Information wants to be free, as the saying goes. But governments don't always see it that way. Around the world, governments are using laws to block sites or even arrest people for comments they post, views they express or files they download. In Syria, it appears that the government even shut off access to the entire Internet for some time.
"More and more governments are trying to use legislation to control their citizens by controlling the Internet," said Eva Galperin, coordinator of international freedom of expression with the advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Dozens of laws have been enacted over the past few years, with more set in stone recently. The EFF helped TechNewsDaily assemble this list of some of the most egregious.
This law bans "praising, encouraging or propagandizing" North Korea but doesn't clearly define what that means. In January 2012, Park Jung-geun was arrested for retweeting posts from the official North Korea Twitter account. Park said he was parodying North Korea, not praising it. He received a 10-month jail sentence. (His spoofed image appears above.)
This law to combat cybercrime was used to arrest Shaheen Dhada when she posted a message to Facebook questioning a citywide shutdown of Mumbai following the death of political leader Bal K. Thackeray. "Every day thousands of people die, but still the world moves on," she wrote. "Today, Mumbai shuts down out of fear, not out of respect." She and a friend who liked the post were both arrested and charged for speech that was "offensive and hateful."
Several Facebook pages have sprung up in support of Shaheen Dada.
The decree, issued in November 2012, ostensibly combats cybercrimes. But it includes a provision for the arrest of people who use "websites, any information network, or information technology means" to criticize senior government officials or argue for political reform. In July 2012, the government exiled blogger Ahmed Abdul Khaleq for "publicly insulting" UAE's president in an online forum.
This list, overseen by Roskomnadzor (Russia's telecom and media regulation arm), bans sites that provide access to child pornography or promote suicide or illegal drug use. But the law has been used to block other types of sites, including encyclopedia site Lurkmore.to, YouTube (Russian officials said that was a technical error) and, according to United Press International, content that Russian officials consider extreme, including anti-clerical works by Leo Tolstoy.
The law's stated purpose is to prevent hacking, identity theft, spamming, cybersex and online child pornography. But it also defined libel as a cybercrime, which some rights groups believed could be used by the government to silence online criticism. After appeals, the county's Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order to stop implementation.
China uses a batch of regulations to censor Internet communications, enforced by what's become known as the Great Chinese Firewall. This system of proxies and firewalls restricts access to sites the government deems a threat, including Facebook and Twitter. In early 2012, it was used to block all sites in Japan for 30 hours. Though no official reason was given, rumors on the Internet say Fang Binxing, who heads China's online censorship project, was offended by an article in a Japanese newspaper.
This mouthful of a proposed law would add additional censorship on top of existing restrictions. It includes vague language, such as prohibitions against "abusing the provision and use of the Internet and information on the web." OpenNetInitiative, an Internet censorship watchdog, says it's unclear when the decree would be implemented.
Tajikistan has blocked access to Facebook twice in 2012 in response to negative comments about its leaders. Earlier in 2012, the country created a volunteer committee that watches the Web. The group reported offensive comments about the government, which led it to block Facebook.
Japan modified its copyright law in 2012, adding a penalty of up to two years in prison or a fine of up to 2 million yen (about $25,000). The penalty can be imposed after a single illegal download of music or movie files. Uploading a file that you don't have the rights to already carried a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to 10 million yen (about $130,000).
In September 2012, Jordan amended this law to require that electronic publications — including websites and blogs dealing with news — register with the government and pay a $1,400 fee, just as newspapers in the country do. Site owners are even responsible for comments posted by visitors. The government can block sites that don't abide by the law. Opponents of the law like Human Rights Watch fear the government will use the expanded powers to go after critics.