Meet the 'Enemies of the Internet' 2012

Reporters Without Borders issues its annual compilation of bad actors--of which there are many--but also notes the positive impact of the Arab Spring.

Charles Cooper Former Executive Editor / News
Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.
Charles Cooper
2 min read

If you're reading this, odds are that you're not living in one of the dozen countries that Reporters Without Borders has included in its annual list of "Enemies of the Internet."

An image displayed on the Reporters Without Borders Web site. Screenshot by CNET
Each year, the media watchdog group issues a report calling out nations that restrict its citizens' freedom of information as well as for curtailing their access to the Internet. As in previous reports, RWB chronicles the challenges faced by regular people trying to read and share information living under regimes determined to restrict the free flow of communication.

The report paints a grim picture, recounting new instances of content removal, as well as the usual pressure on Internet service providers as governments reach into what's now become a familiar grab bag of tactics to stifle domestic challenges. On the plus side, however, RWB points hopefully to the impact of the Arab Spring as a new force to be reckoned with.

"The Internet and social networks have been conclusively established as tools for protest, campaigning and circulating information, and as vehicles for freedom," the group said. "More than ever before, online freedom of expression is now a major foreign and domestic policy issue."

There are some bright lights. For instance, this year's report does not include Libya, which has a new government following the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi. The report notes that while challenges remain, "the overthrow of the Qaddafi regime has ended an era of censorship."

On the flip side, Bahrain, which last year appeared in the section under counties "under surveillance," got added to the "Enemies of the Internet" list because of its news blackout and concomitant campaign of harassment against bloggers challenging the rule of that nation's monarchy.

"Bahrain offers a perfect example of successful crackdowns, with an information blackout achieved through an impressive arsenal of repressive measures: exclusion of the foreign media, harassment of human rights defenders, arrests of bloggers and netizens (one of whom died behind bars), prosecutions and defamation campaigns against free expression activists, disruption of communications," RWB's report said.

Also, Belarus was moved from the "under surveillance" category to the "Enemies of the Internet." RWB reported an increase in the number of blocked Web sites in the country as well as an uptick in the number of bloggers and Internet users arrested for protesting the policies of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.

Strange bedfellows
Interestingly, the list of nations under surveillance this year contains the likes of Australia and France.

Australia was singled out because of a nationwide content-filtering system implemented to combat child pornography that RWB criticized as being overly broad. And France got included in the surveillance list for the second straight year--this time due to a law that would cut Internet access to people found to illegally download songs and movies.

The list of "enemies" follows:

  • Bahrain
  • Belarus
  • Burma
  • China
  • Cuba
  • Iran
  • North Korea
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Syria
  • Turkmenistan
  • Uzbekistan
  • Vietnam