Surveillance, attacks on digital speech, outright censorship and imprisonment are making the Internet less and less free, an annual Freedom House study has concluded.
The organization's latest Internet freedom report marks the fifth year in a row that digital civil liberties around the world have been curtailed. Of the 65 countries Freedom House looked at, 29 percent are considered "not free," while even fewer — 27 percent — are said to have a "free" Internet.
In other words, there are now more countries with an un-free Internet than there are countries with a free Internet. (Last year's rankings showed 19 countries as "free" and 15 as "not free.")
Some surprising findings: France's score dropped by four points, one of the most dramatic declines of the past year. That's due in part to what Freedom House said was a "problematic" crackdown on free speech and a rise in government surveillance after the attacks on the staff of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
Cuba's standing, on the other hand, rose by eight points amid warming relations with the United States and a decision by state telecom operators to slash the price of Internet access in half. Even though the cost of Internet in Cuba is still prohibitively high for many, the Obama administration recently made it legal for U.S. Internet providers to start doing business there, opening a door to better, faster, cheaper broadband — if the Cuban government cooperates.
In the United States and Europe, political battles over encrypted Internet traffic cast a shadow over the free and open Web, according to Freedom House. Tech companies have accused law enforcement of trying to undermine user privacy and security by demanding that they install "back doors" into their software; authorities argue that the concessions are necessary to fight crime and terrorism.
Freedom House calculates its index as a composite of several factors, such as the amount of access to Internet a country enjoys, the extent to which authorities restrict content on the Web, and whether the government punishes Internet users.