Increasing number of governments restricting messaging apps with end-to-end encryption

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According to the report, the main developments since a year ago have been the prohibition of Voice-over-Internet-Protocol services, including Skype and WhatsApp, and increased penalties "for poorly defined offenses against public order using mass media".

The report, published on Monday, says Bangladesh scored 56 out of 100, up four points from past year.

Freedom House assessed 65 countries and allocated each country a score based on the level of political and media freedom.

According to the report, WhatsApp was the most targeted app, and was either fully blocked or partially blocked in a hefty 12 out of the 65 countries that Freedom House researched.

"In both democratic and authoritarian countries, counterterrorism measures raised the likelihood of collateral damage to free speech, privacy rights, and business operations", Freedom House's report says.

It also mentioned the arrest of journalist Probir Sikdar under the ICT Act for publishing a comment about a minister on his Facebook page and the blocking of social networking sites for an hour in November past year in its report.

Armenia's neighbor Georgia is also a "fee" cuntry, while Azerbaijan is "partly free".

Increased access to user data and closer surveillance by authorities, as well as increased persecution of social media users were registered in all three countries, while Russian Federation also saw an increase in physical violence against social media users.

The report found that the most free countries were Estonia and Iceland, followed closely by Canada, with the United States again right behind. "Users in some countries were put behind bars for simply "liking" offending material on Facebook, or for not denouncing critical messages sent to them by others". Uganda, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ecuador and Libya all experienced steep declines in Internet freedom, much of which was related to social media platforms and communication services like WhatsApp.

Despite this, more online petition platforms were blocked than ever before.

Only 14 countries registered any improvements in Internet freedom.

South Africa and Sri Lanka also had better results due to the success of digital activism. Even the United States found room to improve following the introduction of the USA Freedom Act on June 2, 2015.

Unwanted content or criticism may be the main reason for government censorship, but restricting Internet freedom is not limited to just words. In Egypt, a 22-year-old student was jailed for three years for posting a photo President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi with Mickey Mouse ears on Facebook.

Freedom House is an organisation dedicated to the expansion of democracy and their Freedom on the Net report covers 88 per cent of the world's internet users.

Image: "Where is the Internet", by Flickr User violinha, Creative Commons.