Online Freedom of Speech is Becoming Extinct

It’s long been said freedom of speech is not universal and the actions of numerous governments are reinforcing this in spades, as the fourth estate and bloggers continue to be silenced. In January 2018, we spoke of how nation-states and criminals were taking extrajudicial actions to silence the independent journalists, and here we are a mere 10 months down the road, and we see bloggers and journalists continue to be killed, incarcerated or intimidated into silence via the creation of rules and regulations surrounding the voicing of opinions.

Casting our eyes to a report from the Freedom House, we learn that China with its newly implemented Cybersecurity Law has moved to the top of the list in countries restricting online speech and is now exporting that know-how. The net result: The use of aliases or screennames on social network is banned and both local and foreign social networks are required to “immediately stop transmission” of banned content. The Freedom House also noted that since the law’s enactment, hundreds of new directives have been issued, averaging one every other day. All of which goes hand-in-glove with the social credit system in place measuring citizens social reputation.

Saudi Arabia demonstrated its intolerance for dissident speech and opinion with the sadistic and horrific murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi in October. Its interest in silencing dissent extends to the social networks including Twitter and WhatsApp, where government employees were tasked with “smearing” a list of targeted dissidents.

Vietnam this past summer passed a cybersecurity law that tightens the government’s control over the internet and how companies operating within Vietnam are connected to the internet. A key component, designed to facilitate the government’s ability to identify users, makes it mandatory for companies to store identifying data on servers within the geographic footprint of Vietnam. Thus, Facebook, Google, Twitter and the like will be storing the personal identifying data on Vietnamese in a manner in which it may be “lawfully accessed.”

Rwanda sentenced a blogger to 10 years in prison for civil disobedience and spreading rumors, after he questioned the state’s version of the 1994 genocide that took place within the country.

In Bangladesh, an online activist was arrested shortly after broadcasting a live-stream on Facebook, during which he criticized the government for the crackdown on protests. The government’s ICT Act provides the means to send the activist to prison for up to seven years.

In Kazakhstan, two online media outlets were shuttered, and their owners are facing criminal charges for sharing stories in which a former government official was characterized as “corrupt.”

Meanwhile in the Philippines, the media outlet Rappler has been characterized as a “fake news outlet” and its funding dissected for “alleged foreign funding violations.” This is an attempt by the Duerte regime to shutter the outlet.

India has quietly maintained its lead on the number of media outlets shuttered by the government, with “over 100 reported incidents in 2018,” according to the Freedom House.

China may be the most intrusive state, but Russia isn’t that far behind, with the government demanding encryption keys from messaging applications or banning them from use within Russia. Such was the case with the “Telegram” secure messaging application: One of the founders of Telegram previously sold off VKontakte (a Russian Facebook-type social media application) as pressure grew from the government to provide unencumbered access to the site’s users.

In a nutshell, online anonymity and freedoms are sliding backwards as more and more countries pass laws and demand access to the private information of users. And, as evidenced above, when one of these governments is unhappy with your opinion, they will reach out and silence you.

Christopher Burgess

Christopher Burgess

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is a writer, speaker and commentator on security issues. He is a former Senior Security Advisor to Cisco and served 30+ years within the CIA which awarded him the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal upon his retirement. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century”. He also founded the non-profit: Senior Online Safety.

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