U.S. lags Estonia in web freedom, reports says

Published September 24, 2012

| FoxNews.com

More than three quarters of citizens have access to the Internet, there’s widespread e-commerce and e-government services, and the press and bloggers are free to say anything online.

No, it’s not the U.S. It’s Estonia.

The Baltic country of 1.27 million topped a list from Freedom House published Monday assessing the state of the net in 2012, with the fewest obstacles to access and violations of Internet rights.

“Estonia has become a model for free Internet access as a development engine for society,” the report concludes, noting that “the program’s 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.”

The U.S. earned second place in the report, with a score of 12 out of 100 – just two points shy of first place.

The report, titled "Freedom on the Net 2012," cautioned that recent developments may threaten that freedom, however.

“The current administration appears committed to maintaining broad surveillance powers” to combat crime, the report says. “Moreover, reports have emerged that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is seeking expanded authority … to ensure that communications can be intercepted when necessary.”

Other countries that earned high marks for freedom included Germany at 15, Australia at 18, and Hungary at 19.

Countries lagging on the list come as no surprise. In last place is Iran, with a score of 90 out of 100 -- indicating a near total lack of freedom online. The country announced on Sunday that it would filter access to Google's services, after a video on YouTube titled "Innocence of Muslims" led to widespread rioting and violence across the Muslim world.

"Google and Gmail will be filtered throughout the country until further notice," an official identified only by his last name, Khoramabadi, said, according to Reuters.

On Monday, a Google spokesman told FoxNews.com that Iranians were unable to access its services.

“We have received information that users cannot get access to Gmail and Google Search in Iran. We have checked our networks and there is nothing wrong on our side."

Other countries earning failing grades for Internet freedom include Cuba (86), China (85), and Syria (83).

Sanja Kelly, project director for Freedom on the Net at Freedom House, said the report revealed the growing challenges to freedom on the World Wide Web.

“The findings clearly show that threats to Internet freedom are becoming more diverse. As authoritarian rulers see that blocked websites and high-profile arrests draw local and international condemnation, they are turning to murkier—but no less dangerous—methods for controlling online conversations.”

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