Please see below recent freedom-related change.
- Even though mass vaccination now underway in some countries has spurred optimism that the pandemic is nearly over, tensions between governments and citizens all over the world will continue to grow as more restrictions on basic freedoms are imposed in the early months of 2021.
- As more human activities go online to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the coronavirus has actually made the internet less free than before in many parts of the world, noted GZERO Media. Freedom House warned that political leaders are using the pandemic to suppress access to information under the guise of combating fake news, to justify online surveillance that otherwise would be deemed too intrusive, and to break up the World Wide Web with so-called "cyber sovereignty" regulations that are drawing national borders on the online distribution of information
- In a lecture in 1958, political philosopher Isaiah Berlin outlined two concepts of liberty. Negative liberty is freedom from external impediment or coercion. Positive liberty is the ability to connect fully with our highest selves. Berlin was sceptical about positive liberty, because he feared it gave a license to tyrants to impose their particular view of human life on others. There is no single right way to live, said Berlin – he called this insight value pluralism – so the most important thing is that people are free to choose the life they want.
- However, for New World, Same Humans, Berlin’s insight into value pluralism reveals a deep truth about human life: each of us is engaged in an ongoing battle with ourselves over the right way to live. That leaves us susceptible not only to external tyrants, but to tyranny from within. That is, from the unfreedom that follows when we fail to live up to our highest ideals. That is what is happening now. We are choosing ease over freedom. We are losing a battle against the Tyranny of Convenience.
- By 2025, nearly half a billion people will be using mobile internet services in sub-Saharan Africa., but their internet reality, warned Quartz, could well consist of questionable laws and penalties to limit online expression and frequent shutdowns of the internet to prevent organisations of protests offline.
- With remote work ongoing for many employees during the pandemic, companies were keen to understand the impact on performance. Some opted to do this using surveillance tools, such as those that log keystrokes or screenshot employees’ screens, or even using always-on video conferencing. Monitoring software firms such as Hubstaff and Time Doctor saw sales rise during the pandemic, and some sectors, such as certain areas of finance, used tools to ensure they met compliance rules.
- GZEROMedia warned that the "grim reality" is that freedom of the press is now under assault not only in authoritarian countries, but in democracies too. A 2019 report by Freedom House found that 16 of the world's most free countries – including India, Hungary, Austria, Israel, and the United States — had seen declines in press freedom over the past five years. This trend tracked a broader withering of democratic institutions around the globe. There are many reasons that the press is under pressure. The decline of local news has whittled away the connection between people and journalists. The rise of social media provides alternative sources of information that, by design, track and cultivate people's biases.
- GZEROMedia also noted that the United States has long held the dubious distinction of having both the world's largest prison population and the highest per-capita prison rate – and by a long shot. Despite making up just five percent of the world's population the United States accounts for around 25 percent of the world's entire prison population.
- Under a new government plan, all 43,000 schools in Russia will be equipped with facial recognition cameras and systems. And in an almost surreal twist, the name of the monitoring platform is "Orwell." The company that won the contract is owned by...a close friend of President Vladimir Putin.
- By April 2020, around 39% of the global population, some 3 billion people, lived in countries whose borders were completely closed to non-citizens and non-residents, according to a Pew study. A smaller number of countries, including Ecuador, had even closed their borders to their citizens stuck abroad.
- In just a few weeks, world leaders expanded their powers in unprecedented ways in the name of fighting the coronavirus. In Thailand, the government can now censor the media. In South Korea, officials are using people’s cellphone, credit-card, and GPS records to track patients with Covid-19 in real time. In the US, the Justice Department asked lawmakers for the power to request that defendants be detained indefinitely without trial during emergencies. Quartz warned that there’s very little in history to convince us that states are keen on giving back powers once they’ve been awarded. In the US, the 9/11 terrorist attacks led to a sweeping expansion of executive power and violations of personal liberties that outlived the actual emergency by more than a decade. It’s worth noting that few of the emergency declarations passed around the world to deal with Covid-19 come with a sunset clause.
- The world has become less free for 14 straight years, according to watchdog Freedom House's latest Freedom in the World report, which ranks countries according to political rights and civil liberties. More than 60 countries are less free than they were last year, according to Freedom House's overall report and analysis by country.
- The Indian government is reportedly planning to launch a centralized database that would create detailed profiles of its 1.2bn+ residents. The proposal for the database is said to include bringing together data - like someone’s job, where they live, and their marital status - into a searchable format that automatically updates.
- The number of journalists imprisoned globally in 2019 remained near record highs, with 250 of them put behind bars for their work, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
- According to Freedom House, a watchdog, free speech has declined globally over the past decade. The most repressive regimes have become more so: among those classed as “not free” by Freedom House, 28% have tightened the muzzle in the past five years; only 14% have loosened it. “Partly free” countries were as likely to improve as to get worse, but “free” countries regressed. Some 19% of them (16 countries) have grown less hospitable to free speech in the past five years, while only 14% have improved.
- The School of Life believes that when our minds are troubled, we look for ways to escape - to find freedom from worries in a refuge of calm. When trouble lingers, or reoccurs, weighing down on us day after day, we can go a step further - seeking an escape from not just worry, but ourselves. All of us are prisoners of the self: sentenced for life to a single unchanging personality and perspective. ‘Ego death’ has long been a goal of many religions and spiritual movements. In an effort to achieve it, Buddhists use meditation. Others use psychedelic drugs, hypnosis, or shamanistic ritual. But there are other, less drastic options available. Escaping ourselves might involve nothing more than imagining how life looks from a different vantage point.
- Freedom is often seen as key to creativity. Yet Shakespeare worked within a framework of censorship, Don Quixote was written from prison, and Leonardo argued that art “lives on constraint and dies of freedom”. The iai therefore asked whether oppression can help produce masterpieces, or whether the free always write the greatest poetry. In short, do we need rules and constraints to fuel our creativity or should ever greater freedom be our continuing goal?
- A 2018 report from Freedom House, a democracy watchdog, noted that 18 countries (so far) now use Chinese-made intelligent monitoring systems and 36 have received training in topics like "public opinion guidance," a euphemism for censorship.
- Choice helps us feel in control of our lives. But while choice is good, too much of it can be paralysing. This is what is known as the "Paradox of Choice”: when we have too many choices, it makes it harder, not easier, to make a decision.
- Ethiopia rose 40 spots in Reporters Without Borders' 2019 World Press Freedom Index following a series of reforms passed last year, though the East African nation still ranks 110th out of 180 countries on the list.
- 2018 was the 13th successive year that freedom declined around the world, according to Freedom House. Political rights and civil liberties were curbed in 68 countries in 2018, with the worst repression coming in Nicaragua, Tanzania, and Venezuela.
- George Soros said he wanted to “call attention to the mortal danger facing open societies from the instruments of control that machine learning and artificial intelligence can put in the hands of repressive regimes,” referring specifically to China’s social credit system.
- Prospect claimed that you can tell what a society values by what it goes to war over. In the 17th century, it was religion. In the 19th, it was empire. In the 20th and 21st, we fight our wars over freedom - either defending our own or trying to export our version of it to other parts of the world. However, we rarely know how recent our views of freedom are. John Stuart Mill is one of the primary architects of our contemporary ideas of freedom. Mill argued that the only valid reason for interfering with another person’s liberty of action is to protect them from physical harm. It is never justifiable to interfere with another person’s freedom to ensure their happiness, wisdom or well-being because that is to determine what that person’s well-being is. Freedom is defined as liberty of conscience, thought, feeling and opinion.
- While the high-profile murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi captured a lot of attention, in all, 63 professional journalists were killed in 2018, according to Reporters Without Borders. That’s up 15 percent from 2017, according to GZEROMedia.
- Chatham House argued that a free press provides an essential check and balance on government by scrutinising policymaking and public administration and helping to promote honesty, accountability and transparency in the exercise of executive, legislative and judicial power. But as the rules-based liberal international order has come under pressure over the last decade, and technological advances have given the world a variety of platforms to publish news and opinion, so the fourth estate has found itself facing a number of challenges in fulfilling this watchdog role. For Chatham House, chief among these challenges is ensuring that journalists are free to report the news safely and without reprisal.
- Further reading:
- An IAI talk claimed that the poorest of humanity, McCloskey shows, will soon be joining the comparative riches of Japan and Sweden and Botswana. Drawing from her latest book Bourgeois Equality, debate speaker Deirdre McCloskey made the case that from 1840s Manchester to modern India, the market and the people thrive when free.
- As the war on free speech and censorship on university campuses continues to rage, where should we turn for answers? Arguing that we need a radical rethink of what universities stand for, a literary theorist and author of There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech, puts forward a challenge to liberal and conservative icons alike.
- Governments and corporations will soon know us better than we know ourselves. Belief in the idea of ‘free will’ has become dangerous, warned by Yuval Noah Harari
- The desire for free speech is found in every country. But it exists in precious few. At the Oslo Freedom Forum, The Economist interviewed champions of free speech from around the world -watch the series of 60-second videos here.
- Number of prisoners per 100,000 people: Japan 45 Sweden 57 Germany 78 China 118 Mexico 164 South Africa 280 Brazil 323 USA 655 (highest in the world with the possible exception of North Korea), according to Our World in Data.
- The Fraser Institute published the 21st edition of its annual Economic Freedom of the World report. The Canadian think-tank uses 42 data points across five different areas (size of government, legal/property rights, sound money, freedom to trade internationally and regulation) to rank the economic freedom of 159 countries and territories. The results? According to Johan Norberg, “freedom is awesome”, which is to say that - almost without exception - the freer the country, the more rapid its economic growth, and the higher its citizens’ income, argued HumanProgress.
- The Chinese government reportedly keeps close tabs on its citizens’ behaviour, location, finances, and communications. Facial recognitiontech, smartphone apps, surveillance drones, and smart glasses are all used to gather information as people go about their daily lives, and this information is fed into the country’s social credit system. Obedient citizens gain privileges and praise, while dissidents, intellectuals, criminals, and other non-conformants can be denied access to services.
- What Freedom House calls illiberalism is on the rise across Eastern Europe, warned The New York Times. For the NYT, this includes Poland and Hungary, both still members of the European Union, in which democracy "as we normally understand it" is already dead.
- Governments around the world are attempting to control the flow of subversive information (however they define it) through their societies, warned GZEROMedia, citing various different approaches:
- Many countries, including Egypt, have adopted a technocratic approach to information control: by passing laws (and in China’s case, implementing sophisticated censorship systems) that regulate online speech, governments can not only clamp down on specific threats, they create a broader chilling effect that encourages self-censorship.
- Then there’s the blunt-force option: disconnecting the internet to stop rumours and protests from spreading. Shutoffs have serious downsides: for one, they’re expensive, since many people now depend on the internet for their livelihoods. But they are a popular tool across parts of Africa, where English speaking regions of Cameroon were cut off from internet for much of last year, as well as in India, where authorities have pulled the plug more than 170 times since 2012, most often in anticipation of public unrest in specific regions of the country.
- Finally, GZEROMedia points to Russia’s favoured approach: undermine trust in information by pushing out so much disinformation that people don’t know what to believe.
- The Fraser Institute published the 21st edition of its annual Economic Freedom of the World report. The Canadian think-tank uses 42 data points across five different areas (size of government, legal/property rights, sound money, freedom to trade internationally and regulation) to rank the economic freedom of 159 countries and territories. The results show that, almost without exception, the freer the country, the more rapid its economic growth, and the higher its citizens’ income.
- There is a big difference between belonging and fitting in. Brene Brown, author and researcher describes the difference between the two as freedom. ‘Fitting in’ she notes, is our ability to assess a situation and adapt who we are – personality and behaviours – in order to feel accepted. ‘Belonging’ is about freedom – freedom from having to change in order to be accepted and valued and respected for being who you are.
- Every Angolan owes $745 to China, the Angolan newspaper Expansão declared recently. By some estimates Angola owes as much as $25 billion to China. Since resuming ties in 1983, Angola has taken $60 billion from China in loans and investments. The costs and conditions of accepting lavish Chinese financing are a hot topic as Beijing expands its commercial influence globally, warned GZEROMedia.
- The Human Freedom Index (HFI) claims to be the most comprehensive measure of freedom ever created for a large number of countries around the globe. It captures the degree to which people are free to enjoy major liberties such as freedom of speech, religion, and association and assembly, as well as measures freedom of movement, women’s freedoms, crime and violence, and legal discrimination against same-sex relationships.
- The "Open Source revolution" was led by an ex-CIA agent who trained more than 66 countries in open source methods and who calls for re-invention of intelligence.
- Are we now living in a world designed for - and increasingly controlled by - algorithms, complex computer programs that determine, inter alia: espionage tactics, stock prices, movie scripts, and architecture? See also: Algorithms as crystal balls.
- Those who for push for an end to print need to realise that relying only on online content delivery can make it much easier to impose censorship.