The use of new technologies is a key tool to promote human rights. Though authoritarian governments may seek to control the flow of information online, human rights activists, journalists, and everyday citizens can use technology to disseminate information, to expose corruption and other misdeeds and abuses, and to stay in contact with like-minded individuals.
Last year, 41 countries passed or proposed laws or regulations to punish or restrict speech online. More and more governments increasingly blocked access to websites they deemed undesirable, and criminalized online speech. In Tajikistan, for example, the government intermittently blocked access to social media sites, including Facebook and YouTube. The Turkish Government briefly blocked YouTube and Twitter in the lead-up to local elections.
In China, the government continues to block access to websites deemed controversial, such as those discussing Taiwan or the Dalai Lama, or even the New York Times. And in December, the Chinese Government blocked large numbers of users of Gmail, the world’s largest e mail service provider.
Other governments passed new laws to go after activists who use the internet to express themselves. Many who were arrested were sentenced to long prison terms, fines, corporal punishment, and even banishment.
In Vietnam, authorities continue to harass, intimidate, arrest, and convict bloggers who express views critical of the government online.
But even as governments attempt to control expression and access to information online, human rights activists use new technologies, such as satellite imagery, video, and crowdsourcing technologies, to gather and disseminate information, and to document human rights abuses in areas where security and accessibility are a problem.
Today, technology can be used to provide accurate information regarding protests, destruction, and violence in countries around the world. Technology can help increase transparency and fight corruption.
So, even as authoritarian governments become more aggressive in cracking down on freedom of expression, both online and offline, people in every country become more connected and better informed.
Banning websites and blocking content are misguided attempts to impose order. Instead, governments must respect fundamental freedoms and promote an open global Internet.