China and Iran are among the world's top "Internet enemies" tagged by Reporters Without Borders for restricting Internet freedom. But even democratic countries like Australia and South Korea are raising concerns.
The fight to restrict freedom is increasingly being fought on the Internet as certain governments continue to censor what content their citizens can see online and try to target those who resist such efforts. The current skirmish between Google and China over filtering search results is just one example.
But it's not only repressive regimes like China that are the culprits, according to a report (PDF) released Monday by Reporters Without Borders. The group, which fights for freedom of the press across the world, has cited several nations for their attempts to restrict freedom on the Net.
The list of Internet enemies includes what Reporters Without Borders calls "the worst violators of freedom of expression on the Net." Those nations are Saudi Arabia, Burma, China, North Korea, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Uzbekistan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam. This year's roster of Internet enemies is similar to 2008's roster, with China, Iran, Cuba, and North Korea among the usual list of suspects. But this year, Reporters Without Borders found 60 countries censoring the Internet, twice as many as last year.
A few of these countries isolate themselves from the rest of the world and so are particularly fearful of the open nature of the Internet. Others restrict development of their Internet or purposely shut or slow it down at times, says Reporters Without Borders.
But certain countries are on the list not only for repressing and restricting Web content but for harassing and arresting bloggers and Internet activists. Close to 120 bloggers, cyberdissidents, and others, are currently in jail for expressing their ideas online, says Reporters Without Borders. China is the worst offender, having put 72 people behind bars, according to the group, followed by Vietnam and Iran.
Turkey and Russia are also countries to watch--they're currently on Reporters Without Borders "Under Surveillance" list. In Russia, the Kremlin has arrested and prosecuted bloggers and censored Web sites that it considers extremist, says the group. In Turkey, Web sites that discuss the army, the Kurds and Armenians, and other topics considered taboo are blocked.
Further, two democratic countries are on the "Under Surveillance" watch list. Reporters Without Borders has cited Australia, which has been trying to push through an Internet filtering system, and South Korea, which sets up laws that are imposing too many restrictions on Internet users.
In authoritarian countries, traditional print and TV media are typically controlled by a government that restricts any open exchange of ideas and information. But since the Internet can't as easily be controlled, Reporters Without Borders sees it as a important medium for discussion and sharing information, and one in which "repressed civil societies can revive and develop."
Activists increasingly use sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to get their messages across. That's why the group sees Internet freedom as a crucial outlet for repressed societies, and why certain countries see it as a medium that must be controlled.
But there is cause for optimism, says Reporters Without Borders. More Netizens in certain authoritarian countries are effectively using decryption tools and proxy setups to sneak past censorship. More bloggers and other users are organizing themselves into groups as a form of collective resistance. Finally, more pressure is being put on repressive regimes by the United States and other global powers to loosen the reins of censorship.