COMPUTER COUNTRY: Estonia, which is known as one of the most e-savvy states for its use of ID cards, electronic voting and innovative technologies, topped a study on world Internet freedoms.
TALLINN - Estonia, which has long been hailed as one of the world's leaders in Internet applications, has received the top position in a worldwide survey on Internet freedoms.
The survey, which was conducted by the U.S.-based Freedom House research institute, found that Estonia was a firm world leader in Internet freedoms.
"Estonia, clearly the best performerâ€¦ stands out as having particularly widespread access and strong protections for user rights and personal data," the report found.
Estonia earned a total score of 10 on the survey, which rates countries on a scale of zero to 100 with lower scores representing more freedom. The next closest country in the study was the U.K. with a score of 20, followed closely by South Africa with a score of 21.
The countries rated as the least free included Iran with a score of 74, China and Tunisia, each with a score of 78, and Cuba with a score of 90.
The study relied on three different variables to determine the score: obstacles to access, limits on content, and violations of user's rights.
The obstacles to access category was the only one in which Estonia did not receive the leading position, coming in second to the U.K.
"Today, with such a high level of computer literacy and connectivity, focus has shifted from basic concerns such as access, quality, and cost of internet services to discussions about security, anonymity, the protection of private information, and citizens' rights on the internet. These issues are closely tied to the most serious threat to internet freedom in Estonia, namely, the cyber attacks against various Estonian communication infrastructures in late April and early May 2007," the study found.
It also praised government plans to increase the number of free wireless networks available in the country.
"In August 2008, the government announced that by 2009 the country would have 2,000 free certified WiFi covered areas meant for public use, including cafes, hotels, motels, and even gas stations," it said.
Though Estonia received the leading position in the limits on content category, the study authors still found a few areas that needed improvement.
"Limits on Internet content and communication in Estonia are among the lowest in the world. Nevertheless, due in part to Estonia's thorough privacy laws, there are some instances of content removal. Most of these cases are related to civil court orders concerning cases where inappropriate comments or comments unrelated to the posted article were made," the study said.
It also praised the country for its widespread use of ID cards for both everyday purposes and as a means to facilitate electronic voting in elections.
In the violations of user's rights category, the study found that membership in the EU had served to both promote and hinder freedoms.
"Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are strongly protected by Estonia's constitution and by its membership in the European Unionâ€¦ However, as a member state of the European Union, Estonia is under pressure to implement the EU Data Retention Directive," the study said.
Freedom House is a U.S.-based non-governmental organization founded in 1941 that conducts research on democracy, political freedom and human rights. It is primarily funded by the U.S. government.
The "Freedom on the Net" research study covered 15 countries worldwide.
According to the survey, Estonia's Internet penetration rate in 2008 was 64 percent 's a total of about 852,000 people 's up from the 2006 figure of 52 percent.
In 2008, Estonia earned a score of 16 in the high-profile "Freedom of Press" survey conducted by the same organization, placing the country in the leading category in that regard as well.