Tue, Aug 13, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Free speech and privacy are on the wane around the world

Researchers have found that autocratic rule, increased media restrictions and the use of mass surveillance affect almost half of the global population

By Kate Hodal  /  The Guardian

Nearly half the world’s people are living in countries where their freedom of speech and right to privacy are being eroded, researchers have found.

“Strongman” regimes seeking to squash voices of dissent and solidify political power are increasingly monitoring citizens through technology, cracking down on protests and jailing journalists, according to a ranking of 198 countries on issues including mass surveillance and data privacy.

The report, launched on Thursday by global risk analysis company Verisk Maplecroft, found that about 3.38 billion people, or about 46 percent of the global population, live in countries deemed to be at “extreme risk” in relation to right to privacy and freedom of expression.

Out of 198 countries, 58 were categorized as “extreme risk” when it came to citizens’ right to privacy, a jump of 9 percent from 2017 levels.

The same number of countries were ranked as “extreme risk” in the report’s freedom of opinion and expression index.

The rise from 52 in 2017 to 58 this year represents an increase of 11 percent.

However, just 28 countries were identified as “extreme risk” on the democratic governance index, which identifies and measures authoritarian regimes.

The figures represent a “worrying” trend in the global erosion of rights and freedoms that goes “beyond the most hardcore autocratic states,” the report said. “This tells us that more countries are now prioritizing control of the public narrative and the quashing of public dissent above the rights of citizens.”

The report highlights Cambodia , where national elections last year prompted Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power for 34 years, to crack down on “fake news” by fining offenders and jailing them for two years.

Hun Sen has also strangled dissenting speech online by extending cybersurveillance, and ordered all Internet traffic to be transmitted through a state-owned data management center.

The report gave China the lowest aggregate score for freedom of expression and right to privacy.

Home to one-fifth of the world’s Internet users, the nation already faces the most severe Internet restrictions.

However, the study warns of the affect the 2020 rollout of the controversial social credit system — a mass surveillance program that gives citizens a social credit score based on their social, political and economic behavior — could have within and beyond the country’s borders.

In Turkey, more journalists were jailed last year than in any other country, the Committee to Protect Journalists has said.

The Turkish government last week destroyed more than 300,000 books linked to a failed military coup in 2016; last year, a report from the PEN International found that 200 media outlets and publishing organizations had been shut down, 80 writers subjected to investigations and prosecutions, and more than 5,800 academics dismissed from 118 public universities.

Cambodia, Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania and Zambia have all dropped into the “extreme risk” in terms of right to privacy.

Countries that were classified as at “extreme risk’ on freedom of expression included Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Uganda and Venezuela.

Sofia Nazalya, Verisk Maplecroft’s human rights analyst, said that US President Donald Trump’s increasingly authoritarian stance on media freedoms risked encouraging similar behaviors in other countries where freedom of expression and right to privacy are already the subject of concern.

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