Freedom House’s annual report on internet freedom, entitled “Freedom on the Net” and released today, finds that global internet freedom is on the decline for the eighth consecutive year. In the report, the human rights group examined 65 countries and found that 26 countries–including the United States–saw what it characterized as a deterioration in internet freedom, and noted that “almost half of all declines were related to elections.” In terms of the United States’ decline, the report cited the Federal Communications Commission gutting Obama-era net neutrality rules, well-intended legislation such as “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017” causing preemptive online censorship, and increased scrutiny into the role social media plays in spreading misinformation ahead of elections.The report also finds that China is a leader in the field of digital authoritarianism, and is teaching the world its methods on that front. “Chinese officials held trainings and seminars on new media or information management with representatives from 36 out of the 65 countries assessed by Freedom on the Net.” The report also notes that countries are citing “fake news” as an excuse to curb online dissent, with at least 17 countries either approving or proposing laws “that would restrict online media in the name of fighting ‘fake news’ and online manipulation.” Additionally, the report highlights concerns about governments seeking access to personal data, and it notes that “governments in 18 countries increased surveillance, often eschewing independent oversight and weakening encryption in order to gain unfettered access to data.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.