ISLAMABAD: “Internet freedom around the world is on the decline as more and more countries introduce online censorship and monitoring practices that are more aggressive and more sophisticated in targeting individual users.”
These, the opening lines of ‘Freedom on the Net 2014’ – an annual report by Freedom House, assessing internet user rights in 65 countries – paint a troubling picture of digital rights and their abuse on the global scale.
In this report, the global watchdog gives Pakistan a rank of 69 out of 100, two points down from last year’s score, putting us on par – in terms of online freedoms – with counties such as China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
The report’s Pakistan chapter, researched and compiled by the local internet freedom activists, the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), points out that issues such as radicalization and intolerance, increased state surveillance and large-scale blocking of websites and pages contrary to the government’s stance, are all major problems.
Freedom on the Net 2014 paints a troubling picture of state of Pakistan’s online community
“Pervasive and increased government control on the Internet, whether in form of censorship or with new surveillance tactics, is limiting freedom of expression and amplifying self-censorship among the internet users in Pakistan, said Nighat Dad, who heads DRF.
Sanja Kelly, project director for the Freedom on the Net report and one of its main authors, said in a statement that “authoritarian and democratic leaders alike believe the internet is ripe for regulation… The scramble to legislate comes at the expense of user rights, as lawmakers deliberately or misguidedly neglect privacy protections and judicial oversight .The situation is especially problematic in less democratic states where citizens have no avenues to challenge or appeal government’s actions.”
Madeline Earp, a research analyst for the Freedom on the Net report, said: “We were really concerned to see Pakistan’s [freedom] score decline in 2014. Pakistan scores worse on net freedom than India and Bangladesh, and actually has the lowest ranking of all the Asian countries that we cover, after only Vietnam and China. Globally, it’s in the ‘Not Free’ category for internet freedom, alongside Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. For a country that had a democratic election during the period of the report, that indicates an extremely poor performance when it comes to internet access, content, and user rights.”
Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2014