TALLINN - The US think tank Freedom House released a report on Wednesday indicating that, despite a global decline in internet freedom for the 13th consecutive year, Estonia retains second place in the world, following Iceland, in terms of internet freedom.
The main message, articulated by one of the Estonian reporters, Hille Hinsberg, an e-governance expert from Proud Engineers, is, "Estonia, known for its high level of digital society, ensures network availability and the country provides strong protection for user rights. Restrictions on internet content and channels concern curbing the spread of hostile propaganda and disinformation and sanctions against Russian media channels."
Although Estonia maintains a high position, events that attracted attention during the observed period are highlighted in the report. For instance, since the beginning of Russia's aggression in Ukraine, Estonia's Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority has issued orders to telecommunications companies to block media and web channels related to the Russian state, to prevent the spread of war propaganda. Combined with implemented sanctions, a total of 51 television channels and nearly 200 websites have been banned in Estonia.
In relation to sanctions, from January to June 2022, Facebook blocked access in Estonia to 163 posts that referenced media sources under the control of the Russian state and thus violated EU sanctions.
After parliamentary elections held this March, the new coalition government planned to impose stricter punishments for hate speech. The contested bill has now reached the parliamentary procedure.
Globally, internet freedom has been declining for 13 consecutive years. For example, the use of surveillance tools and manipulation of web users through disinformation is steadily increasing. The report also found that artificial intelligence has been used for coercion, censorship, and control of information space.
"Governments impose various restrictions on what billions of people can access and share online -- be it by blocking foreign websites, monitoring, and collecting personal data, or increasing control over their country's technical infrastructure," Hinsberg said.
Freedom on the Net is an annual survey on human rights in the digital sphere. The project assesses internet freedom in 70 countries, which constitutes 88 percent of the world's internet users. The index presented in the report is formed by adding points from three subcategories -- access to services and connectivity, restrictions on web content, and protection of user rights. The Estonian report was compiled by an independent private company, Proud Engineers, at the invitation of Freedom House. Proud Engineers is a team of experts whose daily work is to advise on digital changes both in Estonia and abroad.
The Freedom House report covers the period from June 2022 to May 2023. The assessment is based on events that occurred during this time frame and on the technical, political, and legal environment affecting internet freedom, as well as established practices in public discussion space. The report also includes recommendations for ensuring internet freedom, which can be followed by policymakers, legislators, media platforms, and technology companies alike.