Monday, July 15

U.S. Is Becoming Less and Less Free Online

Internet ComputerThe U.S. might be the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, but not in cyberspace. America’s Internet freedom is in a terrifying decline, according to research from Freedom House.

The advocacy group’s annual study tracks international digital rights, and scores countries’ digital rights on a scale of zero to 100, with zero being the most free and 100 being the least. Between 2011 and 2015, the U.S. fell from a score of 13 to a score of 19. In 2011 and 2012, the U.S. ranked second out of 65 countries assessed, but slipped to fourth in 2013. Last year, it fell to sixth, where it stayed this year.

U.S. News and World Report writes that such controversies as the United States’ broad government surveillance calls by law enforcement to limit consumer data encryption have displaced America as being a leader in Internet freedom.

Since the study factored in the events between June 2014 and May 2015, it took into account the Federal Communications Commission’s adoption of net neutrality rules, but not the USA Freedom Act, which aimed to limit the National Security Agency’s surveillance. These net neutrality rules are seen as being a step towards a more free and open Internet, because they call for Internet service providers and government agencies to leave wireless traffic alone.

“The idea of a free and open internet is what makes the online marketplace so special,” Ron Blackwelder, Owner, Charlotte Local Marketing. “We should all be very concerned whenever there is any discussion about losing any types of freedom. Freedom of the internet is closely tied to our core principles of freedom of speech. This should be a clarion call to all of us that this open marketplace could be lost.”

“It is yet to be seen whether the recently passed surveillance reforms will affect government spying efforts,” Laura Reed, a research analyst with Freedom House, said. “We do see potential for improvement there.”
However, the FBI’s calls for tech firms like Google and Apple to leave their services unencrypted concern Freedom House, as that will allow users’ data to be accessed following governmental requests. This will not be the last time agencies try retargeting net neutrality, either. Over the past year, limits on encryption have increased around the world in democracies and dictatorships alike, creating what Freedom House says is a threat to personal privacy.

“We are waiting to see where the U.S. is going to come out on the encryption debate,” said Reed.

As for countries with worse scores than the United States, China ranked as the least free in the study, followed by Syria, Iran, Ethiopia and Cuba, which ranked poorly because of their restrictions on free speech online and their surveillance efforts.

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