Most Digital Freedom: #3 Canada
Freedom of speech ‘no longer exists’ in Australia and the UK: Katie Hopkins
- Total score : 87
- Obstacles to access score : 23
- Limits on content score : 32
- Violations of user rights score : 32
Internet access is widely available and generally affordable for most Canadians. The countrys constitution enshrines strong protections for freedom of speech, regarded as a fundamental freedomboth online and offlineas well as freedom of the press. Certain speech, such as hate speech, advocating for genocide, threats, and defamation are not protected. The protection of personal data is an area for improvement in Canada with cyberattacks increasing sixfold from 2018 to 2019. More than half of individual internet users and one in five businesses in Canada were impacted by data breaches in that same time period.
Least Digital Freedom: #3 Myanmar
- Total score : 17
- Obstacles to access score : 4
- Limits on content score : 7
- Violations of user rights score : 6
Following Myanmars military coup of the National League for Democracy in February 2021, digital freedom in the country has been virtually nonexistent. Constitutional rights that enshrined any semblance of free speech in the country were dismantled, and people are regularly surveilled and jailed for expressing dissenting opinions.
To maintain control following the military takeover, the ruling political force, or junta, frequently shuts down internet access nationwide. Many social media platformsincluding Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsAppas well news sites, financial platforms, and gaming services were also blocked. Thus opposition activitiessuch as those staged by the Campaign for Civil Disobedience and Peoples Defense Forcesare not always accurately understood within the country.
Freedom Of Speech In France And America
Earlier this summer, we partnered with The Cultural Services of the French Embassy on a pair of programs comparing the freedoms of religion and speech in France and in the United States, and how those freedoms are protected in the two countries. In this program, a panel of experts from both countries explores how freedom of speech and press as guaranteed by the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen differs from freedom of speech and press in America under the First Amendment of the Constitutionas well as how laws and courts in both countries protect those rights and address issues over controversial speech. National Constitution Center President and CEO Jeffrey Rosen was joined by Marc-Olivier Bherer, staff editor and reporter for the French daily Le Monde and Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the 2021 class Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America and author of Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All Geoffrey Stone, professor at the University of Chicago Law School and Hélène Tigroudja, law professor at Aix-Marseille University in France and a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
This panel was streamed live on June 1, 2021.
Check out another program from our partnership with the French embassy, Religious Liberty in France and America, and more programs on free speech in our Media Library at constitutioncenter.org/constitution.
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Case Study: Poland And The Right To Protest
Amnesty International has documented how people in Poland have taken to the streets to express their opinions despite restrictive legislation combined with heavy-handed policing, surveillance, harassment and prosecution which threaten to strangle the right to peaceful protest.
Since 2016, tens of thousands of people have protested against repressive legislation aimed at curbing womens rights and undermining the independence of the judiciary. Protesters have routinely been met with a show of force and restrictive measures that infringe their right to be seen and heard. Hundreds have found themselves in police custody and facing lengthy court proceedings.
In parallel with tightening the laws affecting the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, the government has vastly expanded the surveillance powers of law enforcement agencies with evidence that these expanded powers have been used against people engaged in organizing and participating in peaceful protests.
Why Is Freedom Of Expression Important
The right to freedom of expression is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which sets out in broad terms the human rights that each of us has. It was later protected legally by a raft of international and regional treaties.
Defending freedom of expression has always been a core part of Amnesty Internationals work and is vital in holding the powerful to account. Freedom of expression also underpins other human rights such as the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and allows them to flourish.
It is also closely linked to freedom of association the right to form and join clubs, societies, trade unions or political parties with anyone you choose and freedom of peaceful assembly the right to take part in a peaceful demonstration or public meeting.
However, these very freedoms come under regular attack by governments that want to stifle criticism.
For example, in Egypt it is currently extremely dangerous to criticize the government. Over the course of 2018, the authorities arrested at least 113 individuals citing a host of absurd reasons including satire, tweeting, supporting football clubs, denouncing sexual harassment, editing movies and giving interviews.
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Deepening Repression Around Electoral Disputes
Internet freedom plummeted by 14 points in Myanmarthe largest decline ever recorded in Freedom on the Netafter the military refused to accept the results of the November 2020 general elections and launched a deadly coup in February 2021. Internet connectivity was cut off every night from then until April, and mobile services were suspended entirely beginning in March, leaving only fixed-line and wireless broadband services available to users during the day. After opposition to the coup gathered force online and overflowed into the streets, the junta also blocked social media, stripped the licenses of independent online news outlets, forced service providers to hand over personal data, and seized control of the telecommunications infrastructure. Protesters and ordinary users alike suffered physical assaults and enforced disappearances in retaliation for their online activities.
Free Speech For Hatemongers
The ACLU has often been at the center of controversy for defending the free speech rights of groups that spew hate, such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis. But if only popular ideas were protected, we wouldn’t need a First Amendment. History teaches that the first target of government repression is never the last. If we do not come to the defense of the free speech rights of the most unpopular among us, even if their views are antithetical to the very freedom the First Amendment stands for, then no one’s liberty will be secure. In that sense, all First Amendment rights are “indivisible.”
Censoring so-called hate speech also runs counter to the long-term interests of the most frequent victims of hate: racial, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities. We should not give the government the power to decide which opinions are hateful, for history has taught us that government is more apt to use this power to prosecute minorities than to protect them. As one federal judge has put it, tolerating hateful speech is “the best protection we have against any Nazi-type regime in this country.”
At the same time, freedom of speech does not prevent punishing conduct that intimidates, harasses, or threatens another person, even if words are used. Threatening phone calls, for example, are not constitutionally protected.
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Top 10 Countries With The Least Freedom Of Speech
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Despite living in our modern times where human rights and freedom of speech are regarded as something completely natural in western countries, it is not the case for many countries in the world. In fact, people from many countries in Asia, South America and Africa live in constant fear of retaliation, censorship, or sanctions from the government for simply expressing their opinions. With that in mind, check out below for the list of the top 10 countries with the least freedom of speech.
Least Digital Freedom: #1 China
10 Most Censored Countries In The World
- Total score : 10
- Obstacles to access score : 8
- Limits on content score : 2
- Violations of user rights score : 0
For the seventh consecutive year, China has been deemed the most digitally oppressive country in the world. Censorship, not access, is the countrys ruling Communist Partys primary means of maintaining control. China possesses and exercises the ability to shut down internet access for entire provinces, as well as for specific people if dissension is suspected. Government and self-censorship is standard practice. The governments response to communication about COVID-19between its own citizens as well as with international playerswas especially restrictive. More than 2,000 keywords related to the virus were censored on social media platforms at the onset of the pandemic, affecting tens of millions of posts.
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Most Digital Freedom: #1 Iceland
- Total score : 96
- Obstacles to access score : 25
- Limits on content score : 34
- Violations of user rights score : 37
In Iceland, internet access is widespread. There are no digital divides or differences in penetration rates across geography, gender, or education levels. The country boasts very few restrictions to online content, with zero public records of government takedown requests during the reporting period.
While the government does not exercise control over its information and communications technology infrastructure, it has in recent years invested heavily in enhancing that infrastructure by providing citizens with fixed-line connections of at least 100 megabits per second. Moreover, when it comes to user safety and privacy, Iceland offers a voluntary contact tracing app that uses Bluetooth technology rather than geolocation to better protect user privacy.
Which Countries Do Not Have Freedom Of Speech
Most countries have some provision for Freedom of Speech in the laws or constitutions. However, nearly every country has limitations on free speech.
Several countries are notable for an extreme lack of free speech: Iran, North Korea, Nepal, Myanmar are all examples. People are often executed in these countries for speaking out.
Many other countries have severe restrictions on certain types of speech. Most Muslim countries, for example, do not tolerate speech demeaning Islam. Malaysia does not permit denigration of any religion.Many don’t. China doesn’t since it is communist. Russia really doesn’t since the news and TV are controlled by the state. Many Arab nations are monarchies and they don’t. Cuba, Somalia, and some South American don’t have freedom of press or speech.
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America Has A Free Speech Problem
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By The Editorial Board
The editorial board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstandingvalues. It is separate from the newsroom.
For all the tolerance and enlightenment that modern society claims, Americans are losing hold of a fundamental right as citizens of a free country: the right to speak their minds and voice their opinions in public without fear of being shamed or shunned.
This social silencing, this depluralizing of America, has been evident for years, but dealing with it stirs yet more fear. It feels like a third rail, dangerous. For a strong nation and open society, that is dangerous.
How has this happened? In large part, its because the political left and the right are caught in a destructive loop of condemnation and recrimination around cancel culture. Many on the left refuse to acknowledge that cancel culture exists at all, believing that those who complain about it are offering cover for bigots to peddle hate speech. Many on the right, for all their braying about cancel culture, have embraced an even more extreme version of censoriousness as a bulwark against a rapidly changing society, with laws that would ban books, stifle teachers and discourage open discussion in classrooms.
Democratic Republic Of The Congo
After years of election delays, votes held in December 2018 were marred by fires destroying thousands of voting machines and shortcomings in federal funding for the votes.
Rampant corruption in the government has created harsh restrictions on citizens’ basic civil liberties and widespread opportunity for officials to exercise human rights abuses in addition to violence carried out by militias across the country.
Aggregate Freedom Score: 15/100
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Most Digital Freedom: #5 Taiwan
- Total score : 80
- Obstacles to access score : 24
- Limits on content score : 31
- Violations of user rights score : 25
The upholding of democratic values, particularly during a transition of power, makes Taiwan one of the most digitally free countries in Asia. This means no intentional internet blackouts, censorship, or blocked platforms. Generally, citizens face few infrastructural barriers to internet access, and no significant digital divides exist.
However, data collection and user privacy is a weak spot in Taiwan’s digital freedom profile. In the first year of the pandemic, the scope of personal data collection was expanded to allow for programs like The Electronic Fence System, which used mobile tracking data to ensure people didnt leave quarantine. Questions about the veracity of pandemic-related contact tracing also exist, with some claiming the tracking technology was used for purposes outside of COVID-19.
What Does Freedom On The Net Measure
The non-profit research group, Freedom House, published the Freedom on the Net annual report. The report analyzes and ranks the state of internet freedom in 65 participating countries accounting for most internet users around the world.The group assigns points to the countries depending on several factors, like a countrys political climate, ease of internet accessibility, cyber laws, and content restrictions to name a few.
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Countries With The Mostand Leastdigital Freedom
In 2016, the United Nations declared access to the internet to be a human right. Roughly two out of every three people in the world have internet access, but this doesnt mean it is equal, safe, or free from censorship.
In some countries, citizens are restricted on where they can go and what they can read online. The internet is often wielded as a weapon by governments to stifle the spread of dissenting opinions or information that directly contradicts state interests. Internet access is commonly one of the first things to be cut off amid protests or civil unrest. Like a fire without oxygen, revolutions great and small can be extinguished when restrictions on social media and internet access hinder the ability to communicate, organize, and document.
But it is the everyday liberties and freedom of expression that suffer when online voices are restricted. Social and political opinions and even personal data do not belong to the individual. Building and participating in a digital community, especially for marginalized groups, becomes difficultif not outright dangerous.
Beyond Identity compiled data from Freedom Houses 2021 Freedom on the Net report to rank the countries with the most and least digital freedom. Freedom House scored each country in three categories with different weightingobstacles to access, limits on content, and violations of user rightsthen ranked the countries by their total scores. Countries tied for total scores share a rank.
Freedom Of Expression Under Threat In Southeast Asia
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Governments across Southeast Asia have little incentive to protect freedom of expression domestically but steps taken by both domestic and international actors could mean the difference between freedom and its opposite.
All of the countries of Southeast Asia currently sit in the bottom half of the World Press Freedom Index, with four Brunei, Laos, Singapore and Vietnam ranked below 150 in the 180-country list, and Myanmar expected to join them following its February 2020 coup.
In these countries, critical coverage is not formally banned but there is no presumption of the right to publish. In Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand, for example, a theoretical commitment to freedom of expression is marred by restrictive legislation, intimidation and even the killing of journalists.
The media in Southeast Asia faces two problems vaguely worded laws open to abuse and politically-motivated prosecutions and, in the absence of robust independent courts willing to challenge these governments, politicians have been able to pursue personal vendettas against publications and individuals with few limitations.
Brunei, Singapore, Laos and Vietnam are ranked 154, 160, 172 and 175 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index.
The most concerning attacks on freedom of speech have been physical attacks on journalists.
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Global Publics Divided On Whether Court System Treats Everyone Fairly
A 27-nation median of 44% say the statement âthe court system treats everyone fairlyâ describes their country well, while a median of 53% say it does not. And opinions about a countryâs court system vary little across the advanced and emerging economies surveyed.
Indonesians are particularly likely to say their courts are impartial around three-quarters say the court system treats everyone fairly , including around four-in-ten who say this describes their country very well. Views on the impartiality of the courts are also shared in the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Canada, the Philippines and Kenya, where roughly six-in-ten or more say this describes their country well.
Publics in Italy, Spain, South Korea and Argentina are less confident in the fairness of their court systems: Only around one-in-five in each of these nations say the courts treat everyone fairly. Roughly half or more in Argentina, Brazil, Spain and Mexico say this statement does not describe their country well at all.
According to Amnesty International, freedom of expression is significantly limited in China and North Korea. Freedom of speech has improved in Myanmar in recent years, but significant challenges remain.Which countries don t have freedom? ›
Least free were Syria (3.79), Venezuela (3.80), and Yemen (4.30). The components on which the index is based can be divided into economic freedoms and other personal freedoms. Highest ranking in economic freedoms were Hong Kong (8.91) and Singapore (8.71).Where is freedom of speech not protected? ›
The categories of unprotected speech include obscenity, child pornography, defamatory speech, false advertising, true threats, and fighting words. Deciding what is and is not protected speech is reserved to courts of law. The First Amendment only prevents government restrictions on speech.Does the U.S. not have freedom of speech? ›
If you're in the U.S., you have freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition. The First Amendment is neither “left-wing” or “right-wing.” It can be used to push for social and political change, or to oppose change.Does China have free speech? ›
Although the 1982 constitution guarantees freedom of speech, the Chinese government often uses the "subversion of state power" and "protection of state secrets" clauses in their law system to imprison those who criticize the government.Does Mexico have freedom of speech? ›
The constitution and its regulatory laws guarantee freedom of speech, freedom of the press, privacy of personal communications, and freedom of access to information.What is the least freest country in the world? ›
- Yemen — 4.08.
- Sudan — 4.48.
- Egypt — 4.49.
- Iran — 4.53.
- Somalia — 4.93.
- Burundi — 5.02 (tie)
- Iraq — 5.02 (tie)
- Libya — 5.05.
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respects these rights in practice. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combine to ensure freedom of speech and of the press.Is there freedom of speech in North Korea? ›
The North Korean constitution has clauses guaranteeing the freedoms of speech and assembly. In practice, other clauses take precedence, including the requirement that citizens follow a socialist way of life.What countries do not have the right to protest? ›
Currently, prominent violators of these freedom include Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Belarus, and Russian-occupied Crimea and the Russian-separatist occupied territories of eastern Ukraine.
Article 21 of Japan's constitution prohibits censorship and protects freedom of “speech, press, and all other forms of expression,” as well as the “secrecy of any means of communication.”70 These rights are generally upheld in practice, though some social and legal constraints exist, and several laws have negative ...Why doesn't England have freedom of speech? ›
The UK has been ranked only in the third tier of a new global index of freedom of expression due to what was described as the “chilling effect” of government policies, policing and intimidation of journalists in the legal system.Does North Korea have freedom of speech? ›
The North Korean constitution has clauses guaranteeing the freedoms of speech and assembly. In practice, other clauses take precedence, including the requirement that citizens follow a socialist way of life.