Cuba Still America’s Champion, for Censoring Speech Online

The 2015 report states that China is the worst abuser of internet freedom, followed by Syria and Iran. (Freedom House)

EspañolCuba is the clear top dog in the Americas for preventing access to the World Wide Web, but the next worst offenders are Venezuela, Mexico, Ecuador, and Colombia — as documented by Freedom House and their newly released Freedom on the Net 2015 report.

The worldwide trend has been a decline in Internet freedom for five straight years, and the October 28 report shows that constituents of the poorly rated countries, in addition to censorship, suffer from the expansion of government surveillance and crackdowns on privacy tools in 2014. Further, most of the Latin American culprit nations have had citizens arrested for simply sharing information concerning politics and society.

Freedom House describes itself as an “independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.”

The NGO’s project leader, Sanja Kelly, stated in a press release that “governments are increasingly pressuring individuals and the private sector to take down or delete offending content, as opposed to relying on blocking and filtering.”

Their report, which addresses 65 nations, also mentions the restrictions that government officials impose on encryption and anonymity tools in most countries around the globe. These privacy tools, they explain, help protect Internet users from government abuse.

“Undermining online encryption and anonymity weakens the internet for everyone, but especially for human rights activists and independent journalists,” Kelly added.

The report highlights that 61 percent of internet users live in countries where any type of criticism against the government — or ruling family — has been “subject to online censorship.”

Among the most crucial findings reported were: an increase on the number of censored topics and content removals, an escalation in number of arrests and intimidation of writers or sharers of political content, and a rise in the number of surveillance laws passed.

Latin America, a “Partially Free” Land

Cuba is the only Latin American country to earn the unenviable categorization as “not free.” The report mentions over 100 new Internet access points on the island, but it states that the communist nation “continues to have some of the most restrictive internet access in the world.”

Another hostile country for online journalists and bloggers is Mexico, where reporters there fall prey to both violence from organized criminal organizations and cyber-attacks. Reporters without Borders, which does related work, has ranked Mexico as one of the worst places to be a journalist (148 out of 180), after a decade with more than 80 journalists killed and 17 reported as disappeared.

Freedom of the Net 2015 warns of misguided intervention: “a ruling by the Federal Institute of Access to Information and Personal Data Protection (IFAI) [of Mexico] may set a precedent for users to request that search engines remove results that violate their privacy or harm their reputation.”

Regarding Ecuador, the document states that President Correa’s Twitter campaign against online critics led to an online confrontation that “escalated to include hacking, trolling, and threats.”

In Colombia, the main challenges involve infrastructure and high costs. Also, “there are occasional cases of content removal; takedowns are isolated rather than systematic and stem mostly from muddy legislation rather than onerous governmental policies.”

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Cyber activist Luis Carlos Díaz from Venezuela tells the PanAm Post that this report is useful because it contains verifiable data that enables Venezuelans to place their lack of Internet freedom into perspective.

The activist says that the situation in Venezuela is “extremely serious,” and that in 2014 and 2015 the government blocked several websites and performed arbitrary detentions for sharing content on Twitter.

“Detained Twitter users awaited several months in prison and were not served with due process nor justice,” he adds.

“In relation to technical infrastructure, we have seen an incredible decline in Venezuela. The main company that provides the service has stopped providing 10-megabits service and is now offering only 1 mega or, at most, 2-mega-per-second speed in the majority of Caracas.”

Díaz says that in Venezuela, their Internet bandwidth has not improved in years. That has resulted in the slowest Internet connections in all of Latin America.

“Venezuelans face a slow, expensive, restricted, and censored internet environment,” he concluded.

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