From Freedom House:
Freedom on the Net 2021 finds that while some democratic governments have made good-faith attempts to regulate the technology industry, state intervention in the digital sphere worldwide has contributed to the 11th consecutive year of global decline in internet freedom.
Governments around the world are increasingly asserting their authority over technology platforms, forcing businesses to comply with censorship and surveillance and contributing to an 11th consecutive year of global decline in internet freedom, according to Freedom on the Net 2021, the annual country-by-country assessment of internet freedom released today by Freedom House.
Global norms shifted dramatically toward greater state intervention in the digital sphere over the past year. Of the 70 states covered by Freedom on the Net 2021, 48 pursued legal or administrative action against technology companies. Some measures reflected legitimate attempts to mitigate online harms, rein in misuse of data, or end manipulative market practices. Many governments, however, proposed new policies that obliged businesses to remove content and share personal data with authorities, at great cost to free expression, privacy, and public accountability.
This change in the balance of power between companies and states has come amid a historic crackdown on freedom of expression online. In 56 countries, officials arrested or convicted people for their online speech. Governments suspended internet access in at least 20 countries, and 21 states blocked access to social media platforms, most often during times of political turmoil such as protests and elections. Authorities in at least 45 countries are suspected of obtaining sophisticated spyware or data-extraction technology from private vendors.
- Global internet freedom declined for the 11th consecutive year. The greatest deteriorations were documented in Myanmar, Belarus, and Uganda, where state forces cracked down amid electoral and constitutional crises.
- Governments clashed with technology companies on users’ rights. Authorities in at least 48 countries pursued new rules for tech companies on content, data, and competition over the past year. With a few positive exceptions, the push to regulate the tech industry, which stems in some cases from genuine problems like online harassment and manipulative market practices, is being exploited to subdue free expression and gain greater access to private data.
- Free expression online is under unprecedented strain. More governments arrested users for nonviolent political, social, or religious speech than ever before. Officials suspended internet access in at least 20 countries, and 21 states blocked access to social media platforms. Authorities in at least 45 countries are suspected of obtaining sophisticated spyware or data-extraction technology from private vendors.
- China ranks as the worst environment for internet freedom for the seventh year in a row. Chinese authorities imposed draconian prison terms for online dissent, independent reporting, and mundane daily communications. The COVID-19 pandemic remains one of the most heavily censored topics. Officials also cracked down on the country’s tech giants, citing their abuses related to competition and data protection, though the campaign further concentrated power in the hands of the authoritarian state.
- The United States’ score declined for the fifth consecutive year. False, misleading, and manipulated information continued to proliferate online, even affecting public acceptance of the 2020 presidential election results. The new administration took promising steps to enforce stronger protections for internet users.
- State intervention must protect human rights online and preserve an open internet. The emancipatory power of the internet depends on its egalitarian nature. To counter digital authoritarianism, democracies should ensure that regulations enable users to express themselves freely, share information across borders, and hold the powerful to account.
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