Governments around the world are taking control of the internet to crack down on freedom of expression online, censor information on rights violations and carry out indiscriminate surveillance of users in the name of national security.
Below are some shocking examples of government interference and surveillance online, selected to show both the scale and severity of the problem, in both developed and developing countries.
Internet intrusion by numbers
2,000,000 – the number of people now employed to police China’s internet.
193 – the number of foreign governments, foreign factions and political organisations the USA approved the National Security Agency to spy on.
1,000 – the number of lashes Saudia Arabia sentenced Raif Badawi to after finding him guilty of “setting up a website”, insulting Islam and ridiculing Islamic figures. He is now serving a ten year prison sentence for the same crime.
24 hours – the length of time for which Sudanese authorities disconnected the internet in order to prevent protests being organized on social networks on 25 September 2013.
29 – the number of Twitter users in Izmir, Turkey, are facing three years in jail for posting tweets during last year’s protests. None of the tweets contained any incitement to violence. The 29 are the latest in a long line of government critics prosecuted or convicted for their social media posts.
7 – the number of days between the UK’s announcement of a draft bill increasing the British security service’s extensive surveillance powers and its adoption into law. The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill was rushed through using an emergency procedure, bypassing proper scrutiny by the British parliament or public.
34 – the number of bloggers detained in Viet Nam, making the country the second largest jailer of internet users. The first is China.
Did you know?
France has introduced new legislation, the Military Programming Law, which authorizes interception of online communications without a warrant.
The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority asked Twitter to block ‘blasphemous’ tweets. Although Twitter briefly agreed, within a few weeks it reversed the decision following a backlash from civil society and on social media, especially on Twitter. Facebook is periodically banned by Pakistani authorities because of blasphemous content, and YouTube continues to be entirely banned for that reason.
Thailand blocked YouTube after material was posted there criticising the country’s King. In 2014 several Facebook users were arrested and prosecuted for posts deemed offensive to the monarchy. Even those who ‘liked’ the posts were threatened with prosecution.
Since 2013 the Saudi Arabian authorities have stepped up their efforts to prevent online activism by monitoring social media applications and banning all encrypted social networking applications such as Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, and Line.
Ethiopia’s security services use software developed by UK and German companies that infect and remotely control computers. The tools give access to a user’s files, information and activities, including tracking keystrokes for passwords and turning on a device’s webcam and microphone, effectively turning a computer into a listening device.
Iran created a ‘Cyber Police’ force in 2011 to deal with ‘internet crimes’ and prevent online activities, including through social networks, that they believe would pose a threat to national security. They monitor the online activity of individuals and frequently arrest and detain people for their online posts, despite the fact that many are simply peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.