The Financial Express

Bangladesh’s internet freedom declines once again: Report

| Updated: September 24, 2021 18:25:41

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Bangladesh’s internet freedom has declined once again as it lost two points in 2021 compared to 2020, according to a latest report prepared by an international freedom advocacy group and research organisation.

However, Bangladesh outshined Pakistan in greater margin in the Freedom on Net index, the Washington-based Freedom House said in its report titled “Freedom on the Net 2021: The Global Drive to Control Big Tech.

Bangladesh scored 40 points in 2021 whereas it obtained 42 points in 2020 and 44 points in 2019, the report revealed.

On the other hand, Pakistan secured only 25 points, losing its one point from 2020 while India ranked 49.

Scores are prepared based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free), it said.

The Washington-based Freedom House also in its report said connectivity restrictions to 3G and 4G mobile services in Rohingya refugee camps were lifted in August 2020, after almost a year.

Categorising Bangladesh as a ‘Partly Free’ country on the freedom index, the report also said internet freedom in the country reached an all-time low during the coverage period.

On the other hand, global internet freedom declined for the 11th consecutive year.

In the high-stakes battle between states and technology companies, the rights of internet users have become the main casualties, it pointed out.

The greatest deteriorations were documented in Myanmar, Belarus, and Uganda, where state forces cracked down amid electoral and constitutional crises. Myanmar’s 14-point score decline is the largest slump registered since the Freedom on the Net project began.

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, according to the report.

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