Internet Censorship 2019: Find Out Where Repression Reigns

An Overview of Internet Censorship in 149 Countries Around the World

A cloudwards.net report
By Sandra PattisonAssistant Editor
— Last Updated: 30 Sep'19
2019-09-29T07:38:10-08:00

Some countries are a great deal more free than others when it comes to internet censorship and surveillance. Cloudwards.net dove into the wacky world of repression and rated 149 countries according to how free and unfree they are, with some surprising results. 

Global Score
Countries
6(4.03 %)
47(31.54 %)
71(47.65 %)
18(12.08 %)
4(2.68 %)
3(2.01 %)
Global Score
People
129.6 million(1.76 %)
553.5 million(7.52 %)
4.3 billion(58.58 %)
593.6 million(8.06 %)
242.4 million(3.29 %)
1.5 billion(20.79 %)
You may see the internet as the largest source of free knowledge available, and in some ways, you’d be right. The internet you’re surfing, though, is most likely partially censored at the least. Plus, invasive surveillance exists, and there can be consequences for speaking your mind. This article is aimed at educating you on online restrictions and internet censorship around the world.

Global Score:
Author: Al MacDonald Editor: Fritz Lekschas License: CC BY-SA 3.0 ID: ISO 3166-1 or "_[a-zA-Z]" if an ISO code is not available

The amount of constraints and monitoring in place is astonishing and relevant to most countries. Internet service providers control what you can or can’t see and governments make them block content, often with consequences if they don’t cooperate. In countries with a centralized internet system, the government can even shut down the internet altogether. 

We’ve put together detailed, country by country information, explaining the restrictions imposed and how bad they are. We considered certain criteria, such as online surveillance and network access inequality, as well as limits on freedom of speech, social media, the use of virtual private networks and torrenting.

We recommend navigating using the map, though you can also browse the entire article. The countries are listed per continent, and in alphabetical order.

Important Editor’s Note

We’ve done our best to dive into the depths of the internet and bring you accurate information on all of the countries and subjects below. Please remember, though, that this type of information can become inaccurate very quickly. Also, often enough there is no information to be found, or at least in English, so we’re missing a few countries in our overview.

We endeavor to keep the information correct, but Cloudwards.net is not liable for false or inaccurate information within this article. Please use the information as a general reference, you should not rely on it for legal purposes. Also, if you spot a mistake or something that has changed, email the chief editor at fergus[at]cloudwards.net so we can update it ASAP.

The Criteria

You can’t put together a list as massive as this without setting a few criteria. Below we’ll explain how and why we judged each country on the list.

Surveillance

Yes in 109 countries 😢
No in 40 countries 😀
Yes and it affects 6.8 billion people 😢
569.5 million people are not affected 😀
Online surveillance is rife, but many people are oblivious to it or don’t care. All sorts of online services can be monitored without you realizing, including social media, blogs and browsing history. Online communications, such as emails, calls and messaging, can also be under watch, and sensitive user data is often collected and stored.

There’s evidence that governments and authorities around the world have spent millions on surveillance software, such as FinFisher which enables governments to monitor devices, track locations and intercept data, even if it is encrypted. Other evidence points to dealings with companies who provide the software, such as Hacking Team. 

The most famous revelations were those of whistleblower Edward Snowden, which unearthed the many snooping activities of the U.S. government. 

Plus, there are countries that have formed intelligence relationships, known as the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes and Fourteen Eyes. The agreements between the nations govern data collection and the sharing of intelligence data with one another. Invasive technology is used for mass surveillance online and offline, so take note if a country is involved.

Network Access Inequality

Yes in 17 countries 😢
No in 132 countries 😀
Yes and it affects 2.3 billion people 😢
5.1 billion people are not affected 😀
Network access inequality is the opposite of net neutrality, the principle that ISPs treat all services and websites equally. Many countries don’t support net neutrality, which leads to discrimination and unfair charges to some content providers and services. ISPs can slow down or block apps, webpages and services, so doing whatever you want online is a thing of the past.

Countries that don’t have net neutrality are great for ISPs because they can profit from making consumers subscribe to special plans to get unthrottled access to the websites and online services they want. Also, it can lead to ISPs “hiding” sites they don’t like by putting them behind a paywall.

Net Neutrality in EU Countries

In 2016, the EU applied Regulation (EU) 2015/2120, enshrining the principle of net neutrality into EU law. Internet traffic has to be treated equally, with no throttling or blocking on or discrimination toward content, applications or services by ISPs in EU countries. 

Freedom of Speech Restrictions

Yes in 119 countries 😢
No in 30 countries 😀
Yes and it affects 6.5 billion people 😢
871.4 million people are not affected 😀
Freedom of speech is the right to express your opinion without censorship, restraint or punishment, and it’s dying, quicker in some places than others. In some places there’s valid reasoning behind the restrictions, such as the government has a duty to prohibit hate speech, especially toward racial and religious groups. 

That said, the rules can be abused. Laws make it look like freedom of speech is protected, but there are often other laws that contradict them. User posts get removed and people end up in prison for seemingly innocent comments. Journalists often practice self-censorship for fear of punishment, but it can affect normal citizens, too.

Social Media Restrictions

Yes in 11 countries 😢
No in 138 countries 😀
Yes and it affects 1.9 billion people 😢
5.4 billion people are not affected 😀
You may be used to flicking through recent posts and comments on social media apps, but many of them are banned in some countries. Reasons vary from keeping inappropriate material out of reach to trying to stop protests and other public demonstrations from being organized. 

Messaging apps, such as WhatsApp and Viber, are often blocked, too, for the same reasons. Digital activists and terror groups are known to use the applications to communicate with members in secret. Plus, access can be blocked ahead of elections to limit fake news and hate speech that may influence the voting.

VPN Bans

Yes in 17 countries 😢
No in 132 countries 😀
Yes and it affects 2 billion people 😢
5.3 billion people are not affected 😀
In an attempt to take control, many countries have blocked or banned VPNs. There are different ways to do that, such as blocking access to IP addresses from other countries, blocking the VPN servers by identifying the VPN protocols or blocking the ports that are used by those protocols. Some countries simply block access to a specific VPN service.

There are countries that don’t have the technology required to carry out blocks, so they have legislation that only allows the use of a VPN service that’s registered with the government or makes the use of VPNs illegal. 

Several authorities carry out spot checks on mobile devices to see if you have one installed, and there can be severe punishments if you’re caught with one.

Torrenting Restrictions

Yes in 71 countries 😢
No in 78 countries 😀
Yes and it affects 5.9 billion people 😢
1.4 billion people are not affected 😀
Torrenting on its own isn’t illegal. It’s just a way to share content online. Downloading copyrighted material through them is illegal, though, because you’re basically stealing. The consequences if you get caught doing that vary. You could be slapped with a hefty fine or be given a prison sentence. It largely depends on the country dealing with the crime.

To try to combat the offense, torrenting websites are blocked in many countries. In other cases, the websites have stayed active but are monitored with the hope of catching people and turning them in. Being able to torrent isn’t a human right, so we won’t include it in our ranking, but it will still be kept in mind.

Remember, just because the laws and restrictions may not pertain to the country in which you reside, that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. If you travel, you’re bound by those regulations, and many tourists have found themselves in hairy situations. Read on to educate yourself about the rules of a country you plan to visit, including the online world.

Africa

The poorest continent by far, Africa has only a handful of countries where the majority of the population uses the internet. However, this does not mean that there is no surveillance, many despotic regimes want to make sure that they know what’s happening online even if only a small percentage of their population are there.

Algeria

🇩🇿 Algeria
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Algerians can access websites and social media freely, but some political websites and content related to terrorism are blocked. In 2016, answers to a national exam were leaked over social media. Students had to redo the exam, and the government blocked all social media to prevent cheating. A cybercrime law allows it to block websites or news it deems harmful to public order.

Freedom of speech is recognized in its constitution, but it’s often infringed in practice. Criticism of the government is a criminal offense and ISPs are required to police online content, including social media. Many journalists, social media users and bloggers have been punished for their critical posts.

Since 2008, internet cafes have been required to collect the names and ID numbers of customers and report them to the police, along with any suspicious activity.Torrenting isn’t restricted and torrenting copyrighted material isn’t looked at unless you’re doing it for a profit. That said, a cybercrime bill criminalized online activities in 2008, including copyright infringement. VPNs are legal to use, though.

Benin

🇧🇯 Benin
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Though there are no reports of the government blocking certain content on the internet, there are several of online services being restricted. In fact, the country’s internet was turned off during the elections in 2019. 

Applications such as WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Telegram and Instagram have been blocked. Plus, while it is legal to use a VPN, services such as TunnelBear, PureVPN and Hola have been restricted. Those services are available now, though.

Surveillance is present in the country, such as wiretapping, and it’s compulsory to register SIM cards, but there are no reports of online surveillance being carried out.

Benin’s constitution guarantees freedom of speech, and it’s mostly respected. Citizens can discuss politics and other subjects without fear. That said, defamation is a criminal offense and can be punished with a fine. Media outlets can be suspended for publishing articles that are critical of the president.

Botswana

🇧🇼 Botswana
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

There are no reports of internet censorship in Botswana and information about online surveillance is sparse. That said, legislation has been proposed that would allow the security services to use tools for snooping and hacking legally. Israeli engineers, hackers and researchers were brought in to help build a mass surveillance complex.

Proposed amendments to the Cybercrime and Computer-Related Crimes Act would allow for increased monitoring on social media for fake news and defamation. Freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected, but there are restrictions in practice. Many media outlets are state-run and favor the ruling party. Journalists are intimidated and harassed by the government.

Burkina Faso

🇧🇫 Burkina Faso
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Only 4 percent of Burkina Faso’s population has the internet, but there are still restrictions. The Superior Council of Communication monitors websites and forums to make sure they’re compliant with regulations. In 2012, one website received a warning because a user had insulted the president.

Burkina Faso’s constitution and the 1993 Information Code guarantee freedom of expression, but it’s restricted in practice. Though citizens can engage in private discussion, militant Islamic groups have attacked and intimidated people in response to their online activities. That has discouraged people from talking about politics and other sensitive topics.

Journalists can report freely on the government, and defamation has been decriminalized. That said, they can still be convicted for libel and journalists have faced pressure from government officials.

There are laws that permit surveillance and monitoring of private correspondence without a warrant to protect national security. It’s not clear if that includes online communications, though.

Burundi

🇧🇮 Burundi
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Only 5 percent of citizens in Burundi are internet users, but the internet is restricted. Social media, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber and Twitter, can be blocked to combat demonstrations during election periods.

Though there isn’t much evidence of online surveillance taking place, laws allow the government to spy on citizens and their communications with little judicial oversight.

Burundi’s constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but that freedom is restricted in practice. Critical reporters are subject to threats, harassment and arrest for their work. A media law allows for penalties to be imposed for media offenses and many journalists have fled the country.

Cameroon

🇨🇲 Cameroon
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Internet access and social media platforms have been disrupted many times in Cameroon. They’re mostly blocked during election events and to combat protests in the country. ISPs have slowed access to services, such as WhatsApp, during election periods, too.

Speech is not free and citizens who criticize the government or who are members of an opposition political party may find it has a negative affect on their employment opportunities. Self-censorship is common for fear of reprisal. By law, spreading false information is punishable with up to 20 years in prison.

Defamation is a criminal offense. Critical journalists face pressure and risk punishment when reporting on sensitive subjects. For example, the government clamps down on coverage of the anglophone crisis, also known as the Ambazonia War, in which separatists fight to become independent. The National Communications Council often harasses journalists.

Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Minette Libom Li Likeng revealed that the Cameroonian government has an agency that’s equipped to monitor users’ internet activity in the country. Citizens’ computers and communications can be spied on, as well as social networks and websites. It’s done to keep track of activity that threatens internal security.

Central African Republic

🇨🇫 Central African Republic
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

The Central African Republic is unstable, with a low-key civil war and a de facto dictatorship in power. It has one of the world’s poorest populations, with just over 5 percent of the population using the internet. 

There are no reports of online surveillance, but there have been temporary blocks on certain services. For example, the use of SMS was suspended in 2014 to restore security in the country after violent demonstrations in the capital. 

Speech is free and people can generally discuss political issues. That said, expressing opinions and discussing sensitive topics can result in violent retaliation. Journalists can be punished for their reporting, too, with serious fines for defamation. 

The editor of a weekly newspaper was charged with inciting revolt, abuse and defamation after declaring that two ministers had taken 7 billion Central African CFA francs ($16 million) in illegal commissions.

Chad

🇹🇩 Chad
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaYes
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Internet penetration is low in Chad, but the government shuts it down following political demonstrations. Social media has been blocked since March 2018 because many Chadians were using it to organize protests.

Chad’s constitution provides for freedom of speech, but it’s not upheld in practice. Journalists who criticize the government are met with threats and defamation charges and some are put under surveillance. One columnist was detained and forced to write an apology after criticizing the president. Many practice self-censorship as a result of such treatment.

Côte d’Ivoire

🇨🇮 Côte d’Ivoire
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

There’s little information about censorship imposed on Côte d’Ivoire’s internet. The Telecommunications Regulatory Agency once announced its intent to block anti-Koudou Laurent Gbagbo websites, but that was in 2011. 

Former president, Gbagbo, was imprisoned on crimes against humanity charges after losing the presidential election and organizing a violent campaign. Victims of the violence were beaten, tortured and killed. 

There are no reports of online surveillance.

Freedom of speech is protected by the constitution and other laws, and people can generally engage in sensitive or political discussions without fear. That said, speech that incites violence, hatred or rebellion is prohibited, and those who engage in it can be fined. Insulting the president is a crime. Journalists can be sued for defamation and media outlets can be suspended.

Democratic Republic of Congo

🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of Congo
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaYes
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s government has restricted internet access on more than one occasion. The internet was blocked ahead of planned protests in 2018 and again, along with SMS services, after the election in 2019. Social media usage suggests all platforms but Facebook are blocked, too.

Freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed, but though citizens can discuss sensitive topics, some face reprisals for speaking critically in public. Press freedom is restricted and journalists face political harassment, threats, arrests, physical attacks and defamation lawsuits. More than 100 attacks on journalists were reported between 2017 and 2018.

Djibouti

🇩🇯 Djibouti
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Despite being home to one of East Africa’s most important data centers, the Djibouti Internet Exchange, only 18 percent of Djibouti’s population uses the internet. 

There are few restrictions placed on the internet, but the websites of the Association for Respect for Human Rights in Djibouti and the opposition radio station La Voix de Djibouti are blocked. Websites that are critical of the government can be blocked, too. There are no reports of online surveillance.

Freedom of speech is protected in the Djiboutian constitution, but it’s not upheld in practice. Discussing sensitive or political issues is hindered by restrictive laws, such as defamation offenses. Criticism of the government can end in punishment and the government monitors social media for it. Critics and other dissenting voices have been detained and abused.

The main media outlets are government-owned. Defamation and distribution of false information is a criminal offense under the Freedom of Communication Law and the penal code. Journalists practice self-censorship to avoid repercussions.

Egypt

🇪🇬 Egypt
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityYes
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaYes
VPN ban/block in placeYes
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Egyptian constitution, but many people have been given fines and prison sentences for critical posts online. In its current state of emergency, authorities are able to monitor and shut down websites and monitor and censor online communications without judicial oversight.

Websites containing content such as news, human rights, terrorism and politics are blocked. Social media apps can be shut down, too. The internet is centralized and can be controlled by decreasing speeds or suspending access. Network access inequality is present, with service providers offering special subscriptions and throttling services that aren’t part of them.

Some VPN websites are blocked and certain protocols have been banned, giving those who want to access restricted content a headache.

Though torrenting is allowed, an anti-cybercrime law penalizes data piracy. Users who access copyrighted content could be slapped with a fine of 10,000-50,000 Egyptian pounds ($600-$3,000) and a prison sentence of at least three months. Our best VPN for Egypt guide goes into more detail.

Equatorial Guinea

🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Though freedom of expression and the press are legally guaranteed, Equatorial Guinea is often described as one of the most censored countries in the world. The information citizens can access on the internet is restricted and critical websites are usually blocked. During election periods, Facebook and opposition websites have been blocked, too.

What citizens can discuss privately is also limited. Government surveillance and informants are used to monitor members of the opposition, journalists and other people and organizations the government finds unfavorable. Those critical of the government face arrest and abuse.

Despite being protected constitutionally, the government controls the media and limits what it can broadcast. Journalists practice self-censorship for fear of reprisal.

Eritrea

🇪🇷 Eritrea
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityYes
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Under its brutal dictatorship, Eritrea is one of the most censored countries in the world. The internet is available through multiple ISPs, but they have to go through a government-controlled gateway with limited bandwidth, which leads to a slow and unreliable connection. There’s no internet access via cell phones. Most Eritreans access the internet through cybercafes. 

Most content is available, but pornographic websites and those critical of the government are blocked. YouTube is intermittently blocked by some ISPs because of bandwidth considerations and connections are too slow to accommodate torrenting. Authorities monitor online communications and cybercafes are closely watched.

Freedom of speech is constrained because people fear being punished for dissent. Criticism of the government regime can result in imprisonment. Only state-run news outlets have been in operation since the government shut down independent media in 2001. Journalists have been detained, often without charges, and those who still report live in fear of arrest.

Ethiopia

🇪🇹 Ethiopia
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Ethiopia’s internet was highly censored before former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned in February 2018. Many websites were blocked, such as media outlets and those related to human rights or LGBT topics. Circumvention tools, such as Tor and Psiphon, have been blocked in the past, as well. 

Social media platforms were frequently blocked, and sometimes, the internet was blocked altogether. Reasons ranged from stifling criticism to combating protests. Criticism of the government is punishable. Many journalists and bloggers were prosecuted for defamation or accused of encouraging terrorism and jailed. Ethiopia’s repressive laws remain on the books.

Since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was sworn in, internet freedom has increased. Self-censorship has decreased, much of the blocked content has become available and most of those who were imprisoned for dissent were released.

That said, online surveillance was pervasive and its infrastructure still exists, some of which has ties to the Chinese government. The Computer Crime Proclamation allows real-time monitoring and interception of communications, too. Plus, FinFisher servers were found. Whether the government still engages in mass surveillance is unknown.

Gabon

🇬🇦 Gabon
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

The internet in Gabon has been restricted many times. It was blocked after the elections in 2016. Once it was restored a curfew was introduced in which it was blocked between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. every day. Social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, were blocked all day.

The internet was shut down again in January 2019 after a military coup attempt. Social media is available, though. 

Freedom of speech is provided for in Gabon’s constitution, but it’s restricted in practice. Individuals are limited by restrictive laws and the possibility of being surveilled or detained. Journalists self-censor to avoid punishment for critical reports. The High Authority for Communication suspends outlets that report on government corruption. 

The Gambia

🇬🇲 The Gambia
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Before President Adama Barrow came into power in 2016, more than 20 websites were blocked, including news and critical websites. Communication and social media platforms were also blocked. The internet was shut down ahead of the 2016 elections, too.

Under Barrow, internet freedom has improved and self-censorship has decreased. All the blocked websites and applications are now accessible, and there are no reports of content censorship.

Copyright enforcement is active. A copyright law was enacted in 2004 to combat illegal use, copying and distribution of content. The digital era posed new challenges, but in June 2018, two men were prosecuted for copyright infringement and Gambian police officers received training for enforcing copyright laws. 

Online surveillance remains a concern. Legal frameworks and surveillance technology was put in place by the former government, but its true capabilities and whether the new government use it are unknown. Plus, the Information and Communications Act gives authorities the power to conduct surveillance and intercept communications without judicial oversight.

The Gambian constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but the former president disregarded those rights. There have been legal reforms to strengthen freedoms under Barrow. Defamation was previously used to silence journalists and critics, but the constitutional court ruled it unconstitutional. Internet users are now posting content with less self-censorship.

There’s still work to be done, though. A repressive false news law that can impose a punishment of up to 15 years in prison and a large fine remains on the books. A court ruled that authorities should repeal some criminal laws. Journalists were often prosecuted for their reporting, and despite improvements, some still find themselves in court or face violence.

Guinea

🇬🇳 Guinea
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Despite Guinea’s wealthy mining industry, its people are among the poorest in West Africa. Only 12 percent of the population uses the internet. The internet isn’t censored, but in 2007, Guinea became the first country in Africa to officially shut it down. That said, there are no reports of online surveillance.

Private discussion is generally free, but there are laws that deter people from expressing themselves. Defamation and insulting public figures are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. That has pushed journalists to self-censor. Plus, a cybersecurity law criminalizes disseminating certain information.

Kenya

🇰🇪 Kenya
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The Kenyan internet is mostly uncensored and social media is freely available. That said, some content that was said to promote homosexuality has been restricted online and through other forms of media. Social media content that violates the country’s hate speech and election laws has been removed, too.

Amendments to a copyright bill mean that ISP managers can face up to five years in jail for failing to remove copyrighted content posted on their networks, so torrent websites could be blocked.

The Kenyan government has access to surveillance technology. Unlawful monitoring and interception of communications is prohibited under the Kenya Information and Communications Act, but privacy can be limited under certain conditions with the Prevention of Terrorism Act. That effectively gives authorities a loophole.

Kenya’s constitution protects freedom of expression, but bloggers, journalists and users are intimidated and can face violence for their online activities. Authorities try to suppress negative reporting. 

Hate speech can be punished with a fine of up to 1 million Kenyan shillings ($11,000), up to three years in prison or both under the National Cohesion and Integration Act. Publishing false information that damages someone’s reputation or causes panic can result in up to 10 years in prison under another law.

Our how to get a Kenyan IP address guide points out other online dangers in Kenya.

Lesotho

🇱🇸 Lesotho
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Lesotho’s internet penetration has increased over the last few years, but only 27 percent of the population uses the internet. The government doesn’t impose blocks on websites or filter content. Social media is available, but the government has tried to block it because of suspicions of government secrets being published and during election periods.

There are no reports of blocks on torrent websites or of the government conducting online surveillance.

Freedom of speech is protected in Lesotho’s constitution, but violence has deterred people from discussing topics openly, particularly political ones. Journalists are threatened and intimidated, and an editor was almost assassinated in 2016 because of his work. Criminal defamation laws were often used against journalists, but in May 2018, they were declared unconstitutional.

Liberia

🇱🇷 Liberia
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Much of Liberia’s population has internet access, but though it’s mostly available, the government imposes restrictions on it in certain circumstances. At the beginning of June 2019, the government blocked social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Snapchat, to combat anti-corruption protests.

To bypass the blocks, many citizens resorted to using VPN services, which are legal to use. There are no reports of online surveillance taking place.

The Liberian constitution provides for freedom of speech, but it is often restricted in practice. Individuals can generally discuss topics, but some subjects are socially unacceptable, such as LGBT matters. The media can publish content on many topics, but investigative journalists who report on government affairs can be threatened with lawsuits.

The media used to be restricted because of harsh libel punishments, but that was decriminalized in February 2019 through amendments to the criminal code. In 2018, the government suspended all newly issued operation licences to media outlets. It was argued that the suspensions were aimed at censoring those who are critical of the government.

Libya

🇱🇾 Libya
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

After 42 years of dictatorship, elections in 2014 left Libya divided between a U.N.-recognized government and the Libyan National Army. The country’s previous leadership and current conflict have had an effect on its online infrastructure.

Internet censorship occurs, but it’s less common now. Pornographic content is usually blocked. The last major instance of an intentional block was of a news website in 2015 after it criticized militia groups associated with the government. Social media is available, but Facebook and YouTube have been blocked in the past.

Libya’s constitution guarantees freedom of opinion, but the country’s weak enforcement means that isn’t always upheld. Several repressive laws from the Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi era remain, including harsh punishments for those who publish offensive content. 

The laws can be applied to any form of speech, and many people have faced consequences for social media posts. Plus, journalists and bloggers practice self-censorship or even leave Libya because of threats and violence.

Libya’s surveillance capabilities are unclear. Under Gaddafi, widespread surveillance of online communications took place and powerful tools were left behind. There are concerns that those tools may have been reactivated. There’s no legislation to govern how surveillance is carried out.

The Information and Anti-Terrorism Room of Dignity Operation in Benghazi warned social media activists that it was monitoring their activity after it arrested a user for Facebook posts.

Madagascar

🇲🇬 Madagascar
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Little information is available for Madagascar and internet penetration in the country is low. There are no reports of internet censorship or online surveillance. 

Freedom of speech is provided for in the constitution, but there are laws that restrict it. A cybercrimes law prohibits online defamation and social media users have been prosecuted for it. Other laws criminalize libel, and the government has control over the media.

Malawi

🇲🇼 Malawi
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Less than 10 percent of the population of Malawi uses the internet. The internet has been disrupted during election periods. Content isn’t blocked or filtered, unless it’s related to child pornography, but there have been instances of internet censorship in the past. Social media is available.

The implementation of a technology called the Consolidated ICT Regulatory Management System made Malawians suspect government surveillance. Locals even dubbed it the spy machine.

Malawi’s constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but other laws restrict it. The media is unable to report on certain topics, such as the president, under the 1967 Protected Flag, Emblems and Names Act and the 1947 Printed Publications Act. If libel is prosecuted at a criminal level, the punishment is up to two years in prison. Self-censorship is present.

Mali

🇲🇱 Mali
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Mali has been troubled by conflict for many years. It started in 2012 after rebels waged a war against the government to gain independence for Northern Mali. Islamist groups have taken control of some areas since. Even though the conflict officially ended with the signing of a peace accord, it’s still ongoing.

Mali’s government doesn’t censor particular content on the internet, but there are reports that services have been interrupted. The internet was temporarily shut down, along with some radio stations, to discourage protests against constitutional changes. Internet outages have been reported during election periods, and Twitter and Facebook have been restricted

The constitution of Mali protects freedom of speech. People can generally discuss topics freely, but in areas where militant groups are present, it’s more restricted. Reporting on the situation in those areas is dangerous. Journalists can be threatened, intimidated and arrested. Defamation is also a criminal offense punishable by fines or imprisonment.

Mauritania

🇲🇷 Mauritania
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

There is little evidence that anything is blocked online in Mauritania other than some political content. Social media is freely available, but President Ould Abdel Aziz said he wouldn’t mind blocking it because it’s a threat to the country’s security. VPNs are legal to use.

Information on online surveillance in the country is scarce. A report on a technician from a company called Wolf Intelligence shows that the Mauritanian government is interested in surveillance products. The products would enable authorities to spy on internet and cell phone users.

Freedom of speech is guaranteed in Article 10 of Mauritania’s constitution, but the right is violated in practice. People have been punished for making comments critical of the government on social media. Laws provide for heavy penalties for discrimination and racism. Defamation is a criminal offense and apostasy and blasphemy are punishable by death, too.

Though Mauritania has a vibrant media landscape, journalists face harassment and arrest for reporting on certain topics. Self-censorship is present when covering subjects such as corruption, slavery or the military. Bloggers have been arrested for condemning corruption on Facebook.

Morocco

🇲🇦 Morocco
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Though websites are rarely taken offline, the government can block anything it deems to be offensive through the press law or sees as disruptive to public order via the anti-terrorism law. The news outlet Lakome was blocked in 2013 after being accused of condoning terrorism. 

VoIP provided by services such as Skype and WhatsApp was banned in 2016 with the hope of boosting revenue from international calls. The ban was quietly lifted later in the year after approximately $320 million was lost because of it.

Freedom of speech is provided for in the constitution, but online activities can be punished via the penal code, antiterrorism law and press law. Those activities include discussing topics such as the status of Morocco-occupied Western Sahara, condoning terrorism and offending the monarchy. Punishments include prison terms and fines. 

Media outlets in Western Sahara often face harassment by Moroccan authorities trying to make sure their reports don’t dispute Morocco’s dominion over the territory. Surveillance of online activities and communications is a concern, and many citizens self-censor.

Malware from Hacking Team has reportedly been used by the government and spyware has been purchased from the French company Amesys. Plus, SIM cards must be registered with the user’s name and ID number. Those that aren’t registered after one month are shut down.

Mozambique

🇲🇿 Mozambique
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

There is no evidence of content being blocked or social media being restricted in Mozambique. The government was caught spying on its citizens by intercepting calls and messages offline and online and also monitoring social media. Along with that monitoring, those who posted critical comments reported receiving threatening messages.

Much of the media is state-owned and its coverage of the government is favorable. Smaller, independent outlets report on conflict and corruption, but journalists face pressure, harassment and intimidation for doing so. That has led many to practice self-censorship.

Namibia

🇳🇦 Namibia
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The internet in Namibia isn’t restricted by the government and social media is available. There’s little information about online piracy in the country, but the Namibian Society of Composers and Authors of Music says fighting piracy is one of its main objectives. 

Intelligence services can monitor emails and internet usage under the Communications Act. Security services have acquired surveillance technologies that can intercept and monitor communications. Leaked emails from the Italy-based company Hacking Team showed that Namibian authorities were interested in its technology.

Constitutional rights cover freedom of speech in Namibia and it’s generally respected. Journalists can work freely for the most part, but self-censorship is practiced by some.

Nigeria

🇳🇬 Nigeria
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Few restrictions are imposed on Nigeria’s internet. Some news websites get blocked if they promote the independence of Biafra, which is a region that tried to secede from Nigeria in 1967, resulting in one of Arfica’s bloodiest civil wars

The Nigerian Communications Commission supports net neutrality. Downloading and sharing copyrighted content can get you into trouble. 

In one example, complaints of internet piracy from an industry group led to 18 people being sentenced. They each received 45 days in jail and a fine of 12,000 naira ($33) after downloading and sharing local movies without permission. That may not sound like a lot, but in Nigeria, it’s just over a third of a months average wage.

VPNs are legal to use and we’ve given some recommendations in our how to get a Nigerian IP address piece. 

Many reports have pointed to the government’s surveillance capabilities. Nigeria’s 2018 federal budget showed over 17 billion naira ($47.2 million US) was allocated to an ONSA project, which observers believe to be a new surveillance technology. Plus, legal provisions allow the government to conduct surveillance against human rights groups.

Leaked emails from the surveillance company Hacking Team showed that the Bayelsa state government had a contract with the company from 2012 to 2013, and a FinFisher server was located on a private ISP. ISPs are required to retain user data and intercept online communications by law, too.

Freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed, but it’s limited. Critical comments can lead to violent reprisals or arrest and publication of false news, defamation or sedition can be punished. Libel is a criminal offense, too. Journalists and bloggers can be harassed and arrested for reporting on corruption and other sensitive topics.

Rwanda

🇷🇼 Rwanda
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

The Rwandan government imposes restrictions on certain content online. Some independent news outlets, opposition blogs and Ugandan news outlets are blocked. Content that’s critical of the government can be deleted, too.

Little is known about the surveillance capabilities of the Rwandan authorities, but some revelations have confirmed internet users’ suspicions. Officials are able to intercept the online communications and activities of individuals deemed to be a threat under the Law Relating to the Interception of Communications. 

It was also revealed that the government tried to invest in sophisticated spyware from Hacking Team in 2012. There’s no evidence that the technology was purchased, but that shows that the government is interested in it.

Journalists and internet users practice self-censorship for fear of reprisal, with some avoiding certain topics altogether. Critical voices can face violence and harassment, and some have fled the country. The penal code has vague provisions that restrict freedom of expression.

Senegal

🇸🇳 Senegal
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityYes
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Senegal’s internet is generally free from censorship, but the government imposes restrictions before election periods to stop the spread of misinformation. The government has also shown that it’ll block social media by doing so on the release of Karim Wade, the former president’s son, after he was convicted in 2015 for graft.

There are no reports of online copyright infringement enforcement, but sales have dropped in the country because of illegal downloading. In 2016, a new legal music platform called MusikBi was launched in Senegal with the hope of promoting African artists while also fighting internet piracy. 

There are no reports of the government engaging in online surveillance.

Article 27 of the Bill on the Code of Electronic Communications was seen as undermining net neutrality by creating loopholes that’d violate its principles. Digital rights organizations called for it to be amended

The Senegalese constitution guarantees freedom of speech, and citizens can generally discuss topics openly. That said, people have been arrested for critical social media posts. Journalists are sometimes met with defamation lawsuits and those who reported critically have been attacked and detained. Press laws allow authorities to shut down media outlets and block content, too.

The Seychelles

🇸🇨 The Seychelles
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

No reports of internet censorship or government surveillance were found for the Seychelles. The country has good privacy laws and its constitution guarantees it. Other laws include data protection provisions and there are no mandatory data retention laws. Those protections are probably why Astrill and BoxPN are based there.

There are limits to freedom of speech, though. Some sensitive subjects aren’t allowed to be discussed to protect the country’s image. Those who criticize the government can face reprisals, such as harassment or loss of employment. Media outlets often self-censor. There are strict defamation laws, but they seem to be dead letters.

Sierra Leone

🇸🇱 Sierra Leone
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Only a small percentage of Sierra Leone’s population are internet users, but it can be restricted for certain reasons. The internet and mobile communications services were shut down temporarily after the 2018 elections to stop results from being shared. Google receives take down requests for search results and YouTube content that contains political speech.

Plus, authorities have tried to curtail social media use by monitoring it and restricting what users can say or post. The police said they have the capabilities and resources to trace and locate users.

Though freedom of speech is protected in Sierra Leone’s constitution, the country’s libel and sedition laws are often employed to target journalists who report on corruption. Some journalists have been attacked, too.

Somalia

🇸🇴 Somalia
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

The Somali government frequently blocks critical websites, and in 2014, Citizen Lab reported that censorship products had been found on some of Somalia’s ISP networks. Social media can be restricted during election periods to limit hate speech and fake news. There are no credible reports that the government carries out online surveillance, though.

Somalia’s provisional constitution provides for freedom of speech, but there are restrictions in practice. Criticism of the government and authority figures can result in prosecution, with fines of up to $3,000 for libel. Journalists face harassment and violence, and has been ranked as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists because 67 have been killed since 1992.

Journalists face harsh punishments if they’re found to be critical. Poet Abdirahman Abees was detained after he was accused of insulting the government. He recited poems that were critical of the government during an event in a hotel.

South Africa

🇿🇦 South Africa
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

There’s little censorship imposed on South Africa’s internet, as you can read in our best VPN for South Africa piece. 

Sexually explicit and violent content can be blocked. The new amendment to the Films and Publications Act could lead to a more regulated internet once it’s signed, though. Plus, a review into the laws that address adult material and how children are exposed to it found a proposal for an automatic filter on all devices.

ISPs have to block access to torrent websites and any others that infringe copyright. Under the Cybercrimes Bill, ISPs also have to report users who pirate content and retain information that may assist authorities in their investigations. VPNs are legal, though.

The South African government has tracked thousands of mobile phones using a loophole in surveillance laws. ISPs are required to store customer data, and communications systems that aren’t able to be monitored are banned under the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act.

A court order is required to intercept communications under RICA, but the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Act creates a loophole by allowing authorities to do so without judicial oversight.

Freedom of expression is guaranteed in the constitution, with the exceptions of inciting violence and backing hatred toward race, ethnicity, gender and religion. An amendment to the Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill in 2017 penalizes the circulation of harmful data messages.

South Sudan

🇸🇸 South Sudan
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

The South Sudanese government blocks websites it deems to contain or publish content critical of the government or incite violence. Media websites and blogs are often targeted, and authorities will only consider lifting the blocks once such content is no longer published. 

Freedom of speech and the press are guaranteed in South Sudan’s transitional constitution, but they aren’t respected, and the country is one of the most dangerous in the world for journalists. Defamation is prosecuted under criminal law and those who are critical of the government risk being punished for their reporting. Many have been threatened, detained and killed, too.

The South Sudan National Security Services is able to carry out surveillance and intercept communications. It’s through those capabilities that journalists, as well as other critical voices, have been intimidated and detained. Self-censorship is practiced because of fear.

Social media is available, but authorities have put blocks on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp because they’re used to organize anti-government protests. Protests in 2013 resulted in an internet blackout. VPNs are legal to use, and many citizens have resorted to them to circumvent censorship and restrictions.

Sudan

🇸🇩 Sudan
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

The Sudanese government blocks and filters websites that are deemed immoral or blasphemous, as well as anything pornographic. It’s a criminal offense to set up websites that are critical of the government and punishable with fines and time in prison. Cybercafes have to install filtering software to keep their licences.

Social media is available, but it has been blocked many times during protests. Printed media is highly censored, so many citizens rely on the internet for uncensored news. Reforms to media laws may change that, though.

Freedom of speech is guaranteed in Sudan’s constitution but it’s not respected. Individuals who discuss political issues are intimidated and social media users have been prosecuted for posts critical of the government. Journalists face intimidation and violence, and many post anonymously or self-censor to avoid it.

The National Intelligence and Security Service monitors communications, blogs, social media and news forums. There are reports that Sudan possesses surveillance equipment from the U.S.-based Blue Coat Systems.

Tanzania

🇹🇿 Tanzania
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

There are no reports of online censorship in Tanzania, but homosexuality is illegal, so content related to it may be affected. Information about online surveillance in the country is sparse, but section 32 of the Cybercrimes Act allows authorities to engage in surveillance without judicial oversight. Section 38 prevents people from challenging surveillance carried out on them.

The Chama Cha Mapinduzi, which is the ruling party, monitors social media to keep an eye on the population’s discussions, especially on political topics. The Cybercrimes Act makes insulting the president and circulating content about homosexuality criminal offenses punishable by fines, imprisonment or both.

Journalists can face harsh penalties for defamation, sedition and other illegal content. Reporters also face attacks, leading to repression of the media environment.

Tanzania’s Electronic and Postal Communications Regulations say users are liable for content if it causes annoyance or public disorder. Internet cafes have to install surveillance cameras, too. Those who violate the regulations can face fines and imprisonment.

Togo

🇹🇬 Togo
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

The internet in Togo doesn’t face much in the way of website blocks, but anti-government protests have resulted in the internet and SMS services becoming inaccessible. Social media platforms, such as Facebook and WhatsApp, have been affected, too. 

The constitution of Togo guarantees freedom of speech, but it’s frequently violated. Citizens can discuss topics openly, but those who are critical of the government can be arrested. 

Restrictive press laws and crimes against journalists have lead many reporters to practice self-censorship. The police engage in intimidating and violent acts to discourage coverage of sensitive topics. Plus, a cybersecurity law adopted in 2018 makes publishing false information a criminal offense. Authorities can also conduct surveillance under the law.

Tunisia

🇹🇳 Tunisia
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

While President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was in power, censorship was rife in Tunisia, with certain websites being blocked, such as YouTube. Since his ousting in 2011, it has improved and users enjoy a free internet and social media. 

Net neutrality doesn’t appear to be an issue in practice. Article 14 of Decree No. 2014-4773 says ISPs need to ensure the neutrality of their services. Article 14 of Decree No. 2014-412 says operators of VPNs must guarantee the neutrality of their services, too.

Freedom of speech is guaranteed in Tunisia, but there are restrictions. Journalist are often intimidated by government officials and subject to harassment and arrest for critical comments. Bloggers and others have been prosecuted for defamation, making many reluctant to discuss certain topics. For example, homosexuality is illegal, so discussing LGBT topics is discouraged.

During a parliamentary hearing, Minister of the Interior Lotfi Brahem admitted that journalists were being monitored. In 2013, a new government surveillance agency, the Technical Telecommunications Agency, was created to support judicial investigations. The terms for its use are broad, though, and activists fear it’ll be used for mass surveillance.

Zambia

🇿🇲 Zambia
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

The Zambian internet is free from blocks on political and sensitive content. That said, some news outlets have been blocked because of their critical reports. Social media is available, but government officials have threatened to ban some platforms to combat misuse. It was later confirmed that social media wouldn’t be banned, but it’d be regulated instead.

The Electronic Communications and Transactions Act protects personal information and limits how communications can be intercepted, but other provisions allow for surveillance without oversight. The law also requires service providers to enable interception and install the equipment needed to do it.

Journalists connected to a critical website and the opposition party sued a mobile phone company because it intercepted more than 200 phone calls and redirected them to state intelligence. There are also concerns that the Smart Zambia Project is allowing for digital surveillance because of its ties to the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei.

Leaked emails from the surveillance company Hacking Team showed that the Zambian government asked about surveillance technologies for monitoring and intercepting users’ communications. There was no confirmation that a sale took place, though.

Journalists practice self-censorship because of pressure from the government, with some even publishing anonymously to avoid punishment. Topics including politics and corruption are sensitive. Current legislation limits freedom of speech with vague provisions that impose penalties for certain activities. Defamation is an offense under the penal code.

Zimbabwe

🏳 Zimbabwe
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityYes
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The internet in Zimbabwe has been prone to shutdowns because of protests. Some websites have been blocked during election periods. Social media has been restricted during protests, too, with the most recent time being in 2019. The platforms were unblocked shortly afterward. A copyright law is in place, but it’s not enforced well.

The telecom regulator, POTRAZ, doesn’t consider net neutrality an issue. Service providers advertise zero-rating and app bundles, though, which are against the principles of net neutrality.

The government can intercept communications if they’re deemed suspicious thanks to the Postal and Telecommunications Act. A monitoring center to intercept communications was created by the Interception of Communications Act. The law also requires telecommunications operators and ISPs to install surveillance technology for the state.

It has also been revealed that the government partnered with the Chinese company CloudWalk Technology to set up a nationwide facial recognition program. 

Freedom of speech is provided for in the constitution, but other laws weaken it. Certain types of speech are restricted, such as insulting the president, and those who violate the rules can be punished with a fine, imprisonment or both. Defamation was decriminalized in 2016. Self-censorship is common among individuals and the media, though.

Asia

The biggest landmass in the world by far, Asia encompasses so many countries and cultures it defies belief. From the skyscrapers of Tel Aviv to the wooden temples of Japan, Asia is host to democracies and dictatorships alike. It has some remarkably free countries, while also is home to three of the most repressive regimes in the world, China, Turkey and Russia.

Afghanistan

🇦🇫 Afghanistan
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Under the Taliban, the internet was banned. It became available again in 2002 after the Taliban government was overthrown. Since then, some restrictions have been imposed. In 2010, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology made ISPs blacklist websites that promote alcohol, pornography and gambling, as well as dating and social network services.

News websites were also blacklisted. Plus, in 2017, the blocking of content related to terror groups and extremists began. WhatsApp and Telegram were temporarily blocked in 2017 because of security concerns. Social media is available now, though.

There are no current reports of online surveillance in the country, but WikiLeaks has revealed that the NSA conducted mass phone surveillance.

Private discussion is generally unrestricted, but talking about topics of a political nature can be dangerous in certain areas. The media environment is vibrant, but journalists face threats, harassment and attacks from different groups. Journalists publish stories critical of the government, but officials often attempt to discredit them.

Azerbaijan

🇦🇿 Azerbaijan
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Since 2017, websites have been blocked by the Azerbaijani government, especially if they’re connected to the opposition or corruption. Media outlets have been blocked, with those that expose corruption being a primary target. Websites deemed to be threatening to national security or promoting violence, hatred or extremism are restricted, as well.

Surveillance activity is unclear for the most part, but specialized equipment was purchased for $3 million in 2015 from an Israeli security company and Azerbaijan is suspected of having purchased spyware from Hacking Team, too.

Law enforcement agencies can conduct surveillance without judicial oversight, but only to prevent serious crimes against a person or the state. That said, the broad definition of serious crimes means it can be abused.

The Azerbaijani constitution guarantees freedom of speech but the right is often unprotected. Libel, slander, defamation and insult online are criminal offenses and penalties for them include fines, community service or corrective labor. Imprisonment is levied in some circumstances, too. Journalists are frequently charged and face harassment, violence and intimidation.

Bahrain

🇧🇭 Bahrain
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeYes
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The internet in Bahrain is subject to censorship, and there have been shutdowns in some areas to curb the ability of communicating during protests and demonstrations. Certain content can be blocked, such as anything political, related to human rights or critical of the royal family or government. Qatari outlets, such as Al Jazeera, can be blocked, too. 

Social media services and blogs are available, but authorities have blocked some messaging and live-streaming apps before. Some VPN providers’ websites are blocked, making it difficult to download them, but the services aren’t affected. The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority announced actions against copyrighted content piracy, too.

There are reports that the government uses spyware against dissidents including evidence of Bahrain using technology from the surveillance firms Hacking Team and FinFisher that enables remote monitoring and other functions. A Cyber Safety Directorate at the Ministry of State for Telecommunications Affairs was issued to monitor websites and social media.

Freedom of speech is guaranteed in the constitution, provided it doesn’t go against certain exceptions. Anything defamatory can be punished with imprisonment and a fine. In 2017, the constitution was amended so that civilians could be tried in military courts. Plus, parents can be prosecuted for their children’s activities, such as misusing social media.

The Press and Publications Law can be applied to online activities and used to punish offenders with prison sentences. Offending activities include publishing material critical of Islam, its followers or the king, incites violence or encourages overthrowing the government.

Bangladesh

🇧🇩 Bangladesh
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

The internet in Bangladesh is restricted. Almost 20,000 porn websites were blocked in early 2019. Gambling isn’t allowed, and those caught doing so may face a penalty of up to one month in prison and a fine of 100 takas ($1.18), which is just over half a weeks wage on average. There are even mobile courts at cricket stadiums to punish online betters on the spot.

Social media and messaging apps can be blocked. In 2015, several platforms were blocked, as well as internet access itself, because of public outcry after a court upheld the death sentence of two convicted war criminals.

There are no laws to protect privacy or data in Bangladesh, meaning users are vulnerable to violations. WikiLeaks revealed information about the purchase of FinFisher spy software by a Bangladeshi law enforcement agency. Another report showed intentions of purchasing mobile surveillance technology and a plan to install monitoring equipment.

Freedom of speech is inhibited by laws. Defamation penalties are harsh and rules for blasphemy and libel extend to digital content. Bloggers and activists have been attacked, and some have left the country in fear. Some have continued to write, but others practice- self-censorship. Many internet users have been arrested for their posts.

Look at our best VPN for Bangladesh piece, too.

Brunei

🇧🇳 Brunei
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Though there are no official reports of blocked content in Brunei, the country is under Islamic rule, so content that is deemed offensive may be filtered.

Online criticism of Islam, sharia or the monarchy is prohibited and the government set up a hotline for people to report such content posted on social media. Journalists whose reports are deemed false and malicious can be imprisoned for up to three years and many practice self-censorship. Most of the media is state-run.

Reports that the government monitors private online communications, such as email and chat room discussions, have surfaced. FinFisher software was found on Bruneian servers, too. ISPs must monitor for content that conflicts with social morals, national harmony and public interest. ISPs can censor content and cut off internet access without notice.

Cambodia

🇰🇭 Cambodia
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Cambodia’s Prime Minister, Hun Sen, has held onto power since 1985, descending the country into dictatorship. Many blocks are imposed on the Cambodian internet. 

News websites can be blocked, especially if they disseminate information that could threaten the ruling party. Websites with pornographic or sexually explicit content can be blocked. ISPs were ordered to install surveillance software and equipment to block discriminatory or threatening content. 

The government surveils citizens’ online activity and private communications. Provisions in the Telecommunications Law allow for it without judicial oversight. 

Freedom of speech is included in the constitution’s human rights standards, but there are restrictions. The criminal code governs defamation and public insult. It’s frequently invoked, and individuals can be prosecuted. Discriminating against a person or group is also punishable. Penalties include fines and imprisonment.

People’s Republic of China

🇨🇳 People’s Republic of China
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityYes
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaYes
VPN ban/block in placeYes
Torrenting restrictionsYes

China’s internet is a perfect example of just how bad censorship can get. It has one of the most sophisticated systems in the world, dubbed the Great Firewall. The system has automated tools and human monitors implementing blocks. More than 13,000 websites have been blocked or shut down since 2015.

Content that involves criticism of policies, individuals and important events is blocked. Most traditional media outlets, such as CNN and the BBC, are blocked, too.

One of China’s most censored topics is that of the Tiananmen Square massacre, in which thousands of protesters were killed. It happened more than 30 years ago, but it remains to be a topic that China doesn’t want discussed.

Many social media platforms, messaging apps and other services are blocked, too, including Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Flickr, Google, Instagram, Pinterest and more. By blocking those services, China can keep a lid on what’s happening in the country to those outside of it. The country has its own versions of the apps. Torrent websites can be blocked, too.

VPNs are also banned, apart from those approved by the government, which basically means that the provider has agreed to the government’s terms and logs information. Those who use illegal VPNs or other circumvention tools can be fined up to 15,000 yuan ($2,200). One of our best VPN services for China picks will help you stay under the radar, though.

Internet and mobile phone communications are surveilled, and many residents are forced to install spyware on their devices. Most online services require users to register. Cybercafes check photo IDs and log users’ activity. Companies have to help decrypt information if requested under China’s anti-terrorism law

In 2018, the Shanghai police launched a facial recognition system for user registration in cybercafes across the city.

Freedom of speech is guaranteed in China’s constitution, but it’s restricted in reality. There are harsh penalties for public criticism. Journalists face harassment, physical abuse, intimidation and threats, and many have been jailed. For those reasons, journalists practice strict self-censorship.

Defamation can be applied to many situations and can carry up to three years in prison. Inciting unrest or protest can also be punished. Dissemination of misinformation over social media can be punished with up to seven years in prison.

Hong Kong

🇭🇰 Hong Kong
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Hong Kong’s internet doesn’t have the same restrictions as China’s because the city state operates independently under the “one country, two systems” doctrine. Limits to the internet are minimal and on material such as child pornography and other obscene images. There are also laws that criminalize distributing copyrighted material.

Hong Kong has a law that regulates government surveillance, but it hasn’t been updated since it was enacted in 2006. Authorities can intercept forms of communication that aren’t included in the law, such as messaging apps and social media, and don’t need authorization to do so.

Hong Kong’s Bill of Rights protects freedom of speech, but there are things to take note of. Concerns that China went against the “one country, two systems” pledge came to light in 2015 when five employees of a Hong Kong company disappeared. The company published books critical of China. The employees were detained by Chinese authorities and returned in 2016.

The media environment has seen increased political and economic pressure, and some journalists self-censor because of that. Some journalists have faced physical assault for their work, as well. Check out our best VPN for Hong Kong article for more.

India

🇮🇳 India
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The Indian internet is subjected to many blocks and shutdowns. Pornographic, news, gambling and dating sites can be blocked. Political and social information can be blocked, as can popular video sharing, file sharing and social media websites. The government can order service providers to go offline. Net neutrality was approved by the Telecom Regulatory Authority.

Social media, including Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and many others, has been blocked in the past. Video-sharing app TikTok was blocked, too, because children were able to access inappropriate content. Plus, the government sought information from telecom operators and ISPs on how to block certain apps. 

Downloading copyrighted material is illegal, and torrent websites, such as The Pirate Bay, have been blocked by some ISPs. Accessing the blocked sites can result in fines and jail time. There are reports that mobile carrier Reliance Jio was blocking access to some VPN and proxy websites, too.

India has its own surveillance tool, called NETRA, which can capture data from internet traffic and analyze it. If a potential security threat is detected, it’ll alert the appropriate agencies. A unique identification project, called Aadhaar, that collects and stores the data of over 1 billion Indians has raised concerns, too. Plus, FinFisher servers were found in India.

Private discussion is generally free, and the media report on many topics. That said, security, defamation and hate speech laws have been used against critical voices. Journalists face harassment, threats and physical violence because of their work. One of our best VPN for India picks will help keep you safe.

Indonesia

🇮🇩 Indonesia
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The internet in Indonesia is tightly controlled and content deemed to violate laws or social norms is restricted. That includes content related to gambling, pornography, criticism of Islam, LGBT issues and violence. Keywords are used to ban the content, but the definitions are broad, so innocent content can get caught, too. Hate speech can be targeted, as well.

Entertainment is censored and popular platforms such as YouTube, Reddit, Vimeo and Imgur can be restricted. Netflix was banned at one point because it failed to comply with state censors. It’s available again, but some ISPs still block it. 

Telegram was blocked in 2017 because of terrorism-related content, and other social media apps can be blocked during protests. Video-sharing app TikTok was previously banned, too, due to certain content that was available.

Action was taken against The Pirate Bay and other torrent sites after the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology ordered ISPs to block them. VPNs are legal, so use one of our best VPN for Indonesia picks.

The government can monitor social media and spy on citizens without judicial oversight under the Law on State Intelligence. Many other laws and regulations allow the government and law enforcement agencies to conduct surveillance. FinFisher servers were found, too.

The Indonesian military has been accused of carrying out unauthorized surveillance. The government bought surveillance technology to gain access to devices and networks. Plus, it has a licence to use mobile phone monitoring technology. 

There are many restrictions to freedom of speech. Users who post, access or create content that is politically or religiously offensive face up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000 under the Electronic Information and Transactions Law. News outlets and individuals have been sued for defamation. There are harsh penalties for it, hate speech and inciting violence.

Iran

🇮🇷 Iran
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaYes
VPN ban/block in placeYes
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The Iranian internet is tightly controlled. Sharia law is imposed in the country and infringing on rules within it can result in severe penalties. Citizens can be prosecuted for using gambling and dating websites. Iran has created what has been called a halal internet, which is disconnected from the global internet, and blocked certain content along the way.

Social media is seen as a bad influence and a spying tool for the west, so some platforms have been blocked. Anti-government demonstrators use it to organize protests and Iran want to stop them. 

Torrent websites can be blocked, and six people were arrested in 2017 because they ran a movie streaming website. Iran’s copyright laws are aimed more at those who share the content.

Accessing illegal content can result in punishment, including fines and imprisonment. Reports of online censorship offices popping up have surfaced. It’s said that they’ll monitor online content and censor it if needed. Users who try to access blocked content through encryption tools can also be identified and possibly prosecuted.

The legal status of VPNs is uncertain. Article 10 of the Computer Crimes Law bans concealing data, which could be interpreted as banning encryption. There have been reports of Iran blocking access to some VPNs during election periods. Other reports have suggested that only authorized VPNs are allowed, but those are most likely surveilled. Take a look at our best VPN for Iran piece for guidance.

Iran’s internet is monitored. An Elections Security Headquarters was established in 2015 to monitor the online world. Another monitoring program, called Eghtedare Sarallah, was set up in the same year for social media. Telegram was pressured by the government to shut down protesting channels, but was blocked after it refused.

Iranian authorities impose harsh restrictions and penalties on certain speech. That deters people from discussing topics freely, especially given the amount of surveillance that takes place. News outlets are censored and told which topics they can and can’t cover. Journalists face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment for their work.

Iraq

🇮🇶 Iraq
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeYes
Torrenting restrictionsNo

There are reports of internet shutdowns and blocking in Iraq. In 2016, all broadband and mobile connections were turned off to stop students from cheating on their exams. Other blackouts have happened to stop the spread of Islamic State propaganda. Social media can be blocked for security reasons, such as protests. Bans have been lifted, though.

VPNs were banned in 2014 to restrict ISIS from manipulating social media. That said, government officials and institutions are still using them.

There’s no evidence of the Iraqi government conducting surveillance, but the NSA is active. It is reported that the NSA collects emails, messages and phone location signals in real time. Information can be shared with American allies, too.

Iraq’s constitution restricts freedom of expression for the purpose of preserving public order and morality. Journalists self-censor to avoid legal repercussions, harassment, intimidation and violence. Those who report on corruption can be arrested. Reporters in the Kurdistan region have been attacked and detained.

Israel

🇮🇱 Israel
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Some restrictions are enforced online in Israel, including the removal of certain websites, such as those with content related to gambling, pornography and gambling. Content that’s deemed damaging to the security of the country can be banned by the military censor. Some news websites and blogs have been banned by it.

Websites found to be publishing criminal or offensive content can be blocked, and ISPs used to have to block torrent websites, too, but the ban on them was lifted.

Citizens can generally discuss topics freely, but there are restrictions. Those who promote boycotting the state of Israel or West Bank settlements can find themselves in a civil lawsuit thanks to the anti-boycott law.

Censorship is enforced on Israel as a whole, but the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza can set their own restrictions on the internet.

A law was enacted in 2011 that required net neutrality in mobile broadband. It was extended to wireline services in 2014. Some of the provisions are vague, though. That said, the Palestinian infrastructure is restricted because Israel has control over radio frequencies for cellular networks and limits their development.

Israel has 27 surveillance companies, and it has been alleged that those companies helped the U.S. National Security Agency implement its PRISM program. The companies are capable of intercepting communications, mobile location tracking and other services. Israel’s surveillance laws allow free use of citizens’ personal information for investigations without a warrant.

If you plan to visit, read our best VPN for Israel guide.

Japan

🇯🇵 Japan
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Censorship isn’t a big issue in Japan. Its constitution even forbids it. That didn’t stop the government from instructing ISPs to block websites associated with manga piracy in 2018, though. Websites that host images of child sexual abuse are blocked and ISPs offer a filter to protect youths online.

Content that’s deemed objectionable, defaming, in violation of someone’s privacy or as infringing copyright can be removed via request to the ISPs, too. Social media is free to use. Downloading copyrighted material is illegal in Japan, but punishments vary, and its anti-piracy law is up in the air.

Law enforcement agencies can conduct electronic surveillance with a court order for criminal investigations. A conspiracy law allows for more government surveillance. Illegal surveillance has been carried out on ordinary citizens. 

Plus, a mass surveillance system for monitoring user activity on the internet was supplied to the Japanese by U.S. intelligence agents and FinFisher software was found on the country’s servers. You can protect yourself from all that with one of our best VPN for Japan picks, though.

The Japanese constitution protects freedom of speech, and it’s generally respected. Hate speech toward people of other origins, particularly South Korean and Chinese communities, is an issue, though, and some cities have passed their own ordinances. The media environment is free, but the government can manipulate what content is released to control public discourse.

Jordan

🇯🇴 Jordan
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

The Jordanian internet is subject to some filtering and blocks. LGBT content can be blocked, as can news websites if they haven’t obtained a licence from the country’s media commission. ISPs were ordered to block some social media apps, including Twitter and WhatsApp, in certain areas during examination periods. Some ISPs block VoIP services.

The constitution allows surveillance with judicial oversight. The Telecommunications Law and Anti-Terrorism Law enable the tracking of communications and surveillance with a judicial order or if it’s suspected that the person is connected to terrorist activity. Security services are believed to be monitoring online comments and logging them. 

Though the constitution has protections for free speech, insulting the royal family, national symbols, state institutions and foreign states is forbidden under the penal code. Defamation is a criminal offense under the Cybercrime Law and punishment can be at least three months in jail and a fine of up to 2,000 Jordanian dinar ($2,800).

Media outlets are banned from reporting on the king, the royal family and the armed forces unless the news is official. Sensitive topics, such as the judicial system and religion, are avoided, and most journalists practice self-censorship. Read more in our guide on how to get a Jordanian IP address.

Kazakhstan

🇰🇿 Kazakhstan
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeYes
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Kazakhstan’s internet is subject to blocks by the government. More than 30,000 websites were blocked in 2017. Blocks are aimed at content related to extremism, terrorism, violence and pornography. Other websites have been blocked, such as Ustream, Flickr, Steam and international media outlets. The reasons for those blocks aren’t known. 

Social media and messaging apps can be restricted for political reasons. In 2014, tools and networks that allowed users to circumvent blocks were banned. Since then, some have been blocked, such as IPVanish. The Tor Project’s website has been affected, too. Torrenting is allowed, but in 2011, authorities planned a three-strikes method for prosecuting piracy.

Little is known about the surveillance capabilities of the Kazakh government. An anonymous insider said there were plans to launch content monitoring systems and leaked emails from the surveillance company Hacking Team show that the government may have purchased surveillance and interception software. Recently, major browsers blocked spying by the Kazakh government, too.

The government also uses SORM, and its regulations were updated in 2018. Those regulations allow for real-time access to networks, though.

Freedom of speech is guaranteed in the Kazakhstani constitution, but it’s restricted in practice. The dissemination of false information or rumors can result in a hefty fine and up to 10 years in prison under the criminal code. Insulting the president is prohibited under the same law. Libel carries even bigger fines and up to two years in prison.

Individuals can be arrested and prosecuted for critical comments, and it’s impossible to leave anonymous comments because of a media law enacted in 2018. Bloggers and journalists face violence and intimidation for their work. Many self-censor to avoid reprisal. The media is mostly state-run and independent outlets are intimidated.

Kuwait

🇰🇼 Kuwait
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Kuwait’s internet is filtered by the Ministry of Communications and ISPs. Websites that are critical of the government or Islam, support terrorism, deemed immoral or politically sensitive, seen as disruptive or offensive to society’s values can be blocked. Pornographic and LGBT content and anything connected to drugs, tobacco or alcohol is blocked, too.

VoIP services are illegal in Kuwait. ISPs were ordered to block YouTube because of offensive videos, but it was still available a week later. Though there are no recent reports, 20 torrent websites were blocked in 2008.

Internet cafe owners keep a record of customers’ details and reports of some losing their operating licence for allowing access to banned content suggest possible monitoring by the government. A law intended for monitoring and regulating websites and blogs was announced in 2008. Reports that the government launched a surveillance system were published, too.

Freedom of opinion is guaranteed in the constitution, but other rules restrict it. Cybercrime legislation criminalizes certain activities, which can result in a large fine and jail time. Criticizing or insulting the royal family or Islam can result in imprisonment. Many have been arrested and given harsh prison sentences.

The government announced it was assembling a committee that would deal with social media users that violate the rules in 2017. Though Kuwait has one of the most outspoken media environments in the Persian Gulf, journalists still self-censor on certain subjects. You can read more in our best VPN for Kuwait piece.

Laos

🇱🇦 Laos
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

There are no reports of blocking or filtering on Laos’s internet and there’s little evidence of online surveillance. That said, authorities monitor social media to crack down on critics. Plus, it was reported that the government has invested in surveillance tools.

Authorities intimidate critics of the state with legal restrictions. Many users and journalists practice self-censorship to avoid it. The media environment is almost all state-owned, and those outlets that are independent steer clear of certain reporting.

Lebanon

🇱🇧 Lebanon
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The Lebanese government sometimes restricts mobile and internet connectivity in some parts of the country, which the Telecommunications Law allows it to do. VoIP services are restricted under the same law but the government doesn’t enforce that well. Attempts have been made to block services, but they’ve been inconsistent.

Many websites are blocked, including those for gambling, escort services and pornography, as well as Irsraeli websites, webistes that breach copyright and some related to LGBT subjects. Social media is available, except for the gay dating app Grindr. Anything LGBT goes against Article 534 of the penal code, which criminalizes same-sex relationships.

Lebanon has weak privacy legislation, and what’s there doesn’t cover private digital communications. The Telecommunications Interception Act allows the government to monitor communications with judicial oversight or to combat terrorism, state security and related crimes. Mass surveillance can be carried out because of the legal framework.

The government has used spyware, such as FinFisher, to conduct surveillance on citizens. In 2018, it was reported that a major surveillance program, Dark Caracal, was operating out of a security building in Beirut. It had nation-state capabilities and could extract messages and calls, download apps, upload files and monitor calls.

Freedom of expression is guaranteed in Lebanon’s constitution, but other laws restrict it. Libel and defamation are criminal offenses under the penal code and can be punished with up to one year in prison. Individuals and journalists who have criticized government officials, the president, the prime minister and many others have been arrested and prosecuted.

Malaysia

🇲🇾 Malaysia
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Malaysia’s internet has blocks on certain content, such as pornography, and gambling. Torrent websites, dating websites, and websites involved in online fraud can also be blocked. One of our best VPN for Malaysia picks can help with that, though.

There are other blocks, as well. The Instagram-like website Jinggo Fotopages, which specializes in Malaysian politics, and other websites of a similar nature have been blocked, showing that some censorship is politically motivated. People are free to use social media, but posts of a sensitive nature or critical of the government can be removed.

Malaysia is a multiconfessional country, but the majority of citizens are Muslim. Malaysian law prohibits anti-islamic content from being published and those found guilty of it can receive a fine or a jail sentence, sometimes both. In one case, a Malaysian citizen was sentenced to over 10 years in prison for insulting Islam on social media.

The extent of surveillance in Malaysia is unknown, but there’s evidence of it and privacy protections are poor. Citizen Lab reported that the spy software FinFisher was found on Malaysian servers. The interception of communications is regulated by legal provisions that allow for it. 

Freedom of speech is limited by some laws. The Sedition Act bans anything that brings contempt against Malaysia’s rulers. It also forbids incitement of hatred toward races and religions. Punishment can be a fine or up to seven years in prison. Defamation is a criminal offense under the penal code. People have been arrested and prosecuted for online speech, too.

Myanmar (Burma)

🇲🇲 Myanmar (Burma)
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

The Myanmar government has a framework in place to block and filter the internet, but refrains from doing so. The Telecommunications Law gives the government broad powers to disrupt access to content without safeguards. The same law allows for communications to be monitored, and people can be punished for what the say online.

There’s also a dedicated social media monitoring team, but an official said its objective is to protect the interests of the state and people, rather than spy on people. Interception of communications data must be done in line with the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens. That said, the law doesn’t have a clear outline and has received criticism.

State surveillance and laws restrict online speech. Many defamation cases for online speech have been filed under the Telecommunications Law. Those who express their views on certain topics, especially if they’re critical of the authorities, can be prosecuted. Journalists practice self-censorship because of the risk of prosecution, harassment and violence.

Nepal

🇳🇵 Nepal
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityYes
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

More than 25,000 websites were blocked in 2018 under new criminal and civil codes. They include regulations against the use, broadcast and publication of pornographic content. Violators can receive up to one year in prison.

Legislation that’d hand out harsh penalties for improper use of social media was drafted in February 2019. Under it, social media platforms could get blocked if they fail to register in Nepal.

There are no rules protecting net neutrality in Nepal, and there are forms of price descrimination against data tariffs. That said, it was reported that Nepal would be defining net neutrality policies when issuing telecom providers with licences.

There’s little information about online surveillance in the country, but in 2011, ISPs were ordered to monitor customers’ activities by authorities. Information is to be provided on all users who use 1 megabit per second or more of bandwidth.

Freedom of speech is provided for in Nepal’s constitution, and the discussion of sensitive topics has expanded alongside political stabilization. Journalists can face arrests and attacks especially during certain periods, such as elections, though. 

Plus, defamatory posts and those against national sovereignty are punishable with up to five years imprisonment and a fine of 1.5 million Nepalese rupees ($13,600). That said, media freedom has expanded over the years, and some journalists report on topics such as corruption freely.

North Korea

🇰🇵 North Korea
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityYes
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaYes
VPN ban/block in placeYes
Torrenting restrictionsYes

North Korea is one of the most secretive countries in the world and a single-party state led by a totalitarian dictatorship. Internet access is restricted for residents. Many don’t even have it, and those who do only have access to a government-made intranet, the Kwangmyong, in which few websites are approved and accessible. Most Western content is blocked. 

The information North Koreans can access about their country and the world is restricted. Foreigners who visit the country can access 3G mobile networks, but the connection is monitored. VPNs are banned, and there are penalties for those who violate the law.

Surveillance is pervasive in North Korea. The state has control over communications and is able to spy on its citizens through surveillance programs. Informants monitor and report to the authorities.

Punishment for political offenses are severe and the country has camps for political prisoners in which human rights are routinely violated. Media outlets are state-run, with strict supervision and censorship in place. The state has such a tight grip that Kim Jong Un’s disgraced uncle was removed from the news archives after his execution.

Oman

🇴🇲 Oman
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeYes
Torrenting restrictionsNo

The Omani internet is tightly controlled. Anything related to pornography, LGBT topics and illegal drugs is blocked. Dating websites have been blocked, but that could’ve been because of sexually explicit images. ISPs are strict about what users can do, and there are punishments at the ready for those who disobey, such as termination of service.

VoIP services are banned, and it’s illegal for internet cafes to allow people to use them. Anyone found to be providing such services risk imprisonment and fines. Some VPNs are banned, too. Only government-approved VPNs are allowed, but they keep logs of your activities. Individuals found to be using a banned service can be fined 500 Omani rials ($1,300).

It has been reported that Oman monitors private communications. Anyone found to be critical of the government could be traced through their IP address and questioned. Internet cafes have to abide by strict rules. They must use an approved floor plan in which all computer screens are visible to a supervisor. Proxy servers must be installed to monitor and retain user activity, too.

Freedom of speech is guaranteed in Oman’s constitution, but it’s restricted by law. Critical speech against the country’s rulers or government and hate toward Islam aren’t tolerated. Many self-censor because of the risk of being arrested and prosecuted. The government can censor publications, close outlets and prosecute journalists for content violations.

Take a look at our best VPN for Oman comparison, too.

Pakistan

🇵🇰 Pakistan
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The Pakistani internet is regulated by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority. Filters and blocks are implemented through keywords, but that can lead to innocent websites getting restricted. Blocks can be put on news outlets, human rights websites, pornography and content related to political dissent or critical of Islam.

Social media and messaging apps are sometimes blocked. YouTube was blocked in 2012 because of an anti-Islam video that provoked protests. It became available again in 2016 after Google launched a local version with content deemed suitable for Pakistani users.

It’s reported that mass surveillance has taken place since 2005 and expanded over the years. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act allows data to be shared with international agencies and enables surveillance. ISPs have to retain traffic data for one year, too. Evidence of FinFisher was found. Communications can be monitored and SIM cards have to be registered.

VPNs have been banned in the past to try to stop citizens from accessing blocked websites and services. There’s no evidence of them being banned now, though. Torrent websites, such as The Pirate Bay and KickassTorrents, were banned by ISPs, too.

Online freedom of speech is restricted by strict laws. Defamation is punishable by up to five years in prison. Social media users have been given hefty prison sentences for distributing hate speech on Facebook. Blasphemy can result in the death penalty, and even just liking a blasphemous post can bring punishment.

Bloggers and journalists self-censor because of the laws, especially when covering topics such as religion, civil-military relations, protests, LGBT issues and women’s rights. In one case, five critical bloggers disappeared. All returned but one claimed he was tortured and another was held for much longer.

You may also want to read our best VPN for Pakistan article.

The Philippines

🇵🇭 The Philippines
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityYes
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The Filipino internet is mostly free. Social media and messaging apps are free, too. The National Telecommunications Commission orders ISPs to block pornographic content, though. Plus, The CyberCrime Prevention Act prohibits piracy, with fines and prison sentences set as punishments. ISPs have to block websites that infringe copyright, too.

Internet access is generally neutral in the Philippines, but there are no laws to protect it. It’s mostly a problem with mobile packages, though.

There are reports that the UK sold spyware technology to the Philippines that could be used to monitor internet activity. Other leaked documents suggested the government intended to surveil communications.

Freedom of speech is a civil right guaranteed in the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom. That said, online libel is a crime that carries harsh penalties under the Cybercrime Prevention Act and the penal code criminalizes defamation. You can stay anonymous with one of the providers in our best VPN for the Philippines piece.

Qatar

🇶🇦 Qatar
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeYes
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The Qatari internet is subject to filters and blocks. Most are there to stay in line with the country’s religious and political views. Pornography, dating websites, LGBT content and sexual health resources are blocked. Content critical of Islam or the government is also blocked, but the guidelines are strict, so innocent websites get caught in the net.

Some VoIP services are blocked. The government claims that’s because they don’t have operating licences for Qatar. WhatsApp was one of the services that got blocked, but it has since been reported that it’s available. VPNs are legal, but some providers’ websites are blocked. Some torrent websites, such as The Pirate Bay, have been blocked, too.

Evidence has surfaced that Qatar has the equipment to spy on people. WikiLeaks revealed that more than 3 million Qatari rials ($824,000) was spent on the spy software FinFisher. Another report said a proxy server was used by the government to censor the internet and monitor websites, emails and chat rooms.

Websites that publish offensive material can be blocked. That can include anything critical of Islam, the government’s policies or the ruling family. That said, Al Jazeera is subsidized by Qatar, even though it criticizes regional governments. There’s more on that in our best VPN for Al Jazeera article.

People can get into trouble for harming someone’s reputation through speech. Libel and slander are punishable by up to one year in prison or a fine and insult is punishable under the criminal code. The broadness of the legislation result in self-censorship. Read our best VPN for Qatar guide if you’re interested in learning more.

Russia

🇷🇺 Russia
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaYes
VPN ban/block in placeYes
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Internet censorship in Russia is implemented widely. Some of the blocks are justified morally, such as websites with information on suicide and drugs, child sexual abuse, extremism and information about juvenile crime victims. Websites with content related to public demonstrations or rallies, the political opposition, LGBT issues and conflict in the Ukraine are blocked, too.

More than 10 million websites have been blocked, most wrongfully so. Many websites have been blocked because they were “undesirable,” too. Telegram was blocked in 2018 for not complying with the Yarovaya Law. Other communications apps, such as WeChat and Zello, were blocked, too. ISPs were ordered to block pirating websites in 2017.

To stop users from accessing prohibited content, the government only allows approved VPNs to be used. VPN providers that agreed to restrict users from visiting banned websites were allowed to continue operating. Many refused to comply, so fines were imposed, but the requirement wasn’t implemented well.

In another crackdown on VPNs, Roskomnadzor, sent emails to VPN providers that ordered them to implement blocks to certain websites. None of the VPNs that were approached are willing to cooperate, though. You can read more on that in our piece dedicated to the Russian VPN ban.

Users of social media and communications platforms aren’t allowed to remain anonymous by law. The Yarovaya Law allows authorities to access data. Metadata is stored by websites and platforms, and authorities are able to access it without a court order. SORM is also used, requiring ISPs to install monitoring technology, as we explain in our best VPN for Russia piece.

A regulation that prohibits ISPs from throttling or blocking websites, apart from those blocked by request, was approved in 2016 and effectively protects net neutrality in Russia.

Under the criminal code, provoking separatism or extremism online can result in five years in prison and incitement to hatred can result in six years. The code also punishes defamation and calls for terrorism. Online activity has resulted in over 1,000 criminal cases. Internet users have been prosecuted for criticizing religions as well as hate speech.

Saudi Arabia

🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeYes
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Saudi Arabia’s internet is not free. Many websites and content categories are blocked. Anything deemed harmful, anti-Islamic or offensive can be blocked. Websites that spread extremist ideologies are also blocked, but innocent websites can sometimes get caught. Plus, content related to pornography, drugs and gambling is restricted. 

Human rights and political content, sites that belong to dissidents, the Shi’a religion and illegal political parties can also be blocked. Social media is accessible, but restrictions have been imposed to stop extremist organizations from using them. Blogs, forums and chat rooms need a licence to operate.

Some VPNs’ websites are blocked, too, but our best VPN for Saudi Arabia guide has recommendations that you can use. 

Piracy is illegal and the Unfair Competition Law was enacted in 2012 to combat it. Websites that distribute copyrighted material, such as The Pirate Bay, are blocked.

Authorities monitor websites, social media, chat rooms and messages. A security expert said the telecommunications company Mobily contacted him via email. The title of the email was “solution for monitoring encrypted data on telecom.” It was to organize a surveillance program that can intercept mobile data on social media and messaging apps. 

There were also reports that the government invested in the spyware company Hacking Team.

Speech is restricted by many laws, and people are careful about what they post on social media and other websites. Criticism of the Saudi royal family isn’t allowed and other speech can be criminalized under the penal law, such as insulting the reputation of the state. The Anti-Cyber Crime Law imposes harsh prison sentences and fines for certain speech.

Singapore

🇸🇬 Singapore
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Singapore’s government started regulating content in 1996, but it promised it’d be light. It seems it has kept its promise for the most part. Websites related to gambling and pornography are blocked. ISPs were ordered by the high court to block piracy websites, too.

The right to privacy isn’t constitutionally recognized and authorities have broad surveillance powers. 

Singapore has a well-established surveillance system that can monitor digital communications. The Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act allows the collection of information from any computer, including in real time, in the case of a threat to national security. FinFisher servers were also found in the country.

Freedom of expression is enshrined in the constitution, but there are limits to it. The Sedition Act prohibits hatred or contempt of the government or hate toward races or classes of the population. Punishment can be up to three years in prison. Hurting a person’s feelings on the basis of race or religion is punishable with the penal code.

The penal code also criminalizes defamation, but most defamation suits are at the civil level. Many bloggers have been asked to apologize for or shut down their blogs. Others have been arrested and charged. Read more in our best VPN for Singapore piece.

South Korea

🇰🇷 South Korea
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Internet censorship in South Korea is implemented and monitored through two committees that order ISPs to block certain content. The definition of what should be blocked is vague, though.

Content deemed to violate laws or social norms, as well as that which threatens national security or public morality is blocked. Pornographic content is illegal, so that is blocked, and content related to gambling, illegitimate food and medicine and obscenity gets blocked, too. The National Security Act prohibits content that praises or promotes North Korea.

In 2018, torrent websites were blocked and their operators were arrested, too. VPNs are legal to use, so check out our best VPN for South Korea article for recommendations.

The government has been accused of spying on people through KakaoTalk, but much of it is said to have been done by prosecutors after the Sewol ferry disaster. Documents leaked in 2015 showed that the National Intelligence Service purchased surveillance software from Hacking Team. The NIS can access individuals’ information thanks to an anti-terrorism law.

South Korea’s constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but there are restrictions. Anyone who praises or expresses sympathy for the North Korean regime can be given a prison sentence of up to seven years under the National Security Act. Online defamation is a criminal offense punishable by up to seven years in prison or a fine of up to 50 million won ($45,000).

Syria

🇸🇾 Syria
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeYes
Torrenting restrictionsNo

A variety of websites are blocked on the Syrian internet. Authorities had unblocked Wikipedia and many media websites, including Al Jazeera, by the end of 2017, but content related to the opposition, human rights, exposure of official corruption, mobilizing protests and criticizing the regime can be blocked.

Social media is available, but Facebook and YouTube have been blocked in the past. Skype has often been throttled or blocked. Online security software, circumvention tools and anonymous communication applications are also blocked.

In 2014, Kaspersky Labs revealed that 10,000 Syrians’ computers had been infected with surveillance malware. Plus, Citizen Lab reported that people were being redirected from downloading legitimate programs to other versions that were riddled with spyware.

Freedom of speech is repressed by Syrian laws. Internet users and journalists have been arrested. Defamation can be punished with imprisonment. Anyone who incites crime online can face up to three years in prison and a fine of up to 250,000 Syrian pounds ($600).

Syria is a dangerous country for internet users, bloggers and journalists. Many have been abducted, held captive and killed.

Taiwan (R.O.C.)

🇹🇼 Taiwan (R.O.C.)
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

There’s little information about censorship on Taiwan’s internet, but the country’s Intellectual Property Office drafted legislation that’d allow blocks on certain websites at IP address and DNS level. 

Plus, in 2009, legislation that banned peer-to-peer technology was approved to prevent illegal distribution of copyrighted content. ISPs run a three-strikes system for file-sharers. The use of VPNs is legal, though.

The Taiwan Association for Human Rights reported that the country was engaging in communications surveillance and obtaining social network content and metadata along the way.

Citizens can engage in open discussions and the media environment is diverse in its reporting. That said, media owners use Chinese companies for advertising or have ties to businesses there, which can influence their reporting or encourage self-censorship on sensitive topics. Plus, outlets can be biased towards one of the two political camps

Thailand

🇹🇭 Thailand
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeYes
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Thailand’s royal family is sacred and and Thai’s are brought up to treat them with great respect. For that reason, anti-royal content can be blocked. Thailand’s internet has other restrictions, too. Websites containing sexual content, online gambling and political blogs are blocked. Social media is available, but it can be monitored.

Some ISPs have to cancel services for those found to be infringing copyright. Plus, three people were arrested for offering unlicensed subscriptions through a website. 

Websites that offer circumvention tools, such as VPNs, are blocked on some networks, too. If you want to use one of the providers in our best VPN for Thailand piece, you’ll need to download it before you arrive in the country.

Officials can order individuals to decode personal computer data without a court order. Thailand bought spyware from Hacking Team between 2012 and 2014. Plus, it has a licence to import telecommunications interception equipment from Switzerland and the UK.

Comments critical of the monarchy can result in prosecution under the country’s strict lese-majeste law. Those who are critical of the National Council for Peace and Order can be put under surveillance and authorities monitor social media for violations. Since 2018, sharing critical social media posts can result in arrest, as well.

Turkey

🇹🇷 Turkey
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeYes
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Online censorship is rife in Turkey. ISPs have to use keywords to block websites that contain certain content. Over 100,000 websites were blocked in 2016. Sexual keywords are targeted, but LGBT content can get blocked, too. Content that’s defamatory to Islam, promotes atheism or criticizes President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party gets blocked. 

Content related to child sexual abuse, prostitution, drugs, obscenity, gambling, suicide, dangerous substances and crimes against Ataturk, the country’s founder, can be blocked. New websites sometimes get caught in the filtering, too. The list of topics that are off limits keeps growing.

Social media is available, but it’s monitored by the government and has been blocked in the past. Twitter was banned after incriminating recordings that supported corruption allegations were shared on the platform. Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube have been blocked or throttled, too.

A draft law was prepared to block illegal movie streaming websites and platforms that illegally offer copyrighted content. The Pirate Bay was banned, too. The country’s copyright law is aimed at those who share such content, though. The government revealed a new set of bans against VPNs in 2018, and many providers are blocked.

Leaked emails revealed that the police force had a contract with the surveillance company Hacking Team. It paid Hacking Team $600,000 between June 2011 and November 2014. Authorities can access communications data without judicial oversight under the Law Amending the Law on State Intelligence Services and the National Intelligence Organization.

Freedom of speech is protected by the constitution, but there are also provisions that criminalize defamation in it as well as in the Turkish criminal code. Punishment includes fines and prison sentences. Broad definitions in other laws can result in unnecessary prosecution, and the EU has criticized them. Read more about those in our best VPN for Turkey piece.

Turkmenistan

🇹🇲 Turkmenistan
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaYes
VPN ban/block in placeYes
Torrenting restrictionsNo

The internet in Turkmenistan is regulated and a lot of citizens don’t have access to it. Websites belonging to human rights organizations and some media outlets can be blocked. Plus, many citizens are only able to access a censored version of the internet dubbed the Turkmenet. 

Social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, have been blocked, too. VPNs have been banned since 2015 to keep citizens from accessing foreign media. Those who attempt to use a VPN risk having their internet services turned off. The Google Play Store is blocked to stop people from downloading them.

The government conducts surveillance on its citizens. Meetings with a German firm that supplies surveillance equipment were reported. Technology that’d enable the monitoring and blocking of communications was sought after, too. That’d give Turkmenistan the ability to block internet access, as well. FinFisher software was also found in the country.

There are also reports that authorities are able to listen to VoIP calls with special software. 

Freedom of speech is restricted because of the state’s monitoring capabilities. There are punishments for those who post critical comments about the government online. The media is restricted and journalists face harassment, abuse, detention and prosecution.

United Arab Emirates

🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The UAE’s internet has blocks and filtering imposed on it. Much of it is aimed at culturally or religiously offensive content. ISPs must block content connected to terrorism, pornography, LGBT subjects, gambling and dating. Anything that promotes illegal drugs, political discussion or has content that threatens cybersecurity can also be blocked.

VoIP was previously blocked due to security concerns. The ban was lifted, but authorities said they would monitor VoIP activity. The use of a VPN isn’t illegal as long as you’re not using it for anything that’s illegal. For example, if you use it to view blocked websites, you fall afoul of the law and can face strict punishments.

Take a look at our best VPN for UAE guide for recommendations.

The copyright law imposes fines and jail time. Punishment can go as far as deportation, but authorities’ efforts are focused on distribution. In one case, an expat in Abu Dhabi was given six months in jail and fined 50,000 dirhams ($13,612) for creating torrents of movies and shows and uploading them onto a website, which has since been blocked.

The UAE engages in surveillance and monitoring. It bought surveillance equipment, and Abu Dhabi launched its civil surveillance system, Falcon Eye, in 2016. As part of a program called Project Raven, the UAE conducted surveillance with the help of former U.S. intelligence agents. It uses the cyberweapon Karma to infiltrate iPhones and has FinFisher servers.

News outlets often refuse to report on controversial issues and journalists practice self-censorship because of restrictive laws and regulations. The cybercrime and anti-discrimination statutes punish certain online activities, such as running a terrorist website or inciting hate. Both impose harsh penalties on those who violate the rules.

Insulting religious symbols or offending the state and its rulers is punishable. Locals and foreigners have been detained for social media posts. One man was found guilty of publishing false information about the UAE and promoting hatred on social media. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined 1 million dirhams ($270,000).

Uzbekistan

🇺🇿 Uzbekistan
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Uzbekistan has a restricted internet and VoIP services were blocked in 2015, leaving many turning to VPNs. Some services, such as WhatsApp, Skype and Viber, became available again in mid-2018. The government can, and has, shut down the internet because of centralized connections and a state-owned telecommunications market.

Authorities have enforced a nationwide block on internet and SMS services to avoid cheating during exams on many occasions. Blocking and filtering can be aimed at political and human rights content, as well as international media outlets. A state-run search engine is also used to censor search results. 

Social media is available, but users have had trouble accessing Facebook, and YouTube was blocked in October 2018. Temporary disruptions to the internet have been reported and some believe them to be because of the government installing surveillance equipment.

The Uzbek constitution guarantees the privacy of written communications and telephone conversations, but it doesn’t specifically protect citizens’ data. Plus, there are no rules against surveillance, meaning security services are able to engage in it as they please.

Security services have monitoring centers that allow access to citizens’ internet activity. ISPs have to install surveillance equipment, such as SORM, to secure their licence. Leaked documents from 2015 showed that Uzbekistan received surveillance systems from the spyware company Hacking Team.

The constitution protects freedom of expression, but it’s not implemented well. Media outlets have been covering more political and sensitive topics since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev took over in 2016 and many detained journalists have been released. Still, the environment remains restricted, with journalists and bloggers facing retaliation due to their work.

Vietnam

🇻🇳 Vietnam
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Vietnamese internet freedom is restricted. Many websites are blocked through pervasive filtering. Content deemed to be threatening to the rule of the Communist Party of Vietnam, such as political dissent, advocacy for human rights and democracy and criticism of the government, can be blocked. Content that promotes certain religions is blocked, too.

Social media and messaging apps are sometimes blocked, especially during protests.The Ministry of Information and Communications has worked with Facebook to remove critical accounts. Google has complied with requests, too.

The Cybersecurity Law requires technology companies to share user data with state agencies, even without the users’ consent. FinFisher software was found on servers in Vietnam, too. Cybercafe owners have to install software that tracks and stores information about their clients’ online activities.

The Vietnamese constitution provides for freedom of expression, but it’s restricted in practice. Internet users and journalists can be punished under the penal code, the Law on Publication and the Law on Protection of State Secrets. Critics and free speech advocates have been jailed. Most media outlets are state-controlled, and the government keeps an eye on what’s published.

Our best VPN for Vietnam piece has dedicated recommendations.

Yemen

🇾🇪 Yemen
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaYes
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Yemen has been shaken by civil war for decades, but the most recent conflict is due to the failure of a political transition. The handover from president Ali Abdullah Saleh to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, was supposed to bring stability to the country. Instead, Hadi struggled to deal with problems. The Houthi rebel movement took advantage and seized control.

The conflict has led to the internet being shut down. It was later restored, but social media and messaging apps were blocked, too, and it seems that some are still restricted. Websites for organizations connected to the former president and the political party he founded were also blocked. That said, only 23 percent of the Yemeni population are internet users anyway.

There are no reports of online government surveillance. 

Freedom of speech is limited, especially since the civil war began in 2015. Journalists and human rights defenders face violence and some have disappeared. Media outlets self-censor and some news websites are blocked. Read more in our guide on how to get a Yemeni IP address.

The Americas

We’ve lumped North, Central and South America together for this overview, for your convenience as much as ours. From Canada in the north to Argentina in the south, there are a lot of different rules governing the internet, as well as massive differences of web penetration. The United States has very few people not hooked up to the internet for example, while Belize exists in an almost pre-computer age.

Argentina

🇦🇷 Argentina
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Argentina’s internet is generally free and social media and news outlets are accessible. Its constitution guarantees freedom of speech and protections for online freedom are established in a presidential decree

Net neutrality is protected under Articles 56 and 57 of the Digital Argentine Law. It establishes users’ rights and forbids ISPs from discriminating against or blocking content. There are no restrictions on the use of VPNs, but some content sharing websites that contain copyrighted content have been blocked, including The Pirate Bay.

Though surveillance in general requires a court order, there’s evidence that authorities may have carried it out illegally. Leaked emails from 2015 showed communications between the spyware company Hacking Team and companies working with Argentine authorities. They showed interest in Hacking Team’s software, but there’s no proof of purchases.

Belize

🇧🇿 Belize
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Just over half the population of Belize is connected to the internet, but those who are can access most content freely. The government reviews some content from news outlets before it’s published, meaning citizens may only view what the government wants them to see.

Belize’s constitution provides for freedom of speech, and the government generally respects it. Law enforcement agencies are able to intercept online communications in the interest of national security, but only with judicial oversight. There are no legal procedures for online copyright infringement and torrenting isn’t a risky activity in Belize. The use of VPNs is legal, too.

Bolivia

🇧🇴 Bolivia
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Bolivians experience censorship over the internet, especially in the press and on social media. Bolivia’s constitution protects freedom of speech, but criticism of the government is often punished through the penal code and press law. Critical journalists engage in  self-censorship for fear of reprisal.

Though social media is available, President Evo Morales has considered censoring it because of tweets that were considered a threat to his reputation. He was met with strong opposition and abandoned the plan, but the names of those who insult him are retained. 

There are no credible reports of government surveillance, but social media, news and other information sources are likely monitored to find cases of defamation.

There are high levels of piracy in Bolivia because there are no restrictions to torrenting. Law No. 1322 governs copyright, but it’s aimed more at those who reproduce copyrighted content for a profit. There are no restrictions to the use of VPNs.

Brazil

🇧🇷 Brazil
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityYes
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Internet freedom in Brazil is improving. Social media and websites are freely accessible. That said, WhatsApp has been blocked multiple times. There are protections for net neutrality in the Marco Civil da Internet law, but some mobile providers have special plans that favor certain apps or services.

Freedom of speech is a constitutional right, but there are restrictions around election times. Defamation and blasphemy are criminalized by legal provisions and insulting someone or offending their dignity can result in up to six months in prison or a fine. Critical posts on social media or blogs can be removed and journalists may practice self-censorship for fear of reprisal.

Laws are in place for copyright infringement and individuals have been prosecuted for it. The use of a VPN is legal, though, and we have a guide on how to get a Brazilian IP address, in case you need one.

The Marco Civil da Internet law protects privacy and data as a fundamental right. That said, it has a data retention mandate. ISPs have to keep a record of users’ logs for 12 months, but the law says those can only be used for judicial purposes. The government uses major events, such as the Olympics, and combating crime as excuses to increase surveillance.

Canada

🇨🇦 Canada
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Canada’s internet is free, with restrictions only being put on child pornography. If hosted within the country, it’ll be removed. A project called Cleanfeed Canada blocks such content hosted outside the country. 

Canada has a good privacy law, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, that regulates how personal information is collected and used in the private sector, which is probably why Sync.com based itself there. That said, PIPEDA still allows information to be shared with the Canadian government. 

The 2015 Anti-Terrorism Act gave more power to government agencies to collect and share personal information, even if not related to terrorism. Bill C-59 was introduced to fix some of the problems with the law, but it’s still invasive. FinFisher servers were found in Canada. Plus, the Great White North is part of the Five Eyes alliance.

Net neutrality is protected through the Telecom Regulatory Policy and Telecom Decision. The Canadian constitution protects freedom of speech, but there are limits. Under the Criminal Code, hate speech and defamatory libel can result in a prison sentence. Our best VPN for Canada piece goes into more detail.

There are no restrictions to torrenting, but ISPs can send notices to customers who infringe on copyright laws. Penalties are set at a maximum of 5,000 Canadian dollars ($3,700) for non-commercial infringement.

Chile

🇨🇱 Chile
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Chileans enjoy unrestricted internet, and in 2010, Chile became the first country to integrate the principle of net neutrality into its legislation. The use of social media is widespread. Freedom of speech is guaranteed by Chile’s constitution and that’s generally respected. That said, there are laws that make insults and defamation criminal offenses, but they mostly affect journalists.

Chilean authorities monitor websites for child pornography and sexual crimes, but there’s no evidence that monitoring is carried out for other purposes. Communication interception may only be carried out in the interest of national security and only with judicial oversight.

There are no restrictions on torrenting, and Chile’s copyright laws are mostly aimed at those who infringe copyright for financial benefit. Still, the laws exist and violations can incur a fine or jail time. Other online dangers are noted in our how to get a Chilean IP address piece, too.

Colombia

🇨🇴 Colombia
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Content blocking or filtering isn’t common in Colombia and social media is available. Blocks are only enforced on certain content, such as child pornography. The country supports net neutrality, insisting that it should be protected.

Freedom of speech is another matter, though. Journalists can be threatened, attacked and murdered, so many avoid reporting on topics such as corruption, violence and drugs. Defamation penalties can be applied online, and those accused can receive a fine and up to six years in prison.

Copyright violations carry harsh penalties, too, and there are no fair use standards included, so you should be careful if torrenting copyrighted content. The use of a VPN is legal, though.

The Colombian government, army, police and other intelligence agencies have a history of surveillance that journalists continue to try to investigate.

Costa Rica

🇨🇷 Costa Rica
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityYes
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Though its cybercrime law generated criticism from activists who saw it as a threat to internet freedom, Costa Ricans enjoy unrestricted internet access. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right and it’s respected. The government isn’t known to engage in surveillance, either.

Costa Rica’s government-owned internet services have been accused of throttling bandwidth, and companies offer special plans that favor certain apps. That’s seen more with mobile companies, though.

Costa Rica has one of the highest rates of piracy in Latin America and is known as a safe haven for torrent websites. The country uses a notice system, where the rights holder notifies the ISP and the ISP notifies the infringing customer. That said, it’s minimally enforced.

Cuba

🇨🇺 Cuba
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaYes
VPN ban/block in placeYes
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Cuba is ruled by a communist dictatorship that has built a repressive system. Almost all civil and political rights are denied, and citizens are punished for any form of dissent. It has been that way for decades, and the internet there is the same. The future doesn’t look much brighter, either

Online speech is restricted and dissident bloggers are given harsh penalties, such as fines, imprisonment and confiscation of equipment. News outlets and human rights content can be blocked, as well as anything else the government doesn’t approve of. 

Social media is accessible, but only from certain public access points, and Skype is blocked. Traffic data and user information is collected by a software called Avila Link, and if a user violates the Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A.’s terms, their access can be terminated. The use of VPNs is prohibited and connections are monitored.

Copyright infringement is rife in Cuba, with a black market for almost anything you want. The authorities don’t take much notice. They take so little, in fact, that pirated TV shows and movies are even broadcasted. Piracy is especially good for the growing gaming culture, because one game can typically cost more than an average Cuban makes in a month.

Dominican Republic

🇩🇴 Dominican Republic
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Users in the Dominican Republic enjoy an uncensored internet and there are no credible reports of illegal government surveillance. The constitution there provides for freedom of speech, and topics can generally be discussed without reprisal. There have been incidents where journalists were intimidated by authorities, though, which has resulted in some self-censorship.

Though defamation laws don’t expressly apply online, they could be interpreted to. Defamation is a criminal offense under three laws and possible punishment includes a fine or prison sentence. Defamation toward race or religion or offending the president of the Dominican Republic carries a higher sentence, and the latter can result in the loss of certain civil rights. 

Piracy is a criminal offense, and you could be slapped with a fine and a prison sentence of up to three years. That said, it’s rarely enforced and the use of VPNs is legal.

Ecuador

🇪🇨 Ecuador
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityYes
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Online freedom in Ecuador was bad, with a war on online media freedom, content manipulation and harassment towards government critics. Since the new president was elected, internet freedom has improved. That said, some repressive mechanisms used by the former president remain, meaning they could still be used. 

Websites and social media are free to use. Some domains of torrent websites have been blocked to combat piracy, but copyright enforcement is weak.

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, but it’s often violated. Content is regularly removed when discussing officials or when it contains defamation. Individuals and journalists can be prosecuted, and many have been punished under Article 396 of the criminal code, which can result in a prison sentence of up to 30 days. 

An example of free journalism in Ecuador is that of Julian Assange. In 2012, he sought and was granted asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London because he wanted to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations. That wasn’t his main concern, though. 

He is the founder of the whistleblowing site WikiLeaks. He feared being handed over to the U.S. and being charged with espionage. After multiple violations during his stay, Ecuador withdrew Assange’s asylum status and he was subsequently arrested by British police. He is now facing multiple charges.

Though Ecuador has supported the principles of net neutrality, the Telecommunications Act removed the concept of non-discrimination. Article 64 allows ISPs to establish special plans.

The government engages in a wide range of surveillance and monitors blogs, websites and social media. There is evidence of transactions between intelligence agency SENAIN and surveillance tool supplier Hacking Team. It also asked Hacking Team to build a country-wide monitoring center to access devices and intercept communications. 

ISPs are required to provide personal information if requested without there being judicial oversight.

Guatemala

🇬🇹 Guatemala
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityYes
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Guatemala’s constitution provides for freedom of speech, but many Guatemalans avoid talking about certain issues. Journalists can be threatened when reporting on drug trafficking, corruption, organized crime and other subjects, and many practice  self-censorship to avoid attacks. Defamation is a criminal offense and punishable by up to five years in prison.

Reforms to the constitution have made various surveillance techniques legal, but the government is believed to be involved in illegal online surveillance, too. There have also been suspicions of unlawful surveillance of journalists, human rights advocates and other persons of interest. Investigations have yet to provide solid proof of that, though.

Internet access is provided in tiers that offer different benefits. Many Guatemalans have two SIM cards with different subscriptions. For example, one may allow free access to WhatsApp and the other may allow free access to Facebook. 

You can use a VPN in Guatemala, and there’s no enforcement against torrenting.

Haiti

🇭🇹 Haiti
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Though the percentage of people with access to the internet in Haiti is lower than in many countries, you can still find internet cafes dotted around the country. The government doesn’t censor content or block websites and there’s no evidence of it engaging in online surveillance or monitoring communications without judicial oversight.

Freedom of speech is guaranteed by the constitution, but defamation, for which the definition is broad, can result in a fine or imprisonment of up to three years. Defamation lawsuits have mostly been brought against journalists for statements made about public officials or other authority figures. 

That has led to some journalists exercising self-censorship, especially with stories related to drug trafficking or corruption. Normal citizens often avoid discussing organized crime and drug cartels for fear of reprisal.

There are laws that penalize those involved in copyright infringement, but the enforcement is weak. If authorities were to pursue it, imprisonment would be the most likely outcome.

Honduras

🇭🇳 Honduras
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityYes
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Honduras’s corrupt government and lack of respect for human rights make it one of the worst countries for journalists. Though freedom of speech is protected in its constitution, there are laws that restrict it. Punishment is common for those who report on sensitive issues, and libel carries a sentence of one to three years under the criminal code.

The Special Law on Interception of Private Communications allows the government to intercept online communications, and it has been reported that Honduras bought monitoring equipment worth at least 300,000 pounds ($377,000). With it, law enforcement agencies can intercept emails and messaging apps.

Social media is available, but it carries the risk of government monitoring. Network access inequality is present, with the internet being accessible through special plans that favor certain services. Still, you can legally use a VPN.

Jamaica

🇯🇲 Jamaica
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Jamaica’s constitution provides for freedom of speech, and that freedom is generally respected. Defamation offenses used to be punishable by imprisonment, but the laws were reformed and it was decriminalized in 2013. Self-censorship can be seen on topics such as criminal gangs, often for fear of retaliation.

The Interception of Communications Act allows authorities to monitor communications, but only if a warrant is issued. The National Identification and Registration Act was enacted in 2017 and paved the way for the National Identification System, which collects people’s personal information. 

The Jamaican government supports net neutrality, and ISPs must comply with its principles. Under Jamaica’s Copyright Act, those who infringe copyright can face a fine of up to 100,000 Jamaican dollars ($740) or up to two years in prison. That said, ISPs don’t really enforce it.

Mexico

🇲🇽 Mexico
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Mexico’s government has used the war on drugs as a pretext to increase surveillance. Under the Federal Telecommunications and Broadcasting Law, ISPs and mobile networks have to provide users’ geolocation and metadata to authorities. The data must be kept for at least two years. 

The Internal Security Law allows the military to perform intelligence activities. Plus, there’s evidence that Mexico has spent money on the surveillance software Pegasus and with a company called Hacking Team. FinFisher servers were also found in Mexico.

The Federal Telecommunications and Broadcasting Law governs net neutrality. Under it, ISPs and mobile networks must not discriminate against content. Data plans have benefits for certain services, so using Facebook won’t count toward your data usage, for example, but they’re not allowed to hinder other services.

The Mexican constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but criminal defamation laws remain in some states. Lawsuits have been handed out for critical reports and posts. Plus, journalists and bloggers who report on sensitive topics could be attacked, resulting in  self-censorship. Removal requests for defamation are sent to companies such as Facebook.

Torrenting is legal as long as the content isn’t copyrighted. That said, copyright laws are mainly aimed at those who commit infringement for commercial purposes. Read our best VPN for Mexico for more details on the country.

Nicaragua

🇳🇮 Nicaragua
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityYes
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

The internet is unrestricted in Nicaragua, but there have been incidents in which the media has been censored and some news outlets have had their websites brought down. Much of that was to control information about violent protests in 2018. The government also attempted to control social media after critical comments were posted.

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, but that protection has weakened for journalists. The government tries to censor anything critical by deeming it inaccurate. Many journalists are threatened or attacked and self-censor for fear of retribution. The penal code criminalizes defamation, and you can be slapped with a fine that’s calculated by your income.

Net neutrality isn’t protected by law in Nicaragua, and service providers offer special plans that favor certain apps, but more common with mobile plans. Torrenting isn’t restricted and there’s no legislation to act on copyright infringement.

Panama

🇵🇦 Panama
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Freedom of speech is protected in Panama’s constitution, but the penal code criminalizes defamation. Cases are regularly filed against journalists, and the penalties include fines, a prison sentence or both. The government also tries to censor criticism in the media. Internet and cell phone services have been cut by the government during protests, too.

Reports have emerged about the government monitoring communications, but Article 29 of the constitution provides for privacy. Private communications and documents can only be intercepted with a warrant, which is most likely why NordVPN is based there and why the country is on our list of the most privacy-friendly countries.

Internet piracy is a growing problem in Panama and a new copyright law was enacted in 2012. Those found to violate copyright through file-sharing can end up with a fine of up to 100,000 Panamanian balboa ($100,060) and that can increase to as much as 200,000 balboa ($200,120) for the second offense. The fine is kept by the copyright office and the copyright holder can still sue.

Paraguay

🇵🇾 Paraguay
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Paraguay’s constitution provides for freedom of speech, with citizens and journalists able to speak their mind. That said, it’s not upheld in practice. Threats and attacks from criminal groups and corrupt authorities are common, which causes self-censorship.

The interception of communications, such as emails, must have judicial authorization.

Piracy is a common occurrence in Paraguay. There are no restrictions to torrenting, and though there is a copyright law, it’s mostly relevant to those who infringe to make a profit. Those torrenting for personal use are generally left alone.

Peru

🇵🇪 Peru
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The internet in Peru is mostly free and social media is unrestricted. Online piracy isn’t a priority for authorities, but pressure from rights holders has made them act. Peru’s first case against online copyright infringement saw three people get arrested in 2017 for running illegal streaming websites, which were then blocked. More illegal streaming websites were blocked in 2019.

In 2016, Peru became the third country in South America to favor net neutrality regulations.

It has been reported that Peru’s National Intelligence Directorate had illegally spied on politicians, journalists and other important figures, accessing stored information in the process. 

Though judicial authorization is required to intercept communications, the legislation is broad. Plus, Decree No. 1182 allows authorities to access real-time location data without judicial oversight. It also requires telecommunications providers to retain users’ communications data for three years.

Freedom of speech is protected by the constitution but it’s not enforced. Though citizens can generally discuss political or sensitive topics without fear of retribution, the same can’t be said for journalists. Defamation is a criminal offense, and journalists are often prosecuted for it. Plus, they’re regularly threatened, intimidated and attacked.

Suriname

🇸🇷 Suriname
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityYes
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Suriname has a free internet, with no examples of online censorship, and social media is available. That said, network access inequality is present because ISPs banned VoIP services to keep the networks from being overloaded. VoIP services that paid to be part of the services were exempt, though.

Freedom of speech is provided for in the Surinamese constitution, and citizens can generally engage in discussions about sensitive or political topics without fear of reprisal. That said, though the media publishes stories that are critical to the government, defamation and libel are criminal offenses and some journalists self-censor as a result.

A radio program called “Zeven Even” was banned in 2017 after it was accused of spreading lies and insulting politicians, judges and ethnic groups.

There are no reports of online surveillance or punishment for torrenting copyrighted material, and the country’s copyright law doesn’t include online infringement.

United States of America

🇺🇸 United States of America
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityYes
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Censorship in the U.S. is minimal, with filtering only aimed at obscene content. Freedom of speech is protected by section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and its constitution. Websites and online services aren’t held liable for user-generated content, so it’s generally untouched. Action can be taken against journalists and whistleblowers, though, so self-censorship can happen.

Not only is the U.S. part of the Five Eyes, but in 2013, the famous whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed top-secret U.S. National Security Agency documents that showed evidence of mass surveillance. The USA FREEDOM Act governs how information can be accessed, but many laws contradict it or enable surveillance, such as the USA PATRIOT Act.

Other laws include Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act. FinFisher software was also found. Using some online services, such as Rackspace and Private Internet Access, will put you under U.S. jurisdiction.

Social media and other communications can be monitored, too, and a program called PRISM collects data from companies such as Google and Facebook. You can read about those in our best VPN for the U.S. article. 

Network access inequality is an ongoing battle in the U.S. Laws were enacted in 2015 to protect neutrality, but the U.S. Federal Communications Commission repealed them in 2017. That said, a bill that would permanently reinstate net neutrality rules could soon be introduced, and some states are trying to enact their own laws to protect it.

Torrenting in itself is fine, but torrenting copyrighted material is not. Copyright is governed by the Copyright Act of 1976. Copyright trolls are active and ISPs send notices with a settlement offer for the infringement. Accepting the initial settlement can result in being pursued further and the total amount in damages owed could be horrendous under federal law.

Uruguay

🇺🇾 Uruguay
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Uruguayans enjoy a free internet and its constitution guarantees freedom of speech. Citizens can discuss topics without worry, and the country has a relatively open media environment. Social media is free to use, as are VPNs. There are no restrictions to torrenting, and those who download copyrighted material are generally left alone unless doing so for a profit.

In July 2013, it was revealed that Uruguay secretly purchased the surveillance software El Guardian. It’d allow the government to spy on mobile phones, emails and social media posts. The reasons for the surveillance aren’t known, though.

Venezuela

🇻🇪 Venezuela
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Venezuela has been the subject of a major human rights crisis for years, with food and medicine shortages and political repression. President Maduro has clung on to power through fraudulent elections and authorities use punishment and fear to control those that protest or demand a change. Many people have died or been detained for protesting.

Venezuela’s internet freedom has declined, too. Many websites and services have been blocked temporarily, including news sources, blogs, social media and communication apps. Authorities can block websites considered to be promoting hatred or intolerance.

Many laws have put limitations on freedom of speech. The Constitutional Law Against Hatred, for Peaceful Coexistence and Tolerance imposes hefty prison sentences of up to 20 years on anyone who incites hatred. Defamation against public officials can result in a prison sentence. Social media users and reporters have faced prosecution based on their online activities.

The government engages in online surveillance and the lack of personal data protection legislation means it is unknown how collected data is used. The use of VPNs is unrestricted, but the anonymous browsing tool Tor was blocked by a state-run ISP in 2018. 

There are no laws against torrenting for personal use and it’s a regular activity in the country. If you find yourself needing to access Venezuelan content, read our how to get a Venezuelan IP address guide.

Europe

Europe is by far the richest continent, and the one the most hooked up to the internet. Most of the countries on it are also all part of the EU, meaning a lot of the rules governing the internet are the same. That said, there are plenty of differences, too, and plenty of shady goings on, as well.

Albania

🇦🇱 Albania
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Albanians enjoy a mostly free internet and social media is available to them. ISPs have been required to block local and international gambling websites since the nationwide ban on gambling went into effect on Jan. 1, 2019. There are no reports of internet surveillance, though.

Freedom of speech and the press are guaranteed in the constitution and citizens can discuss topics without restrictions. Censorship and self-censorship are present in the media, though, because of political pressure and intimidation of journalists. 

Plus, two draft laws were proposed to regulate online media. They’d allow authorities to sanction online media with blocks and fines. Many are concerned that they could increase the level of censorship already present in Albania.

Austria

🇦🇹 Austria
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Austrian authorities don’t censor internet content and social media is free to use. In 2015, an Austrian court ordered local ISPs to block access to the torrent website The Pirate Bay and other infringing websites. Those blocks have been overturned, so ISPs don’t have to enforce current blocking requests, but you may find that some aren’t available.

Security legislation that’d give the government greater monitoring and surveillance powers was introduced in 2018. It’d be able to monitor online communications, including those that are encrypted. That includes applications such as WhatsApp and Skype. Plus, SIM cards would need to be registered. 

VPNs are legal to use and our how to get an Austrian IP address article has some recommendations.

Freedom of speech is protected by the Austrian constitution and it is generally respected. Austria’s defamation laws, which protect politicians and government officials from libel and slander, are among the harshest in the EU, though. Insulting the state and its rulers is a criminal offense under the penal code, too. 

The media is affected by government favoritism. Access to information can be limited for media outlets and journalists who are critical of the government. An email written by the spokesperson for Interior Minister Herbert Kickl that requested the withholding of information from critical voices was leaked.

Neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism are prohibited, as is denying, approving of or justifying the Holocaust or related matters. Hate speech is also prohibited, and there are plans to force social media platforms and other services to verify their users’ identities. That’d help with tracking a user down if they post hateful comments anonymously.

Belarus

🇧🇾 Belarus
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeYes
Torrenting restrictionsNo

The internet isn’t free in Belarus. The government blocks political and critical websites, as well as opposition news sources. Amendments to the Media Law in 2018 allow for more blocking and filtering of websites and social media. Blocks can be put on anything the government deems illegal without warning or judicial oversight. 

Self-censorship is common for fear of having a website shut down, plus site owners are liable for content that’s deemed false, defamatory or harmful to national interests. Freedom of speech is guaranteed by the constitution, but it’s not respected. There are laws that muzzle critical voices. Journalists and bloggers are targeted and detained for covering national issues.

Online surveillance can be carried out without judicial oversight and the government monitors citizens to control critical voices. Belarus also uses the communications interception technology system SORM. ISPs are required to log customers’ browsing history for at least one year and allow access to authorities. 

Tor and VPNs are banned in Belarus to stop people from bypassing restrictions.

Belgium

🇧🇪 Belgium
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Belgians enjoy a free internet. Restrictions are only placed on websites that contain illegal, extremist or discriminatory content or child pornography. Social media is available, and because Belgium is part of the EU, it has to conform to the EU’s net neutrality rules.

The Pirate Bay was blocked after a court order and blocked again after the domain name was changed. Other torrent websites get blocked by ISPs, too. Downloading and sharing copyrighted content is illegal, but the Belgian Anti-piracy Federation focuses more on those who upload and distribute such content. VPNs are legal to use, though.

Belgium is part of the 14 Eyes, so it’s not free from surveillance. Plus, in 2016, the government called for more intrusive surveillance powers. It wanted to make ISPs cooperate with enforcement agencies by giving them access to data, even if it meant decrypting messages.

Freedom of speech is protected by the Belgian constitution, and it’s generally respected, but incitement to hatred is banned. 

Bosnia & Herzegovina

🇧🇦 Bosnia & Herzegovina
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

There are no known reports of websites or social media platforms being blocked in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Little information is available about online surveillance in the country, but one report showed multiple instances of surveillance, and online communications were among them.

Freedom of speech is guaranteed, but it’s limited in practice. In 2017, the criminal code was amended to define hate speech as a criminal act. That has led to self-censorship. Plus, journalists face harassment and threats, which affects their reporting. However, the OCCRP, the organization that blew the lid off the Panama Papers scandal, is based in Sarajevo and operates without harassment.

Bulgaria

🇧🇬 Bulgaria
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The internet in Bulgaria is mostly free, with just unlicensed gambling websites being blocked. It has a solid legal framework to protect individuals’ privacy, but the government has tried to introduce more powers to control the online world and ISPs provide real-time access to all internet traffic.

Bulgaria’s copyright law points out that those who infringe on copyright should bear criminal responsibility, but not all online infringement is covered and enforcement of the law is weak, usually targeting those who upload or profit from copyrighted material. You can legally use a VPN, though.

Bulgaria’s constitution guarantees freedom of speech and citizens can discuss topics openly. That said, journalists can face threats if reporting on certain subjects.

Croatia

🇭🇷 Croatia
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

The internet in Croatia remains free and there are no blocks on social media. Croatia is one of the top countries in the world for online piracy and VPNs are legal to use. Plus, there are no credible reports of online surveillance taking place.

Croatia’s constitution guarantees freedom of speech and individuals generally engage in sensitive discussions without fear of retaliation. There are still restrictions, though. 

Hate speech can be punished with up to five years in prison and insulting Croatia, its coat of arms, national anthem or flag can lead to up to three years in prison. Journalists face harassment and are attacked on occasion, too.

Cyprus

🇨🇾 Cyprus
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

The internet in Cyprus isn’t restricted beyond blocks on illegal gambling websites. Though there isn’t much information available about online surveillance, laws that’d grant better surveillance tools to authorities have been proposed. Plus, the Snowden revelations showed that a UK-U.S. joint-funded surveillance operation is based in the British territory carved out of the island.

The Cypriot constitution guarantees freedom of speech and people can discuss political or other sensitive issues without fear. The media frequently criticizes the authorities, too. 

Turkish-occupied Cyprus is under Turkish law, and though freedom of speech isn’t generally restricted, insulting Turkey could get you into trouble. Journalists sometimes face threats because of the topics they report on, but many outlets still publish critical reports.

Czech Republic

🇨🇿 Czech Republic
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The internet in the Czech Republic is mostly free with blocks only placed on unlicensed betting websites. Social media is free to use, too. Torrenting isn’t illegal, and those who download copyrighted content are generally left alone. Those who share such content can get into trouble, though, which is part of torrenting. 

That said, you can use a VPN legally and our how to get a Czech IP address piece has some recommendations.

Surveillance is present in the Czech Republic, but most of it is physical instead of online. Interception of messages and emails is only permitted if approved by a court. Citizen Lab reported that FinSpy servers were found in the country, which are used for surveillance.

Czech law provides for freedom of speech, but there are exceptions to it. Hate speech, Holocaust denial and denial of Communist-era crimes aren’t allowed. Still, individuals are able to discuss political or sensitive subjects without fear of retaliation. That said, users can be blocked on social media for seemingly innocent opinions. 

Denmark

🇩🇰 Denmark
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The Danish internet is free, with restrictions only placed on child pornography and torrent websites, such as The Pirate Bay. Freedom of speech is protected. Political opinion and government criticism is published by individuals and the media without fear of reprisal.

The Danish Defence Intelligence Service can collect information for foreign intelligence purposes, provided that the operations are abroad. Information about Danish citizens and foreign residents in Denmark can be processed.

Plus, Denmark’s authorities allowed the sale of surveillance technology to Arab governments. It was seen as helping the fight against terrorism, but it allowed the countries to monitor their entire populations. With that and the fact that Denmark is part of the Nine Eyes alliance, who knows what surveillance the government is carrying out.

Estonia

🇪🇪 Estonia
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Estonia respects internet freedom and generally doesn’t restrict content. That said, the Gambling Act makes domestic and foreign gambling websites obtain a license or face restrictions.

Citizens’ privacy is protected by various laws and surveillance agencies are monitored to make sure they’re in line with the constitution and other regulations. For the most part, surveillance is carried out to keep an eye on drug-related activities and organized crime. That said, FinFisher servers were found in the country.

Estonia’s constitution protects freedom of speech and citizens can discuss topics without fear. Restrictions only apply to hate speech and discrimination, both of which are punishable under the penal code.

France

🇫🇷 France
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

In France, websites aren’t blocked for political reasons and social media is free to use. Censorship has increased since the 2015 Paris attacks, though, and websites that contain content related to terrorism or child pornography are blocked. 

A blacklist of websites that contain such material is created and requests are sent to the relevant web host to remove the content. If the web host doesn’t comply within 24 hours, the whole website can be blocked through the ISP.

Users who download copyrighted content can be sent a warning under the French anti-piracy law. Those who frequently breach the rules can be banned from the internet. That said, the growing trend of streaming pirated content is making it harder to enforce the law. 

Torrent websites can be blocked, and France is continuing its fight against piracy.

It has been reported that compliance with the EU net neutrality regulation is better in France than any other country in the EU.

France’s monitoring powers increased after a controversial surveillance law went into effect in 2015. It orders ISPs to retain user data for one year and suspicious users will be monitored. Online communications can also be intercepted. 

An illegal database of French citizens containing personal information was created, too. It was said to be necessary for national security. Plus, France is part of the Nine Eyes alliance.

Freedom of speech is protected in the French constitution and individuals can engage in discussions of a sensitive nature without concern. The media operate freely and report on political issues. Read more in our best VPN for France piece.

Finland

🇫🇮 Finland
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Apart from filters on child pornography, Finland’s internet is free. The filter was not without problems, though, and some innocent sites were caught in the net. Torrenting websites are also subject to blocks. 

Two surveillance laws that expanded the spying powers of the military and civilian intelligence agencies were passed by parliament. Phone calls and network data can be intercepted by methods including hacking messaging services and breaking encryption on the content if the person is deemed a threat to national security.

Article 12 of the Finnish constitution protects freedom of speech. Citizens are able to discuss topics openly and the media isn’t influenced by political pressure or censorship.

Germany

🇩🇪 Germany
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Online censorship in Germany is minimal, but content can be blocked under certain conditions. Content that praises Nazism is prohibited and denial of the Holocaust is a criminal offense. Such content can even be blocked from Google’s search results. More about how far that censorship can go can be found in our best VPN for Germany piece.

Freedom of speech is protected in the German constitution, but certain categories are illegal under the German criminal code. One example is defamation of the state and its symbols, which can be punished with a fine or a prison sentence.

A hate speech rule called NetzDG, which orders social media platforms to remove illegal content from their websites or risk being slapped with a hefty fine, was passed in 2017. There were concerns that it’d restrict freedom of speech. Journalists have reportedly been attacked for reporting on sensitive subjects, too.

Torrenting copyrighted material in Germany is illegal and can be punished with a fine or jail time. Popular torrents can be monitored to catch those breaking the law by logging their IP address. Some torrent websites may be blocked, too. It’s legal to use a VPN, though.

Germany has good data protection laws, but its Federal Intelligence Service has cooperated with the NSA. It also collects millions of sets of metadata that contain information on online communications and other personal data. Germany is one of the most active requesters of user data, too. It’s also part of the 14 Eyes and FinFisher servers have been found there.

Greece

🇬🇷 Greece
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Greek citizens enjoy an open internet and social media is available. The only blocks are on unlicensed gambling websites and torrent websites. Downloading and sharing copyrighted content is illegal, but the law isn’t enforced.

Though there are no credible reports of online surveillance, there are also no protections from it, meaning authorities are legally able to put internet communications under surveillance.

Freedom of speech is provided for in the Greek constitution, but there are laws that punish discrimination, hatred and violence toward people because of their race or ethnic origin. Defamation, insulting the president, offending religion and anything obscene can carry a criminal penalty of a fine, a prison sentence or both. Read more in our best VPN for Greece article.

Hungary

🇭🇺 Hungary
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Hungary’s internet is free from blocks for the most part and social media is unrestricted. Denying the Holocaust is against the law and websites containing such material get blocked. Online gambling websites are illegal if they aren’t authorized and are subject to being blocked.

Leaked files from the spyware company Hacking Team in 2015 showed that the government was a client. It has been reported that government agencies and law enforcement have connections with surveillance companies and have visited surveillance trade shows. Plus, Citizen Lab listed it as one of the countries using FinFisher.

Anti-terrorism legislation enacted in 2016 expanded authorities’ access to encrypted content, including messages. ISPs have to allow access if it’s requested. Clients’ data and messages must be stored for up to one year, too. Personal data can include locations, phone numbers, IP addresses and user IDs.

Freedom of speech is protected by the Hungarian constitution, but there are limitations. Under Article 9.2, disrespecting ethnic, racial and religious communities or the Hungarian nation isn’t allowed. Defamation, slander, humiliating national symbols, distributing totalitarian symbols, and denying the sins of Nazism are banned under the criminal code

Self-censorship is present among media outlets, but many still publish content critical of the government and public officials, even with the threat of being punished.

Iceland

🇮🇸 Iceland
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The internet and social media are free in Iceland. Restrictions exist, but they’re aimed at child pornography and torrent websites. Pornography is illegal in Iceland, but blocks aren’t enforced online. Net neutrality is respected and there is strong legislation protecting citizens online.

Icelandic laws say data must be collected lawfully and fairly, while also having the subject’s consent unless in compliance with a legal obligation. That said, Iceland is part of an international surveillance network that cooperates with the Five Eyes. 

The use of VPNs is legal, and the VPN provider cryptostorm has roots in Iceland. 

The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative changed privacy laws to further protect freedom of speech. It protects journalists and whistleblowers, too, which makes Iceland a haven for many. Despite the protections in place, though, libel and insult are criminal offenses that could result in a fine or up to one year in prison.

Ireland

🇮🇪 Ireland
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The Irish government has considered introducing internet filtering in the past to remove offensive and illegal material. In 2013, the Internet Service Providers’ Association of Ireland said ISPs shouldn’t be censors of internet content. That could change in the future, though, and legitimate websites could get caught in the web.

A court ruling in 2018 ordered ISPs to block websites that involve illegal file sharing of copyrighted material. The use of VPNs is legal, but deliberate copyright infringement could result in you being disconnected from the broadband service.

The Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages Act and the Criminal Justice Act govern surveillance in Ireland. They allow authorities to intercept your online communications to combat serious crime and protect the security of the state, but little is known about how those interceptions are used and most can be done without judicial oversight.

Leaked emails in 2015 showed that the Irish Defence Forces had been in conversations with the spy software provider Hacking Team. It communicated with the spyware company from 2012 to 2015, but it claims it didn’t buy anything. Read more in our best VPN for Ireland piece.

Italy

🇮🇹 Italy
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Italians enjoy a free internet, with no content blocked other than that related to child abuse, gambling and terrorism. Social media and blogs are available. The government sends takedown requests for defamatory content and hate speech, though. Italy issued a Declaration of Internet Rights in 2015, which promoted net neutrality.

Citizens can generally discuss sensitive and political issues without fear. That said, defamation is a criminal offense and aggravated defamation can result in up to three years in prison, plus a fine of at least 516 euros ($580). Those who discuss the activities of organized crime risk reprisal, too. Many writers self-censor to avoid issues.

A law that authorizes the government to use malware for hacking purposes was approved by parliament in 2017. With it, intelligence agencies are able to intercept personal communications. Telecommunications operators are required to store internet data for up to six years. Italy is also part of the 14 Eyes alliance.

Online copyright enforcement is regulated by the Communications Regulatory Authority and internet or hosting providers must remove infringing content or block offending websites. VPNs are legal to use, though, so you may want to use a provider from our how to get an Italian IP address guide.

Kosovo

🏳 Kosovo
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

The internet in Kosovo is free, with no blocks on content in place. The Regulatory Authority for Post and Electronic Communications approved new regulations to guarantee net neutrality for customers of ISPs and mobile networks.

Though there’s little information on surveillance in Kosovo, the Law on Interception of Telecommunication was approved in 2014. It grants authorities access to real-time communications data and geolocation without judicial oversight. Mandatory data retention is also included, requiring ISPs to keep the data for at least 12 months.

Kosovo’s constitution guarantees freedom of speech and individuals are able to freely express their views without fear of being punished. That said, journalists have reported harassment and intimidation, which has led many to self-censor.

Latvia

🇱🇻 Latvia
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Though the online world in Latvia is mostly free, international online gambling websites are subject to being blocked unless they’re approved to operate in the country. ISPs and banks are required to pass on the names of citizens who attempt to do business with such operators. Those caught can face a fine of up to 350 euros ($395) per incident.

There are no credible reports that torrent websites are blocked, but since a new law came into effect in January 2019, ISPs have to block unlicensed streaming websites. It’s legal to use a VPN, though.

There are not many reports of government surveillance, but Latvia was one of the countries in which use of the spying software FinFisher was detected.

Freedom of speech is protected by the Latvian constitution and citizens can discuss topics openly and freely. That said, libel remains a criminal offense and media outlets can be influenced by the government.

Lithuania

🇱🇹 Lithuania
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

There are few restrictions on Lithuania’s internet. Amendments to the Law on Gaming in 2016 allow the Gaming Control Authority to order the blocking of betting websites that are not licensed to operate. Many torrent websites are hosted in the country, and a survey showed a large percentage of the population torrents for personal use without issue.

Freedom of speech is respected and there are no credible reports of surveillance. That said, there are instances that suggest mass surveillance is a possibility. The use of VPNs is legal, though.

Luxembourg

🇱🇺 Luxembourg
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Luxembourgers enjoy a free internet, and there are no reports of the government enforcing censorship or social media being blocked. The country has its own protections for net neutrality, but it’s also under the EU regulations. There are no reports of torrent websites being blocked or other enforcement being carried out and VPNs are legal to use.

Though there isn’t much information on online surveillance in the country, leaked emails and documents from Hacking Team show that the Luxembourg tax authority is a customer of the surveillance tool company.

Luxembourg’s constitution guarantees freedom of speech, and it’s generally respected. Citizens can express themselves on political views or sensitive topics without fear.

Malta

🇲🇹 Malta
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The Maltese government doesn’t impose censorship or restrictions on the internet and social media is available. There are no reports of torrent websites being blocked, but infringing copyright can get you fined. If a profit is made from the infringement, the punishment increases to up to one year in prison, a fine or both.

There are no credible reports of the Maltese government engaging in online surveillance, and VPNs are legal to use.

Freedom of speech is guaranteed by Malta’s constitution, but it’s limited under certain circumstances and the government has been criticized for it. Laws ban incitement to hatred on many grounds. The media is mostly free, but journalists who investigate political corruption can face dangers (or be blown up) and many face libel lawsuits, despite it being decriminalized in 2018.

Moldova

🇲🇩 Moldova
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

The internet in Moldova is free and citizens are able to discuss topics of a sensitive or political nature without fear of retaliation. That said, many are concerned that criticism of the government could affect employment and career prospects. Journalists are often pressured by government officials, which results in self-censorship.

Monitoring of the internet is authorized to help prevent violations of the law. It’s conducted by the Security and Information Service, but it’s only allowed with a court order. That said, many journalists suspect surveillance is being carried out on them.

There are no confirmed reports of action against piracy or torrenting websites being blocked and VPNs are legal to use.

The Netherlands

🇳🇱 The Netherlands
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

In the Netherlands, the government doesn’t restrict or censor the internet beyond blocking the torrent website The Pirate Bay. It was legal to download copyrighted content for personal use, but that was banned in 2014. Social media is available, and you can use a VPN legally, too.

The Netherlands has to conform to the EU net neutrality regulations, but it was also the first nation to implement its own net neutrality legislation.

The Intelligence and Security Services Act, which allows intelligence agencies to intercept internet traffic, retain data and share the information collected with other intelligence agencies, was voted against in March 2018, but it entered into force in May 2018. We go into detail about that in our best VPN for the Netherlands piece.

The Netherlands is part of the Nine Eyes alliance and evidence of FinFisher was found there, too.

Freedom of speech isn’t restricted other than hate speech, which is a criminal offense. Laws that forbid insulting the monarchy were amended to reduce the penalty for insulting the king and his family from up to five years in prison to no more than four months in prison, though these laws are generally considered a dead letter.

North Macedonia

🇲🇰 North Macedonia
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The internet in North Macedonia is free, but foreign gambling websites can be blocked. Online piracy is rampant, and the country is taking action to combat it.

The previous government was accused of widespread monitoring, but there are no credible reports that the current government engages in surveillance.

Freedom of speech is provided for in the Macedonian constitution, but it’s not always respected. Hate speech is prohibited and can incur a penalty. Journalists can be pressured politically and physically attacked.

Norway

🇳🇴 Norway
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Norway has an open internet with few restrictions to content. Those it imposes are on things such as child pornography and torrent websites. That said, its wide definition can result in some innocent websites getting blocked. Norwegian law protects net neutrality and the country monitors the market to ensure services are compliant.

Norway has strong protections for individuals’ privacy, such as the Data Protection Authority. The country’s high privacy ranking makes it a good place for cloud services, such as Jottacloud, to base themselves. 

That said, a surveillance base was built in Norway to help overseas troops and combat terrorism. It’s said, though, that it holds records of normal citizens’ communications and collaborates with the NSA. Plus, Norway is part of the Nine Eyes alliance.

Poland

🇵🇱 Poland
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Though Poland’s internet is mostly free, its counterterrorism and surveillance laws allow authorities to block websites. Those laws were introduced in 2016 and the broad definitions within them allow the government to secretly carry out surveillance on anybody they want. 

The Polish constitution guarantees freedom of speech and people can discuss political or sensitive matters freely. That said, libel is a criminal offense and there’s a collection of laws against insult. For example, insulting the president could get you up to three years in prison. Claiming that Poland was involved in crimes committed during the Holocaust is illegal, too.

Torrenting is allowed and there’s no law against downloading copyrighted material for personal use. You can use a VPN legally, too, so our how to get a Polish IP address guide may come in handy.

Portugal

🇵🇹 Portugal
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityYes
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The internet is mostly free in Portugal and social media is unrestricted. It only enforces blocks on gambling websites and websites that infringe copyright. The government’s anti-piracy program is fighting against copyright infringing websites and has reduced traffic to them by blocking access through ISPs. 

There are no reports of online surveillance.

Because Portugal is part of the EU, it’s supposed to comply with the European Net Neutrality Regulation. In 2018, the National Communications Authority found that ISPs were in breach of the rules and issued a notice that gave them 40 days to change the plans they offered. The plans provided access to certain applications, rather than the full internet.

Freedom of speech is guaranteed in the Portuguese constitution and there are no significant restrictions to personal opinions or discussions. That said, defamation is a criminal offense. Prosecution isn’t common, and in many cases, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled against the original judgement.

One of the most well-known cases was that of former police inspector Goncalo Amaral. He declared in a book that British child Madeleine McCann’s parents were involved in her disappearance, and he was ordered to pay a large fine for defamation as a result. That decision was overturned, though.

Romania

🇷🇴 Romania
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Romania’s internet is relatively free, but a law aimed at controlling gambling websites and making it illegal to bet on them without a license went into effect in 2015. Many torrent websites are blocked, and though there’s copyright law enforcement, it’s a low priority. VPNs are legal to use, though.

Despite Romania having solid legislation to protect data, its intelligence organizations have had their powers increased by different surveillance proposals.

Freedom of speech is protected by the Romanian constitution. People can speak their mind without fear of retaliation. The media can be distorted by politically motivated owners and journalists are sometimes intimidated by the police and political figures.

Serbia

🇷🇸 Serbia
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

The internet is free in Serbia, apart from blocks on gambling websites. The government can impose blocks on critical websites, though. For example, after the catastrophic floods in 2014, many websites were taken offline for criticizing how the government handled the disaster. Plus, some people were detained for dissemination of false news and causing panic. 

Serbia is a piracy haven, and if you’re just torrenting copyrighted material for personal use for personal use, you’ll generally be left alone. VPNs are legal to use, too. 

There’s little information on online surveillance in Serbia, but it was listed as one of the countries found using FinFisher software.

The constitution guarantees freedom of speech and individuals can privately discuss sensitive subjects. Many journalists face political pressure, though, which influences their reporting. Plus, critical journalists and other voices face smear campaigns, intimidation and physical assaults. That has led to a high rate of self-censorship.

Slovakia

🇸🇰 Slovakia
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Slovakians enjoy a free internet, with blocks only placed on unlicensed gambling websites. There are no blocks on social media or other applications. Though torrenting isn’t illegal, downloading copyrighted content from illegitimate sources is and sharing such content can land you in prison. VPNs are legal to use, though.

Provisions of the Electronic Communications Act required mobile network providers to track communications and provisions of the penal code and Police Force Act granted access to that data. In 2015, the Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic ruled that the mass surveillance was unconstitutional, though, making those provisions invalid.

The Slovakian constitution protects freedom of speech and people can discuss political or sensitive topics freely. That said, journalists suffer from political pressure and those investigating corruption say they don’t feel safe. A reporter who was investigating corruption and tax fraud cases and his fiancee were murdered in 2018. Police said his murder was linked to his work.

Slovenia

🇸🇮 Slovenia
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Slovenia’s internet is free of censorship, social media is accessible and torrenters are left alone. Plus, there are no credible reports of online surveillance being carried out. 

Freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed and individuals can express themselves without fear of punishment. Defamation remains a criminal offense, though, which can land you with a fine, a prison sentence or both. Journalists face harassment and threats.

Spain

🇪🇸 Spain
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The Spanish internet is mostly unrestricted and social media is available. As stated in our best VPN for Spain guide, though, political content that the government doesn’t agree with can be blocked, such as promotion of the Catalan independence referendum

Torrenting copyrighted material is illegal in Spain. Offending websites can be blocked under anti-piracy policies that were introduced by the government in 2011. With that in mind, some torrent websites may be blocked. The Pirate Bay has been blocked since 2015. Still, Spain was one of the worst countries in Europe for downloading pirated content.

After the 2013 Snowden revelations, it was reported that Spanish authorities had mass online surveillance capabilities. The report revealed a relationship between Spain’s National Intelligence Centre and a British telecommunications company that provided it with equipment. Plus, the country is part of the 14 Eyes group.

The Spanish constitution guarantees freedom of speech and it is generally respected. That said, content that the government deems as glorifying or supporting terrorirm is prohibited and many people have been found guilty of posting it, including social media users. Hate speech directed at religion, race, ethnic group or other groups can be punished with up to three years in prison.

Sweden

🇸🇪 Sweden
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The Swedish government has a long history of respecting freedom, and that has continued in the online world. Its internet is free, only restricting child pornography and content that infringes copyright.

It’s one of the largest consumers of pirated content and the former host of the torrenting website The Pirate Bay, but one of Sweden’s top ISPs was ordered to provide the details of those who violate copyright laws. 

Plus, the Spridningskollen initiative uses software to check if you’re downloading copyrighted material and allows entertainment companies to obtain personal data from ISPs without a court summons. Those caught can get fined $250 for each violation. VPNs are legal to use, though. Mullvad, for example, is based in Sweden.

Sweden was in the clear during the Snowden revelations, and the only credible reports of surveillance weren’t without judicial oversight. The Act on Signal Surveillance for Defense Intelligence Activities allows surveillance of internet traffic to combat external threats, but only with court authorization. 

That said, another law was passed in 2012, which regulates how and when the police can monitor phone and internet activity. Sweden is also part of the 14 Eyes alliance.

Freedom of speech is protected, but hate speech, including threats, is unacceptable. Those found guilty can be punished with a fine or a prison sentence of up to four years. Read our best VPN for Sweden guide for more details.

Switzerland

🇨🇭 Switzerland
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Switzerland is a great country for internet freedom and privacy. Social media is available and the only websites that get blocked are unlicensed gambling websites. Net neutrality is respected. Switzerland has enacted a set of rules for it and service providers have agreed to a strong code of conduct.

Downloading or streaming copyrighted content is legal, as long as it’s for private use. Video games and software are excluded, though, and uploading or sharing such material is prohibited, which means torrenting it isn’t allowed. ISPs aren’t forced to block access to pirate sites, though, and you can use a VPN legally in Switzerland.

The Swiss constitution guarantees citizens’ their right to privacy and personal data is protected by federal laws. Personal data can’t be processed without consent from the subject or a law and that data can’t be passed on to third parties without permission. It’s safe to say Switzerland is free from snooping without authorization.

Its strong privacy laws have attracted some cloud services to set up shop there. Cloud storage companies Tresorit and pCloud, as well as VPN services VyprVPN and ProtonVPN, are based in the country. If you’re after extra safety from snooping, it’s a good idea to choose one of those companies.

Freedom of speech is enshrined in Swiss law and individuals are able to express themselves without fear of reprisal. Inciting racial hatred or discrimination and the denial of crimes against humanity are punishable, though.

Ukraine

🇺🇦 Ukraine
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaYes
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Online censorship in the Ukraine is influenced by the ongoing conflict with Russia. Pro-Russian and pro-separatist websites are often blocked, as well as anything undermining Ukraine’s standing in the conflict. The government sometimes forces third parties to remove politically sensitive content, too. The Russian social networks VKontakte and Odnoklassniki are blocked.

The Law on State Support of Cinematography was enacted in 2017 and requires web hosts to block webpages that contain unauthorized copyrighted material if the copyright owner requests it. Plus, the government announced the launch of an anti-piracy initiative to combat online piracy.

There were mechanisms in place for internet monitoring, but they were abolished. There’s little information about online surveillance, but the country lacks legislation protecting privacy.

Article 34 of the Ukrainian constitution provides for freedom of speech, but it may be restricted in the interest of national security and the right is often violated. Internet users and journalists can be pressured into self-censorship, with some even being attacked

Though there are no laws to govern penalties for online activities, there are laws that penalize extremist, terrorist and separatist activity that apply online. Many internet users have been punished with a fine or imprisonment.

United Kingdom

🇬🇧 United Kingdom
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

The UK’s internet is free other than blocks on a few categories, including sexual abuse of children and promotion of extremism or terrorism. Torrenting copyrighted material is illegal and websites that involve copyright infringement are blocked. If you get caught torrenting such material, you could get a warning letter and possibly be prosecuted.

For now, the UK is protected by EU net neutrality laws; Brexit may change this. Major ISPs have signed on to a voluntary Open Internet Code, promising not to block services or damage the services of competitors. 

Various UK laws provide for individual rights, including freedom of speech. There are laws against hate speech, though, and there were plans to monitor such speech. Laws such as the Public Order Act and the Communications Act punish abusive, offensive and threatening words and encouraging terrorism. Punishment includes fines, prison sentences or both. 

The UK is subject to invasive surveillance. Loopholes in laws allow intelligence agencies to develop secret programs. The Government Communications Headquarters works with the NSA with a program called Tempora, which monitors and collects data from online traffic and communications around the world.

That said, you can stay anonymous with one of our best VPN for the UK selections.

The Investigatory Powers Act authorizes bulk surveillance of communications and data retention. ISPs are forced to cooperate with investigations and can be ordered to remove protection from encrypted communications or data. The UK is also part of the Five Eyes alliance and FinFisher have been found on its servers.

Oceania

No part of the world stretches as far and wide as Oceania, but the actual landmass is negligible. As most of the countries in Oceania are rather underdeveloped, it’s also our shortest list, numbering just three: the developed nations of laid-back New Zealand and surveillance-crazy Australia, as well as the much poorer Papua New Guinea.

Australia

🇦🇺 Australia
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsYes

Australia’s internet is mostly free. Section 313 of the Telecommunications Act allows the government to block illegal online services. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission used it to take down a fraudulent website, but several innocent websites were blocked in the process. In 2016, ISPs were ordered to block popular torrent websites, too.

The use of VPNs is allowed, so check out our best VPN for Australia article.

The Australian government has the capability to carry out surveillance and legislation allows it. Telecommunications companies must retain users’ metadata for two years and law enforcement agencies can access it. The Assistance and Access Act allows authorities to access encrypted communications to prevent certain events. 

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act was amended to include provisions that allow authorities to monitor a network of computers under a single warrant. Plus, a punishment of 10 years in prison was added for those who publish classified information was added. Australia is also part of the Five Eyes alliance and has used FinFisher software.

The Australia-East Timor spying scandal is an example of immoral behavior by Australia’s government. In 2004 the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) planted listening devices in the Timor-Leste Cabinet Office. The aim was to obtain information that would help with negotiations over Timor’s gas and oil fields. 

However, the ASIS officer who led the operation, known only as Witness K, revealed the espionage during the negotiations. Timor rejected the treaty and a new agreement was founded. Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery are being tried for exposing the operation and face jail time if convicted.

There are no laws to protect net neutrality, but Australian companies operate in a way that supports it.

Freedom of speech is not officially protected, and though people may generally discuss sensitive topics openly, there are penalties that can deter free speech. Online defamation can lead to excessive penalties and there have been many lawsuits involving it. In one case against a blogger, the plaintiffs were awarded $700,000 Austrlian dollars ($490,000).

The Australian government is not a fan of satire and there are laws that prevent parliament from being satirized, essentially restricting freedom of speech. Amendments to the Criminal Code were passed in June 2018 that makes impersonating a commonwealth body a criminal offense.

New Zealand

🇳🇿 New Zealand
Web Surveillance?Yes
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechNo
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

New Zealanders enjoy a free internet with filtering and blocks imposed on a small amount of content. The voluntary Digital Child Exploitation Filtering System prohibits objectionable content, including anything seen as promoting or supporting the sexual abuse or exploitation of children, torture or infliction of violence and cruelty. Other than that, the internet is open.

Edward Snowden revealed that New Zealand was analyzing private communications sent over the internet and by other means. The Government Communications Security Bureau can track your calls and messages, too. Intelligence and security legislation that increased access to private communications was enacted in 2017. New Zealand is also part of the Five Eyes group.

New Zealanders can discuss sensitive topics openly and the media environment is free. You can also read our best VPN for New Zealand piece.

Papua New Guinea

🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea
Web Surveillance?No
Network access inequalityNo
Restricts speechYes
Restricts social mediaNo
VPN ban/block in placeNo
Torrenting restrictionsNo

Papua New Guinea has a huge mining industry. Many citizens are opposed to it, saying operations had destroyed the island and it caused a long civil war. A peace agreement was signed in 2001, but severe fighting started again. Many citizens that were opposed to mining have been killed.

Papua New Guinea’s internet is free from restrictions and censorship and there are no reports of online surveillance. Social media is available, but the government called for Facebook to be blocked for one month to identify users who post false information and hide behind fake names.

The constitution provides for freedom of speech but though it’s generally respected, there were concerns that legislation enacted in 2016 could be used to violate it. The law provided penalties for copyright infringement, electronic forgery, defamation and inciting violence. The media reports on political and controversial issues, but some reporters have been harassed or assaulted.

One thought on “Internet Censorship 2019: Find Out Where Repression Reigns”

  1. Even if you are in a country where they say that there is no surveillance/control/restricted torrenting, you should STILL use a vpn. At least some proxies that would hide your activity from your ISP. I live in one of the “less” restricted countries and I received a complain from my ISP for torrenting. I got lucky I one of my fav YT’bers were giving coupons for Nordvpn and I got it. Now my data is encrypted and I can do whatever I want. Especially that I can access Netflix US and some other things are not available in my country.

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