Governments around the world are using the pandemic as a justification to expand surveillance and crack down on dissent online, resulting in a 10th consecutive annual decline in internet freedom, a human rights watchdog report said Wednesday.
The report by Washington-based Freedom House said authorities in dozens of countries have cited the Covid-19 outbreak “to justify expanded surveillance powers and the deployment of new technologies that were once seen as too intrusive.”
This is leading to increasing censorship of dissent and the expansion of technological systems for social control, according to the report.
“The pandemic is accelerating society’s reliance on digital technologies at a time when the internet is becoming less and less free,” said Michael Abramowitz, president of the nonprofit group.
“Without adequate safeguards for privacy and the rule of law, these technologies can be easily repurposed for political repression.”
Freedom House’s index of internet based on a score assigned on a 100-point scale to 65 countries shows a drop in internet freedom for a 10th straight year.
The scale is based on 21 indicators pertaining to obstacles to access, limits on content and violations of user rights.
China was the worst-ranked country for the sixth consecutive year, according to the report.
It said Chinese authorities “combined low- and high-tech tools not only to manage the outbreak of the coronavirus, but also to deter internet users from sharing information from independent sources and challenging the official narrative.”