About Freedom on the Net Report
Freedom on the Net is a Freedom House project consisting of cutting-edge analysis, fact-based advocacy, and on-the-ground capacity building. The Institute for Research on Internet & Society – IRIS and researchers from GNET (Study Group at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais’ Law School) have worked alongside Brazilian rapporteurs in order to build the country’s evaluation.
The hallmark of our analysis is the annual Freedom on the Net report. It features a ranked, country-by-country assessment of online freedom, a global overview of the latest developments, as well as in depth country reports. In addition, Freedom on the Net has newly launched the Internet Freedom Election Monitor to estimate the risk of restrictions on internet freedom during upcoming elections.
The key trends and emerging threats highlighted in reports are then used in national and international advocacy campaigns by Freedom House. Our findings are also used by activists worldwide in working for local change, by international development agencies in designing programs and determining aid recipients, by tech companies for business intelligence and risk assessment, by journalists who cover internet rights, and by scholars and experts.
The project builds the capacity of its network of researchers—in-country bloggers, academics, journalists, and tech experts chosen for their promise and expertise—by providing the analytical tools to serve as the future generation of internet freedom defenders around the world.
Online manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 18 countries over the past year, including the United States. Disinformation tactics contributed to a seventh consecutive year of overall decline in internet freedom, as did a rise in disruptions to mobile internet service and increases in physical and technical attacks on human rights defenders and independent media.
An record number of governments have restricted mobile internet service for political or security reasons, often in areas populated by ethnic or religious minorities. For the third consecutive year, China was the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom, followed by Syria and Ethiopia.
Brazil’s internet freedom environment declined this year as restrictions imposed on content deemed to be injurious to electoral candidates in the lead-up to municipal elections resulted in a surge of removal requests.
Despite boasting some of the most progressive and comprehensive legislation on digital rights, Brazil’s “Internet Constitution” has been used as a key argument for recurring suspensions of WhatsApp. Following three orders to block popular messaging service WhatsApp in 2015 and early 2016, a new blocking order was issued in July 2016 for not turning over requested information sought in a criminal investigation. In response, bills in Congress proposed to restrict the power of judges to order blockings of such a magnitude and public hearings took place in the Brazilian Supreme Court.
Internet freedom in Brazil remains constrained by violence against independent bloggers, criminal defamation laws, restrictions on anonymity, and restrictive limits on content related to elections. Given restrictions imposed by the electoral law, municipal elections in October 2016 saw an expected rise in content removal requests. Most company transparency reports noted a rise in government requests for personal information and for the removal of content deemed defamatory against politicians and candidates. In October, an order also threatened to block Facebook if it did not comply with a request to remove a satirical page parodying a mayoral candidate.
The massive investigation into political kickbacks on contracts called “Operation Car Wash” (Lava Jato) garnered intense reactions on social networks during the report’s period of coverage, also resulting in online leaks of confidential conversations. In one case, an online blogger was taken in for compulsory questioning after reporting that police were going to question former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in relation with the probe.
Key findings in Brazil
Following orders to block popular messaging service WhatsApp in 2015 and early 2016, a new order temporarily blocked WhatsApp in July 2016 for not turning over encrypted communications sought in a criminal investigation (see Blocking and Filtering).
Requests to remove content deemed to be injurious to candidates surged in the lead-up to municipal elections in October 2016. A judge also threatened to temporarily block Facebook if it did not comply with a request to remove a satirical page parodying a mayoral candidate; Facebook removed the page and the block was not implemented (see Content Removal).
Police raided the home of a blogger and took him in for questioning in an attempt to uncover the sources of a story in which he revealed that police were going to question former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in relation with a corruption probe (see Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities).
If you are interested in the findings of the 2017 FOTN Report, click here!