuba, which received a score of 90. Cuba stands out due to its near-total restrictions on access to internet and mobile-phone technology, whereas other countries promote internet use but then seek to control content or engage in harsh retaliatory measures against individual bloggers and online activists. Censorship of content, severe limitations on residents’ ability to use digital technologies as news sources or for mobilization, stringent legal penalties, and disregard for privacy rights all ensure the Cuban regime’s almost absolute control over the internet, despite small openings in the last few years.

Typologies by category

In addition to the breakdown of the countries studied into Free, Partly Free, and Not Free according to their total score, additional typologies emerged based on scoring in each of the three topical categories: Obstacles to Access, Limitations on Content, and Violations of User Rights.

Similar performance across all three aspects of internet freedom: The group of countries that exhibited this dynamic included Estonia, which scored well across the board, as well as Georgia, which received moderate scores in all three categories, thanks in part to restrictions on internet freedom stemming from a much less favorable traditional media environment. The fact that Iran, China, and Tunisia also fit into this group reflected their governments’ multilayered and comprehensive approach to controlling internet and mobile-phone usage.

Weak performance on access to technology: Not surprisingly, the countries fitting this pattern included developing countries with relatively low gross national income per capita—India, Kenya, and South Africa. For the two African countries, however, their weak performance in the Obstacles to Access category was matched by relatively strong respect for user rights, with only Estonia scoring better in that category. Also in this group was Cuba, where despite heavy limitations on content and extensive violations of user rights, the most significant restriction on internet freedom is the sheer lack of access to the technology, largely due to government actions. Cuba received the worst possible score in the Obstacles to Access category.

Particularly high degree of violations of user rights: Six countries reflected this dynamic, making it the most common typology. On the one hand, the group included Russia, Egypt, and Malaysia, where government-encouraged improvements in access to ICTs and relatively little censorship are offset by harsh legal environments, state monitoring, and a rise in criminal prosecutions. On the other hand, the description also fit the more democratic United Kingdom, Brazil, and Turkey. While criminal prosecutions for legitimate online activities rarely occur in these societies, they do suffer from the threat of prosecution or restrictions associated with civil lawsuits for libel and defamation. In addition, fairly extensive requirements are placed on service providers to retain user data or filter certain content. The United Kingdom’s score in this category was striking, given that it scored a perfect 0 on Obstacles to Access.

Threats to internet freedom and methods of control

As mentioned above, a key finding of the study was the wide range of threats to internet freedom. The methods of control vary and are used with increasing frequency. They include:

Restricting access to technologies or applications: The index divides obstacles to accessing relevant ICTs into two types: deliberate government attempts to restrict access to particular technologies or applications, and other limitations that may occur as a result of infrastructural or economic constraints. For the first category, practices covered the entire spectrum: in four countries—Estonia, Russia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom—there were no official attempts to restrict technologies, while in several others—such as China, Malaysia, and Tunisia—the restrictions were limited in scope, either sporadically interfering with access due to specific events or selectively targeting particular activists. On this indicator, Iran stands out for its decision to limit broadband access for the majority of internet users, while Cuba largely cuts off its population from internet access altogether and only recently relaxed restrictions on mobile-phone ownership.

Regarding specific applications, the study found that seven countries had blocked so-called Web 2.0 applications—advanced services such as the social-networking site Facebook, the video-sharing site YouTube, and the blog-hosting site Blogspot—either temporarily or permanently during the 2007–08 coverage period. Such applications are among the most popular features of the internet and exemplify the interactive potential of the medium. They enable production of content and circulation of information by any user and are often at the center of exposures of government malfeasance or antigovernment mobilizations. Because information can be spread quickly using these applications, some governments have moved to block access to entire sites rather than selectively removing content after it has been posted. Turkish and Brazilian courts and regulatory bodies have resorted to this tactic; Turkey has blocked YouTube since May 2008. While the international versions of such applications are generally blocked in China, they have been replaced by domestic alternatives, allowing users to share videos or maintain blogs. However, as Chinese companies are more susceptible to government pressure and censorship directives than their foreign counterparts, such a replacement dynamic essentially serves as a means of exercising greater control over content.

Economic obstacles to access: The study found, understandably, that infrastructural and economic constraints were the main or among the main obstacles in countries with lower gross national income per capita and other socio-economic indicators. For example, Georgia, India, Kenya, and South Africa, which all performed relatively well overall, scored poorly on these questions. Internet penetration rates in these countries tended to be low, costs for access were high compared with income, there was a significant rural-urban divide with regard to level of access, and there was a relatively low level of broadband penetration. At the same time, mobile-phone penetration was often significantly higher than internet penetration in these countries, reaching between 30 and 90 percent of the population with fairly widespread geographic coverage. In some countries, this has contributed to an increase in the number of individuals accessing the web via their mobile phones. Indeed, South Africa was in the unique position of having more people access the internet via the “mobile web” than from computers.

The study also found that developing countries that made decisions to promote broader or cheaper access, such as Egypt, Brazil, Malaysia, Turkey, and China, scored relatively well on these questions. Thus even in developing societies, government action can reduce the impact of poverty as a barrier to internet use, although the rural-urban divide and low computer literacy remain key challenges. Cuba, by contrast, remains a society in which inadequate infrastructure and prohibitively high government-imposed pricing stand as insuperable obstacles to expanded internet access.

Filtering and censorship: One of the primary ways to restrict internet freedom is to prevent users from accessing content that is deemed undesirable by the authorities. This can be accomplished through the technical filtering of either specific content or broad swaths of information at the ISP level, targeting keywords, entire domain names, or particular web addresses. Pioneering technical tests conducted by the OpenNet Initiative have shown a dramatic increase in filtering over the past several years, with a growing number of countries engaging in some form of the practice. However, this study found that states

employed a range of additional methods to limit access to content and control the circulation of information, including human censors who monitor and manually remove blog postings; outsourcing of search-engine filtering and chat-room censorship to private companies; judicial orders or instructions from a regulator to remove certain content; and either written or informal requests from authorities to ISPs, websites, or blog hosts to take down proscribed materials.

Of the 15 countries in the study, only three—China, Iran, and Tunisia—filtered political content using systematic technical means. It was found that comprehensive filtering was possible in large part because all three countries have centralized their internet infrastructure so that all traffic must pass through a limited number of gateways or service providers, particularly before connecting to the global internet. In these countries, there is pervasive filtering of permanently taboo topics, including those related to human rights violations, prominent political figures, oppressed minorities, and official corruption. Proscribed content is identified through lists of forbidden keywords or website addresses, and the lists are regularly updated by state agencies based on real-world developments. Among the three countries, however, China was the only one found to have engaged in similarly systematic filtering of mobile-phone text messages.

A number of other countries that eschewed extensive filtering still imposed relatively serious blocks on certain websites or types of political content. This included opposition news sources in Malaysia; content related to ethnic minorities or deemed insulting to the national identity in Turkey; and briefly in Georgia, all sites whose domain names ended with Russia’s “.ru” country code. Russian authorities relied to a larger extent on behind-the-scenes pressure or phone calls requesting

the removal of certain content. This method was also employed by Chinese authorities, who send out regular guidance on acceptable content as well as where and how it should be posted or deleted. Among the better performers, filtering or blocking tended to target small amounts of well-defined content, such as child pornography, although there were instances in which blocks were employed to censor sensitive political or social content, or caused larger obstructions than were intended. Several countries, including Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, and Estonia, were notable for blocking almost no content, including material that might be deemed politically sensitive.

Content manipulation: Even with sophisticated filtering technology, it is effectively impossible to create an airtight “firewall” against all content deemed undesirable by the government. With the exception of Cuba, all the countries in the study have some degree of content diversity, and a variety of opinions reach at least certain sections of the population, particularly those that are versed in circumvention techniques. Thus authoritarian regimes have increasingly resorted to guiding or influencing online discussion through the clandestine use of paid progovernment commentators or the financing of entire websites and blogs. The Chinese government employs an estimated 250,000 “50 Cent Party” commentators, Russia has seen a proliferation of Kremlin-affiliated “content providers,” and Tunisia uses a smaller team of undercover agents, all essentially aiming to subvert any online conversations that might erode support for the regime. A related dynamic is the spillover effect of tightly controlled traditional media outlets that launch online versions, remain key sources of information for many ordinary users, and are thus able to shape online opinions.

Outsourcing” of censorship and surveillance to private companies: Partly due to the nature of internet and mobile-phone technologies, extensive censorship and monitoring of content or usage patterns are not possible without the cooperation of private companies. Consequently, every country assessed in this study was found to engage in some level of “outsourcing” to nongovernmental access providers, be they ISPs, cybercafes, or mobile-phone operators. Among good and mid-range performers—such as Estonia, Kenya, South Africa, Georgia, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, and India—this took the form of legislation requiring retention of user data, interception powers for law enforcement agencies (often with some judicial oversight), or filtering of content, although the targeted material did not involve political communication in these relatively free settings. In more authoritarian environments—such as Egypt, China, Tunisia, Cuba, and Iran—the outsourcing involved extensive surveillance and user registration, especially in cybercafes; legal requirements for the filtering of political content; and sanctions such as the loss of business licenses for private entities that failed to comply with regulations. In China, Iran, and Tunisia, private entities often had significant numbers of staff members assigned to implement these tasks, which imposed an additional cost on their businesses. In these three countries in particular, international technology companies have also complied with the local, illiberal, and antidemocratic regulations. They have aided censorship and surveillance practices, provided equipment that is crucial to carrying out such tasks, and at times turned over the personal data of users, leading to their arrest.

Legal repercussions: Most countries do not have internet-specific criminal legislation but rely on general press laws or statutes against insult, blasphemy, leaking state secrets, and other prohibitions to restrict or punish users for online activities. Overall, in 6 of the 15 countries under assessment, a blogger or online journalist was sentenced to prison during the coverage period. Cuba is one of the few countries with internet-specific laws, but tends to prosecute online journalists under generic charges such as presenting a “precriminal social danger.” The level of prosecutions is highest in China, which uses laws against “inciting subversion,” “leaking state secrets,” and “using a heretical organization to undermine the law,” and has issued more than 80 decrees that specifically address internet content and related issues. Prison sentences for online violations in China tend to be longer than elsewhere, with a typical minimum of three years and maximums as high as ten, while in other countries most sentences range from six months to four years. Numerous prosecutions have also occurred in Tunisia, Iran, Egypt, and Malaysia, where laws against insulting the head of state or Islam are most frequently invoked, while Russia relies on vague laws against extremism. Even better performing countries like India produce occasional cases against bloggers. By contrast, legal repercussions for online activity seem to be virtually nonexistent in South Africa, Kenya, and Georgia. Although Turkey is notorious for its high rate of prosecutions against journalists and writers in general, it would appear that this has not yet affected online content producers to the same extent. In the United Kingdom, the phenomenon of “libel tourism” poses a new threat to journalists and scholars alike. Wealthy individuals from the Middle East and the former Soviet Union have exploited expansive interpretations of libel laws and jurisdictional questions by British courts to silence or intimidate journalists through civil lawsuits, leading to increased self-censorship among both traditional and online commentators, particularly on issues related to the financing of terrorism.

Extralegal harassment and threats: The extralegal punishment of individuals for their online activities has emerged as a major and growing issue of concern. The Committee to Protect Journalists noted at the end of 2008 that there were more online journalists than traditional journalists behind bars for the first time that year, either as a result of legal prosecution or extralegal detention. Such forms of repression are virtually unknown in the better-performing countries, although there have been exceptions. At least one blogger or journalist was detained during the coverage period in 8 of the 15 countries under study, in some cases for a short period of time. However, the intimidation of individuals has reached significant proportions in 6 of the 15 countries. In these cases, multiple individuals have been subjected to arbitrary arrest, 24-hour surveillance, harassment, prosecution, or various forms of mental and physical mistreatment, including torture. Levels of abuse are particularly severe in China, Egypt, Iran, and Tunisia. Egypt stands out as a country with a relatively open internet environment that has chosen to use these methods to make an example of a few prominent activists and bloggers. Although the number of individuals targeted in these countries is small relative to the entire online community, their experiences have a chilling effect on their peers.

Harassment can also take the form of “technical violence,” in which specific websites or servers are attacked by hackers employing dedicated denial of service (DDoS) attacks, which can paralyze or shut down entire websites. Such incidents occurred in six countries; in Georgia and Estonia, massive attacks targeted government websites and information networks during periods of diplomatic or military friction with Russia. The assaults were apparently carried out by individuals residing in Russia and possibly associated with the Russian authorities.

Positive openings

Despite the growing range of threats and methods of control, there have been several positive trends in recent years. As access to the relevant technologies has expanded, so too has the circulation of news and information and user mobilization on a host of political and social issues. Even in Cuba, with its tight controls on access, some citizens have attempted to push the boundaries through blogging and the offline sharing of downloaded internet content through USB devices and other means.

In other restricted media environments, the diversity of online content is significantly higher than in the print and broadcast media, and citizens have to some extent been able to use the internet and mobile phones to spread information and organize around certain issues. This is more easily done on topics deemed less threatening to the government, such as environmental activism in Iran or relief efforts after the Sichuan earthquake in China. But it is also present to a degree on more politically sensitive subjects, such as women’s rights in Iran or calls for an end to one-party rule in China. Online activism is especially striking in middle-range performers such as Malaysia and Egypt, where citizens have used blogs and social-networking sites to organize protests and create pressure groups pertaining to government policies or local elections. In Kenya, an online citizen journalism initiative called Ushahidi was launched during a burst of postelection ethnic violence. It catalogued incidents using messages sent by ordinary citizens with their mobile phones, and posted them onto a map to track the unfolding events.

Some governments have taken positive steps to strengthen online freedom. In Brazil and Egypt, the authorities have introduced programs to support the opening of low-cost internet access points in rural and economically disadvantaged areas. In Estonia, the government has opened over 1,200 free wireless internet-access zones, with at least 800 more planned for the coming year. In Turkey, a parliamentary inquiry has been launched into surveillance practices by law enforcement agencies following a series of scandals. There have also been several court decisions upholding freedom of speech online. In South Africa, a judge ruled that ISPs should not be held liable for comments posted by users, while in Egypt a court rejected a request to block several dozen websites, including those of prominent human rights groups.

Future trends

  • Growth of the “mobile web”: A noticeable trend, particularly among developing countries, is the growing availability and affordability of internet access via mobile phones, whose penetration rate is currently higher in most countries than that of the internet. This process holds the potential for both positive and negative effects on internet freedom. On the one hand, the number of individuals able to make use of the internet will grow exponentially. On the other hand, the methods already used by governments to restrict the content viewed or transmitted via computers may spread to the “mobile web.” Indeed, some of the findings of this report indicate that such a dynamic is beginning to emerge, as China, Tunisia, and Iran channel mobile internet traffic through the same gateways as traditional internet traffic, subjecting it to similar levels of monitoring and technical filtering.

  • Expanded adoption of sophisticated censorship and filtering methods: As internet and mobile-phone access continues to grow, more and more governments may respond by implementing sophisticated censorship and filtering mechanisms. This possibility poses a threat particularly in middle-performing countries where the internet environment has thus far been significantly more open than the traditional media sphere. Countries to watch in this regard are Egypt, Kenya, Georgia, Malaysia, and Russia, as their scores on this index are notably better than on Freedom House’s press freedom index.

  • Increase in legal repercussions and violations of user rights: As the findings of this study indicate, the first line of attack in many countries—whether democratic or authoritarian—is legal sanctions and violations of user rights. Without persistent public pressure and vigilant oversight by the international community, this trend could continue, with more countries passing restrictive, internet-specific criminal legislation; more powerful societal actors using defamation suits to silence critics; and more bloggers being sentenced to long prison terms, tortured, or killed. Indeed, since the end of this study’s coverage period, Kenya’s president has ratified a controversial cybercrimes bill, a prominent Chinese blogger has been stabbed in a public place, and an Iranian blogger has died in prison.

Despite such threats, the flexibility and spread of digital media technology carry with them significant promise for improving the flow of information, enhancing civic participation and activism, and ultimately, bringing greater freedom to all corners of the globe. Nonetheless, as this study’s findings indicate, such potential must not be taken for granted. Foresight and creativity are needed, particularly on the part of democratic countries, to develop policies and procedures that are applicable to new technologies but consistent with international standards for human rights and democratic governance. In a fast-changing digital world, vigilance is required if we are to ensure continued freedom on the net.


Karin Deutsch Karlekar, a senior researcher at Freedom House, served as managing editor of the pilot Freedom on the Net: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media. She holds a PhD from Cambridge University. Sarah Cook, an Asia researcher at Freedom House, served as assistant editor of the study. She holds masters degrees in politics and international law from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

Overall guidance for the project was provided by Robert Guerra, project director of Freedom House’s Global Internet Freedom Initiative; Christopher Walker, director of studies; Daniel Calingaert, deputy director of programs; and Arch Puddington, director of research. Extensive research, editorial, proofreading, and administrative assistance was provided by Denelle Burns, as well as by Tyler Roylance, Katrina Neubauer, Joanna Perry, Eliza Bonner, Caroline Neilsen, and interns Joshua Siegel, Eliza Young, and Aidan Gould. We would like to thank our consultant writers and advisers and other members of the survey team for their contributions. We are also very appreciative of numerous individuals who provided guidance and feedback on the methodology developed for this pilot study.

This project was made possible by contributions from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Dutch Foreign Ministry. Freedom House is actively seeking additional funding to expand and continue this pilot study.

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