Sunday, 13 October, 2019

China is exporting its digital authoritarianism

Online freedom is falling around the world according to Freedom House.                  Screenshot by Marrian Zhou  CNET Online freedom is falling around the world according to Freedom House. Screenshot by Marrian Zhou CNET
Patty Aguilar | 03 November, 2018, 07:40

The report measured a country's level of internet freedom by looking at access to internet, levels of censorship and violations of user rights, as well as records of arrests or attacks prompted by internet users' online activity.

The report says out of the 65 countries, 26 experienced a deterioration in internet freedom.

The study details how China is cultivating media elites and government ministers around the world to create a network of countries that will follow its lead on quashing internet freedoms. Its officials help to train other countries in digital authoritarianism, holding seminars with representatives from 36 out of the 65 countries assessed. Moreover, digital authoritarianism is seen to be on the rise because governments are cracking down on online freedom.

During the early decades of the internet, many influential thinkers claimed the internet, by its very nature, would spread democracy and freedom of speech.

"China was once again the worst abuser of internet freedom in 2018", Adrian Shahbaz, Freedom House research director for technology and democracy, wrote in his report. And Chinese foreign investment and influence efforts are not new.

But it isn't just China's attitudes and influence that is affecting worldwide internet freedoms: the "fake news" rhetoric - popularised by USA president Donald Trump - is a handy hook for authoritarian governments to hang their regulatory hats on. Of the 19 that made improvements, most were only minor. Most of these events were reported in nations such as Myanmar, India, and Sri Lanka.

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Also, Freedom House called on the countries with free Internet in South Africa, Japan, Georgia, Italy, Armenia, Argentina and Hungary.

The reason for the fall of internet freedom in the United States has been attributed largely to the repeal of net neutrality laws.

In response to fears about insecurity of personal data, many countries are enacting legislation that grants individuals the right to control how their data is collected and shared, Freedom House said, citing that at least 35 nations had already adopted laws on data protection.

"The current weaknesses in the system have played into the hands of less democratic governments looking to increase their control of the internet".

"The unrestrained and largely unexamined collection of personal data inhibits one's right to be let alone, without which peace, prosperity, and individual freedom - the fruits of democratic governance - can not be sustained or enjoyed", it warned.

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