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Governments around the world have seized on the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to expand digital surveillance and harvest more data on their citizens, according to a report out Wednesday from Freedom House, a democracy and human rights research group.

Why it matters: Privacy advocates have warned since early in the pandemic that the tech behind efforts to conduct contact tracing and enforce quarantines and other public safety protocols could be abused and made permanent, particularly in authoritarian countries like China.

What’s happening, according to the report:

Dozens of countries have rolled out government-backed contact-tracing apps without effective laws to protect people from overly expansive data collection.

  • China, Russia, India, Singapore, Ecuador and Bahrain were among the countries that Freedom House found implemented apps that either send reams of data unchecked to government servers or make invasive data and health documentation demands.

Governments in at least 28 countries censored

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Internet freedom has declined for the 10th consecutive year as governments around the world are using the coronavirus pandemic as a “cover” to expand online surveillance, crack down on dissent, and build new technological systems to control society, Freedom House says in a new report.

The Washington-based human rights watchdog’s annual Freedom Of The Net report, released on October 14, said the authorities in dozens of countries have cited COVID-19 “to justify expanded surveillance powers and the deployment of new technologies that were once seen as too intrusive.”

As a result, Internet freedom has worsened in 26 of the 65 countries covered by the report, while only 22 registered gains.

And just 20 percent of the estimated 3.8 billion people using the Internet live in countries with a free Internet, according to the democracy research group.

Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan, India, Ecuador, and Nigeria suffered the largest declines during the coverage period

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a close up of a box: Internet freedom in India declined for a third year: Report


© Carlsen Martin
Internet freedom in India declined for a third year: Report

Internet freedom in India declined for a third straight year, as government authorities increasingly shut off connectivity to suppress anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests, said a report.

The Freedom House report said spyware campaigns targeting human rights defenders added to the already restrictive environment for privacy.

“Meanwhile, both the CAA protests and the COVID-19 pandemic led to an information environment plagued by disinformation, often pushed by political leaders themselves. Within this environment, women, religious, and marginalized communities, in particular, experienced online harassment and trolling,” the report said.

The report said despite the Supreme Court establishing certain safeguards to be followed by the government before ordering internet shutdowns, India still registered to be home to more government-imposed internet shutdowns than anywhere else in the world.

The move was justified by authorities for reasons including the need to counter

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The news: Global internet freedom has declined for the 10th year in a row as governments use the coronavirus pandemic as cover to restrict people’s rights, according to a report by think tank Freedom House. Its researchers assessed 65 countries, accounting for 87% of internet users worldwide. The report covers the period from June 2019 to May 2020, but some key changes took place when the pandemic struck.  

The pandemic effect: In at least 20 countries, the pandemic was cited as a reason to introduce sweeping new restrictions on speech and arrest online critics. In 28, governments blocked websites or forced outlets, users, or platforms to censor information in order to suppress critical reporting, unfavorable health statistics or other content related to the coronavirus. In at least 45 of the countries studied, people were arrested as a result of their online posts about covid-19.

Many countries are also conducting increasingly

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