Last Updated on May 3, 2011

At the end, the Syrian Government could not resist to temptation and followed the wake of Egypt a couple of months ago: since the Internet is the main culprit for the wind of changes blowing in the Middle East, nothing better than shutting it off intermittently in the areas of Damascus, Hama and Daraa. Unfortunately Syria is only the last example of the crusade led by several countries against the internet, and new related technologies: a complete, impressive, picture may be obtained reading the Freedom on the NET 2011, A Global Assessment Of Internet And Digital Media, which has anlayzed the level of freedom in accessing the Internet and new technologies, and the possible obstacles in 37 countries, including countries such as China, Iran, Egypt (and Italy as well). The report is the prosecution of a previous document issued in 2009 and take into considerations events that contributed to obstacle the Internet access in those countries in the period ranging from 2009 to 2011.

The results are well summarized by the sentence: New Technologies, Innovative Repression.

 In particular, the report emphasizes the main role played by the Social Network, stating, among the other things:

The new internet restrictions around the globe are partly a response to the explosion in the popularity of advanced applications like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, through which ordinary users can easily post their own content, share information, and connect with large audiences. While mostly serving as a form of entertainment, over the last two years these tools have also played a significant role in political and social activism. In Egypt and Tunisia, for example, democracy advocates have relied heavily on Facebook to mobilize supporters and organize mass rallies. Similarly, Bahraini activists have used Twitter and YouTube to inform the outside world about the government’s violent response to their protests.

It is what I called the Thin Red Line (even if my country probably sits in that part of the line in which these technologies are used for entertainment).

The ways used to control the Internet vary hugely from country to country and include: preventive centralized block of unwelcome contents, total block of Social Networks, access to the Internet only available from Government- controlled sites, threats and arrests to bloggers up to true state-led cybercrime operations such as massive DDOS attacks towards web sites of media not aligned, most of all in periods close to elections.

Among the countries taken into considerations, Thailand, Russia, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and Jordan are considered at Risk, while, in the overall score, computed with a metric ranging from 0 (total liberty) to 100 (total repression) Iran is the country opposing the main obstacles to a free Internet Access with a score of 89. It is undoubtedly in good company of countries like Burma (88), Cuba (87), China (83), Tunisia (81 but before the Jasmin Revolution), Vietnam (73) and Saudi Arabia (70) occupying the bottom positions of this unwelcome ranking.

Approximately in the same days in which this very interesting document was released, the CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) released another interesting ranking: The 10 Tools Of Online Oppressors: reversing the order of factors does not change the result, as matter of fact according to the last report:

  • Iran, since the disputed 2009 presidential election, has dramatically increased the sophistication of its Web blocking, as well as its efforts to destroy tools that allow journalists to access or host online content, ranking over the top for Web Blocking;
  • Belarus (showing a score of 69 in the global assessment), often uses denial-of-service, or DOS, attack to break down opposition sites during the elections, ranking on the top for Precision Censorship;
  • In Cuba, Only a small fraction of the population is permitted to use the Internet at home, with the vast majority required to use state-controlled access points with identity checks, heavy surveillance, and restrictions on access to non-Cuban sites. To post or read independent news, online journalists go to cybercafes and use official Internet accounts that are traded on the black market. That is the reason why Cuba ranks #1 for Denial Of Access;
  • In Ethiopia a state-owned telecommunications company has monopoly control over Internet access and fixed and mobile phone lines. The country has also invested in extensive satellite-jamming technology to prevent citizens from receiving news from foreign sources gaining the first place for Internet Control;
  • In Burma, exile-run news sites still face censorship and obstruction, much of it perpetrated by home governments or their surrogates. Exile-run sites that cover news in Burma face regular denial-of-service attacks, allowing the country to get the crown for Attacks for Exile Run Sites.
  • In China Journalists reporting in and about the country, have been victims of spear-phishinging installing malwer targeted to control the Journalists’ computers, in a pattern that strongly indicates the targets were chosen for their work. China is probably the most sophisticated for Malware Attacks;
  • Tunisia (under Ben Ali) had a pervasive censorship of email and social networking sites under Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, gaining the first place for State Cybercrime;
  • Egypt (under Mubarak) was the first country to completely kill Internet Switch (suddenly followed by other countries such as Libya, Barhain and Tunisia);
  • Syria remains one of the world’s most dangerous places to blog due to repeated cases of short- and long-term detention, ranking #1 for Detention of Bloggers.
  • Russia is the country where online journalists have become the latest targets of anti-press violence, ranking #1 for Violence Against Online Journalists.

Some final thoughts

Thought #1: I suggest to my compatriots to read the Global Assessment Of Internet And Digital Media in the sections concerning Italy (score 26). It is a really deep interesting analysis of the factors which affects Internet access in our country.

Thought #2: In all those countries where social networks are not censored, they remain a powerful medium to spread information. According to Twitter spokesman Matt Graves, yesterday:

Twitter traffic spiked to more than 4,000 tweets per second at the beginning and end of President Obama’s speech tonight announcing the death of Osama Bin Laden,” said company spokesman Matt Graves.

This simple sentence, more than ever, explains why the blue twitter canary is so  undigested in many countries.

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