The idea that someone else can decide what you can or can’t access on the Internet is abhorring. Yet, this is the reality in many countries around the world.
The Internet isn’t free.
Governments, institutions and even individuals have arbitrarily assigned themselves the responsibility of deciding what is or isn’t good for your eyes and ears. To play your part in protecting Internet freedom, you must educate yourself about Internet censorship.
The information below is also valuable if you plan to travel to a foreign country. Take time to learn about the censorship policies of the destination country to avoid nasty surprises.
This article examines three of the best online resources where you can learn about Internet censorship.
1. OpenNet Initiative
The OpenNet initiative or ONI is a partnership of three institutions, the Ottawa-based SecDev Group, the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.
ONI investigates, analyzes and exposes censorship in a non-partisan approach. They report on censorship using a number of methods as follows:
ONI and MIT Press have published the Access series of books documenting trends and patterns shaping information controls around the world for over a decade. The following three books are available for purchase on Amazon.com:
- Access Denied: The practice and policy of global Internet filtering (2008)
- Access Controlled: The shaping of power, rights, and rule in cyberspace (2010)
- Access Contested: Security, identity, and resistance in Asian cyberspace (2011)
ONI also publishes brief reports on its findings and conclusions regarding the censorship situation in different countries around the globe. These summaries include background information, factors influencing the country’s decision to filter and the results of empirical testing for filtering.
The profiles also look at the impact, relevance, and efficacy of Internet censorship in the country in question. Each country gets a score on a five-point scale that reflects the level of filtering in four themes: political, social, conflict/security and Internet tools.
The level of filtering in each of the four themes is classified as: pervasive, substantial, selective, suspected or no evidence. Reports are downloadable as PDFs.
Regional reviews provide broad summaries for eight regions: Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Commonwealth of Independent States, Europe, Latin America, Middle East and North Africa, Nordic Countries, Sub-Saharan Africa, United States and Canada.
The reviews offer a general picture of the state of Internet censorship in these regions. The reports are also available as downloadable PDFs.
This is a summary of global censorship data. It is available as a downloadable CSV file under a Creative Commons license. The reports give a general overview of recent ONI reports in 74 countries in the four content themes mentioned earlier. ONi also publishes regular articles and reports on larger section projects carried out by the organisation.
Articles include bulletins and advisories on notable events related to Internet censorship. ONI also has an interactive map that depicts the countries and regions where censorship is most prevalent across the four content themes as well as annual collection of the top instances of Internet censorship and other nefarious activities by governments and regulatory bodies across the globe.
2. Reporters Without Borders (RWB)
Based in France, Reporters Without Borders or Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) was founded in 1985 by four journalists. The organization initially worked to promote alternative journalism but soon gravitated towards advocating for greater press freedoms. Today, RWB is focused on two spheres of activity; Internet censorship and the new media and assisting journalists working in dangerous areas.
RWB publishes Enemies of the Internet, an important resource that educates the public about Internet censorship in the world.
This list was first published in 2006. Countries are classified as enemies of the Internet if they display a capacity to censor news and information online and systematically repress Internet users.
The following countries have consistently made enemies of the Internet list: Vietnam, Uzbekistan,Turkmenistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Iran, Cuba, China, Burma, Belarus and Bahrain.
3. Freedom House
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that carries out research and advocacy on human rights, political freedom and democracy. One of their reports is known as Freedom on the Net which assesses the degree of internet and digital media freedom around the world.
The first edition was in 2009, and it has now become one of the leading authorities on the subject of Internet freedoms and censorship.
The report features an interactive map that allows you to see the current status of a country at a glance. Each country report includes a detailed narrative and numerical score created by Freedom House. The scoring methodology uses a three-pillared approach to capture the level of Internet freedom: obstacles to access, limits on content and violation of user rights.
For all of the three resources above, it is clear that the number of countries that limit access to the Internet are, surprisingly, increasing rather than decreasing. The reasons being forward mainly have to do with national security, protection of intellectual property rights, preserving cultural norms and protecting minors from inappropriate content.
But, upon closer examination, it is clear that filtering and censorship has more to do with taking away a platform where people can freely express themselves to the world, silencing government critics and cracking down on political opponents.
These resources give you a broad view of where censorship is taking place and how it is carried out. You can take appropriate measures to avoid such regions, bypass Internet censorship or support causes that advocate for a freer Internet.
Do you know of any other ways to learn about Internet censorship?