Millions of people use the internet everyday and many of us take a access to content for granted, forgetting that even today, there are places where people are unable to enjoy online freedom. Since the internet opens the doors to information from around the world and allows us to discover different views about several topics, in countries where the government wants to have tight control over people, the internet is seen as a potential threat. In order to prevent citizens to be exposed to content that goes against what the government wants, the internet is subject to restrictions based on political or religious motives in many countries. We’ll take a look at the top countries known for censoring access to the internet and will also discuss the solutions to defeat online censorship.
North Korea stands out as the worst country for online freedom. This doesn’t come as a surprise considering that it is one of the most secretive and closed places in the world. Only a handful of the population can access the internet as we know it, while the rest of people can only access an intranet that is subject to strict restrictions and control imposed by the government.
In Syria, internet cafes are required to register users, keep records of the time they were their and their activities. This information is handed over to the government and users who are involved in activities that are considered to be a potential threat to national security face jail and even execution. Access to the internet is often cut off and Syria is in the list of countries that are enemies of the internet according to Reporters Without Borders. The country is considered one of the worst places to be a blogger. In addition, journalists face attacks and many have been killed by Islamic State
China is known for the severe control that it imposes over the internet. While people can easily access the internet and there are many websites and online services available, many popular international websites are blocked. Content is deleted and queries are rerouted to prevent access to restricted content and that lead to information that is in favor of the government. The measures implemented in China are known as the Great Firewall of China and they combine technology and people who are in charge to restrict access to certain information.
Iran is also known for censoring content based on religious and political beliefs. Although people can access the internet, website owners, bloggers and web-masters have to register with the Ministry of Art and Culture. Posting content that criticizes the government or religious leaders can result in jail or even worse punishments. Many websites are blocked and it is believed that the government has created fake or “honey pot” websites that are intended to monitor and catch possible dissidents.
Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar is a country in Southeast Asia that applies blocks to prevent access to websites that expose human rights violations or that criticize the government. Social media, emails and other online communication platforms are subject to filtering. Internet cafes have to keep tracks of users and activity and the information has to be handed over to the authorities, whenever requested. Methods to bypass censorship have been deemed illegal, although in recent years the penalties have been reduced.
Although people can access popular websites like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s MSN, these sites are required to provide information to the government about those who use their services. Furthermore, websites that criticize the government or communism are blocked, The same goes for websites focused on human rights and democracy and the country claims that the measures are taken to tackle “abuse of democratic freedom”. Bloggers and journalists face threats in an attempt to stop them from reporting on certain events.
Online restrictions are applied in Saudi Arabia mainly for religious reasons. Almost half million websites are blocked for featuring content that goes against Islamic beliefs. There are laws that prohibit acts that could result in division and disorder and under this legislation, it is prohibited to share or post certain content. Internet traffic is routed through a central point and the government monitors it. Bloggers and online media outlets have to get a special license from the Ministry of Culture and Information. Many journalists apply self censorship to avoid any penalties.
Tunisia focuses on preventing bloggers from sharing their views, instead of implementing blocks to stop people from accessing inappropriate content. This may be due to the fact that less than half of the population can access the internet and in many cases, they have to use internet cafes. The information about all bloggers including their names and addresses has to be handed over to the authorities. Connections are routed through a central server point where data is filtered and emails are under scrutiny. Bloggers and journalists that criticize the government often face prison, although in recent years, there have been some advances towards online freedom.
In Eritrea, journalists face threats and harassment that prevents them from doing their job. Even those who work in the media outlets controlled by the government fear punishment as the country ranks as the top jailer of journalists in Africa. Mobile internet access is not allowed and only slow dial up service is supported, which stops people from freely accessing online information. Plus, only a small percentage of the population have access to the internet.
This is another country where the internet is heavily censored. An anti-terrorism law was passed in 2009 and it aims to prevent citizens from publishing content that may be considered as supportive of anti-government groups. The government has control over the internet industry, which has slowed down the advance of this technology in the country. Only a small percentage of the population uses the internet.
Other countries that also apply online censorship
In Turkmenistan, only one internet provider is allowed and that is the government. Many websites are blocked and all email conversations are monitored. Journalists are closely monitored and the government has strong control over the media. In Azerbaijan, advertisers and journalists often face threats.
Turkey is another country where the government can censor the internet and service providers are required to keep records of their users and to delete content that is deemed as inappropriate as soon as possible. Although things in Cuba are slowly changing, internet is under government control and access is only possible through official points.
How to avoid online censorship
Online freedom has become an important subject and many organizations and activists focus on helping people to defeat censorship. One of the methods that allow people to bypass restrictions and get access to content that is not available in their location is a VPN. Using a VPN allows you to mask your location, rerouting your traffic through a secure server in a different location. Since a VPN encrypts your online traffic, your online activities can’t be monitored because the data is scrambled and becomes unreadable. There are many VPN services available but options like NordVPN, ExpressVPN, PureVPN and VPNArea are recommended due to their high security and good speeds