10 Countries With the Least Internet Freedom

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that the internet is a necessity and not the brain-rotting time waster Boomers tell you it is. Internet access has become the glue that holds society together – just imagine how much life would suck without it.

You may not realize it, but the internet is directly tied to your human rights. Access to it enables freedom of thought, opinion and expression, and your rights to work, education and privacy.

Removing, or disregarding, digital liberties is oppressive. Don’t believe me? This list will change your mind.

How Do You Define Internet Freedom?

Internet freedom is the right to use the net without restriction, censorship, or enforced bias. The more digital liberties you can act on in your country, the more internet freedom you have. No country is 100% free. You can justify some restrictions, though, like preventing the spread of illegal content or protecting classified information.

To quantify internet freedom, you can have a look at the Internet Freedom Index by Freedom House– a detailed analysis of how different countries fare online. So far, the index only lists 70 countries, though the nations that rank on it make up the global majority of internet users. Most countries don’t have the data to quantify internet freedom which is why it’s becoming more important to become personally aware of what internet freedom entails.

Freedom House judges and ranks the countries according to the following criteria:

        • Online obstacles – socio-political barriers like unfavorable cyber laws, an unstable economy, substandard infrastructure, and imposed internet shut-offs
        • Content restrictions – including blocking websites or social media platforms and censoring or manipulation the media and information.
        • Violating user rights – disregarding user privacy, or suppressing freedom of expression by punishing citizens who speak against the government or report the truth.
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10 Countries With the Least Internet Freedom…

(Dis)honorable Mention

You might start listing a few: China…..North Korea…..Russia. I chose to go down a different route and shine a light on the lesser-known cases of internet tyranny. China’s latest shocking developments warrant a special mention, though. As of August 2021, the Chinese government limited the time children, aged 17 or younger, spend on online video gameplay a week.

You read that right. A week! One hour per day, Friday through Sunday. What’s worse, since October 2021, you have to verify your identity every time you post online.

It’s ludicrous.

China is by far the most restricted country, scoring 10/100 on the freedom index – and landing last place for the seventh consecutive year.

Think that’s bad? Buckle your seatbelts. It’s downhill from here.

10. Venezuela

Internet Freedom Score: 28

The Venezuelan government is hellbent on censoring the media to keep the news from civilians. It blocks independent news sources and publications and impedes covid-related information.

Online obstacles Venezuela’s economy continues to decline. Electronic devices internet service are unjustifiably pricey. Frequent blackouts and speed drops occur, generally as a result of vandalism and theft.
Content restrictions Social media and news platforms are routinely blocked or censored as the government tries to quell its opposition. Websites are held accountable for content published by third-parties, leading many publishers to moderate and censor user activity.
Violating user rights Venezuelan authorities have the right to restrict content they deem threatening to the government or public order. Exercising freedom of expression could result in up to 20 years in prison.
 

Journalists and online publishers frequently fall victim to cyber-attacks and arrests for anti-government reporting, but they’re not the only ones. Venezuelan authorities use social media to urge their followers to harass those who oppose them. You could even get arrested for your commentaries and private messages.

9. Uzbekistan

Internet Freedom Score: 28

Uzbekistan is tied with Venezuela, but it gets the number 9 spot because its monopolized telecommunications company, Uztelecom, blocked CyberGhost VPN. The nerve.

Uztelecom blamed VoIP blocks on a technical bug, but the services are and always have been inaccessible. Worse, Uztelecom bans VPNs but provides its own VPN service. Talk about illogical!

Online obstacles Uzbekistan’s accessibility is improving, but connections are slow and frequently drop. The Ministry for Development of Information Technologies and Communications blamed deteriorating connectivity on congested networks amidst the pandemic.
Content restrictions Websites that comment on Uzbekistan’s politics and human rights violations are filtered and often blocked. Twitter, TikTok and other platforms were blocked in July 2021 for refusing to comply with Uzbekistan’s data-processing laws.
Violating user rights Reporters and ordinary internet users are at risk of fines, imprisonment and other punishments for disregarding information laws. Uzbekistan’s laws are vague and difficult to oblige.

In April 2021, the Uzbek government amended laws to criminalize online speech against the state.

Failure to abide could result in up to five years prison time, three years of correctional labor. or restricted freedom, including travel and employment limitations.

Speaking against the government warrants prison time. It’s a little too reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984, don’t you think?

8. Egypt

Internet Freedom Score: 26

Egypt blocks more than 600 websites, including VPNs, proxies, anonymizers, and circumvention tools. Egyptian authorities actively suppress independent information regarding the pandemic and stringently censor (and control) the media in general.

Online obstacles The Egyptian government tries to improve accessibility and the internet is relatively affordable, but connections remain slow and unreliable. VoIP is blocked, and authorities have considerable control over internet services.
Content restrictions Beyond blocking hundreds of websites and anonymizers, Egyptian authorities have the right to remove objectionable online content as they please. Some news outlets self-censor. Authorities discriminate against female content creators.
Violating user rights Egypt’s internet freedom deteriorated because the government is ceaseless in punishing freedom of speech. Multiple social media users received lengthy prison sentences for criticizing the government.

Continuing the Orwellian theme, the Egyptian government persistently uses spyware to monitor your internet usage. You might suddenly find an office demanding that you unlock your devices or hand over passwords for social media accounts.

7. Pakistan

Internet Freedom Score: 25

In Pakistan, you’d get killed for the internet content you post. Pakistani officials have murdered men and women for reasons like posting blasphemous content or simply appearing in a casual video with a boy.

Online obstacles Internet connections are fairly stable, though high taxes and exorbitant service fees prevent the majority of households from accessing the internet. Infrastructural issues, like loadshedding, disrupt connections for days at a time, further limiting accessibility.
Content restrictions Pakistani authorities regularly block websites considered anti-Islamic or obscene, as well as content that ‘threatens’ the military or state. The government forcefully removes content it deems inappropriate or illegal.
Violating user rights Pakistan’s penal code includes the death penalty for blasphemy, and 14-year prison sentences for acts of cyberterrorism – but its regulations are not clearly defined. Arbitrary content could be punished under these non-specific clauses.

Countless arrests, instances of physical assault against journalists, and even abductions due to speaking freely occur. Pakistani lawmakers even amended cyber laws to include the right to receive your decrypted data on demand and ban social media platforms as they see fit.

6. Saudi Arabia

Internet Freedom Score: 24

Saudi Arabia has no constitution, so its monarchy plays by its own rules, which are often vague and open to cloudy interpretation. You’d find basic freedom of speech equating to terrorism and you’re suddenly criminalized.

Saudi Arabia is also hostile to journalists and activists with many suffering lashings, torture, and death in custody.

Online obstacles Saudi Arabia’s accessibility is actually excellent, and the country ranks fifth in internet speeds. Even so, the government opposes apps that circumvent its surveillance, and so routinely attempts to block instant messaging and VoIP services. As of 2021, these services are available, but Whatsapp calls remain blocked.
Content restrictions Content is censored by the state and publishers – the latter will be held accountable for inappropriate or illegal content on their platforms. Many websites are blocked in Saudi Arabia, though authorities haven’t disclosed which websites are banned.
Violating user rights Saudi Arabian citizens have few digital rights, and severe consequences are handed to those who speak freely or post ‘inappropriate’ content. It’s score declined in 2021 after a Red Crescent worker received a 20-year prison sentence for posting satirical remarks on Twitter.

It’s impossible to access uncensored, unbiased information or content in Saudi Arabia without a VPN. Still, you become an outlaw if you use anonymity and data encryption in the country. Nope, you’re not watching a midwest movie, for sure.

5. Vietnam

Internet Freedom Score: 22

Vietnam is often considered “China no2” because of how tightly the government controls online activity.

It’s also illegal to express your opposition to the state or defy national traditions online. Vietnam goes so far that it holds internet cafe owners accountable if it catches patrons visiting ‘bad’ websites.

Online obstacles Vietnam’s upgraded internet speeds and affordability improve its accessibility score, but the government restricts service providers and retains the right to implement shut-offs as it sees fit.
Content restrictions All online news is censored before publication. Government agencies manipulate content on Facebook and YouTube to alter public opinion. Social media is available, but authorities threaten larger platforms with blocks if they don’t follow Vietnam’s censorship.
Violating user rights Vietnam’s censorship laws are vague and erratic, so controversial topics are unclear. Content creators must self-censor to avoid arrest or prosecution. High profile bloggers and online personalities are frequently targeted for violating Vietnam’s demands.

What about online anonymity? Citizens must register for social media accounts using their birth names, while websites have to verify each user’s identity. Authorities have full liberty to obtain encryption keys on request – a blatant disregard for user privacy. You’re free to use social media in Vietnam, but it’s risky. Your account might get suspended, without warning, for unfounded violations.

4. Cuba

Internet Freedom Score: 21

Cuba applies aggressive censorship and manipulation of online media. No wonder it ranks among the worst countries for internet freedom. Though you’d find social media is still widely available, it’s heavily moderated and surveilled.

Cuban authorities even harass independent publishers and others they deem insurgent. That has led content creators to self-censor to avoid punishment.

Online obstacles Only 18% of Cuban households have internet access. Connections are slow, unreliable and expensive. The internet is entirely controlled by the government. Some devices – like GPS and satellites – are prohibited.
Content restrictions The Cuban government restricts access to information by deliberately hindering device availability and over-charging for internet connections. Many independent news websites are blocked in Cuba.
Violating user rights Cuba’s penal code enables prison sentences of up to 20 years as punishment for any online activity considered a threat to the state or society. Content creators face arrest, house arrest, and device confiscations for their commentary.

In 2019, Twitter banned the accounts of various Cuban leaders on grounds that fraudulent accounts manipulated their conversations on the platform. That sparked debate. Is censoring the censors justified, or is it censorship itself?

3. Myanmar

Internet Freedom Score: 17

In 2020, Myanmar’s freedom score was 31 – not great, but certainly not the worst. By February 2021, it dropped to 17, making it the worst downturn ever recorded in internet freedom.

The Burmese military staged a coup in Myanmar, where they seized control. Immediate 9-hour internet blackouts came into play! The military blocked social media and news websites, and even arrested bloggers, influencers, and reporters.

Online obstacles Myanmar benefits from lower internet penetration than the Asia-Pacific average with affordable plans. Suffers from hampered infrastructure development, nationwide access divide, and military intervention.
Content restrictions Service blockage is widespread, disproportional, and non-transparent. Internet users have to self-censor, in an environment of restricted information diversity and reliability.
Violating user rights The coup bluntly nullified the constitution, criminalizing online activity. Users suffer from data extraction, cyberattacks, surveillance, and physical violence.

Sadly, the situation was improving before the coup, but it’s now going downhill with no signs of slowing.

2. Syria

Internet Freedom Score: 17

Syrian citizens have constitutional rights, but they’re blatantly disregarded. The Syrian government violently opposes freedom of speech and routinely infringes on your privacy. Authorities frequently subject reporters and publishers to arrest and detainment, abuse, torture, and even execution.

Online obstacles Internet access is extremely limited in Syria. The country rations connections, and strictly enforces throttling when you exceed your allocations. Electricity outages and damage to infrastructure contribute to shut-offs, further reducing accessibility.
Content restrictions Syrian internet is heavily censored, and antivirus software and OS updates are blocked due to US sanctions. Some VPNs are blocked, but necessary to access uncensored and unbiased content.
Violating user rights Syrian authorities frequently disrespect user privacy and have pressured content creators to forfeit their passwords for a variety of online accounts. Citizens face fines and prison sentences of up to a year for defaming Syrian authorities online.

The Syrian government has gone so far as to plant fake software to trick you into forfeiting your data. You won’t avoid prosecution easily, even if you self-censor. Authorities could invade your home, unwarranted, as they’ve done before.

1. Iran

Internet Freedom Score: 16

Iran has the second-lowest internet freedom score of all. For 50 years, Iran has oppressed freedom of speech, executing journalists more than any country, globally.

Uztelecom blamed VoIP blocks on a technical bug, but the services are and always have been inaccessible. Worse, Uztelecom bans VPNs but provides its own VPN service. Talk about illogical!

Online obstacles Iran’s accessibility has improved significantly over the years, but telecommunications is monopolized and internet services are pricey.
Content restrictions Authorities restrict and block tens of thousands of websites including social media platforms, messaging services, and news resources. Strict censorship is the norm with the government making concerted efforts to ban and block VPNs.
Violating user rights Privacy and freedom of speech are severely punished in Iran. The soon-to-be implemented Valid Identity System will render online anonymity virtually impossible and give Iranian authorities total surveillance power. Once it’s in place, citizens will have an ‘internet identification number’ linked to their national ID for all online interactions.

Iran stands out from the rest because of how active its government is in oppressing your digital rights. Authorities use social media and malware to attack content creators, publishers, journalists, and other online entities.

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Glad to be done with this list. It gave me the jitters.

Onto more pleasant news.

… And 5 Countries With the Most Internet Freedom

Similar to the ‘Worst’ list, the countries with the most internet freedom might surprise you. They’re probably not the countries you’d expect. They’re also free in ways most of us outside these borders can’t comprehend.

5. The UK

Internet Freedom Score: 78

The United Kingdom just makes it into the top 5. Its online climate is favorable to citizens, and there are few content and privacy restrictions. The government does not censor any websites or information, and social media is widely available throughout the region.

Online obstacles Nearly 100% of households in the UK have stable internet access. Service providers must offer mimimum connection speeds of 10 Mbps. Devices and internet services are fairly affordable, narrowing accessibility discrepancies between classes and regions.
Content restrictions The UK only blocks websites that feature illegal content and websites that violate copyright.
Violating user rights Internet users are protected by a variety of cyber laws. Persecution only comes into play when the rights of others are infringed, for example, hate speech, inciting violence or other criminal acts.

Throughout the UK, you have an undisputed right to freedom of speech, protected by law. That all could go down the drain if the government approves the proposal for a new online safety bill.

It’d mean that the government could wilfully remove content it deems harmful. No wonder the consensus is that it infringes on freedom of speech.

4. Germany

Internet Freedom Score: 79

German law strictly prohibits surveillance unless it’s a matter of national security and, most importantly, a target or threat has been identified. German authorities also have the right to order data disclosure if it protects others, say, to quell hate speech or online threats.

Online obstacles 95% of Germans use the internet freely. Accessibility is above the European average. Service costs are affordable, and decreased by 1.6 percent in 2020.
Content restrictions Few websites are blocked in Germany. The ones that are host illegal or harmful content. All major platforms and online services are widely available.
Violating user rights Freedom of speech, freedom of expression and online privacy are guaranteed in Germany.

A recent amendment to privacy laws came under fire as it gives German authorities the right to infiltrate your encrypted data and private communications. The government justifies it as keeping up with the times to mitigate human trafficking and other crimes.

3. Canada

Internet Freedom Score: 87

Canada is the first country on our list to get an A in internet freedom and it’s no surprise why. The government frequently updates its laws to give you more rights.

In one example, Canada updated its privacy laws to make provisions for shared computers. When many Canadians participated in the #MeToo campaigns against sexual abuse, authorities updated harassment laws to protect activists involved in the online protests.

Online obstacles 98% of Canadian households access the internet, and services are reasonably affordable. Access is out of reach for a few low-income communities, though they’re a significant minority.
Content restrictions Canada doesn’t censor, restrict, or block any social media platforms or communications apps.
Violating user rights Freedom of speech is considered a fundamental freedom, and few content restrictions are in place – and only to protect others from hate speech and other cyber crimes.

Canada is a founding member of the Freedom Online Coalition and transparent in its standing on digital rights. An official government page states that Canada supports internet freedom and aims to protect it.

If you’re tired of content limitations and suppressing your opinions, why not move to Canada? Your human rights are guaranteed!

2. Estonia

Internet Freedom Score: 94

Estonia gets the silver medal No significant infrastructural or socio-political barriers hinder internet access here, and the authorities block very few websites in the country.

Online obstacles There are almost no obstacles to overcome in Estonia. The country alloted €15 million to connectivity in rural areas. A further €69 million will subsidize improved broadband speeds and access between 2023 and 2027.
Content restrictions Content is only removed with a court order. Estonia blocks illegal gambling websites, though, and has more than 1600 URLs blacklisted so far.
Violating user rights In Estonia, access to information and freedom of thought, opinion, expression and speech are constitutional rights. Journalists and online publishers are well protected and have a right to confidentiality.

The Estonian government is for the people. Parliament once attempted to increase surveillance, but the president himself rejected the idea.

Estonia’s Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors and courts cannot access user data in minor criminal investigations. Even so, Estonian surveillance and security agencies can still access your information if the law justifies doing so.

1. Iceland

Internet Freedom Score: 95

Iceland is arguably the most digitally liberated country. It’s held its title as the best country for digital rights for three years in a row, with no signs of deteriorating.

Online obstacles 100% of Icelanders use the internet and public Wi-Fi is available throughout the country. One obstacle is Iceland’s environment. Winter storms sometimes knock connections out.
Content restrictions Iceland protects freedom of speech, anonymity and editorial independence. Defamation and hate speech are criminal offenses, however, and offenders could serve up to two years in prison.
Violating user rights Iceland has no notable instances of user rights violations.

The closest Iceland has come to surveillance is the implementation of voluntary contact tracing to better manage the coronavirus. Iceland met praise for how it handled this and the degree to which it respected privacy and user control.

The Icelandic Data Protection act encourages anonymity and disregards the notion to connect you to your data. Icelandic internet is almost entirely unrestricted, and the country advocates for net neutrality within its borders and internationally.

If you’re looking for internet freedom, Iceland’s jurisdiction is as good as it gets.

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The USA – Land of the Free?

You may be wondering where the US ranks. American citizens have a solid constitution, and freedom of expression is a big deal. Content is only restricted when the law calls for it, and social media remains widely accessible.

It seems all is in order, but the US has a few worms in its can.

The US is a member of the 5-Eyes Alliance – a surveillance confederation – alongside Canada, Australia, the UK, and New Zealand. It’s intended to improve security, but it opens a lot of questions about how far government spying goes.

Fair enough, Canada and the UK topped this list, but the US, unfortunately, still has a way to go before it can justify its part in the Alliance. Edward Snowden exposed government surveillance in 2013. Eight years later, it seems little has changed. The USA’s internet freedom score declined for the fifth year in a row.

The US’s internet freedom score is 75 – good enough to consider it free, yet somehow, not good enough.

Bottom Line – You Must Protect Yourself

The Internet Freedom Index puts into perspective how few countries have a full range of online liberties. In fact, of the countries on the index, only 16 scored 70 or higher indicating that most countries compromise digital rights.

Most countries lack the appropriate infrastructure or means to access the internet. That’s aside from governmental intervention and prohibition. The situation is slightly better on content restrictions.

Still, more than half the countries surveyed fall short as you suffer governmental intervention on material protected by international human rights. Content restrictions aren’t transparent or proportional, affecting your ability to publish content online.

Now comes the worst part where only 19 countries scored 70% or more on preserving user rights. The majority of countries restrain anonymity and enforce strict surveillance. Not to mention that the worst offenders try to limit access to VPN services, so you can’t circumvent their exploitation.

Though Romania isn’t one of the 70 countries on the index, we know firsthand how it supports internet freedom. CyberGhost VPN is headquartered in Romania, a country with a very data-privacy friendly environment. Romania isn’t a surveillance state or member of any “Eyes” Alliances.

That means we’re not under any laws that force us to record, monitor, or share your information locally or internationally. That’s why you can benefit from our watertight No-Logs Policy. We mean it when we say we won’t ever keep tabs on you. Romania’s jurisdiction doesn’t require it. We release our Transparency Report every three months – so that you can see exactly how we operate.

If this list proves anything, it’s that your country could weaponize your online activity in an instant. VPNs and anonymity are more important now than ever. It’s not just a cybersecurity issue – it’s a matter of protecting your human right to a free internet.

FAQ

What Does “Freedom on the Net” Measure?

The non-profit research group, Freedom House, published the “Freedom on the Net” annual report. The report analyzes and ranks the state of internet freedom in 65 participating countries – accounting for most internet users around the world. The group assigns points to the countries depending on several factors, like a country’s political climate, ease of internet accessibility, cyber laws, and content restrictions – to name a few.

Is the internet a Human Right?

The UN declared internet access a human right in 2016, but it’s not enforced. Many people believe the internet itself isn’t a necessity but that it counts as a civil right. That’s because it enables other rights, namely the rights to work, education, and freedom of expression.

Does the US Censor the internet?

Free speech prevents the American government from censoring the internet, so long as the content doesn’t infringe others’ rights. Most censored websites feature violent obscenity and other criminal acts. The US also barrs websites that promote piracy and copyright infringement.

Does CyberGhost VPN Have a No-Logs Policy?

Yes, we do, and it’s the best one you’ll find. We don’t log any of your data – not even your connection to us. The only information we keep is your email (so that you can have an account with us on record) and your billing information. That’s it.

Are VPNs Legal?

Yes, and 196 countries in the world agree. Only a few countries have tried to outlaw VPNs, but even in the most extreme cases, banning VPNs isn’t enforced. You can learn more about which countries criminalize VPNs by reading our blog about it.

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