Estonia Nabs Top Spot as the Country With the ‘Freest’ Internet

A new report on worldwide Internet freedom by Freedom House has rated Estonia as the freest for the 2nd year running, beating out the USA, Germany, and the United Kingdom for top marks.

Estonia won first place, and the USA—post the defeat of the deeply unpopular SOPA bill—came in 2nd. Germany, the home of the ever-more-popular Pirate Party, came in a respectable third.

Why is little Estonia doing so well in these rankings? After emerging from Soviet rule in 1991, the Eastern European nation decided to invest heavily in ICT, and it seems to be paying off, with a 77 percent Internet penetration rate and high levels of access in schools.

Estonia also has Europe’s most well-developed public-key infrastructure, allowing people to vote online, file their taxes, and use other e-government services. (I am assuming efforts to market Estonia as the next World Geek Paradise are under consideration…or at least they should be).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, well-known oppressors Iran, Cuba and China were at the bottom of the list. Iran’s efforts to establish a halal Internet—good luck with that!—will probably do no favors whatsoever for their future score.

Freedom House also fingered China as a source of innovation in the “repressing your populace via the Internet” department, outsourcing all manner of hip new concepts in oppression to places like Belarus, Iran, and Uzbekistan. Not that censorshipalways works all that well, as I covered in an earlier piece on this blog.

Belarus, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Thailand were rated as “not free” by Freedom House’s scoring system, while Tunisia and Burma were given kudos as the most improved. Blame oppressive lese majeste rules in Thailand, and give accolades to the ever-more-relaxed Burmese government on that one.

The report implored the world to keep an eye on the limitation of rights in Russia, Pakistan and Egypt, as well as in Libya. Not that this is all that surprising: new regimes or those suffering from upheaval have a disturbing habit of clamping down on Internet freedoms “for the greater good.” (Russia’s excuse may be “being Russia,” as well as a number of very visible protests in the past year).

On the whole, researchers found that 20 out of the 47 countries surveyed were on a “negative trajectory” since January 2011—but 14 out of the 47 were doing better. There is hope for the Internet yet.

Here’s video of the release of the Freedom on the Net report, which you can read the full text of at this link.