Inter­net free­dom still under fire

Freedom on the Net: iRights.Lab writes Germany report

This year we again wrote the report on Germany for the annual publication Freedom on the Net, a global survey of internet use and freedom.

Since 2009, the Wash­ing­ton DC based orga­ni­za­tion Free­dom House has com­piled an annu­al report on the state of free­dom on the Net. Coun­tries are ranked in the report on a scale from 0 (not free) to 100 (unre­strict­ed free­dom). The focus is on the three cen­tral top­ics: access restric­tions, con­tent reg­u­la­tion and vio­la­tions of the rights of inter­net users. Com­pared to the pre­vi­ous year, Germany’s score sunk to 80 points in 2019.

Despite Germany’s good stand­ing, the report lists sev­er­al devel­op­ments in the past year that threat­ened free­dom online. These include, for exam­ple, the con­tin­ued expan­sion of police pow­ers. Through ini­tia­tives at the region­al level, the author­i­ties in Ger­many have been grant­ed addi­tion­al pow­ers to inter­cept com­mu­ni­ca­tions and oth­er­wise inter­vene in IT sys­tems. Even though dis­cus­sions on this issue have not yet been con­clud­ed in some fed­er­al states, there is a dan­ger that the line between the police and domes­tic intel­li­gence ser­vices will become blurred.

Fur­ther mea­sures being planned or dis­cussed take aim at online anonymi­ty. These include a bill draft­ed by the Ger­man Bun­desrat to take action against ille­gal online mar­ket­places in the Dark­net. Observers see the risk that this will make it con­sid­er­ably more dif­fi­cult to make use of anonymiza­tion tools via the Tor net­work, for exam­ple. (Tor uses encryp­tion and mul­ti­path rout­ing to hide your IP address while you surf.) Such tools are espe­cial­ly impor­tant for the crit­ics of author­i­tar­i­an regimes, but also for users in Ger­many who wish to remain anony­mous. The fact that the Ger­man author­i­ties searched the homes of Tor sup­port­ers at the end of last year––actions which were later deter­mined to have been ille­gal–– shows how civil soci­ety can be tar­get­ed here as well. This also con­tributed to the gen­er­al­ly poor­er assess­ment of Ger­many in this year’s report.

Viewed glob­al­ly, only 16 coun­tries were able to improve their score, while the rat­ings of almost half of the 65 coun­tries observed (33) wors­ened. The report cov­ers 86 per­cent of inter­net users world­wide. This is the ninth con­sec­u­tive year that glob­al inter­net free­dom has dete­ri­o­rat­ed over­all.

The full report Free­dom on the Net can be down­loaded here

The detailed report for the Fed­er­al Repub­lic of Ger­many can be found here. Fur­ther infor­ma­tion can be found on the Free­dom House web­site.

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