SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Restrictive Chinese policy and digital surveillance have spread throughout the world in the past two years, with the government that has trained emerging countries on processes and companies to provide the tools, according to an annual report from the democracy watch group.
PHOTO FILE: A map of China is viewed through a magnifying glass on a computer screen showing binary digits in Singapore in this photo shoot of January 2, 2014. Photo taken January 2, 2014. REUTERS / Edgar Su / Photo file
Freedom House, whose main sponsor is the US government, said in its report on Wednesday that China's export of "digital authoritarianism" has become a major threat to maintaining democratic governance in some countries.
The director of Freedom House research, Adrian Shahbaz, said that governments began to justify greater censorship and lowered digital privacy protections by saying that policies fight the spread of false news and help capture criminals.
In fact, countries are using curbs to violate human rights, he said.
Freedom House said that China led the charge. It hosted seminars on cyberspace management from the beginning of 2017 with representatives from 36 countries out of 65 monitored by Freedom House, including the countries of the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The 65 countries represent 87% of the world's Internet users, the group said.
Discussions with Chinese officials preceded the new IT security measures in Vietnam, Uganda and Tanzania in the last year, said the Freedom House after examining Chinese state media articles and government press releases.
Meanwhile, Chinese technology companies have provided or are willing to provide Internet equipment to at least 38 of the monitored countries and artificial intelligence systems for order forces in 18 countries, according to the report.
"Beijing had a clear offensive appeal to court government officials and media elites," Shahbaz said. "Beijing officials hope to cultivate allies to follow his leadership on global internet politics."
Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the allegations made in the report are "unprofessional and irresponsible" and have "no basis whatsoever". He did not elaborate.
To be sure, the decline in internet freedom has been a constant global trend for almost a decade. And Chinese investments in investment and influence are not new.
But Freedom House claimed that the threat to human rights has grown severely as powerful technology becomes more accessible to governments and their peoples.
Because fake social media has become a deadly issue, governments are using it as an "opening wedge for censorship," reporters Michael Chertoff, president of the group and former US secretary of national security, told reporters.
Thirteen countries, including Rwanda and Bangladesh, have tried people this year for alleged false information, said Freedom House.
Chertoff said that governments should place emphasis on digital hygiene education and urged corporations to stand up against governments that go too far.
Senior Freedom House officials said they were dismayed by the fact that the US under President Donald Trump encouraged attacks against the democratic media and limited the neutrality of the network, adding to the global trend.
Reporting by Paresh Dave; Additional report by Philip Wen in Beijing; Editing by Neil Fullick