What is the Internet Freedom?
The Internet is an essential part of the daily lives of billions of people worldwide. We are increasingly incorporating the internet into every aspect of living, including personal and work affairs. While we might think that modern technology is not susceptible to exploitation and that our rights are well-defined when it comes to Internet Freedom, the majority of the countries do not meet those standards. Global Internet Freedom has been declining for 11 years straight. This might sound incorrect if we consider how much progress we’ve made over the last decade but the fact is that governments all across the world are trying to impose more and more restrictions on users, meanwhile, our user rights are often ill-defined or nonexistent.
Governments are trying to control all major online platforms and in some cases are even trying to conduct surveillance on businesses or even people who use the internet for personal reasons. This is an alarming statistic and one that more people should be talking about.
As the internet seeps deeper into our daily routines, we might find that it is used as a means of control or censorship, and in some cases, it might also violate our privacy.
The most prominent yearly report, covering the state of Internet Freedom in 70 countries, is the Freedom House’s Freedom of The Net. The organization looks at obstacles to internet access, limits on the content people can consume, and any records of violation of user rights.
Here’s what we can learn about Internet freedom from the top 3 countries on Freedom House’s 2021 Freedom of The Net report.
Iceland has been on the top of this list for the third year in a row. The country is said to have the best environment for internet freedom. Out of 100 points of internet freedom, Iceland gathered 96. Iceland has virtually no obstacles to access, minimal limits on content, and very infrequent violations of user rights. People of Iceland have a “near-universal connectivity” according to the Freedom House report. This year’s ranking is especially important, because of COVID-19, since the pandemic pointed out so many gaps that still exist within and between states.
In Iceland, the government made the most of its great online resources and infrastructure and launched a voluntary contact tracing app that did not abuse the user’s personal data. While many countries issued similar apps, the majority of them faced severe backlash over incidents of abusing their user’s personal data. Meanwhile, Iceland’s app managed to stay clear of such incidents for the most part.
Iceland has done a great job of respecting the privacy of its people and ensuring that there are minimal loopholes for accessing private data over the internet. This does not mean that Iceland is completely perfect when it comes to handling online safety and security. There are still cases of misinformation and controversy over the issue of privacy. In addition to that, even against the government’s best efforts, Iceland’s COVID-19 app had some flaws and room for exploitation of users’ privacy. On the other hand, the Media and the government institutions which are both highly digitized, have not been at the receiving end of cyberattacks in years. There’s a lot we can learn from the case of Iceland, but sadly not that many countries are willing to change their ways to allow more privacy and easier access to the internet for their people.
The second country on the list, when it comes to Internet Freedom, is Estonia. Estonia has long been known as one of the most digitized countries in the world. This small nation has become one of the leaders in cyber security as well as in incorporating digital aspects into its governing bodies. Estonia scored 94 points out of 100.
According to the report, Estonia has one of the most advanced digital societies. Just like Iceland, the Estonian people enjoy good connectivity, with high rates of access, limited state-imposed restrictions on online content as wells ad well-defined and extensive safeguards for human rights online.
The pandemic only highlighted the well-organized and highly accessible nature of the country’s online environment. People were able to use digital public services that were in place well before the pandemic, while also maintaining its reputation as a leader in digital security.
Estonia takes online privacy very seriously and has done so for many years now. One of the best ways that Estonian people ensure their online safety is by using a VPN. BlufVPN from Estonia provides anonymity to all its users while also offering various payment options to increase its accessibility.
Estonia continues to work to improve its current digital climate, even as one of the top-ranking countries for Internet Freedom. Currently, the Estonian parliament is currently working on improving the Electronic Communications Act, which would require telecommunications companies to disclose their software and equipment unless in cases where it could distort free competition. Estonia is a great example of a country that takes digital security very seriously and continuously works on improving it.
Canada ranked third on the list of countries with the best overall score for Internet Freedom. Canada has few obstacles to access, has very few limits on content, and rare violations of user rights. Overall Canada scored 87 out of 100. Internet Access is affordable and easily accessible for the majority of people, but the country also has some flaws when it comes to internet freedom and privacy. For example, its rural areas are often pushed aside and are underserved. But unlike Estonia and Iceland, the state institutions do have a recent history of cyberattacks, which is also why Canada did not rank higher than third place.
This just goes to show that even the best-ranking countries have trouble checking all the boxes when it comes to internet freedom since there are so many obstacles that need to be dealt with. No country is perfect when it comes to digital access and protection of users’ rights.
According to the assessment published by Freedom House, Canada has always had respect for political rights and civil liberties, but it seems like there might be a trend of increased government surveillance laws and contested privacy rights. This falls in line with the general trend we’ve seen all over the world, with decreased internet freedom and increased control over the content we consume. On the other hand, the Canadian government does not exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure with the aim of restricting connectivity. All things considered, Canada is still a great example of a country with high levels of internet freedom.
Lowest Ranking Countries by Internet Freedom
The Freedom House list of Freedom by The Net countries also showcases the worst countries for Internet freedom. According to the latest results, China is the worst abuser of internet freedom among the 70 countries that were examined within the framework of this report. China has maintained the title for over 7 years now and has by far the worst results when it comes to the violation of user’s rights on the internet. China can be used as a great example of what not to do when it comes to protecting the rights of citizens online. Other countries that have the lowest scores are Iran, Syria, Vietnam, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela. All of these countries have recorded obstacles to access, have put extensive limits on content that citizens can consume, and have recorded violations of user rights. The number of countries that have less than favorable results when it comes to Net Freedom is increasing at an alarming rate.
The continuous decline in Internet Freedom
The increased importance of digital spaces in our lives means that more people are going to want to control them. As highlighted above, we’ve seen this exact dynamic unfold in front of our eyes with Internet Freedom declining each year, even as countries like Iceland and Estonia try their best to maintain some privacy and security for the users. It looks like citizens are going to have to put more and more effort into ensuring their own safety online, including the use of VPNs and constantly adjusting their privacy settings. While this might seem like a daunting task, it looks like people in countries where digital privacy is not a top priority will not have that many options.
People around the world might feel like they have increasingly more access to the internet, but in reality, their overall internet freedom is declining at a rapid pace, even in the developed countries. While there are many efforts to reverse this trend, some of them coming from governments themselves, it seems like people will have to take matters into their own hands, if they want to retain at least some digital privacy and security. One of the best ways to ensure that this happens is to increase awareness around this topic, in order to get more people to rethink their online privacy and user rights.