The level of online freedom that internet users worldwide enjoy has had a significant impact during the pandemic, new research has shown.
Digital rights advocate Freedom House said political leaders around the world have used the pandemic to fuel surveillance agendas and restrict access to information and services online.
Covid-19 is also said to have given a touch of legitimacy to initiatives to collect mass data that were carried out without proper scrutiny due to the urgency of the public health crisis.
“The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating a dramatic decline in global internet freedom,”
“State and non-state actors in many countries are now using the opportunities created by the pandemic to create online narratives, censor critical speeches and build new technological systems of social control.”
As expected, internet access remains the most restricted in China and Iran, but countries like India, Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan have seen the biggest falls in the past 12 months – and even the US has fallen on the internet freedom index.
According to Freedom House, the general level of freedom on the Internet has now declined for ten years in a row – but experienced a particularly serious nosedive in 2020.
The report suggests the pandemic coupled with the US-China trade war and a wider shift towards cyber sovereignty to create a perfect storm for the deterioration of internet freedoms.
“Authorities cited the pandemic to justify expanded surveillance powers and the use of new technology that was once considered too intrusive,” said Shabaz and Funk.
“However, the rapid and uncontrolled introduction of these tools harbors an immense risk for privacy, transparency and general human rights. And these surveillance systems would be remarkably difficult, if not impossible, to take out of service. “
That year, the Digital Rights Watchdog also observed deliberate disruptions in Internet connectivity in a record 22 of 65 countries monitored, many of which were directly linked to political unrest in the affected countries.
Even the United States – traditionally viewed as the bastion of internet freedom – fell by an index point and has now declined under Donald Trump’s primacy for four years.
An example of the country’s stricter stance is in the supreme command, issued by Trump in August, which banned US companies from doing business with Chinese companies TikTok and WeChat.
VPN usage increased rapidly in the post-announcement country that shows US citizens are unwilling to suffer government encroachment on Internet-related freedoms.
“An Internet that is open, free and global has enormous value. Even in environments that are otherwise very oppressive, an unrestricted online space offers immeasurable opportunities for freedom of expression, community engagement and economic development, ”added Freedom House.
“If digital communication platforms are to advance the cause of human rights in the 21st century, the Internet freedom movement must build robust governance structures that anchor and enforce [internet] Protection. “