Internet censorship is spreading rapidly, being practised by about two dozen countries and applied to a far wider range of online information and applications, according to research by a transatlantic group of academics.
The warning comes a week after a Turkish court ordered the blocking of YouTube to silence offensive comments about Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, marking the most visible attack yet on a website that has been widely adopted around the world.
A recent six-month investigation into whether 40 countries use censorship shows the practice is spreading, with new countries learning from experienced practitioners such as China and benefiting from technological improvements.
OpenNet Initiative, a project by Harvard Law School and the universities of Toronto, Cambridge and Oxford, repeatedly tried to call up specific websites from 1,000 international news and other sites in the countries concerned, and a selection of local-language sites. New censorship techniques include the periodic barring of complete applications, such as China’s block on Wikipedia or Pakistan’s ban on Google’s blogging service, and the use of more advanced technologies such as “keyword filtering”, which is used to track down material by identifying sensitive words.