Although we make take the internet for granted, it is not a guaranteed privilege. Some governments impose extreme restrictions in an attempt to manipulate public perception. These countries have been deemed the worst abusers of online freedom.
Not all internet is created equal. While most places enjoy an unrestricted service, there are countries where the freedom of digital information is not a right. Their authorities rely on a strict censorship policy to filter content deemed destructive for their regime.
For most, international news sites and social media take the hardest hit. However, the more severe restrictions can cover religious posts, historical content and, simply, contrasting opinions. In extreme cases, failure to abide to these limits can result in death.
The following list details the severest internet restrictions by countries names the top 10 ‘enemies of the internet.’
#1 – North Korea
The hermit state subsists through a mixture of propaganda and terror. Internet censorship in North Korea is the strictest in the world, with only 4% of residents granted access. Aside from a few government officials, most are forced to use a monitored intranet comprised of vetted North Korean websites.
However, even access to this is limited. Having internet in your home is unimaginable and very few connection points exist outside the capital, Pyongyang. This service is strictly monitored, and failure to comply could result in a trip to Gulag-style work camps for you and your whole family.
#2 – China
Although internet censorship in China allows connection to the global network, its blacklist is lengthy. Although technically a democracy, China’s one ruling party – the Chinese Communist Party – goes to great lengths to impact the political narrative.
Globally known as the ‘Great Firewall of China,’ the censorship policy blocks websites, erases content and even re-routes search terms. For example, those looking for information on the controversial Tiananmen protests will immediately be transferred to pro-establishment sites, with no mention of the tragedy. Popular sites completely blocked in China include Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google, Skype, BBC, and the Wall Street Journal.
#3 – Cuba
Gaining physical access to the internet in Cuba poses a challenge. Connections are only allowed at public access points, which are provided by state-owned companies. Once connected, the authorities monitor all activity. Unsurprisingly, only 5 percent of Cubans regularly go online.
However, despite the challenge in actually getting online, internet access in Cuba is notably unregulated. Although some news sites and popular telecoms platform – such as Skype – are blocked, most social media platforms can be used. Cuba claims its poor connectivity is a result of past sanctions by the US. Decreasing political tensions between the countries will soon test this theory.
#4 – Saudi Arabia
The lives of Saudi Arabians are governed in line with the countries strict religious outlook. The internet is no exception to this rule. Nearly half a million websites are blocked due to their anti-Islamic content. While this includes understandable restrictions – such as porn websites – it also covers many social networks and even humanitarian sites.
All internet use is diverted through a government ministry to identify subverters. Since disregarding the restrictions could result in a five-year jail-term, many journalists often self-censor – which only escalates the information blackout.
#5 – Vietnam
Similarly to Saudi Arabia, bloggers and journalists in Vietnam feel pressure to toe the party line. The government forces internet giants – such as Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft – to share information on all web writers.
Alongside this, domains that are critical of the government are blocked to end-users. Any website that promotes democracy, religious tolerance, and human rights fall into this category; Facebook is also censored, and some visitors have reported difficulty in accessing Twitter.
#6 – UAE
The job of the Telecom Regulatory Authority in UAE is to restrict internet access. Some of the regulations are seemingly altruistic, such as blocks on phishing sites, hacking tools, spyware and information on buying, selling and manufacturing illegal drugs.
However, much of the blacklist is to enforce social and religious beliefs. Domains that promote nudity, dating, gambling or any UAE law violation are restricted; so are sources that help users bypass internet censorship. A 2016 Human Rights. Watch report also noted that some local news sites and discussion forums were inaccessible
#7 – Russia
Not so long ago, Russia had a relatively free web network. However, as political tensions have risen, so has internet censorship. After countrywide protests, 2012 saw new laws sanctioning government internet blocks. Today, the Russian online policy is markedly reminiscent of China’s.
Web giants have been instructed to store and share information with authorities. A move to block LinkedIn has already occurred, for failure to comply. At first, the blacklist targeted taboo websites but was quickly amended to cover extremist activities, inciting hate and violating order – clearly a tactic for quelling unrest in the country.
#8 – Iran
Internet users in Iran face heavy restrictions and harsh punishments for dissent. As a theocracy, the ruling mullahs impose strict Islamic rule and restrict internet access to alternative lifestyles. Not only are most social media sites blocked, but websites owners and bloggers also have to register with authorities.
The world was shocked in 2014 when a group of Iranian students made a YouTube video to Pharrell’s international hit ‘Happy.’ While the film went viral, the participants faced 91 lashes and a jail sentence for their seemingly minor dissent.
#9 – Turkey
Much like Russia, Turkey offered an open net until very recently. As 2014 saw increasing unrest, the government cracked down on its internet censorship. Today, access to most social networks and communications platforms are blocked. Alongside this, the new law required ISPs to store all usage data for two years. They were also made responsible for removing banned content within 4 hours of its posting.
#10 – Pakistan
Pakistan hit the headlines is 2010 for its internet censorship. The blacklisting was mainly on religious grounds but extends over many popular websites. Facebook was removed as it showcased images of the prophet; YouTube met a similar fate in 2012 after failing to remove a trailer for an anti-Islamic film.
The country uses high-level Netsweeper software to quickly sort through websites and block those that threaten public rhetoric.
Although the above countries are the worst offenders, they are not the only governments that restrict internet access. Even developed countries engage in active online censorship.
- Australia has banned all casino and poker websites.
- After NSA leaks, the U.S. faces accusations of internet censorship.
- In 2011, France drafted a controversial law granting government power to erase online content.
- Ukraine blocks all Russian websites since the Crimea annex.
What is the Solution to Online Restrictions?
Fortunately, there is a solution for web users in countries that restrict internet access. VPN software is employed globally to bypass geo-blocking and access content. The product works by assigning you a new IP address and routing your traffic through an international server.
By using a VPN, you can access all of your favorite sites, regardless of where you are in the world!