“In principle if I am talking indoors, or on the phone, or writing emails I assume it all gets to the KGB.”
Independent journalist in Belarus
Cyber-censorship is now a global phenomenon, and it is not limited to websites being blocked. People were arrested just for what they said online in 55 countries in 2016.
Governments are using sophisticated new technologies to silence spy on, harass and track critical voices.
Mass surveillance is also a form of censorship, since many activists actively self-censor when they know that the authorities are listening in to all their communications. In Belarus, an Amnesty International investigation showed how potentially limitless, round-the-clock, unchecked surveillance has a debilitating effect on free speech and dissent. Amnesty International has also uncovered well-orchestrated troll campaigns in Mexico to track and harass particular individuals and journalists through platforms like Twitter, and documented cyber attacks on activists in Qatar and Nepal.
What you can do to protect yourself online
“Some people say that for China, internet is a gift from god. However, for internet users in China, it is more like dancing in shackles.”
Chinese blogger Su Yutong forced to flee the country
There are many steps you can take to protect yourself from surveillance and censorship online. Here are three of them:
1. Use strong and different passwords (and remember them!)
You’ve heard this a million times but can you remember 30 different complicated passwords? Of course not, nobody can. You still need to do it however, as large data breaches happen all the time. If your password is stolen and you use the same one for other services, those other accounts will also be at risk.
2. Set up two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication is an extra step you need to log-in to your account. In most cases, it’s very simple and you only need to do it when you use a new device or once every few weeks. A very common form is a text message with a six-digit code you receive by SMS on your phone after entering your password. This makes it much harder to access your accounts as, even if someone managed to steal your password, they would also need to have your phone to be able to log in to your account.
3. Use HTTPS
The link in the address bar of your browser starts with either “http” or “https”. The first one means that the connection between you and the website is open, i.e. anyone who taps into your internet connection can see everything you’re writing or looking at. This is bad.
Learn more: 6 simple tools to protect your online privacy
Amnesty International and ProtonMail join forces to fight cyber censorship (10 March 2017)
Azerbaijan: Activists targeted by ‘government-sponsored’ cyberattack (10 March 2017)