This is the second post in our series about internet censorship. Last month we looked the definition of censorship, plus why and how it happens. In this post we take a look at some of the countries that impart strict censorship on their citizens.
Internet censorship and internet restrictions are common in many places around the world. These days, more and more countries are moving towards internet sovereignty, in which they create their own internet experience by placing restrictions on the internet or censoring what is and is not available. Censorship, unsurprisingly, often occurs in some of the most insular or repressive regimes around the world. Here are a few countries that are often ranked most censorious.
Internet Censorship in China
China’s internet filtering mechanism is perhaps the most notorious in the world. Dubbed the “Great Firewall,” the Chinese government spends a massive amount of time (and money) on filtering their internet and restricting access to sites and content. In the case of China, internet censorship is used as a part of strict governmental control. China was rated the worst country for internet freedom for the 6th year in a row in 2019, and their recent actions indicate the trend will continue. China also extended its censorious reach to Hong Kong with the introduction of a new national cybersecurity law and by squelching protests in the country. We’ve written a lot about China – and work a great deal to combat censorship in China both through advocacy and the creation of proprietary technology.
Internet Censorship in Russia
Russia is known for restricting the flow of information in and out of the country and for censoring their internet. Russia’s Sovereign Internet Law was enacted in late 2019, and attempts to disconnect Russia’s internet from the rest of the world. It works by “routing web traffic through state-controlled infrastructure and creating a national system of domain names (or their own DNS system),” although experts question if this is technically feasible due to the way Russia’s internet was built and allowed to develop freely over time. As it is written, the law requires internet service providers to install network equipment - known as deep packet inspection (DPI) – “capable of identifying the source of traffic and filter content” according to an article by BBC. The law was enacted in the name of security to prevent from cyberattacks or other dangers, but the reasoning masquerades as a justification for censorship and mass surveillance. Many foreign sites are already blocked in the country, and Russia has laws for data retention and other invasive measures in place.
Internet Censorship in Iran
Iran is currently working on an “intranet” controlled by the government, which will mean tight control over what is and is not available to citizens. In recent months, protests have been breaking out resulting in repeated censorship of social media platforms. These instances point to an overall decline in internet freedoms in the country, which are already highly restricted. According to Freedom on the Net the country currently suffers from recurring near total shutdowns after protests, blocked access to social sites including messaging sites like telegram and blocked access to in-depth news sites. The internet is routinely disrupted (slowed down or shut off) during “politically sensitive” events, and Iran maintains a tight control over the infrastructure. Arrests for posting controversial or dissenting content are common, and many websites are blocked. In summer of 2020 the country introduced draft legislation calling for “military control” of the internet and even tighter restrictions.
Internet Censorship in Turkey
Turkey’s internet freedom has been poor for many years and saw a decline again this past year (2019) as the country blocked social media platforms on a few occasions. Turkey also imposed new legislation aimed to censor and restrict social media companies; the legislation forces companies to have an “in-country representative” that is responsible for fulfilling content removal requests from the government. In effect it forces companies, even those located overseas, to comply with censorship as well as to monitor content in a way that is considered surveillance. The law could ostensibly limit and restrict free speech as well. Turkey already had freedom-threatening laws in place. The country experiences blocking of the media, including independent media planforms, and harassment of journalists working in Turkey is common. It is not uncommon for social media users to be arrested and journalists sent to prison for infractions.
Internet Censorship in Vietnam
Vietnam is known for internet censorship and tight governmental control in general. This past year internet freedoms in the country reached an all-time low, as Vietnam slowed (throttled) connections to Facebook’s servers to pressure Facebook into complying with their censorship practices. YouTube was similarly restricted. Vietnam enacted stringent controls to eliminate internet users from using “critical” or “toxic” speech online and required companies to remove content that did not comply with government-imposed requirements. In addition, they suspend some online newspapers and citizens can receive fines for sharing misinformation and criminal sentences for freedom of expression. In 2019, a new cybersecurity law was introduced that allows for surveillance and forces companies to share private data. The system lacks oversight and has few safeguards for internet users in place.
Internet Censorship in Belarus
Belarus’ internet freedom is declining. While the country has always been repressive, with government manipulation of information in an effort to support state media, things had been getting slightly better. However, the country suffered a massive national internet shutdown in August of 2020 with hotspots shut off. Additionally, protestors and those expressing dissenting views were detained in large numbers along with journalists. The site Tor, which allows internet users to use the web anonymously, was blocked within the country which further impacted users’ abilities to access otherwise blocked content and information. These shutdowns were impactful and prevented a large number of people from communicating.
Internet Censorship in India
Internet freedom in India declined “dramatically” over the past year, with more government-imposed shutdowns than anywhere else in the world. The government shut off internet connectivity multiple times, including after protests in response to a new piece of legislation called the Citizenship Amendment Act. The government holds a tight grip on information and used shutdowns to “counter disinformation,” as well as in response to protests or communal violence. Oddly, the country also used “cheating on exams” as a justification for internet disruption. Content removals for India-based users are common, and many platforms are pressured to remove content; this includes Facebook which is asked to censor videos from India. Internet users aren’t partiality safe online, and the government utilizes targeted spyware campaigns aimed at defenders of human rights, journalists, activists and lawyers. Many marginalized communities are routinely trolled and harassed online. COVID-19 was also used as an excuse to increase censorship.
Internet Censorship in the Philippines
The Philippines is on a downward trajectory when it comes to internet rights and has limited free expression rights. The country closed its largest news outlets last year, and there is less space for critical speech online than in years previous. Those who do speak out may risk arrest or become targets of a technical attack (these are especially common against news and civil society groups). During the pandemic information regarding the pandemic was highly limited, and online speech violations against the rules prosecuted.
Internet Censorship in the UAE
Things in the UAE have improved slightly, although the country remains very restrictive in terms of its internet freedoms. Online censorship and surveillance of user activity and content are commonplace, and many civil liberties restricted. VoIP is blocked for the most part, and free news media doesn’t exist; in its place are pro-government commentators and propaganda. People may be arrested for social media posts, and Twitter often removes posts. There are also fines in place for sharing medical information, especially as this relates to the pandemic. In 2016 a law against VPN use was passed.
How Can You Bypass Online Censorship from a Restricted Country?
So what can you do if you live in or travel to a place with strong internet censorship? How can you get around the restrictions and maintain access to a free internet experience?
There is only one effective way to bypass internet censorship - and that is a VPN. But what is a VPN? A VPN allows you to change your IP address, allowing you to appear to be in a country you are not. In this way a VPN enables you to bypass censorship enacted via location-based IP blocks. A VPN provides additional benefits in that it secures your connection to protect your privacy no matter where you’re accessing the internet from. Get VyprVPN and defeat censorship today.