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Internet freedom in Taiwan like 'different planet' from China

Taiwan ranks 5th in world for internet freedom, China comes in last

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(Freedom House image)

(Freedom House image)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Freedom House created infographics last week that clearly demonstrate the vast difference between Taiwan and China when it comes to internet freedom.

In Freedom House's Freedom on the Net 2021 report released in September, Taiwan was among six "new countries" to be included in the listing, with a rank of fifth in the world for internet freedom. China, on the other hand, finished in last place for the seventh year in a row.

On Tuesday, the Diplomat posted a bar chart authored by Freedom House that showed China scored just 10 out of 100 in terms of internet freedom, while Taiwan achieved an impressive mark of 80 out of 100. On Thursday, Freedom House uploaded an infographic to its Facebook and Twitter accounts pointing out that although Taiwan and China are only 177 kilometers apart, their policies on internet freedom are so different they "might as well be on different planets."

Taiwan

For its first entry on the list, Taiwan came in at fifth place, thanks to its "vibrant online landscape supported by meaningful and affordable internet access, an independent judiciary that protects free expression, and a lack of website blocks."

Taiwan's score of 80 out of a maximum of 100, placed it first in Asia. Worldwide, it trailed only Iceland (96), Estonia (94), Canada (87), and Costa Rica (87). Unlike China, the government in Taiwan does not "intentionally restrict connectivity" and the nation's internet infrastructure is owned by private companies.

Freedom House lauded Taiwan's leaders for dealing with Chinese attempts at interference with "innovative regulations and democratic oversight of digital technology." It pointed out that users experience disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks from China, while some are subject to criminal prosecutions and fines for online speech.

The report noted the draft Internet Audiovisual Service Management Act, passed by the National Communications Commission (NCC) on July 15 last year, penalizes internet service providers (ISPs) who fail to block broadcasts from banned over-the-top (OTT) service operators from China, such as iQiyi.com and Tencent Video.

The act also requires OTTs who wish to operate in Taiwan to register and provide information on the number of subscribers, sales revenue, and the conditions of use. In addition, it ensures that content follows NCC regulations to prevent the platforms from being exploited by Beijing to spread disinformation or "other manipulated content."

Taiwan's constitution protects freedom of speech and freedom of the press, while free expression and access to information protections afforded by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights have been incorporated into domestic law. However, defamation and slander online are criminal offenses, while those convicted of "spreading rumors" can face punishment under the Social Order Maintenance Act (SOMA).

  1. Obstacles to access: 24 out of 25
  2. Limits on content: 31 out of 35
  3. Violations of user rights: 25 out of 40

Internet freedom in Taiwan like 'different planet' from China
(Freedom House image)

China

China, on the other hand, was described by Freedom House as continuing to be the "world’s worst abuser of internet freedom" and received a dismal score of 10. China was criticized for its imposition of "draconian prison terms" for online dissent, independent journalism, and even ordinary daily communication, as well as censorship of information related to COVID-19 and the further consolidation of power through crackdowns on tech giants.

When it comes to access to the internet in China, connection speeds are hampered by the regime's "extensive censorship apparatus" the "Great Firewall," which tightly screens all incoming content, making the loading of websites hosted abroad "sluggish." Internet connections are the slowest in poorer and heavily censored areas, such as in Xinjiang, where entire communications systems can be shut down in response to certain incidents.

As the Great Firewall extends its reach, the range of content blocked by the Great Firewall is steadily expanding, "leaving Chinese users with access only to a highly censored, monitored, and manipulated version of the internet." According to GreatFire.org, by mid-2021, 165 out of the world's 1,000 most-viewed websites and social media platforms were inaccessible in China.

Chinese prosecutors take advantage of vague wording in the country's criminal code, anti-terrorism laws, and laws governing printing publications, subversion, and separatism, to imprison internet users for their online behaviors. During the pandemic, Beijing has imposed new guidelines for judges and police to impose penalties on those seen to be "weakening disease-control efforts" and questioning government authority.

  1. Obstacles to access: 8 out of 25
  2. Limits on content: 2 out of 35
  3. Violations of user rights: 0 out of 40.