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Global Net Censorship Growing May 19, 2007

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in News, Trends.
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State-led censorship of the net is growing around the world. A report by Open Net Initiative found 25 countries filter Internet content, denying access to information they deem too sensitive for citizens. The content are often about politics, but also relate to sexuality, culture, or religion.

ONI is made up of research groups at the universities of Toronto, Harvard Law School, Oxford and Cambridge. It chose 41 countries for the survey in which testing could be done safely and where there was “the most to learn about government online surveillance”. The survey carried out last year offers the first rigorously conducted study of an accelerating trend. Detailed country profiles can be read here.

John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, at Harvard Law School notes an increase in the scale, scope and sophistication of internet filtering. This has huge implications for how connected citizens will be to events unfolding around them, to their own cultures, and to other cultures and shared knowledge around the world.

The survey said Internet filtering techniques have evolved with the growing complexity of content. Instead of just blocking static sites such as pages that show pornography or information about human rights, censors are blocking entire applications, such as YouTube. Internet telephony service Skype and Google Maps were also blocked.

The survey found evidence of filtering in the following countries: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Burma/Myanmar, China, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, UAE, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Yemen.

Afghanistan, Malaysia, and Nepal do not use technical filtering to implement their policies on information control, but China, Myanmar, and Vietnam rely heavily on pervasive filtering as a central platform for shaping public knowledge, participation, and expression.

Thailand and Pakistan are more targeted, blocking sites across categories of content considered sensitive or illicit. Other countries tested filtered on a selective basis, including India (ethnic and religious conflict), South Korea (sites containing North Korean propaganda or promoting the reunification of North and South Korea), and Singapore (pornography)..

Some of the most and least connected countries are in Asia – Japan, South Korea, and Singapore all have Internet penetration rates of over 65 percent, while Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Nepal remain three of thirty countries with less than 1 percent of its citizens online.

A number of states in Europe and the US were not tested because the private sector rather than the government tends to carry out filtering. The findings will be published in the book, “Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering” by MIT Press.

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