The fight for free access to information is being played out to an ever greater extent on the Internet. The
emerging general trend is that a growing number of countries are attemptimg to tighten their control of
the Net, but at the same time, increasingly inventive netizens demonstrate mutual solidarity by mobilizing
The Internet: a space for information-sharing and mobilizing
In authoritarian countries in which the traditional media are state-controlled, the Internet offers a unique
space for discussion and information-sharing, and has become an ever more important engine for protest
and mobilization. The Internet is the crucible in which repressed civil societies can revive and develop.
The new media, and particularly social networks, have given populations’ collaborative tools with which
they can change the social order. Young people have taken them by storm. Facebook has become the rallying
point for activists prevented from demonstrating in the streets. One simple video on YouTube –
Neda in Iran or the Saffron march of the monks in Burma – can help to expose government abuses to
the entire world. One simple USB flashdrive can be all it takes to disseminate news – as in Cuba, where
they have become the local “samizdats.”
Here, economic interest are intertwined with the need to defend free circulation of information. In some
countries, it is companies that have obtained better access to the Internet and to the new media, sometimes
with positive consequences for the rest of the population.As a barrier to trade,Web censorship
should be included on the agenda of the WorldTrade Organization. Several of latter’s members, including
China and Vietnam, should to be required to open their Internet networks before being invited to join the
global village of international commerce...
Yet times have changed since the Internet and the new media were the exclusive province of dissidents
and opponents. The leaders of certain countries have been taken aback by a proliferation of new technologies
and even more by the emergence of a new form of public debate. They had to suddenly cope with
the fact that “Colored Revolutions” had become “Twitter Revolutions.” The vast potential of cyberspace
can no longer be reserved for dissenting voices. Censoring political and social content with the latest
technological tools by arresting and harassing netizens, using omnipresent surveillance and ID registration
which compromise surfer anonymity – repressive governments are acting on their threats. In 2009, some
sixty countries experienced a form of Web censorship, which is twice as many as in 2008. The World
WideWeb is being progressively devoured by the implementation of national Intranets whose content is
“approved” by the authorities. UzNet, Chinternet, TurkmenNet…It does not matter to those governments
if more and more Internet users are going to become victims of a digital segregation. Web 2.0 is colliding
with Control 2.0.
A few rare countries such as North Korea, Burma and Turkmenistan can afford to completely cut themselves
off from theWorldWideWeb. They are not acting on their lack of infrastructure development because
it serves their purpose, and it persists. Nonetheless, the telecom black market is prospering in Cuba
and on the border between China and North Korea.
Netizens are being targeted at a growing rate. For the first time since the creation of the Internet, a
record number of close to 120 bloggers, Internet users and cyberdissidents are behind bars for having expressed
themselves freely online.The world’s largest netizen prison is in China,which is far out ahead of
other countries with 72 detainees, followed by Vietnam and then by Iran, which have all launched waves
of brutal attacks on websites in recent months.
Some countries have been arresting netizens in the last few months, even though they have not yet pursued
an elaborate Net control or repression strategy. In Morocco, a blogger and a cybercafé owner were jailed
by local authorities trying to cover up a crackdown on a demonstration that turned awry. In Azerbaidjan,
the regime is holding Adnan Hadjizade and Emin Milli – two bloggers who had exposed the corruption of
certain officials and had ridiculed them in a video circulated on YouTube. Four online journalists are also
behind bars in Yemen. It is too soon to tell if these arrests may herald a new media takeover.
More and more states are enacting or considering repressive laws pertaining to the Web, or are applying
those that already exist, which is the case with Jordan, Kazakhstan, and Iraq. Western democracies are not
immune from the Net regulation trend. In the name of the fight against child pornography or the theft of
intellectual property, laws and decrees have been adopted, or are being deliberated, notably in Australia,
France, Italy and Great Britain. On a global scale, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), whose
aim is to fight counterfeiting, is being negotiated behind closed doors, without consulting NGOs and civil
society. It could possibly introduce potentially liberticidal measures such as the option to implement a filtering
system without a court decision.
Some Scandinavian countries are taking a different direction. In Finland, Order no. 732/2009, states that
Internet access is a fundamental right for all citizens. By virtue of this text, every Finnish household will
have at least a 1 MB/s connection by July 31, 2010. By 2015, it will be at least 100 MB/s. Iceland’s Parliament
is currently examining a bill, the "Icelandic Modern Media Initiative" (IMMI), which is aimed at strictly protecting
freedoms on the Internet by guaranteeing the transparency and independence of information. If it
is adopted, Iceland will become a cyber-paradise for bloggers and citizen journalists.
The Internet users’ response
The outcome of the cyber-war between netizens and repressive authorities will also depend upon the effectiveness
of the weapons each camp has available: powerful filtering and surveillance systems for decrypting
e-mails, and ever more sophisticated proxies and censorship circumvention tools such as Tor, VPNs,
Psiphon, and UltraReach. The latter are developed mainly thanks to the solidarity of netizens around the
globe. For example, thousands of Iranians use proxies originally intended for Chinese surfers.
Global pressure makes a difference, too. The major world powers’ geo-strategic interests are finding a communications
platform on the Web. In January 2010, the United States made freedom of expression on the
Internet the number one goal of its foreign policy. It remains to be seen how the country will apply this
strategy to its foreign relations, and what the reaction of the countries concerned will be.
In their apparent isolation, Web users, dissidents and bloggers are vulnerable. They are therefore starting
to organize, collectively or individually, depending upon what causes they wish to defend. This type of momentum
can produce a Russian blogger association, or one comprised of Moroccans, or Belarus Web
users groups launching campaigns to protest against government decisions, or an Egyptian blogger group
mobilizing against torture or the cost of living, or even Chinese Internet users organizing cyber-movements
on behalf of Iranian demonstrators on Twitter. Whether their causes are national or global, the messages
they communicate are the ones that will decide the landscape of tomorrow’s Internet. Resistance is getting
The Enemies of the Internet 2010
The “Enemies of the Internet” list drawn up again this year by Reporters Without Borders presents the
worst violators of freedom of expression on the Net: Saudi Arabia, Burma, China, North Korea, Cuba,
Egypt, Iran, Uzbekistan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam.
Some of these countries are determined to use any means necessary to prevent their citizens from having
access to the Internet: Burma, North Korea, Cuba, and Turkmenistan – countries in which technical and
financial obstacles are coupled with harsh crackdowns and the existence of a very limited Intranet. Internet
shutdowns or major slowdowns are commonplace in periods of unrest. The Internet’s potential as a portal
open to the world directly contradicts the propensity of these regimes to isolate themselves from other
countries. Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan have opted for such massive filtering that their Internet users have
chosen to practice self-censorship. For economic purposes, China, Egypt, Tunisia and Vietnam have wagered
on a infrastructure development strategy while keeping a tight control over the Web’s political and social
content (Chinese and Tunisian filtering systems are becoming increasingly sophisticated), and they are
demonstrating a deep intolerance for critical opinions. The serious domestic crisis that Iran has been experiencing
for months now has caught netizens and the new media in its net; they have become enemies
of the regime.
Among the countries “under surveillance” are several democracies: Australia, because of the upcoming implementation
of a highly developed Internet filtering system, and South Korea, where draconian laws are
creating too many specific restrictions on Web users by challenging their anonymity and promoting selfcensorship.
Turkey and Russia have just been added to the “Under Surveillance” list. In Russia, aside from the control
exercised by the Kremlin on most of its media outlets, the Internet has become the freest space for
sharing information. Yet its independence is being jeopardized by blogger arrests and prosecutions, as well
as by blockings of so-called “extremist” websites. The regime’s propaganda is increasingly omnipresent on
the Web. There is a real risk that the Internet will be transformed into a tool for political control.
In Turkey, taboo topics mainly deal with Ataturk, the army, issues concerning minorities (notably Kurds and
Armenians) and the dignity of the Nation. They have served as justification for blocking several thousand
sites, including YouTube, thereby triggering a great deal of protest. Bloggers and netizens who express
themselves freely on such topics may well face judicial reprisals.
Other countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, Belarus and Thailand are also maintaining their “under
surveillance” status, but will need to make more progress to avoid getting transferred into the next “Enemies
of the Internet” list. Thailand, because of abuses related to the crime of “lèse-majesté”; the Emirates,
because they have bolstered their filtering system; Belarus because its president has just signed a liberticidal
order that will regulate the Net, and which will enter into force this summer – just a few months before
Head of the New Media Desk
See Internet enemies and countries under surveillance : http://www.rsf.org/en-ennemi36676-Burma.html