Freedom on the Net 2023: The Repressive Power of Artificial Intelligence

Context: The report, titled “Freedom on the Net 2023: The Repressive Power of Artificial Intelligence”, has raised the issue of increasing use of artificial intelligence by governments for censorship and spread of disinformation. 

Freedom on the Net 2023 Report  

The report is an annual study of human rights online conducted by Freedom House, a non-profit organisation. It evaluates Internet freedom in 70 countries on a range of 1 to 100, where ‘100’ represents the highest digital freedom. 

Evaluation Criterion  

The report evaluates countries on five censorship methods: 

  • Internet connectivity restrictions.  
  • Blocks on social media platforms. 
  • Blocks on websites.  
  • Blocks on VPNs. 
  • Forced removal of content. 

Freedom House Organisation  

Freedom House is a Washington based non-profit organisation. It was founded in 1941 to rally policymakers and a broadly isolationist American public around the fight against Nazi Germany, and to raise awareness of the fascist threat to American security and values.  Since then, it has established itself through its advocacy, programs, and research as the leading American organisation devoted to the support and defence of democracy around the world. 

Global Finding  

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India Specific Findings

  • India’s Internet freedom is ranked at 50 on a scale of 1 to 100. In contrast, Iceland has the highest Internet freedom score of 94. 
  • According to a report India is found to engage in all the methods used for censorship except VPN blocking.  
  • The report said that AI-enabled digital repression in India has incorporated censorship, including the use of automated systems, into the country’s legal framework. 
  • For example, The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules require large social media platforms to use AI-based moderation tools for broadly defined types of content.  
  • India also figured among the list of countries that blocked websites hosting political, social, or religious content and conducted technical attacks against human rights organisations. 

The Censoring Power of Artificial Intelligence 

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are amplifying a crisis for human rights online. AI has allowed governments to enhance and refine their online censorship. 

  • AI-based tools that can generate text, audio, and images have quickly grown more sophisticated, accessible, and easy to use, leading to escalation of disinformation tactics. 
  • AI can serve as an amplifier of digital repression, making censorship, surveillance, and the creation and spread of disinformation easier, faster, cheaper, and more effective. 
  • Automated systems have enabled governments to conduct more precise and subtle forms of online censorship.  
  • Suppliers of disinformation are employing AI-generated images, audio, and text, making the truth easier to distort and harder to discern.  
  • Sophisticated surveillance systems using AI rapidly trawl social media for signs of dissent, and massive datasets are paired with facial scans to identify and track pro-democracy protesters.  
  • AIs uptake has increased the scale, speed, and efficiency of digital repression. 
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Way Forward:

  • To protect the free and open internet, democratic policymakers working side by side with civil society experts from around the world should establish strong human rights-based standards for both state and nonstate actors that develop or deploy AI tools. 
  • To protect internet freedom, democracy’s supporters must adapt the lessons learned from past internet governance challenges and apply them to AI.  
  • Democratic policymakers should establish a positive regulatory vision for the design and deployment of AI tools that is grounded in human rights standards, transparency, and accountability.  
  • AI carries a significant potential for harm, but it can also be made to play a protective role if the democratic community learns the right lessons from the past decade of internet regulation. 

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