Freedom House—“Freedom on the Net 2021”

Freedom House have released their 2021 edition of “Freedom on the Net”, the annual survey of Internet freedom around the globe. This year’s edition is titled in full “Freedom on the Net 2021: The Global Drive to Control Big Tech” [PDF, 43 pages].

The report assesses the state of Internet freedom in three major categories:

  1. Obstacles to access
  2. Limits on content
  3. Violations of user rights

in countries which account for 88% of Internet users worldwide. Overall, it finds that Internet users, based upon their country of residence are:

  • 39% Not Free
  • 28% Partly Free
  • 21% Free
  • 12% Not Assessed

In trends, the study finds “Global internet freedom declined for the 11th consecutive year. The environment for human rights online deteriorated in 30 countries this year, while only 18 countries registered net gains.”

Countries are assessed in detail using a methodology described in the report, then assigned a composite score between 0 (least free) and 100 (most free), and categorised as Free (100–70), Partly Free (69–40), or Not Free (39–0). The top ten countries by freedom and their scores are (pp. 38–39):

  1. Iceland 96
  2. Estonia 94
  3. Canada, Costa Rica 87
  4. (tie)
  5. Taiwan 80
  6. Germany 79
  7. France, United Kingdom 78
  8. (tie)
  9. Georgia 77
  10. Japan, Italy 76

Just missing the top ten and tied for 12th place are Australia and the United States at 75.

The bottom ten, from worst to somewhat less awful are:

  1. China (10)
  2. Iran (16)
  3. Myanmar/Burma (17)
  4. Cuba (21)
  5. Vietnam (22)
  6. Saudi Arabia (24)
  7. Pakistan (25)
  8. Egypt (26)
  9. United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia (27)

The largest variance in scores is due to limits on content and violations of user rights, with obstacles to access playing a smaller part. It will be interesting to see how the deployment and uptake of low-Earth orbit megaconstellations such as Starlink and OneWeb affect these numbers over the coming years and the measures adopted by legacy coercive governments to try to constrain access by their subjects.



Most people think their so-called “user rights” exist independently of the business intents of the corporations that mediate access to the Internet. But is that actually the case? Most if not all access is governed by Terms of Service agreements that are very one sided and against the user.

Very few people actually bother to read more than a paragraph of two, however the TOS enforces terms that are grossly one sided in favor of the provider. There is a general misconception that so-called “freedom of speech”, which refers to the first amendment in the Bill of Rights, is applicable and somehow supercedes TOS provisions and that is simply not the case.

It’s very obvious the Internet has massively transformed the way we live our lives and how we communicate with each other, beyond just the mechanics of using email or twitter instead of calling people on the phone or writing letters. Most of today’s communication is mediated - and implicitly controlled - by large corporations which, let’s face it, don’t give two shits about the people’s freedom of speech.

The last couple of year’s progression of social media control over speech illustrates why we are running out of time and urgently need a “digital version” of the Bill of Rights protections. Without something like this, individuals will have no protection from their access being revoked at the whims of tech companies, or in response to network effects driven by the modern equivalent of “madness of crowds”. I want to believe it’s not too late for this.

Recent events in Ukraine are already pointing to what’s coming. Starlink access helps Ukraine maintain communication after the Russian troops attacked. Canceling Russian Soyuz launches drove OneWeb’s launch business towards SpaceX. So, in as far as the cause du jour aligns with USG objectives, the “mega constellations” are happy to provide access.

Unless open source SDR implementations become available to facilitate DIY implementations, I don’t see much potential for opressed individuals in non-free countries getting much changed in terms of free access to information. How would one go about importing a Starlink terminal into, e.g. Saudi Arabia? Perhaps ham radio has a more realistic chance of success.


A March 21st article in Ars Technica provides some interesting data points on Starlink use in Ukraine.

A more in-depth article shares videos and clarifies the Aerorozvidka unit basically started as a group of (motivated) hobbyists. It’s interesting to note the background color scheme of their logo matches the Right Sector colors.

These bozos need a lesson in opsec.