As the internet grows and users become more aware of its uses and better ways to use it, so does the concept of its freedom. After the scenes witnessed earlier this year as people in the Middle-East, used the internet as a tool for organisation to challenge oppressive regimes the importance of internet freedom cannot be denied.
On the backdrop of the role the internet is playing in society today, Freedom House, the 70-year-old world renowned freedom and democracy watchdog has gauged internet freedom. The 2011 rankings were recently released.
Looking at 15 countries, the pilot edition of the report was released in 2009. This year’s edition, the second, has expanded the scope to cover 37 countries in six geographical regions.
Countries are given a total score from zero which is the best possible score to 100, the worst. Along with the overall score a country achieves, there is also a score on that zero to 100 scale for sub-categories.
According to Freedom House, it has partnered with “leading experts” and “devised a unique, systematic, and innovative way of assessing internet freedom across the full spectrum of country types.”
Freedom House also points out that this index is not an analysis of governments or their performance, but rather the actual freedom of the internet that citizens enjoy.
Though there are a number of parameters that are studied to come up with the score a nation is given these can be broadly summarised as follows.
Obstacles to Access — including infrastructural and economic barriers to access; governmental efforts to block specific applications or technologies; legal and ownership control over internet and mobile phone access providers.
Limits on Content — including filtering and blocking of websites; other forms of censorship and self-censorship; manipulation of content; the diversity of online news media; and usage of digital media for social and political activism.
Violations of User Rights — including legal protections and restrictions on online activity; surveillance and limits on privacy; and repercussions for online activity, such as legal prosecution, imprisonment, physical attacks, or other forms of harassment.
Looking at South Africa, though still ranked as “free”, the total score has dropped from 24 to 26. The report notes that despite affordability being a barrier for South Africans, access to the net has increased, particularly through mobile phones. According to the report, “South Africa is in an unusual position in that some mobile broadband packages are cheaper than the fixed-line alternative.”
Though there have been no government restrictions placed on internet access or used its control of infrastructure to limit connectivity, the report does raise some concerns.
- The 2009 amendment to the Film and Publications Act
- Calls by then Deputy-Minister of Home Affairs, now Minister of Public Enterprises, Malusi Gigaba for a complete ban of digital pornography
- The arrest of a Facebook user, Duane Brady for crimen injuria
- “The Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act” more commonly referred to as RICA and its potential to allow for widespread monitoring. ie internet service providers having to hold all consumer data for an unspecified period of time and it’s ban of any internet communications which cannot be monitored.
These and other examples specified in the seven pages dedicated to South Africa, are the reasons why South Africa’s regressed.
After South Africa which is the most free, the other African countries analysed in the order of their freedom are as follows; Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Tunisia.
For the full report, information on how it was compiled, who compiled it and more, visit Freedom House’s webpage on the report here.