2015 as a Turning Point for Web Freedom, Study

Web freedom is of paramount importance, especially in countries where there is heavy censorship. Recent incidents and ongoing prohibitions have made the future uncertain, when it comes to people being able to express themselves without worrying about the consequences of censorship on them.

In 2015, one of the issues that will cause grave concern and debate is undoubtedly that of web freedom. As it has been made clear over the past few years, many people get frustrated as to the percentage of online freedom that they are allowed to experience.

At the same time, there is an emerging fear of the personal information revealed by social media and search engines and the possibility of such information being used by the authorities against Internet users. As it seems, this matter is going to be on the spotlight in 2015 as well, with many more battles still to be won by civilians who wish to secure their digital traces.

One of the difficult parts to tackle with is the legislation and the barriers that this has placed as to what social media can conceal and what every company is obliged to hand over to the authorities. In cases of strict regimes, such as that of Russia and Turkey, there is a conflict between social media and the prohibitions applied by the Governments.

Facebook, Twitter and Google can be put in a challenging position, where they will have to choose how they will survive, by adopting the new requirements. Their legal departments are truly busy, trying to come up with loop holes that they can take advantage of along the way.

Russia in particular has passed a law which clearly states that every single company that wishes to store information on Russian residents should do that locally, meaning that their servers should be placed inside Russia. The country’s Government has been trying to increase vigilance, after the outstanding 57 million cyberattacks that have occurred only in the first half of 2014, due to the troubling times Russia is suffering from.

Another incident that has alarmed people of the censorship efforts doing more harm than good was that of Facebook being prompted to remove a page of the political opponent of Vladimir V. Putin, Aleksei A. Navalny. The issue has drawn great attention, due to the severity of the removal and the quick turnaround of Facebook towards executing the order that the Russian Government has given them. The whole issue has emerged, after Aleksei Navalny’s supporters were encouraged to attend a rally on the day of his trial on January 15th through the Facebook page. Of course, in the end a lot more pages with similar or even identical content appeared on other social media and managed to gain even more attention.

Similar censorship was attempted to Twitter by Turkey. The Government insisted that they blocked Twitter in an effort to stop security breaches, but the truth is that Twitter was blocked due to links of corruption within the Turkish Government.

As a result of the blocking, Turkish Internet users became well aware of how to overcome the restrictions applied by the Government and therefore the whole ban had completely different consequences than the ones anticipated by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As for Pakistan, there is heavy censorship there as well. In the form of examples, Facebook and YouTube suffer from a lot of blocking attempts and the Government is pressing for further action.

The recent statement from the European Union as to the right to be forgotten highlights the universal need to allow online content from social media and search engines to be deleted. Even though to this date the right applies to European countries and their versions of social media and search engines, the trend exists and the rest of the world is bound to follow.

Especially when it comes to Facebook with the gigantic number of more than 1.3 billion users globally, there need to be some attentive measures regarding the privacy settings and the right to anonymity. As for Google, their policy concerning content deletion is summed up within their statement back in 2010, where they claim that they are driven by the right to freedom of expression. Human rights should not be overlooked and this is in fact what is at stake with the multiple cases of content removal orders.

Another aspect that requires further attention is the refugee that Mr. Edward Snowden has found in Russia. The country’s reactions regarding the strict legislation and the need to have data servers within Russia instead of the United States can be regarded as a straightforward reaction against the ongoing revelations of Snowden as to the tactics used by the NSA and the US in general. So, it is left to the future to prove whether or not there can be common ground between powerful countries with conflicting interests, antagonism and revelations that hurt one another.

In this difficult time period, there is global concern as to web freedom and its limitations. The Governments find it hard to grant fully uncensored Internet and particularly in times when there are abundant threats and conflicts that can turn into menaces in a heartbeat. Let’s see how the dice are rolled!

Top/Featured Image: By @ru_pirateparty [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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2015 as a Turning Point for Web Freedom, Study

by Ali Qamar time to read: 3 min
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