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Freedom House Report Reveals Alarming Trends in Global Internet Freedom

Why This Matters: A recent report by Freedom House has unveiled concerning developments in global Internet freedom. For the 13th consecutive year, the world has witnessed a decline in this crucial aspect of our digital lives. In this article, we'll delve into the report's objectives, parameters, and, most importantly, the major findings that concern both the world at large and India specifically. About the Report:

  • Freedom House, a respected non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., has been advocating for democracy, political freedom, and human rights since its establishment in 1941.

  • The organization's latest report, titled 'Freedom on the Net 2023: The Repressive Power of Artificial Intelligence,' marks the 13th edition of its annual study of online human rights. This report covers developments from June 2022 to May 2023.

  • It assesses Internet freedom in 70 countries, collectively representing a staggering 88% of the world's Internet users.

  • The report evaluates these countries on five crucial censorship methods, including Internet connectivity restrictions, social media platform blocks, website blocks, VPN restrictions, and forced content removal.

Major Findings of the Report: Regarding the World:

  • The report reveals that human rights online have deteriorated in 29 countries, with only 20 countries showing improvements.

  • For the ninth consecutive year, China occupies the unenviable position of being the worst in the world for Internet freedom, followed closely by Myanmar as the second most repressive.

  • The sharpest rise in digital repression was observed in Iran, where authorities took drastic measures such as shutting down Internet services, blocking WhatsApp and Instagram, and increasing surveillance to suppress anti-government protests.

  • Global Internet freedom has witnessed a troubling decline for the 13th year in a row.

  • Attacks on free expression have become alarmingly widespread, with legal consequences faced by online expressionists in a record 55 out of the 70 countries. In 41 countries, individuals have been physically assaulted or even killed due to their online commentary. The most distressing cases occurred in Myanmar and Iran, where authoritarian regimes imposed death sentences related to online expression crimes.

  • The rise of generative artificial intelligence (AI) poses a significant threat, as at least 47 governments deployed AI-driven commentators to manipulate online discussions in their favor during the report's coverage period. These AI-based tools, capable of generating text, audio, and imagery, have become more sophisticated, accessible, and easy to use, with their use observed in 16 countries to sow doubt, smear opponents, or influence public debate.

Regarding India:

  • In India, censorship methods such as Internet connectivity restrictions, social media platform blocks, website blocks, and forced content removal are prevalent. However, India does not engage in VPN blocking.

  • On a scale of 1 to 100, with '100' representing the highest digital freedom and '1' indicating the worst repression, India scored 50.

  • In contrast, Iceland emerged as a beacon of Internet freedom, with a score of 94, highlighting the stark contrast in digital landscapes between countries.

In conclusion, the Freedom House report underscores the alarming global trend of diminishing Internet freedom and the rise of digital repression. It calls for urgent attention and action to safeguard the essential principles of online human rights.

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