The team behind ExpressVPN, which we have a full review for, is revealing the status of censorship efforts around the world in a new and expensive report that explores the various measures that governments use in order to restrict free speech and maintain social control over their citizens.
It is worth noting that Express VPN International Ltd uses a very expansive definition for censorship, which implies that it is not enough for a country to block access to a service or a website but it needs to actively work to replace it with an alternative that makes it easy to get access to sensitive information and personal data.
The report explains that at the moment only one country has the ability to enact an almost complete solution to censor Internet traffic.
Currently, only China has shown both the willingness and the ability to do all this, although there is increasing worry these tools might be exported and employed in allied dictatorships.
Ways to censor content
According to the developers of ExpressVPN, there are a variety of ways for governments to try and limit the online self-expression of Internet users:
- Self-censorship with a side of legal pressure, which allows a state to try and use laws and the threat of trials to limit what’s posted online or to limit access to a particular site;
- DNS record redirection, a direct strategy that makes it hard to reach sites unless a user uses a direct address;
- IP blocking, which restricts access direct to a site but can be circumvented by using new addresses or by rotating them;
- Deep packet inspection aka DPI, an advanced strategy that uses powerful infrastructure to scan all traffic coming into and from a restricted network, finding patterns that can betray what users are doing or even finding personal information like passwords;
Censorship on the 6 continents
The ExpressVPN team finds that in both South and North America most governments allow Internet use to be mostly free but there’s significant censorship in Haiti, Venezuela, and Cuba.
Europe is also a bastion of freedom but there are also exceptions, including a pretty strict set of censorship measures in the United Kingdom, although the rest of the European Union is more open.
The countries that have a historic link to the Soviet Union also tend to restrict rights, with the report highlighting problems in Russia, Belarus, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
In the Middle East, the situation is even worse and there are significant restrictions in countries like Iran, Egypt, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, which block entire sites and try to restrict VPN use by their citizens.
In Asia, the most capable censorship regime is in Communist China, where the country runs the Great Firewall to limit access and also works with big companies to eliminate VPN alternatives. The country also has a number of home grown services and apps that are designed to deliver personal information back to the government and to limit the rights of citizens.
There are also significant limits to Internet use in countries like India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Myanmar, East Timor, Thailand, and Vietnam. North Korea merits special mention because the average citizen has no way to get on the Internet and even a heavily restricted Intranet is only offered to a select few.
In Africa, the biggest issue is the lack of monetary resources to ensure stable access for big sections of the population and the countries mentioned in the ExpressVPN report include: Ethiopia, Chad, Eritrea, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Zambia.
Censorship continues to evolve
The report ends on a positive note, with the authors claiming that a number of governments who have been involved in censorship efforts doing so with a less heavy had at the moment.
Although this is cause for optimism there are many countries and companies that are using both brute force and sophisticated measures to block access to content and services, which means that both native citizens and travelers need should be careful when it comes to their data.
The best way for an average user to both circumvent some of the censorship efforts and to keep their private data as safe as possible is to use a solid VPN solution and there are plenty of worthy candidates to be found in our extensive review section.