The Global Expression Report 2018-19 shows that global freedom of expression at its lowest for a decade. Gains that were made between 2008 -- 2013 have been eroded over the last five years. Repressive responses to street protests are contributing to the
decline in freedom of expression around the world. A rise in digital authoritarianism sees governments taking control of internet infrastructure, increasing online surveillance and controlling content. The numbers of journalists, communicators and human
rights defenders being imprisoned, attacked and killed continues to increase. 66 countries -- with a combined population of more than 5.5 billion people -- saw a decline in their overall freedom of expression environment last decade.
Global Expression Report 2018-19: media pack
The Global Expression Report 2018-19 shows that global freedom of expression at its lowest for a decade. Gains that were made between 2008 -- 2013 have been eroded over the last five years.
Repressive responses to street protests are contributing to the decline in freedom of expression around the world.
A rise in digital authoritarianism sees governments taking control of internet infrastructure, increasing online surveillance and controlling content.
The numbers of journalists, communicators and
human rights defenders being imprisoned, attacked and killed continues to increase.
66 countries -- with a combined population of more than 5.5 billion people -- saw a decline in their overall freedom of expression
environment last decade.
Comment from Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19:
"Almost ten years ago, the Arab Spring offered hope to people across the world that repressive governments would not be able
to retain power when faced with protestors, empowered as never before with access to information and digital tools for organising.
"Today, protests continue to take place around the world but our report shows that global
freedom of expression remains at a ten-year low and that many of the gains made in the earlier part of the decade have been lost.
"Some of these threats are not new: governments are still using state violence and judicial
harassment to close down protests. Journalists, communicators and human rights defenders are still being imprisoned, attacked and killed with impunity. But we are also seeing a rise in digital authoritarianism where governments are using digital
technology to surveill their citizens, restrict content and shut down communications."
"Governments need to take action to reverse this trend and uphold their citizens' right to freedom of expression."
Just last month WhatsApp sued an Israeli surveillance company, the NSO Group , in a US court. The case alleges that the messaging platform was compromised by NSO technology, specifically to insert its signature product -- spyware known as Pegasus -- on
to at least 1,400 devices, which enabled government surveillance (an allegation that NSO Group rejects ).With Pegasus in their hands, governments have access to the seemingly endless amount of personal data in our pockets. The University of Toronto's
CitzenLab has found the Pegasus spyware used in 45 countries.
The global surveillance industry -- in which the NSO Group is just one of many dozens, if not hundreds, of companies -- appears to be out of control, unaccountable and
unconstrained in providing governments with relatively low-cost access to the sorts of spying tools that only the most advanced state intelligence services previously were able to use.
The industry and its defenders will say this
is a price to pay for confronting terrorism. We must sacrifice some liberty to protect our people from another 9/11, they argue. As one well-placed person claimed to me, such surveillance is mandatory; and, what's more, it is complicated, to protect
privacy and human rights.
All I can say is, give me a break. The companies hardly seem to be trying -- and, more importantly, neither are the governments that could do something about it. In fact, governments have been happy to
have these companies help them carry out this dirty work. This isn't a question of governments using tools for lawful purposes and incidentally or inadvertently sweeping up some illegitimate targets: this is using spyware technology to target vulnerable
yet vital people whom healthy democracies need to protect.
Russia's state internet censor has announced that China and Russia will sign an agreement to cooperate in further censoring internet access for their citizens.
Roskomnadzor said it would formally sign the international treaty with their Chinese
counterpart, the Cyberspace Administration of China, on October 20. That date is the first day of China's three-day World Internet Conference, to be held this year in the city of Wuzhen, in eastern Zhejiang province.
This co-operation seems to be
based on the two countries promoting an alternative internet governance regime that is not controlled by the US. An alternative governance would allow national censorship processes a route to getting deeper into the overall control management of the
internet. Eg to disallow censorship busting technology such as encrypted DNS.
The United States has decided not to support the censorship call by 18 governments and five top American tech firms and declined to endorse a New Zealand-led censorship effort responding to the live-streamed shootings at two Christchurch mosques. White
House officials said free-speech concerns prevented them from formally signing onto the largest campaign to date targeting extremism online.
World leaders, including British Prime Minister Theresa May, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and
Jordan's King Abdullah II, signed the Christchurch Call, which was unveiled at a gathering in Paris that had been organized by French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
The governments pledged to counter
online extremism, including through new regulation, and to encourage media outlets to apply ethical standards when depicting terrorist events online.
But the White House opted against endorsing the effort, and President Trump did not join the
other leaders in Paris. The White House felt the document could present constitutional concerns, officials there said, potentially conflicting with the First Amendment. Indeed Trump has previously threatened social media out of concern that it's biased
Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter also signed on to the document, pledging to work more closely with one another and governments to make certain their sites do not become conduits for terrorism. Twitter CEO
Jack Dorsey was among the attendees at the conference.
The companies agreed to accelerate research and information sharing with governments in the wake of recent terrorist attacks. They said they'd pursue a nine-point plan of technical remedies
designed to find and combat objectionable content, including instituting more user-reporting systems, more refined automatic detection systems, improved vetting of live-streamed videos and more collective development of organized research and
technologies the industry could build and share.
The companies also promised to implement appropriate checks on live-streaming, with the aim of ensuring that videos of violent attacks aren't broadcast widely, in real time, online. To that end,
Facebook this week announced a new one-strike policy, in which users who violate its rules -- such as sharing content from known terrorist groups -- could be prohibited from using its live-streaming tools.