Laws that threaten internet freedom around the world

3 min read
Lexie

Hi, I'm Lexie! I write about information security, Bitcoin, and privacy.

An illustration of internet symbol in handcuffs.

We recently explained why Australia’s new cybersecurity bill is a bad idea. It gives law enforcement the ability to coerce anybody into using compromising apps, handing over passwords, or snitching on human rights activists (and lawyers, priests, doctors, etc.). The bill allows for no due process or transparency, yet somehow acts of corruption cannot be investigated using the law.

But other nations have also passed new laws threatening online freedoms, or are in the process of doing so. And, surprisingly the United States is not on the list… this time.

New Zealand

Since October 2018, New Zealand reserves the right to demand that tourists and travelers hand over passwords and encryption keys to their phones, devices, or files. Section 228 (5) of the Customs and Excise Act of 2018 allows border officials to view and copy all data on the devices of anyone who enters the country, and issue a fine of up to NZ$5,000 (~US$3,300) for lack of cooperation.

One important legal principle in liberal societies is the right to remain silent. Nobody should be coerced into testifying against themselves. The aforementioned Customs and Excise Act of 2018 violates this principle and gives law enforcement the ability to pry into the private lives of citizens and travelers arbitrarily, and to access and copy intimate information.

Germany & France

While the EU Copyright Directive that essentially handed over the European internet to large conglomerates is considered dead, Germany and France are teaming up to revive its worst parts.

One article of the revised directive requires anybody that links to a news site to have a license, while another requires that companies implement content filters that censor arts and communications. Luckily, small enterprises and startups are rebelling against the new proposal, and we urge you to contact your MEP to oppose this new attempt to restrict online freedoms.

Vietnam

Vietnam’s controversial new cyber law went into effect on January 1, 2019. It goes as far as requiring any internet company that serves Vietnamese users (e.g., has a website) to set up offices in Vietnam. All data has to be stored locally, and any content critical of the Communist Party has to be removed within 24h.

While this law seems difficult to enforce in its entirety, large platforms like Google and Facebook are dependent on local banking relationships to serve their large Vietnamese advertising partners. Perhaps a threat to their revenue is why the social media and search giants have remained mostly silent on the matter.

Will Google go ahead and censor speech and search results for their Vietnamese users?

Thailand

Thailand is expected to not just create a new cybersecurity law, but rather an entirely new agency with greater powers over the internet and its users. The big-budgeted agency can seize data without a warrant during any poorly defined “emergency.” While similar proposals have been on the table since 2015, the new wording is expected to become law before the country goes to the polls in May of 2019.

Russia

By far the most absurd proposal of 2019 (so far…) comes from Russia. The government is considering disconnecting critical Russian internet infrastructure from the global internet. While that admittedly is not the same as turning off the internet, it carries significant risks.

The main driver of the move seems to be the desire to more efficiently censor and filter information going in and out of the country, creating something similar to the Great Firewall of China.

The internet is under constant attack

It’s not easy being a crusader for internet freedom. Elected and unelected governments alike seem to be continually attempting to curb freedoms, monopolize the internet, and control the flow of information. Standing up to these threats can be tiring, but an open and free internet is worth the fight.

Lexie is the blog's resident tech expert and gets excited about empowerment through technology, space travel, and pancakes with blueberries.