LES ENNEMIS D’INTERNET / 12 MARS 2012 / JOURNEE MONDIALES CONTRE LA CYBERCENSURE / REPORTERS SANS FRONTIERES
BESET BY ONLINE SURVEILLANCE AND CONTENTFILTERING,NETIZENS FIGHT ON
This report, which presents the 2012 list of countries that are “Enemies of the Internet” and “under surveillance,” updates the report published on 12 March 2011.
The last report, released in March 2011 at the climax of the Arab Spring, highlighted the fact that theInternet and social networks have been conclusively established as tools for protest, campaigning andcirculating information, and as vehicles for freedom. In the months that followed, repressive regimesresponded with tougher measures to what they regarded as unacceptable attempts to “destabilize”their authority. In 2011, netizens were at the heart of the political changes in the Arab world andelsewhere. They tried to resist the imposition of a news and information blackout but paid a high price.At the same time, supposedly democratic countries continued to set a bad example by yielding to thetemptation to prioritize security over other concerns and by adopting disproportionate measures toprotect copyright. Internet users in “free” countries have learned to react in order to protect what theyhave won. Some governments stepped up pressure on technical service providers to act as Internetcops. Companies specializing in online surveillance are becoming the new mercenaries in an onlinearms race. Hactivists are providing technical expertise to netizens trapped by a repressive regime’sapparatus. Diplomats are getting involved. More than ever before, online freedom of expression is nowa major foreign and domestic policy issue.
New media keep pushing back the boundaries of censorship
Online social networks complicate matters for authoritarian regimes that are trying to suppressunwanted news and information. It was thanks to netizens that Tunisians learned about the streetvendor who set himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid and Egyptians learned about
, the youngnetizen who was beaten to death by police outside an Alexandria Internet café. It was thanks to socialnetworks that Sidi Bouzid and Khaled Said became news stories and went on to become cornerstonesof the Arab Spring.The revolution of microblogs and opinion aggregators and the faster dissemination of news andinformation that results, combined with the growing use of mobile phones to livestream video, are allincreasing the possibilities of freeing information from its straightjacket. The mixing of journalism andactivism has been accentuated in extreme situations such as Syria, where ordinary citizens, appalledby the bloodshed, are systematically gathering information for dissemination abroad, especially by theinternational news media, so the outside world knows about the scale of the brutal crackdown takingplaceThe crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in 1988 in Burma involved a great deal of bloodshedin part because very few photos and video footage of it reached the outside world. But Burma’s SaffronRevolution in 2007 took place live in front of the world and triggered a strong international reaction thatpartly accounts for the country’s recent – albeit still limited – reforms.Even the total news and information blackout in North Korea, the “Hermit Kingdom,” is beingchallenged. Mobile phones give those who live near the Chinese border the possibility of being linkedto the rest of the world. And the border is sufficiently porous to allow mobile phones, CDs, DVDs andUSB flash drives containing articles and other content to be smuggled in from China.In Turkmenistan, an “Information 2.0” war was started by a deadly explosion at an arms depot in theAshgabat suburb of Abadan in July 2011. For the first time, netizens managed to break through theregime’s wall of silence by using their mobile phones to film video of the explosion and its aftermathand post it online. They subsequently paid a high price.