Internet freedom on Edward Snowden’s flight path

Regardless of what you think of Edward Snowden's actions (fairly honourable, in my view), the attempt to hide out in countries with some fairly questionable records on media freedom is raising eyebrows.

Regardless of what you think of Edward Snowden’s actions (fairly honourable, in my view), the attempt to hide out in countries with questionable records on media freedom is raising eyebrows.

Doesn’t a whistleblower need to be consistent in their denunciations of injustice? Is freedom for those outside the bubble of the West not just as important as it is for Facebook-serfing Americans and Europeans?

It’s easy for me to say this from my warm office in East London of course, but I believe the answer is yes.

Calling the American state out for breaches of civil liberties would carry more weight in my opinion if Snowden wasn’t sheltering under the wing of some of the worst civil rights abusers in the world.

Here is the state of media and internet freedom in the countries Edward Snowden has already spent time in as well as two more (Cuba and Ecuador) it is speculated he is headed for.

It doesn’t make for pleasant reading.


Blocks on foreign websites, close monitoring of online activity, every internet user in China having to register with service providers using their full name. These are just some of the challenges internet users in China face. Freedom House ranked China as the third most restrictive country in the world in terms of internet access, after Iran and Cuba.

The main methods used by the Chinese to control the net are the Great Firewall – a system that limits access to foreign websites – and the Golden Shield, a method of domestic surveillance set up in 1998 by the ministry of Public Security.


In July 2012 the Russian Parliament adopted a bill to establish a central register of banned websites. Experts say the aim of the bill is to control the country’s civil society and social networks.

In 2011 an official with the federal security service proposed a ban on Skype, Gmail and Hotmail here because their use was “uncontrolled”.

President at the time Dmitry Medvedev criticized the proposal. However a spokesman for prime minister Vladimir Putin said it was worth studying and called the FSB’s proposal “quite well-reasoned.”


Until very recently internet access in Cuba was severely restricted – most Cubans were only able to use a local intranet featuring government sites. Even for tourists access to the net in Cuba is both expensive and woefully poor.

If a Cuban citizen is able to gain access to a facility with internet access the cost is extremely prohibitive. An hour long web session can cost around $4 – almost a quarter of the average monthly salary.

“Cuba remains one of the world’s most repressive environments for the Internet and other information and communication technologies,” Freedom House wrote in its 2012 report entitled ‘Freedom on the Net‘.


Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has presided over a gradual erosion of media and judicial freedom since he was elected president in 2006. His ‘new media law’, dubbed a gag law by human rights groups, gives the government greater power to regulate the media and called for the establishment of a watchdog which could impose fines and force public apologies.

The new bill allows Ecuador’s a government-sponsored body to sanction media outlets for not reporting news the government believes should be reported and levy fines for content the council believes is overly critical or untrue.
Activists have also noted a rise in Internet censorship, with the government shutting down or censoring new-media outlets such as Twitter when criticisms of the state have surfaced there.

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23 Responses to “Internet freedom on Edward Snowden’s flight path”

  1. Neil Warner

    Where else is he meant to go? When political dissidents flee from the likes of China to the United States you don’t often hear people critiquing their hypocrisy for taking refuge in another country with a dubious human rights record.

  2. Simjenkins1

    Where is the moral equivalence here? What about the poor press record of the US? The US war against whistleblowers? What about the treatment of Bradley Manning? What about the recent interview between Piers Morgan and Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the pentagon Papers, where he asked:

    MORGAN: Let me ask you, Daniel Ellsberg, one of the criticisms about
    Edward Snowden is he fled America and went to Hong Kong. You didn’t.
    You stayed in America, and in the end, the charges against you did not
    lead to a prosecution. Should he have stayed —

    — Pardon me. Of course, I’m sorry, I don’t know how old you are, but I
    have to say I did face prosecution. I was facing 12 felony —

    MORGAN: You weren’t — but the charges were dropped, right?

    They were dropped because the president was, among other things,
    conducting warrantless wiretapping on which I was overheard and lying
    about it, by the way. Something that figured in his impeachment hearings
    that led to his resignation. Also, he sent people in my doctor’s
    office to get information with which to blackmail me into silence about
    more secrets about his own administration. And he’d sent people to
    incapacitate me totally, something that no one has really claimed the
    president had power to do until President Obama, actually, who does
    claim that power to do it again suspects —

    MORGAN: So should Snowden —

    ELLSBERG: — even American citizens anywhere in the world.

    MORGAN: Should Snowden – right. Should Edward Snowden have stayed in America?

    No, I think – first, I think he’s benefited very much — he’s
    benefited. He’s caused this debate, as you say, and I hope some real
    change and some real oversight. The oversight system in both Congress
    and the judiciary has been shown to be, by his own revelations, totally
    broken. But if he had stayed in this country, he would be where Bradley
    Manning has been for the last three years. At last he’s on trial. He
    spent 10-and-a-half months in solitary, some of it naked. Edward
    Snowden would be in that same cell or some other cell like it

    I think he was very wise to be telling us this
    information from outside the country. It’s a different country from
    when I released this 40 years ago. Then I was out on bail for two years
    during that trial. And I was out on a $50,000 bond. I was able to
    explain what I had done and what I thought were the crimes revealed in
    that information. Which I —

    MORGAN: Okay.

    As a matter of fact, the things that were done against me to keep me
    silent were then all illegal, which was a matter of pride as an
    American. Now they have been made legal, but that doesn’t mean they are
    made constitutional. They were unconstitutional —

    MORGAN: OK, let me bring —

    ELLSBERG: ACLU thinks now.

  3. Circuit Ben

    Cuba is subject to embargoes by the US, which keeps it in a developing state, technologically speaking. Blaming Cuba for their slow progress in internet acceptance, is like blaming Americans for being under-educated – in the land without facts, the simpleton is king. America has a budget for propaganda that exceeds Cuba’s GDP, of course you are going to view Cuba as backward and repressive, how is it possible not to?

  4. Salman Shaheen

    The American government will do anything it can do to lock him up, he can hardly be blamed for doing anything he can to remain free.

  5. SimonWait

    “If Snowden were Chinese or Iranian, had leaked info about their spying and then sought asylum in US, we’d grant it and call him a hero.” Stephen Walt

Comments are closed.