Do Americans take their internet freedom for granted?

While the U.S. is one of the top 10 countries in the world for internet freedom, these freedoms have eroded in the past four years.

Federal, state, and local authorities in many cases responded in 2020 to nationwide protests for racial justice with intrusive surveillance, intimidation, and harassment, according to a report by Freedom House, a non-partisan, non profit organization that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights. There were even some arrests for online activities.

Politicized disinformation, inflammatory content, and dangerous misinformation related to Covid-19, the November 2020 elections, and protests were other concerning issues in the U.S., the report on global internet freedom says.

Iceland remained the world’s best protector of internet freedom in 2020, according to the annual ranking by Freedom House. Users in Iceland enjoy near-universal connectivity, minimal restrictions on online content, and strong protections for their rights online.

In China, on the other hand, censorship and surveillance were pushed to new extremes as the government enhanced its information controls, including in response to persistent antigovernment protests in Hong Kong and the coronavirus pandemic that began in the city of Wuhan, the report says.

To assesses the level of internet freedom in 65 countries around the world, Freedom House scores each country on a variety of metrics in three main categories:

  • Obstacles to access: Some of these include whether infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of connections, whether access to the internet is prohibitively expensive; and whether the government exercises technical or legal control over internet infrastructure to restrict content.
  • Limits on content: Some factors in this category include whether the state blocks or filters internet content, employs legal or other means to force publishers or content hosts to delete content and if online journalists, commentators and ordinary users practice self-censorship.
  • Violations of user rights: Some of these include whether the country’s laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom; whether there are criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, and whether there are restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption, and if websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users are subject to widespread hacking.

Based on the 2020 Freedom on the Net report by Freedom House, these are the 15 countries with the least internet freedom, followed by the 15 with the most.