JOURNALIST GROUP Reporters Without Borders has published its list of the countries with the worst attitudes towards the internet and online censorship.
A couple of new countries have joined the list for this year, so if there is a dinner for the worst nations, then whoever organises that needs to add Bahrain and Belarus to a seating arrangement that already includes Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
These countries have "enemy of the internet" status, while some other less obvious destinations, including France and Australia, can be found lurking just below them in the "under surveillance" category because of their attitudes toward web filtering and blocking.
All of the countries have placed a boot on internet freedom, according to the report, and Bahrain, which is fresh to its lofty "enemy" status, won its high ranking for its "effective news blackout based on a remarkable array of repressive measures".
Bahrain harasses bloggers and detains them for dissension, it added, while Belarus has shut off the internet during protests and blocks a long list of web sites from its users.
The United Kingdom also makes an appearance, and the report's authors are concerned about the reaction to the riots of this year and any likely technical changes as a result.
"The United Kingdom, whose Digital Rights Bill aimed at protecting copyright has been singled out by U.N. Commissioner La Rue, went through a difficult period during the riots last August," it says.
"In a worrying development, the Canadian company Research In Motion, manufacturers of the Blackberry, made the personal details of some users available to the police without a prior court order."
Surveillance is stronger than ever before, goes deeper and is more effective, says the report, and there are few countries where it does not raise its head.
Where there is oppression, there is also activism, says the report, and hacktivist groups like Anonymous are said to be helping out activists in countries when and where assistance is needed.
"In order to combat increasingly competent censors, self-styled 'hacktivists' have been giving technical assistance to vulnerable netizens to help them share information in the face of pervasive censorship," it adds.
"Last year also saw the development of tools to bypass censorship and blocking of Web access, such as 'Internet in a suitcase' and FreedomBox. Cyber freedom activists are working flat-out to respond to increasingly effective censorship tools." µ