Online freedom of expression hits a ten-year low

Pam Cowburn from Article 19 writes, "Our new report shows that digital freedom of expression – defined as our ability to speak freely online – is at a ten year low. The report states that this decline is due to a rise in digital authoritarianism with governments taking control of internet infrastructure, increasing online surveillance and controlling content."

The core threats that are contributing to the decline in digital freedom of expression are:

* Internet shutdowns: In 2015, UN experts said that shutting down the internet could never be justified under international human rights law. However, shutdowns are increasingly being used by governments, often during elections and protests.

* Weakened digital security: Governments undermine our ability to communicate securely when they call for encryption to be weakened or attempt to ban tools such as Virtual Private Networks or secure messaging apps, such as Telegram, which has been banned in Iran and Russia.

* Content restrictions: Almost half of the global population live in a country where access to social media or messaging platforms was blocked, either temporarily or permanently.

* Data localisation: Many countries, including Russia, Iran, China, Vietnam, Nigeria, and Pakistan are moving data servers within their borders, allowing them access to data and metadata, which can be used for surveillance.

* Net neutrality: Last year, the US repealed net neutrality rules, which compelled internet service providers to treat all websites and tools equally. This is part of a global trend where providers offer mobile and connection packages that give free or reduced-price access to certain social media or outlets. There is an impact for freedom of expression if users are able to access sites more quickly or without using their data allowances.

* Online surveillance: Digital surveillance threatens our freedom of expression online and offline, whether it’s the mass surveillance of communications or the use of facial recognition technology in public spaces.

* Artificial intelligence: The increased use of AI has implications for free speech, particularly as there is a lack of transparency over how AI is being used, and how it can collect and use data.

Global Expression Report 2018/2019 [Article 19]

(Thanks, Pam!)

(Image: Amin, CC BY-SA, modified)