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For the fourth consecutive year, Internet freedom around the world is on the decline, according to a new report from a human rights group. Russia, Ukraine and Turkey dropped the furthest in Freedom House's "Freedom on the Net 2014" report, which looked at 65 countries for signs of increased Internet surveillance, censorship, arrests of social media users and more. This year in Turkey, Twitter was temporarily blocked in the run-up to local elections, while in Russia the government was criticized for increasing Internet censorship during the Sochi Winter Olympics and for its military conflict with Ukraine. Overall, Iran, Syria and China hold the top spots as the "world’s worst abusers of Internet freedom," according to the report.

More people were arrested and prosecuted for their online actions in 2014 than ever before, the report stated. "In a departure from the past, when most governments preferred a behind-the-scenes approach to Internet control, countries are rapidly adopting new laws that legitimize existing repression and effectively criminalize online dissent," it said. There were very few countries that made gains in the rankings, with most of the increases due to "less vigorous" enforcement of existing laws instead of positive new steps. The United States was judged less free than only five countries: global leaders Iceland, Estonia, Canada, Australia and Germany.



— Keith Wagstaff