Study: Online Censorship on the Rise Worldwide

Michael Hayes
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Leading a team of international academics, researchers at Harvard Law School have issued a warning calling attention to what they say is a spike in online censorship around the globe.

The six-month investigation by Harvard Law School’s OpenNet Initiative concluded that global online censorship is at an all-time high, with many countries taking cues from nation’s such as China, which has a long history of blocking websites that do not track with government policy.

Researchers from the University of Toronto, Cambridge and Oxford joined Harvard academics by trying to repeatedly call up specific websites from around the world. The researchers focused on a mix of websites, from international news outlets to sites with a more local appeal.

John Palfrey, executive director of the OpenNet Initiative, said there is a big trend of increased online censorship.

The study found that more than two-dozen countries worldwide were engaging in wide-ranging censorship operations.

OpenNet Initiative researcher Ronald Deibert, an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto, labeled 10 countries “pervasive blockers” of online information. His list of countries includes China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Burma and Uzbekistan.

Censorship tactics include blocking popular Internet applications such as Google’s blog search service or Wikipedia, employed by Pakistan and China, respectively. The study also found that many countries have become more technology savvy, employing keyword-filtering tools to locate and block forbidden content.

According to the researchers, one bright spot to note is the fact that free speech advocates around the world as well as other dissidents are using the same high-tech tools to circumvent the online censors.