(Mizzima) – Burma is again on the countries listed as “Enemies of the Internet,” remaining in the ranks of countries that restrict Internet freedom the most: Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
A report released on Monday by Reporters Without Borders said the worse countries combine often drastic content filtering with access restrictions, tracking of cyber-dissidents and online propaganda. Iran and China, in particular, reinforced their technical capacity in 2011 and China stepped up pressure on privately-owned Internet companies in order to secure their collaboration.
The report said that if Thailand continues down the slope of content filtering and jailing netizens on lèse-majesté charges, it could soon join the club of the world’s most repressive countries as regards the Internet.
Burma could soon leave the enemies list if the country takes the necessary measures, the report said.
“It has clearly embarked on a promising period of reforms, which has included the release of journalists and bloggers and the restoration of access to blocked websites,” it said. “It must now go further by abandoning censorship altogether, releasing the journalists and bloggers still held, dismantling the surveillance apparatus that was built on the national Internet platform, and repealing the Electronic Act.”
The last report, released in March 2011 at the climax of the Arab Spring, highlighted the fact that the Internet and social networks have been conclusively established as tools for protest, campaigning and circulating information, and as vehicles for freedom.
In the months that followed, repressive regimes responded with tougher measures to what they regarded as unacceptable attempts to “destabilize” their authority. In 2011, netizens were at the heart of the political changes in the Arab world and elsewhere. They tried to resist the imposition of a news and information blackout but paid a high price.
The report said, “At the same time, supposedly democratic countries continued to set a bad example by yielding to the temptation to prioritize security over other concerns and by adopting disproportionate measures to protect copyright.”
Internet users in “free” countries have learned to react in order to protect what they have won, the report noted. “Some governments stepped up pressure on technical service providers to act as Internet cops,” it said. “Companies specializing in online surveillance are becoming the new mercenaries in an online arms race. Hacktivists are providing technical expertise to netizens trapped by a repressive regime’s apparatus. Diplomats are getting involved. More than ever before, online freedom of expression is now a major foreign and domestic policy issue.”
Online social networks have complicated matters for authoritarian regimes that are trying to suppress unwanted news and information, the report noted.
“The revolution of microblogs and opinion aggregators and the faster dissemination of news and information that results, combined with the growing use of mobile phones to livestream video, are all increasing the possibilities of freeing information from its straightjacket,” it said. “The mixing of journalism and activism has been accentuated in extreme situations such as Syria, where ordinary citizens, appalled by the bloodshed, are systematically gathering information for dissemination abroad, especially by the international news media, so the outside world knows about the scale of the brutal crackdown taking place.”
For the full report, go to http://en.rsf.org/beset-by-online-surveillance-and-12-03-2012,42061.html