What is Internet Censorship?
Internet censorship is the control or suppression of what can be accessed, published, or viewed on the Internet enacted by regulators, or on their own initiative. Individuals and organizations may engage in self-censorship for moral, religious, or business reasons, to conform to societal norms, due to intimidation, or out of fear of legal or other consequences.
The extent of Internet censorship varies on a country-to-country basis. While most democratic countries have moderate Internet censorship, other countries go as far as to limit the access of information such as news and suppress discussion among citizens. Internet censorship also occurs in response to or in anticipation of events such as elections, protests, and riots. An example is the increased censorship due to the events of the Arab Spring. Other types of censorship include the use of copyrights, defamation, harassment, and obscene material claims as a way to suppress content.
Support for and opposition to Internet censorship also varies. In a 2012 Internet Society survey 71% of respondents agreed that “censorship should exist in some form on the Internet”. In the same survey 83% agreed that “access to the Internet should be considered a basic human right” and 86% agreed that “freedom of expression should be guaranteed on the Internet”. Perception of internet censorship in the US is largely based on the First Amendment and the right for expansive free speech and access to content without regard to the consequences. According to GlobalWebIndex, over 400 million people use virtual private networks to circumvent censorship or for increased user privacy
What is VPN?
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Why do Countries Censor the Internet?
The current technological movement gives the impression that the internet is unrestrained: read on to find out about seven countries enforcing censorship of the internet
In today’s technological age, you won’t be hard pressed to find someone nearby using the internet. After all, it is now used for everything from reading the news to getting work done and, thanks to social media and video calls, is one of the most popular channels of communication. For this reason, you might be forgiven for thinking that internet access is unrestricted the world over.
In reality, there are a lot of governments that seek to control it.
The common motive behind censoring the internet is often political; whether under the guise of ‘preventing election day chaos’, like we saw in the Republic of Congo earlier this year, or completely controlling what information citizens have access to, such as in North Korea.
By controlling the internet, ruling parties can quash dissident activity and monitor online communications. Governments are then able to extend a greater hold over what people say and do, and often, how they vote.
With over four billion people now using the internet, the fact that accessing it has become more restricted would seem to be at odds with the figures. And yet, censorship remains on the rise.
A report published last year by the independent watchdog Freedom House showed that internet freedom had been curtailed for the eighth year running, with an increasing number of governments tightening control over citizens’ data use.
Even though only a small percentage of the Ethiopian population has access to the internet, what little access the people do have has been closely monitored since the introduction of anti-terror legislation in 2009, which imposed huge restrictions against posting anything online that could be seen as critical of the government. In fact, two citizens have so far been convicted of online speech offences and handed down multi-year sentences.
The reason for monitoring the internet is usually put down to protecting the country from terrorist or criminal activity. However, as seen in countries we’ve already mentioned, similar laws and restrictions on internet freedom have been ushered in using the same justifications.
The most high-profile is the EU’s proposed Copyright Directive, which could see the use of the internet as a communication tool restricted by the rules of respective countries, effectively allowing governments to dictate what content their people are allowed to submit or view online.
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have been particularly targeted by this rise in digital authoritarianism, as these groups typically rely on telecommunication tools to advocate for minority groups and encourage political change. Governments threatened by the potential power of these movements can therefore be quick to use censorship as a way to block debate or dissent.
What can be done about State censorship of the internet?
It seems that most countries have censored the internet in some way, either by monitoring, blocking or controlling access. But there are tools available that you can use to protect yourself from prying eyes or restrictive firewalls.
As seen in China, VPNs can help you to surf the web with greater freedom as well as access things like VoIP services and social media. They work by encrypting data before it leaves your device, making it extra difficult for someone else to steal or monitor your information. What’s more, VPNs utilise secure servers in multiple countries, allowing you to appear to be accessing the internet from almost anywhere in the world.
Using one, you can keep your online activity as private as possible and truly level the digital playing field by accessing content that may otherwise be restricted.
Top 10 Internet-censored countries
1. North Korea
All websites are under government control. About 4% of the population has Internet access
Authorities filter e-mails and block access to sites of groups that expose human rights violations or disagree with the government.
Internet available only at government controlled “access points.” Activity online is monitored through IP blocking, keyword filtering and browsing history checking. Only pro-government users may upload content.
4. Saudi Arabia
Around 400,000 sites have been blocked, including any that discuss political, social or religious topics incompatible with the Islamic beliefs of the monarchy.
Bloggers must register at the Ministry of Art and Culture. Those that express opposition to the mullahs who run the country are harassed and jailed.
China has the most rigid censorship program in the world. The government filters searches, block sites and erases “inconvenient” content, rerouting search terms on Taiwan independence or the Tiananmen Square massacre to items favorable to the Communist Party.
Bloggers who “jeopardize national unity” are arrested. Cybercafes must ask all customers for identification, record time of use and report the information to authorities.
Tunisian Internet service providers must report to the government the IP addresses and personal information of all bloggers. All traffic goes through a central network. The government filters all content uploaded and monitors e-mails.
The Communist Party requires Yahoo, Google and Microsoft to divulge data on all bloggers who use their platforms. It blocks websites critical of the government, as well as those that advocate for democracy, human rights and religious freedom.
The only Internet service provider is the government. It blocks access to many sites and monitors all e-mail accounts in Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail.