Free­dom on the Net 2018 — iRights.Lab pre­pares the report for Ger­many

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.