Russia and China &# 171; export&# 187; to other countries own technologies to combat freedom of speech
The global Internet has become even less free last year: experts note a gradual reduction in Internet freedoms around the world for the eighth consecutive year. Moreover, the authorities of a number of countries are busy building «digital authoritarianism» online, actively adopting the Russian and Chinese experience in blocking unwanted information.
This is stated in the annual report on Internet freedom, which was published on the website of the non-governmental organization Freedom House on November 1..
In the meantime, there is no need to know about it. ”Chinese threat
The authors of the report (this year more than 70 experts participated in its creation) annually record what is happening in the Internet sphere in 65 countries, in which 87% of all Internet users in the world live..
According to Freedom House estimates, the level of Internet freedom decreased last year in 26 of the 65 countries participating in the ranking. The toughest restrictions on online freedom were imposed by the authorities of Egypt, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Kenya, Nigeria, the Philippines and Venezuela. In many countries, freedom of access to the Internet has been reduced in connection with elections and under the pretext of fighting fake news.
China traditionally leads the negative rating – the country with the most stringent Internet restrictions. Russia ranked 13th in the top 15 countries with the most unfree Internet. The leaders of the anti-rating also included Iran, Ethiopia, Syria, Cuba, Vietnam, Uzbekistan and Pakistan. Among other post-Soviet countries with a low level of online freedom – Belarus (18th), Kazakhstan (20th) and Azerbaijan (21st).
As told in an interview with the Georgian Service «Voices of America» one of the authors of the Freedom House report Adrian Shahbaz, one of the main trends of the past year – China's extremely aggressive behavior on the Internet. Moreover, we are talking about both Beijing's actions within the country and on the world stage. China is trying to influence other states, including by teaching foreign governments how to block unwanted online resources. Last year, representatives of 36 countries visited the PRC to learn from the experience at seminars on information flow and social media management..
Armenia and Uzbekistan are among 19 countries in which Freedom House celebrates changes for the better. Adrian Shahbaz noted that the obvious progress in Armenia is associated with the velvet revolution, which led to the resignation of Serzh Sargsyan's government in April. But Uzbekistan, although it has improved its position in the ranking, is still in the Top 10 countries with the greatest restrictions in the Internet sphere. In the rating of Internet freedom of freedom, the country was in 7th place.
Interestingly, the top 10 countries with the freest internet are headed by another post-Soviet country. – Estonia, followed by Iceland, Canada, Germany, Australia and the United States. However, at the same time, the authors of the report write about the decline in the level of Internet freedom in the United States. This is largely due to the FCC's decision last year to abolish net neutrality. However, a few months later, in May 2018, the Senate voted to overturn this decision..
Kremlin goes on the offensive
According to Adrian Shahbaz, the Russian authorities have taken many steps in the past year to increase government influence over the network. In July 2017, State Duma deputies passed a bill limiting the operation of virtual private networks (VPNs), thanks to which users can access prohibited sites. This year, another bill was introduced in parliament that provides for fines for companies providing VPN services..
Even the Russian authorities last year demanded that the owners of instant messengers must register users under their real names. – in order to make it easier for security officials to find offenders.
Freedom on the Net 2018: The Rise of Digital Authoritarianism. UCMC 04.12.2018
Anti-terrorism legislation came into force in July. This document requires telecommunications companies to store the content of all online correspondence of their customers for at least six months. Thanks to the innovation, the Federal Security Service (FSB) received unhindered access to this data..
One of the most striking episodes of the Kremlin's fierce offensive on Internet freedom – the story with the Telegram messenger, says Shahbaz. In April 2018, Roskomnadzor announced the blocking of the application in Russia, as its owner Pavel Durov refused to provide the FSB with the technology to decrypt users' private messages. At the same time, the authorities were unable to fulfill the threat and block the messenger. – it turned out that it is technically impossible to do this. Telegram owners used special techniques to bypass the blocking. As a result, Roskomnadzor blocked more than 18 million IP addresses. This did not affect Telegram, but it did crash news sites, smart TV devices, and even flight ordering systems..
Moscow actively continues to interfere in the information space of other countries. «Over the past few years, we have recorded disinformation campaigns carried out by Russia in several countries at once. And often propaganda and fake news are spread by the Russian state media.», – says Shahbaz. Thus, according to Transparency International, Russia has supported right-wing extremist groups in Georgia and other European countries. Unfortunately, in the heat of the fight against Kremlin propaganda, the authorities of many post-Soviet countries are increasingly adopting Moscow's negative experience. – and block access to Russian Internet sites and messengers themselves.
«We recommend that the governments of countries that are subject to information aggression by Russia to be more careful and, if possible, not resort to Kremlin tactics. There are many other ways you can fight the state propaganda machine.», – says Adrian Shahbaz.
There is, however, a positive point. – if, of course, you can call it that, adds Shahbaz. Last year, the Russian authorities virtually stopped prosecuting and imprisoning Internet users who post what the government believes to be extremist texts. However, the persecution continues. Now lawbreakers «only» fine and apply other administrative measures to them. «This is still a concern for us, but here we saw an undeniable improvement over 2016.», – Shahbaz notes.
In journalism – since 2001. From 2005 to 2009, he was responsible for public relations at Nokia in the Russian Far East. He worked in Singapore, Thailand, Brazil and Argentina, developing corporate publications for Coca-Cola and Kaspersky Lab companies. In 2017, he participated in the restart of RTVI, worked as an Internet news editor at the channel's New York office. On «Voice of America» – since 2018.