Chinese-style digital authoritarianism rises, internet freedom declines

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Seventeen governments are said to have approved or proposed laws restricting online media in the name of fighting fake news.

A new report by think tank Freedom House found that, of the 65 countries it assessed, 26 experienced a deterioration in internet freedom over the past year.

Discussions with Chinese officials preceded new cybersecurity measures in Vietnam, Uganda and Tanzania over the a year ago, Freedom House said after reviewing Chinese state media articles and government press releases.

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This has been followed by "hundreds" of new directives on what people can and cannot do online, and tighter controls on the use of VPNs to evade detection. China's digital surveillance standards are reportedly influencing other nations', according to the watchdog Freedom House.

Meanwhile, Chinese technology companies have provided or are set to provide internet equipment to at least 38 of the tracked countries and artificial intelligence systems for law enforcement in 18 countries, the report said.

As fake news on social media has become a deadly problem, governments are using it as an "opening wedge for censorship", Michael Chertoff, the group's chairman and a former U.S. secretary for Homeland Security, told reporters by phone.

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That rating released research organization Freedom House.

Internet freedom in the United States worsened during the past year amid a similar trend witnessed on a worldwide scale, an global monitoring group wrote in its latest report.

"India leads the world in the number of internet shutdowns, with over 100 reported incidents in 2018 alone", the latest report notes.

"While deliberately falsified content is a genuine problem, some governments are increasingly using 'fake news" as a pretence to consolidate their control over information and suppress dissent'.

The report also expressed dismay over efforts in the United States to reverse "net neutrality" rules that ensure internet service providers treat all data equally, and not manipulate them into "faster" or "slower" speeds.

"A number of governments are moving to regulate social media users as media outlets in order to legitimize further crackdowns on online speech", the report said, citing the arrest of Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam only hours after he live-streamed a video report on Facebook about a government crackdown on protesters in August.

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