#CyberFLASH: Why 2017 will be a make-or-break year for Internet freedom

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2017 is here, and it’s clear it will be a make-or-break year for Internet freedom. Around the world, our digital rights are under threat as never before. Let’s take a look at some of the big challenges ahead.

In Canada, the federal government will soon be publishing its response to the national security consultation that closed in December. It’s abundantly clear that Canadians want the government to repeal Bill C-51 and deliver strong privacy rules to make us safe — but will the government listen, especially against the backdrop of a full-on RCMP propaganda campaign calling for even more invasive spy powers?

Also in Canada, the government is under pressure from industry lobbyists pushing a costly new Internet tax, a proposal that expert Michael Geist has called a “digital tax on everything.” This is a terrible idea that will deepen the digital divide, and force even more Canadians offline, in a country where low-income and rural residents are already struggling to stay connected. If the government pursues this, expect a big fight ahead.

South of the border, we’re now just weeks away from Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20. On that day, Trump will secure not just the keys to the Oval Office, but also sweeping new powers to shape the future of the Internet for generations to come.

Based on Trump’s statements, we can expect to see a dramatic expansion of NSA and FBI spying powers. Worryingly, there are very few oversight mechanisms or limitations on what Trump can do with this power. And, given that so much surveillance activity takes place under a veil of near-total secrecy, it will be extremely difficult for citizens to hold Trump effectively to account.

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#CyberFLASH: The Future of the Global Internet Hangs in The Balance

GettyImages-556421117We’d all like to think that a simple browser and a few keystrokes can give us access to the unlimited knowledge base of the internet. But there are a growing number of toll roads on the information superhighway.

According to the latest edition of Freedom House’s annual Internet Freedom Report released this week, digital civil liberties have been curtailed across the globe for the fifth year in a row. There are now more countries with a heavily censored internet than there are ones with a completely free internet.

Last among the 65 countries assessed is China, which also happens to be the country with the largest number of internet users (641 million). Thanks to a new law passed last week, Chinese internet users are now even more vulnerable to criminal charges if they are found to be spreading “rumors” or politically delicate information online.

In the United States, President Barack Obama advocated for an open internet when the Federal Communications Commission was considering the question of net neutrality earlier this year.

“Ever since the Internet was created, it’s been organized around basic principles of openness, fairness, and freedom,” the president said. “This set of principles—the idea of net neutrality—has unleashed the power of the internet and given innovators the chance to thrive.”

But America isn’t first, second, or third on Freedom House’s list. Rather, the U.S. steals the fifth spot after Iceland, Estonia, Canada, and Germany.

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#CyberFLASH: Canada ranked among top countries for internet freedom

INLINE_20141205_Internet_Freedom_MAS_02Internet freedom around the world has declined for the fourth year in a row as more countries introduce aggressive online censorship measures, according to a new report.

Freedom on the Net 2014, the fifth-annual report released last week by independent watchdog organization Freedom House, found that of the 65 countries assessed, 36 experienced a negative trajectory in online freedom between May 2013 and May 2014.

This was due to factors such as blocked social networks, aggressive online surveillance and cyber attacks, and the intimidation and arrest of journalists and digital activists. The report analyzed three main factors in each country: obstacles to Internet access, limits on content, and violations of user rights.

Iran remained the country with the lowest degree of Internet freedom, despite hopes of reform when President Hassan Rouhani took office in August 2013.

Although the new administration has embraced social media, Iranian citizens still don’t have access to websites the government finds politically sensitive, such as Twitter and Facebook.

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Canada joins closed door Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations: Critics warn Canadian Internet rights will suffer

Canada has officially joined Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations, a move that Canadian Internet advocates say could result in harsh restrictions on Internet use in Canada and leave ordinary citizens facing heavy fines and banishment from the online world over accusations of copyright infringement.

“The (TPP) agreement is being negotiated in secret but we do know from documents we have obtained that in the agreement are provisions that make it so there can be heavy fines for average citizens online, you could be fined for clicking on a link, people could be knocked off the Internet and web sites could be locked off,” said Steve Anderson, founder of Vancouver’s OpenMedia.ca, which was joined by theElectronic Frontier Foundation, the U.S. digital rights group Public Knowledge, the Council of Canadians, the global consumer advocacy group SumOfUs.org, the software company Tucows, the Chilean public interest group ONG Derechos Digitales and the Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group Public Citizen in opposing Canada’s move to join the negotiations, binding the country to the agreement when it is reached.

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