Individual Freedom and Social Media Warfare

Although there has been considerable growth in the use of the Internet and thus access to social media, there are many governments around the world that restrict free speech and Internet access. The 2015 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, published by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, provides some details on restrictions of speech and Internet access. The report states that, while many countries do not restrict access to the Internet, some severely restrict access and monitor Internet user activity. Those countries that strive to control the Internet also strive to control all media as much as possible, including broadcast and print, as well as free speech in general. Excerpts from the report show what some countries were doing in 2014 and 2015 to restrict or deny Internet access, along with the country’s type of government (in parenthesis):

Afghanistan (presidential Islamic republic): Authorities used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Freedom of speech was considerably more constrained at the provincial level, where local power brokers exerted significant influence and authority that they often used to intimidate or threaten their critics, both private citizens and journalists. Facebook pages have been shut down for unknown reasons. The Taliban used the Internet and social media (e.g., Twitter) to spread its messages.

Algeria (presidential republic): Individuals were limited in their ability to criticize the government publicly without reprisal. Several activists reported that the slightest misstep in a Facebook update could result in arrest and questioning and it is widely understood that the intelligence services closely monitored the activities of political and human rights activists on social media sites, including Facebook. Internet service providers face criminal penalties for the material and websites they host, especially if subject matters are “incompatible with morality or public opinion” [7].

Angola (presidential republic): The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press; however, state dominance of most media outlets and selfcensorship by journalists limited the practical application of these rights.

Austria (federal parliamentary republic): Authorities continued to restrict access to websites containing information that violated the law, such as neo-Nazi sites, and restricted access to prohibited websites by trying to shut them and forbidding the country’s Internet service providers from providing access to them.

Azerbaijan (presidential republic): There is a clear pattern of repression in Azerbaijan against those expressing dissent or criticism of authorities, primarily human rights defenders, but also journalists, bloggers, and other activists, who may face a variety of criminal charges. Most media practiced self-censorship and avoided topics considered politically sensitive due to fear of government retaliation. Internet service providers are required to be licensed and have formal agreements with the government. There were strong indications that the government monitored the Internet communications of democracy activists. Bahrain (constitutional monarchy): The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, “provided that the fundamental beliefs of Islamic doctrine are not infringed, the unity of the people is not prejudiced, and discord and sectarianism are not aroused.” In practice, the government limited freedom of speech and press through active prosecution of individuals under libel, slander, and national security laws that targeted civilian and professional journalists, and through legislation to limit speech in print and social media. The government restricted Internet freedom and monitored individuals’ online activities, including via social media, leading to legal action and punishment of some Internet users. In 2013, the government blocked 70 websites in accordance with laws. In 2012, the government ordered service providers to block Internet users’ access to websites officials considered antigovernment, anti-Islamic, or likely to incite sectarian tensions. Many of the blocked websites featured live-streaming audio or video content.

Bangladesh (parliamentary republic): The government may restrict speech deemed to be against the security of the state; against friendly relations with foreign states; and against public order, decency, or morality; or that constitutes contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offense. The government restricted some access to the Internet and censored online content, and there were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications. Media reported that during the government-ordered shutdown of Facebook in November and December, government departments and politicians continued to update their pages.

Belarus (presidential republic in name, although in fact a dictatorship): The government interfered with Internet freedom by reportedly monitoring e-mail and Internet chat rooms. While individuals, groups, and publications were generally able to engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail, all who did so risked possible legal and personal repercussions. The government reportedly blocked access to 40 Internet sites. In several instances, cyber attacks of unknown origin temporarily disabled independent news portals and social networking sites.

Brazil (federal presidential republic): A continuing trend was for private individuals and official bodies to take legal action against Internet service providers and providers of online social media platforms, such as Google, Facebook, and Orkut, holding them accountable for content posted to or provided by users of the platform.

Brunei (absolute monarchy or sultanate): The government monitored private e-mail and Internet chat room exchanges believed to be subversive or propagating religious extremism. The government enforced a law that requires Internet service providers and Internet cafe operators to register, and advised Internet service and content providers to monitor for content contrary to public interest, national harmony, and social morals. The government blocked websites with sexually explicit material, and Internet companies self-censor content and reserve the right to cut off Internet access without prior notice. The government also ran an awareness campaign aimed at warning citizens about the misuse and social ills associated with social media, including the use of social media to criticize Islam, sharia, or the monarchy.

Burma (parliamentary republic): The government reportedly monitored Internet communications under questionable legal authority and used defamation charges to intimidate and detain some individuals using social media to criticize the military. There were instances of authorities intimidating online media outlets and Internet users.

Burundi (presidential republic): The government blocked the use of two or three social media applications on mobile networks for several days following an attempted coup d’etat.

Cambodia (parliamentary constitutional monarchy): There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority and announced it would begin enforcing rules requiring all subscriber identity module (SIM) cards to be associated with an identifiable individual. A non-governmental organization (NGO) also alleged, without providing evidence, that the government installed surveillance equipment at Internet service providers to monitor online traffic.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) (communist state): Authorities continued to increase efforts to monitor Internet use, control content, restrict information, block access to foreign and domestic websites, encourage self-censorship, and punish those who ran afoul of political sensitivities. According to news sources, more than 14 government ministries participated in these efforts, resulting in the censorship of thousands of domestic and foreign websites, blogs, cell phone text messages, social networking services, online chat rooms, online games, and e-mail. The government also blocked access to selected websites operated by foreign governments, news outlets, health organizations, and educational institutions. The government continued to block almost all access to Google websites, including its mail service, photograph program, map service, and calendar application. Other websites that were blocked during the year included YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, SoundCloud, Flickr, and Picasa. Many news sites were blocked, including Reuters, the English-language and Chinese-language websites of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg. The websites of human rights groups, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, were also blocked.

Congo, Democratic Republic of the (semi-presidential republic): In the context of large-scale protests, the government suspended access to the Internet and text messaging throughout the country. The government blocked social media sites for several weeks after the protests subsided.

Congo, Republic of the (presidential republic): There were several occasions when the government disrupted Internet access, and there were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority and censored online content by cutting Internet access.

Cuba (communist state): The government restricted or disrupted access to the Internet and censored some online content, and there were credible reports that the government monitored without appropriate legal authority the limited e-mail and Internet chat rooms and browsing that were available.

Djibouti (semi-presidential republic): The government monitored social networks to ensure there were no planned demonstrations or overly critical views of the government.

Ecuador (presidential republic): There were credible reports that the government censored online content and monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The government increasingly monitored Twitter and other social media accounts for perceived threats or alleged insults against the president and government officials.

Egypt (presidential republic): The counterterrorism law criminalizes the use of the Internet to “promote ideas or beliefs that call for terrorist acts” or to “broadcast what is intended to mislead security authorities or influence the course of justice in relation to any terrorist crime.” The government attempted to disrupt the communications of terrorist groups operating in northern Sinai by cutting telecommunication networks: mobile services, Internet, and sometimes landlines. This tactic disrupted operations of government facilities and banks. The law requires Internet service providers and mobile operators to allow government access to customer databases, which can allow security forces to obtain information about activities of specific customers and could lead to lack of online anonymity. There were reports that authorities monitored social media and Internet dating sites to identify and arrest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals.

Equatorial Guinea (presidential republic): The government restricted and disrupted access to the Internet and censored online content. The government blocked WhatsApp, Facebook, Diario Rombe, and Radio Macuto to prevent communication during student protests. The websites remained blocked for several months, and some remained so at the end of 2015. The government also blocked access to websites maintained by domestic political opposition and exile groups.

Eritrea (presidential republic): It was suspected the government monitored some Internet communications, including e-mail, without obtaining warrants.

Ethiopia (federal parliamentary republic): Authorities harassed, arrested, detained, charged, and prosecuted journalists and other persons whom they perceived as critical of the government, creating an environment where self-censorship negatively affected freedom of speech. The government periodically restricted access to certain content on the Internet and blocked several websites, including blogs, opposition websites, and websites of the Ginbot 7, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). The government also temporarily blocked news sites such as Al Jazeera and the BBC. Several news blogs and websites run by opposition groups were not accessible. These included Addis Neger, Nazret, Ethiopian Review, CyberEthiopia, Quatero Amharic, Tensae Ethiopia, and the Ethiopian Media Forum. Authorities monitored telephone calls, text messages, and e-mails.

Gambia, The (presidential republic): Internet users reported they could not access the websites of foreign online news blogs such as Freedom Online.

Indonesia (presidential republic): The government prosecuted individuals for free expression under the law on information and electronic transaction law (ITE Law) which outlaws online crime, pornography, gambling, blackmail, lies, threats, and racism, and prohibits citizens from distributing in electronic format any information that is defamatory.

Iran (theocratic republic): The government restricted and disrupted access to the Internet, monitored private online communications, and censored online content. The government collected personally identifiable information in connection with citizens’ peaceful expression of political, religious, or ideological opinion or beliefs. The government briefly blocked the online messaging service, Telegram, for “spreading immoral content” [7]. The government also blocked platforms similar to YouTube channels and arrested their administrators. Twitter is officially banned in the country.

Iraq (federal parliamentary republic): There were overt government restrictions on access to the Internet, and there were credible reports that the government monitored e-mail and Internet communications without appropriate legal authority. There were reports that government officials attempted to have pages critical of the government removed from Facebook and Twitter for communications that the government considered “hate speech,” although they did not succeed in doing so.

Jordan (parliamentary constitutional monarchy): The law requires the licensing and registration of online news websites, holds editors responsible for readers’ comments on their websites, requires that website owners provide the government with the personal data of its users, and mandates that editors in chief be members of the Jordan Press Association. According to journalists, security forces reportedly demanded websites remove some posted articles. The government threatened websites and journalists that criticized the government, while it actively supported those that reported favorably on the government. The government monitored electronic correspondence and Internet chat sites.

Kazakhstan (presidential republic): Observers reported the government blocked or slowed access to opposition websites. Many observers expressed the view that the government planted pro-government propaganda in Internet chat rooms.

Kenya (presidential republic): Authorities monitored websites for violations of hate speech laws.

Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of (communist state). Internet access for citizens was limited to high-ranking officials and other designated elites, including select university students. A tightly controlled and regulated Intranet was reportedly available to a slightly larger group of users, including an elite grade school; select research institutions, universities, and factories; and a few individuals. Government employees sometimes had closely monitored access to the Internet and had limited closely monitored access to e-mail accounts.

Korea, Republic of (presidential republic): There were some government restrictions on Internet access, and the government monitored e-mail and Internet chat rooms with wide authority under the law. The government determines whether posts made on social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, or in chat rooms contain content which is defined as harmful or illegal speech. If the government finds prohibited materials, it has the power to warn the user. If the prohibited materials are not removed, the user’s account may be blocked.

Kuwait (constitutional monarchy): The government passed a new cybercrime law that bans criticism of Islam, the emir, the judiciary, and neighboring states on Internet-based forums, sites, and publications. The government monitored Internet communications, such as blogs and discussion groups, for defamation and security reasons and continued to block websites considered to “incite terrorism and instability” and required Internet service providers to block websites that “violate [the country’s] customs and traditions” [7]. The government prosecuted and punished individuals for the expression of political or religious views via the Internet. Authorities required owners of Internet cafes to obtain the names and civil identification numbers of customers and to submit the information upon request.

Kyrgyz Republic (parliamentary republic): Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community reported that police regularly monitored LGBTI chat rooms and dating sites and arranged meetings with LGBTI users of the sites to extort money from them.

Laos (communist state): The government controlled domestic Internet servers and sporadically monitored Internet usage. During the year, authorities also arrested individuals for online activities, including posting on Facebook photos of alleged police extortion, alleging a governor granted a controversial land concession to a developer, and condemning the government.

Lebanon (parliamentary republic): There was a perception among knowledgeable sources that the government monitored e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and Internet chat rooms where individuals and groups engaged in the expression of views. The government reportedly censored some websites to block online gambling, pornography, and religiously provocative material, and other agencies summoned journalists, bloggers, and activists to question them about tweets, Facebook posts, and blog posts critical of political figures.

Libya (in transition): Many bloggers, online journalists, and citizens reported practicing self-censorship due to instability, militia intimidation, and the uncertain political situation. Some activists reported finding what appeared to be “kill lists” targeting civilian dissenters on social media websites affiliated with certain Islamist militias.

Madagascar (semi-presidential republic): In June 2014, the national assembly passed a cybercrime law that includes a provision to prohibit insulting or defaming a government official online. According to Reporters Without Borders, “the law’s failure to define what is meant by ‘ insult’ or ‘defamation’ leaves room for very broad interpretation and major abuses.”

Malaysia (federal constitutional monarchy): Authorities monitored the Internet for e-mail messages and blog postings deemed a threat to public security or order. The law requires certain Internet and other network service providers to obtain a license, and permits punishment of the owner of a website or blog for allowing offensive racial, religious, or political content.

Maldives (presidential republic): The Communications Authority of Maldives (CAM) is the regulatory body mandated to enforce Internet content restrictions on sites hosted within the country and to maintain a blacklist of overseas websites. The CAM reported it blocked a few websites that violated domestic laws on anti-Islamism, pornography, child abuse, and other prohibitions. Some other government institutions are mandated to monitor content related to non-Islamic religious discourse, pornography, child abuse, sexual and domestic violence, copyright infringement, and national security.

Mauritius (parliamentary republic): There was anecdotal evidence the government monitored private online communications of some journalists.

Mexico (federal presidential republic): According to Freedom House, the government increased requests to social media companies to remove content. Some civil society organizations alleged that various state and federal agencies sought to monitor private online communications.

Montenegro (parliamentary republic): There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. NGOs alleged police and intelligence services unlawfully collected data from citizens’ mobile phones and Internet usage.

Mozambique (presidential republic): Opposition party members and academics reported government intelligence agents monitored e-mail and used false names to infiltrate social network discussion groups. One site often critical of the government, Verdade, suffered multiple attacks.

Nauru (parliamentary republic): The government sometimes restricted or disrupted access to the Internet. For instance, authorities blocked access to Facebook for a period of time.

Nicaragua (presidential republic): Several NGOs claimed the government monitored their e-mail without appropriate legal authority. Additionally, paid government supporters used social media and website commentary spaces to harass prominent members of civil society, human rights defenders, and a well-known journalist.

Niger (semi-presidential republic): The government blocked Internet access countrywide during January 2015 following protests in several major cities. Sonitel, the government-owned telecommunications company, indefinitely blocked access to certain websites, such as those of terrorist organization Boko Haram, under orders from the High Commission for New Technology and Communication.

Nigeria (federal presidential republic): Sources indicated the government attempted to monitor and suppress Internet and e-mail content, particularly during election periods. According to business executives and network providers, the government has conducted massive surveillance of citizens’ telecommunications, and on occasion compelled network operators to release political dissidents’ communication data.

Oman (absolute monarchy): The law restricts free speech exercised via the Internet, and the government enforces the restrictions. Authorities monitored the activities of telecommunications service providers and obliged them to block access to numerous websites considered pornographic, or culturally or politically sensitive. Authorities sometimes blocked blogs. Most video-chat technologies, such as Skype, were blocked.

Pakistan (federal parliamentary republic): There were reports that the government restricted Internet access and monitored Internet use, e-mail, and Internet chat rooms. In 2012 the government began a systematic, nationwide content-monitoring and filtering system to restrict or block “unacceptable” content, including material that is un-Islamic, pornographic, or critical of the state or military forces. There also were reports the government attempted to control or block some websites, including sites the government deemed extremist and pro-independence Baloch sites. The government continued to block access to YouTube (begun in 2012) and restricted access to other social media websites.

Peru (presidential republic): The press reported that the National Intelligence Bureau inappropriately gathered information on thousands of politicians, journalists, and businessmen, ostensibly for political purposes.

Qatar (absolute monarchy): In 2014 the government approved a new cybercrime law that severely limits online expression. The law prohibits any online activity that threatens the state, its general order, and its local or international peace. The law requires Internet service providers to block objectionable content based on a request from judicial entities. Internet providers are also obligated to maintain long-term electronic records and traffic data for the government.

Romania (semi-presidential republic): There were reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Russia (semi-presidential federation): The government took significant new steps to restrict free expression on the Internet. Threats to Internet freedom included physical attacks on bloggers; politically motivated prosecutions of bloggers for “extremism,” libel, or other crimes; blocking of specific sites by national and local service providers; distributed denial-of-service attacks on sites of opposition groups or independent media; monitoring by authorities of all Internet communications; and attempts by national, local, and regional authorities to regulate and criminalize content. The government maintained a federal blacklist of Internet sites. It required Internet service providers to block access to Web pages that it deemed offensive or illegal such as items on the “Federal List of Extremist Materials.” During the year authorities blocked or threatened to block some websites and social network pages that either criticized government policy or violated laws on Internet content. The communications regulator also blocked access to Yahoo’s video site after the service refused to comply with warnings to block access to an Islamic State video. The regulator also increased its requests to Facebook to block content. The government continued to employ a “system for operational investigative measures,” which requires Internet service providers (ISPs) to install, at their own expense, a device that routes all customer traffic to a Federal Security Service (FSB) terminal. The system enables police to track private e-mail communications, identify Internet users, and monitor their Internet activity.

Rwanda (presidential republic): There were numerous reports the government monitored e-mail and Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail and social media, but were subject to monitoring. Government-run social media accounts were used to debate and at times intimidate individuals who posted online comments considered critical of the government. The government at times blocked access within the country to several websites critical of its policies.

Saudi Arabia (absolute monarchy): The Ministry of Culture and Information or its agencies must authorize all websites registered and hosted in the country. The General Commission for Audiovisual Media has responsibility for regulating all audio and video content in the country, including satellite channels, film, music, Internet, and mobile applications, independent from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. In 2011 the government issued regulations for electronic publishing that set rules for Internet-based and other electronic media, including chat rooms, personal blogs, and text messages. Security authorities actively monitored Internet activity, both to enforce societal norms and to monitor recruitment efforts by organizations such as Daesh. Authorities routinely blocked sites containing material perceived as harmful, illegal, offensive, or anti-Islamic. According to Reporters Without Borders, authorities claimed to have cumulatively blocked approximately 400,000 websites.

Serbia (parliamentary republic): There were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law obliges telecommunications operators to retain for one year’s data on the source and destination of a communication; the beginning, duration, and end of a communication; the type of communication; terminal equipment identification; and the location of the customer’s mobile terminal equipment. While intelligence agencies can access this information without court permission, the law requires a court order to access the contents of these communications.

Seychelles (presidential republic): Opposition activists claimed the government blocked access to their party websites and monitored their postings on social network sites. There also were reports the government monitored e-mails, Internet chat rooms, and blogs.

Singapore (parliamentary republic): Internet service providers are required to ensure that content complies with local laws. The government closely monitored Internet activities, such as social media posts, blogs, and podcasts. Although a government-appointed review panel recommended that the government cease banning 100 specific websites for being pornographic, inciting racial and religious intolerance, or promoting terrorism and extremism, the ban remained in effect.

Somalia (federal parliamentary republic): Al-Shabaab prohibited companies from providing access to the Internet and forced telecommunication companies to shut down data services in Al-Shabaab-controlled areas.

South Africa (parliamentary republic): The law authorizes state monitoring of telecommunication systems including the Internet and e-mail, for national security reasons. The law requires all service providers to register on secure databases the identities, physical addresses, and telephone numbers of customers.

South Sudan (presidential republic): On June 1, 2015, the government expelled Toby Lanzer, the Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General/ Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator of the United Nations

Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), following remarks he posted on his Twitter account about the economic and political condition of the country.

Sri Lanka (presidential republic): The government placed restrictions on Internet access, including websites it deemed pornographic. Since 2011 websites carrying local news were required to register with the government.

Sudan (presidential republic): The government regulated licensing of telecommunications companies through the National Telecommunications Corporation. The agency blocked some websites and most proxy servers judged offensive to public morality, such as those purveying pornography. Authorities sporadically blocked access to YouTube and “negative” media sites. Reporters Without Borders reported the government established a “Cyber-Jihadist Unit” with a mandate to crack down on “Internet dissidents” in 2011. According to outside reports, the unit monitored social media accounts and electronic communications, especially of those believed to be regime critics.

Suriname (presidential republic): Journalists, members of the political opposition and their supporters, and other independent entities perceived government interference or oversight of e-mail and social media accounts.

Swaziland (absolute monarchy): There were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The government press office stated that authorities monitored Internet blogs, the use of social networks such as e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and Internet chat rooms.

Syria (presidential republic; highly authoritarian regime): According to the 2015 Freedom on the Net report, the country remained one of the most dangerous and repressive environments for Internet users in the world. The government controlled and restricted the Internet and monitored e-mail and social media accounts. Individuals and groups could not express views via the Internet, including by e-mail, without prospect of reprisal. The government employed sophisticated technologies and hundreds of computer specialists for filtering and surveillance purposes, such as monitoring e-mail and social media accounts of detainees, activists, and others. Internet blackouts often coincided with security force attacks. The government censored websites related to the opposition, including the websites for local coordination committees as well as media outlets.

The government meanwhile expanded its efforts to use social media, such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, to spread pro-government propaganda and manipulate online content. Government authorities routinely tortured and beat journalists to extract passwords for social media sites; and the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a group of pro-government computer hackers, frequently launched cyber attacks on websites to disable them and post pro-government material. Observers also accused the SEA of slowing Internet access to force self-censorship on government critics and diverting e-mail traffic to government servers for surveillance. Media reports have indicated that the SEA hacked the Washington Post’s mobile site in May 2015, and the SEA claimed responsibility for hacking a foreign armed force’s public website. Daesh forces restricted access to Internet cafes, especially for women, confiscated cell phones and computers, and instituted strict rules for journalists to follow or face punishment. Daesh also increased cyber attacks on journalists and groups documenting human rights abuses.

Tajikistan (presidential republic): Individuals and groups faced extensive government surveillance of Internet activity, including e-mails, and often self-censored their views while posting on the Internet. There were new and continuing government restrictions on access to Internet websites, such as Facebook, YouTube, Google, and Google services.

Tanzania (presidential republic): The government monitored websites and Internet traffic that criticized the government and to combat illegal activities. The law criminalizes the publication of false information, defined as the publication of “information, data or facts presented in a picture, texts, symbol or any other form in a computer system where such information, data or fact is false, deceptive, misleading or inaccurate.” Civil society groups expressed concern the act could curtail freedom of expression. For example, after the October 25, 2014, general election, 181 persons working in an opposition election center were detained and eight formally charged with violations of the Cybercrimes Act for compiling election results.

Thailand (constitutional monarchy interim military-run government): The government imposed significant restrictions on Internet freedom, restricting and disrupting access to the Internet, and censoring online content. There was Internet censorship, and the law was used to stifle certain areas of freedom of expression. The government closely monitored and blocked thousands of websites that criticized the monarchy. Many political Web boards and discussion forums chose to self-censor and monitor discussions closely to avoid being blocked, and newspapers disabled or restricted access to their public comment areas.

Turkey (parliamentary republic): Law allows the government to prohibit a website or remove content if there is sufficient suspicion that the site is committing any of eight crimes: insulting the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk; engaging in obscenity, prostitution, or gambling; encouraging suicide, sexual abuse of children, drug abuse, or provision of substances dangerous to health. As of December 2, 2015, EngelliWeb reported there were 106,198 blocked websites, compared with 58,635 in 2014.

Turkmenistan (presidential republic; highly authoritarian): The government continued to monitor citizens’ e-mail and Internet activity. Reports indicated that the Ministry of National Security controlled the main access gateway and that several servers belonging to Internet protocol addresses registered to the Ministry of Communications operated software that allowed the government to record Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) conversations, turn on cameras and microphones, and log keystrokes. Authorities blocked access to websites they considered sensitive, including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as virtual private network connections, including those of diplomatic missions.

Uganda (presidential republic): The government monitored Internet communication in accordance with the Antiterrorism Act, the Regulation of Interception of Communications Bill, and the Computer Misuse Act.

Ukraine (semi-presidential republic): Law enforcement bodies monitored the Internet, at times without appropriate legal authority. Human rights groups that were critical of Russian involvement in the Donbas and Crimea reported that opponents subjected their websites to cyber attacks, such as coordinated denial-of- service incidents and unauthorized attempts to obtain information from computers. Users of social media, particularly Facebook and VKontakte, sometimes had their access temporarily blocked for innocuous or straightforwardly political posts that other users (assumed by many Internet users in the country to be agents of the Russian government) mischaracterized as “hate speech” and flagged as terms of service violations. In one case, a post in support of a blocked user that simply read, “we’re with you,” led to a block of that Facebook user.

Ukraine (Crimea) (in transition): Russian occupation authorities restricted free expression on the Internet by imposing repressive laws of the Russian Federation. Security services routinely monitored and controlled Internet activity to suppress contrary opinions. According to media accounts, Russian occupation forces interrogated residents of Crimea for posting pro-Ukrainian opinions on Facebook or on blogs.

United Arab Emirates (federation of monarchies): The government restricted access to some websites and monitored chat rooms, instant messaging services, and blogs. Authorities stated they could imprison individuals for misusing the Internet. The country’s two Internet service providers, both linked to the government, used a proxy server to block materials deemed inconsistent with the country’s values, as defined by the Ministry of Interior. Blocked material included pornographic websites and a wide variety of other sites deemed indecent, including those that dealt with dating and matrimony; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) issues; Judaism and atheism; negative critiques of Islam; testimonies of former Muslims who converted to Christianity; posts that explained how to circumvent proxy servers; and some transmissions that originated in Israel. Proxy servers occasionally blocked broad categories of websites. The government also blocked some sites that contained content critical of ruling families. The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority was responsible for creating lists of blocked sites. Service providers did not have the authority to remove sites from blocked lists without government approval. The government also, at least partially, blocked VoIP websites.

Uzbekistan (presidential republic; highly authoritarian): Internet service providers, allegedly at the government’s request, routinely blocked access to websites or certain pages of websites that the government considered objectionable. The government blocked several domestic and international news websites and those operated by opposition political parties. The government restricted access to several Internet messenger services, sometimes for several months, requiring a proxy server to access services such as Skype, Viber, and Telegram.

Venezuela (federal presidential republic): The law puts the burden of filtering prohibited electronic messages on service providers and can order service providers to block access to websites that violate these norms and sanctions them with fines for distributing prohibited messages. There were 1008 websites blocked during the year and the government continued to block seven Internet sites that post dollar- and euro-to-Bolivar currency exchange rates differing from the government’s official rate. The government used Twitter hashtags to attain “trending” status for official propaganda and had hundreds of employees to manage and disseminate official government accounts. At least 65 official government accounts used Twitter to promote the ruling party. Public Space reported that it suspected the government hacked social networking sites, e-mails, and websites of political figures, civil society activists, writers, journalists, and newspapers, but it did not give specifics.

Vietnam (communist state): The government continued to exercise various forms of control over Internet access. It allowed access to the Internet but only through a limited number of Internet service providers, all of which were fully or substantially state-controlled companies. Despite these controls, Internet access and usage continued to grow. Authorities continued to suppress online political expression through politically motivated arrests and convictions of bloggers as well as through short-term detentions, surveillance, intimidation, and illegal confiscation of computers and cell phones of activists and family members. Political dissidents and bloggers reported the government routinely ordered disconnection of their home Internet service. The government monitored Facebook posts and punished activists who used the Internet to organize protests.

Yemen (in transition): The Houthi-controlled Public Telecommunications Corporation systematically blocked user access to websites and Internet domains it deemed dangerous to the rebel actors’ political agenda. According to a study by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, Ansar Allah used Internet-filtering technology to censor sources critical of the group and “to manipulate the information environment.”

Zambia (presidential republic): The government restricted access to the antigovernment online publication, the Zambian Watchdog and other sites critical of the government. Shortly after his appointment as minister of information in February 2015, Chishimba Kambwili threatened to close the Watchdog.

Zimbabwe (semi-presidential republic): The law permits the government to monitor all communications in the country, including Internet transmissions, and the government sometimes restricted access to the Internet. For example, the government blocked Blackberry’ s Internet services for Zimbabwean-registered Blackberries, including Blackberry’s encrypted messaging service that prevented enforcement of the law, allowing the government to intercept and monitor communications.

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