Silenced is an independent research initiative managed jointly by Privacy International
and the GreenNet Educational Trust. The twelve-month project was undertaken through
a collaboration of more than fifty experts and advocates throughout the world.
The work was made possible by a grant from the Open Society Institute.
The Internet has evolved to become an increasingly important platform not just
for economic development, but also as a support for advocates who wish to express
their opinion freely and to work toward the development of democracy. The medium
has provided opportunities for citizens to participate in forums, and to discuss
and debate issues that concern them. Unlike other media where the information
flow is unidirectional - from the government to the masses - the Internet allowed
a multi-way communication process giving the chance for anybody to air their
opinions and views on issues affecting them. The development of the Internet
has lead to more horizontal and less vertical communication. Control and censorship
has a substantial effect on the Internet because it undermines confidence and
trust in the medium and inhibits crucial flows of data.
This study has found that censorship of the Internet is commonplace
in most regions of the world. It is clear that in most countries over
the past two years there has been an acceleration of efforts to either close
down or inhibit the Internet. In some countries, for example in China and Burma,
the level of control is such that the Internet has relatively little value as
a medium for organised free speech, and its used could well create additional
dangers at a personal level for activists.
The September 11, 2001 attacks have given numerous governments the
opportunity to promulgate restrictive policies that their citizens had previously
opposed. There has been an acceleration of legal authority for additional snooping
of all kinds, particularly involving the Internet, from increased email monitoring
to the retention of Web logs and communications data. Simultaneously, governments
have become more secretive about their own activities, reducing information
that was previously available and refusing to adhere to policies on freedom
Governments of developing nations rely on Western countries to supply
them with the necessary technologies of surveillance and control, such as digital
wiretapping equipment, deciphering equipment, scanners, bugs, tracking equipment
and computer intercept systems. The transfer of surveillance technology from
first to third world is now a lucrative sideline for the arms industry. Without
the aid of this technology transfer, it is unlikely that non-democratic regimes
could impose the current levels of control over Internet activity.
One of the most important trends in recent years is the growth of multinational
corporate censors whose agendas are very different from those of governments.
It is arguable that in the first decade of the 21st century, corporations will
rival governments in threatening Internet freedoms. Some American
cable companies seek to turn the Internet into a controlled distribution medium
like TV and radio, and are putting in place the necessary technological changes
to the Internet's infrastructure to do so. Aggressive protection of corporate
intellectual property has result in substantial legal action against users,
and a corresponding deterioration in trust across the Internet.
A wide variety of methods are used to restrict and/or regulate Internet access.
These include: applying laws and licenses, content filtering, tapping and surveillance,
pricing and taxation policies, telecommunication markets manipulation, hardware
and software manipulation and self censorship.
There are some positive developments within this survey. Countries have established
protections, countries have enshrined protections, companies have fought for
the rights of privacy of individuals, technologies have sustained the ability
of dissident groups to speak freely and access content privately, differences
in laws in countries has sheltered the speech of the oppressed. Technological
developments are being implemented to protect a free Internet, but the knowledge
gap between radical innovators and restrictive institutions appears to be closing.