The independent think tank iRights.Lab has again contributed the section on Germany to Freedom on the Net, an annual report on the degree of use and freedom of the internet in most countries of the world.
Freedom on the Nethas been published since 2009 by the Washington, D.C.-based organization Freedom House and employs a scale from 0 (unrestricted freedom) to 100 (not free). In 2018, Germany improved by one point compared to the previous year and is now rated at 19 points, matching its score from 2016.
Worldwide, 19 countries were able to improve their scores – albeit mostly only marginally – while the ratings for 26 countries worsened overall. The criteria examined included infrastructure barriers, content access restrictions and the general rights enjoyed by users. The report covers 87 percent of internet users worldwide. According to the results, 20 percent of people on earth live “freely”, 33 percent “partially free,” and 34 percent “not free,” in terms of their use of the internet.
For Germany, we have found that there are still differences in people’s ability to access the Internet, which can be explained, among other things, by income variance within the population. The price of network access therefore still plays a role, although Germany’s Federal Court of Justice declared the right to such access to be a fundamental right in 2013.
The report also identifies the frequent occurrence of hate speech and phenomena such as “fake news,” which are observable worldwide, as risk factors for freedom on the internet. Elections to the German Bundestag took place in 2017, and although there was no concrete, documented attempt to influence the result through targeted disinformation campaigns, a high number of online conspiracy theories and misinformation were nonetheless observed during the campaign phase.
According to the report, a further factor impacting the use of the Internet in Germany is the so-called Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz(NetzDG, or the Network Enforcement Act) introduced in 2018, which obliges larger social media platforms to delete content that is subject to criminal law. Here, over-cautious deletions have resulted in unacceptable restrictions on content freedom, for example in the case of satirical content. Thus, for example, the satirical magazine Titanic’s Twitter account was closed for some time in early 2018 after a posting a parodic tweet.
In addition to suchcontent issues, the topic of regulation also plays an important role, as in the ancillary copyright law for press publishers or the government’s handling of citizens’ data, for example when it comes to surveilling online communication. Among other things, the Bayerische Polizeiaufgabengesetz(Bavarian Police Act) is mentioned here, which empowers the authorities in Bavaria to avail themselves of, among other things, preventive access technologies such as source telecommunications surveillance.
The complete report Freedom on the Net can be downloaded here.
The detailed country report for the Federal Republic of Germany can be found here.
For more information, please visit the Freedom House website.