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Partly free?

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A new study that tracks the impact of digital technology regulation on people’s safety and privacy by US-based Freedom House, an organization that supports human rights advocates and programs, has found the Philippines to have suffered the sharpest decline among Asia-Pacific countries in terms of “internet freedoms.”

The “Freedom on the Net 2023” report categorize the country as “partly free,” scoring 61 out of 100 and down four points from its 2022 rating which is based on three categories: obstacles to access (16/25), limits on content (23/35), and violation of user’s rights (22/40).

This year’s report assessed the level of internet freedom in 70 countries accounting for 89 percent of the world’s internet users. Among others, it found that global internet freedoms have declined for the 13th consecutive year, with the biggest drops occurring in Iran (-5), the Philippines (-4), Belarus (-3), Costa Rica (-3), and Nicaragua (-3).

In the Philippines’ case, Freedom House noted how President Marcos Jr. continued policies set by his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, that were criticized for being tools of overreach.

For one, it said Marcos Jr. signed a law that was previously vetoed by Duterte requiring mobile phone users to register their SIM cards under their real names, or face deactivation. It said this “undermined anonymous communication in what remains a dangerous environment for journalists and activists.”

Marcos also retained a government order issued under Duterte that restricted 27 websites, including those of several news outlets known for critical reporting, using the antiterrorism law as basis. Also, between June 30, 2022 to April 30, 2023, at least 10 cases of libel and cyberlibel were filed against media workers.

Surveillance is also a growing concern, as Freedom House noted an increase in “budget allocations for intelligence funds and funds for surveillance activities in civilian government agencies.”

Hearing of international rights organizations express concern that freedoms are decreasing in our country can be a good thing for Filipinos, as we might not feel the impacts, similar to frogs being put in a pot of water that is being slowly boiled. Being reminded that our freedoms could be cooked by our own government might allow us to come to our senses, take action, and even demand our representatives to somehow push back and find a better compromise instead of being surprised that we have been sent back to another dark and repressed age.*

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