Countries with the Most & Least Internet Freedom

Desktop WiFi Connection Graphic

Disclaimer: Partnerships & affiliate links help us create better content. Learn how.

A decline in online freedom has stretched the globe in 2021 as the internet begins to feel smaller. Freedom House research found that “China ranks as the worst environment for internet freedom for the seventh year in a row.” That’s not unexpected, but what about the Western world? 

They noted that in the United States “false, misleading, and manipulated information continued to proliferate online, even affecting public acceptance of the 2020 presidential election results.” 

Meanwhile, big tech companies have clearly failed to self-govern in recent years, leading to the prospect of state intervention at an unprecedented scale. More regulation is likely to lead to less freedom unless robust data privacy legislation works to protect encryption. For now, that seems unlikely

It’s been a tough year for internet freedom, as we take a look at the best and worst countries according to recent data.  

What is Internet Freedom? 

The concept of “Internet Freedom” relates to a set of standards that allow for the right to expression, the right to freedom of assembly and association, the right to have access to information, and the right to privacy when using digital tech. 

In many ways, it’s an extension of the rights we enjoy as individuals, expanded to protect us while we’re online. 

These rights are disregarded every day, especially in terms of online privacy and access to information. Governments may ban digital services, or there may be a lack of transparency in terms of censorship, surveillance, and content manipulation. 

Some nations are far worse than others, but no country has been able to record a perfect score. Regardless, we all suffer from a lack of internet freedom to some degree.   

Countries with the Best Access

It’s tough to define a level of internet freedom, especially as any nations affected are likely to disagree with the findings. The best measurement is likely Freedom House, which is a Washington DC-based democracy advocacy group that was founded in 1941. 

They’ve assessed the level of internet freedom in 70 countries around the world through an annual Freedom on the Net report – its latest findings released in 2021. They judge freedom scores based on criteria such as obstacles to access, limits on content, and violations of user rights. 

CountryTotal ScoreObstacles to AccessLimits on ContentViolations of User Rights
Iceland96253437
Estonia94253237
Canada87233232
Costa Rica87203334
Taiwan80243125
Germany79222928
France78233025
United Kingdom78233025
Georgia77193127
Italy76213025
Japan76212926
United States75212925
Australia75232725
*Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free)
CountryIceland
Total Score96
Obstacles to Access25
Limits on Content34
Violations of User Rights37
CountryEstonia
Total Score94
Obstacles to Access25
Limits on Content32
Violations of User Rights37
CountryCanada
Total Score87
Obstacles to Access23
Limits on Content32
Violations of User Rights32
CountryCosta Rica
Total Score87
Obstacles to Access20
Limits on Content33
Violations of User Rights34
CountryTaiwan
Total Score80
Obstacles to Access24
Limits on Content31
Violations of User Rights25
CountryGermany
Total Score79
Obstacles to Access22
Limits on Content29
Violations of User Rights28
CountryFrance
Total Score78
Obstacles to Access23
Limits on Content30
Violations of User Rights25
CountryUnited Kingdom
Total Score78
Obstacles to Access23
Limits on Content30
Violations of User Rights25
CountryGeorgia
Total Score77
Obstacles to Access19
Limits on Content31
Violations of User Rights27
CountryItaly
Total Score76
Obstacles to Access21
Limits on Content30
Violations of User Rights25
CountryJapan
Total Score76
Obstacles to Access21
Limits on Content29
Violations of User Rights26
CountryUnited States
Total Score75
Obstacles to Access21
Limits on Content29
Violations of User Rights25
CountryAustralia
Total Score75
Obstacles to Access23
Limits on Content27
Violations of User Rights25
*Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free)

With no real surprises, Iceland heads the list, closely followed by Estonia. Canada and Costa Rica are up next, followed by Taiwan and Germany. 

Iceland was ranked as the best environment for internet freedom for the third year in a row, garnering a near-perfect score of 96 points out of 100.

Estonian e-Governance expert Hille Hinsberg responded to the findings, explaining:

“Estonia, known in the world as one of the most advanced digital societies, enjoys good connectivity and high rates of access, few state-imposed restrictions on online content, and robust safeguards for human rights online.”

With a score of 87 for Canada, Freedom House notes:

“Canada has a strong history of respect for political rights and civil liberties, though in recent years citizens have been concerned about the scope of government surveillance laws and privacy rights.”

This makes sense considering Canada is a part of the secretive Five Eyes (FVEY) intelligence alliance, which also includes Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. 

Countries with the Worst Access

2021 has been a difficult year for internet freedom across the globe. Freedom House found that “the greatest deteriorations were documented in Myanmar, Belarus, and Uganda, where state forces cracked down amid electoral and constitutional crises. Myanmar’s 14-point score decline is the largest registered since the Freedom on the Net project began.”

Then there’s the sheer difference between China and Taiwan, with a 70-point gap despite being separated by only 110 miles of water. 

The “worst” 10 countries for internet freedom according to their data is as follows: 

CountryTotal ScoreObstacles to AccessLimits on ContentViolations of User Rights
China10820
Iran16853
Myanmar17476
Cuba21597
Vietnam221264
Saudi Arabia241284
Pakistan255137
Egypt2612104
Ethiopia2741211
UAE271296
CountryChina
Total Score10
Obstacles to Access8
Limits on Content2
Violations of User Rights0
CountryIran
Total Score16
Obstacles to Access8
Limits on Content5
Violations of User Rights3
CountryMyanmar
Total Score17
Obstacles to Access4
Limits on Content7
Violations of User Rights6
CountryCuba
Total Score21
Obstacles to Access5
Limits on Content9
Violations of User Rights7
CountryVietnam
Total Score22
Obstacles to Access12
Limits on Content6
Violations of User Rights4
CountrySaudi Arabia
Total Score24
Obstacles to Access12
Limits on Content8
Violations of User Rights4
CountryPakistan
Total Score25
Obstacles to Access5
Limits on Content13
Violations of User Rights7
CountryEgypt
Total Score26
Obstacles to Access12
Limits on Content10
Violations of User Rights4
CountryEthiopia
Total Score27
Obstacles to Access4
Limits on Content12
Violations of User Rights11
CountryUAE
Total Score27
Obstacles to Access12
Limits on Content9
Violations of User Rights6

China, Iran, and Myanmar make up the bottom three. Cuba dropped a point compared to last year, while Vietnam still has stringent restrictions for online content. 

In Vietnam’s case, the state continued mandating that companies “remove content and impose draconian criminal sentences for online expression.” Online political organizing was also sharply restricted ahead of their May 2021 legislative elections.

Meanwhile, every Middle Eastern and North African country is either “partly free” or “not free”, with Tunisia the highest in the region earning a score of 63. Lebanon, Libya, Jordan, and the UAE also saw a decline during 2020. 

Of all countries, China leads the way when it comes to internet censorship. 

They have national firewalls that work to block the majority of foreign media and websites, while an online database of speech crimes in the country lists over 2,100 times when the government punished people for what they said online and offline.

Best VPNs to Bypass Restrictions 

VPNLowest PriceCountries# of Devices
NordVPN$3.99/mo.606
Surfshark$2.49/mo.95Unlimited
ExpressVPN$8.32/mo.945
Astrill VPN$10/mo.585
Windscribe$1/mo.63Unlimited

The best way to bypass internet restrictions safely is with a secure VPN. This is especially important if you live in a nation with fewer internet freedoms. A VPN creates a secure connection between your device and their servers, ensuring that your ISP or government can’t be sure of what you’re up to. 

VPNs are blocked in Myanmar, Turkey, Uganda, the UAE, and Venezuela, while they’re illegal in Belarus, China, Iran, Iraq, Oman, Russia, and Turkmenistan. 

Every nation is prone to some level of internet restriction, so anyone can benefit from the use of a VPN for privacy. We’ve listed some of the best services if you’re hoping to bypass restrictions in any of the countries mentioned above.

NordVPN

NordVPN has long been seen as one of the optimal picks for users who value privacy above all else. Based in Panama, one of many security features they have on offer is DoubleVPN, which reroutes your data through encrypted channels twice. In addition, it comes with Onion Over VPN and an ad-blocker coined CyberSec that blocks websites known for hosting malware or phishing scams.

NordVPN also has a proprietary protocol called NordLynx, built using WireGuard as a basis. This means they’re able to offer premium speeds with unbreakable encryption. If you’re looking to expand your internet access, NordVPN is a sure way to achieve this.

SurfShark

Another audited VPN with a lot to offer, Surfshark has a network consisting of 3,200+ servers in over 60 countries. It’s also one of the more affordable services to make the list, which is always worth taking into account. 

SurfShark is incorporated in the British Virgin Islands to benefit from local data laws. All servers support P2P torrents, come with a Private DNS, and collect zero logs. That’s a decent privacy package. Check out our Surfshark review if you’d like to find out more. 

ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is another great VPN to consider thanks to its thousands of servers and powerful obfuscation technology. Like Surfshark, ExpressVPN is based in the privacy-friendly British Virgin Islands, and easily passes all IP/WebRTC/DNS leak tests we’ve thrown at it.

They’ve also conducted an independent audit of their VPN servers by PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), last completed in 2021. In an effort to achieve transparency, they’ve also made the results public. ExpressVPN says:

“We’re so committed to ensuring we never store any sensitive data that we developed a new technology in-house, TrustedServer, to ensure that all data is wiped every time a server is rebooted.”

AstrillVPN

AstrillVPN is incorporated in The Republic of Seychelles. They note:

“We do not store any information or keep logs because the Astrill VPN Server Network is operated off-shore and there are no laws that obligate us to keep logs on our customers.”

They’re one of the few VPNs that are able to provide coverage in China, thanks to a nifty piece of tech called StealthVPN. 

StealthVPN is a proprietary protocol developed by Astrill. It is inspired by OpenVPN and performs an additional obfuscation of traffic which makes it undetectable by most automated firewall systems.

Windscribe

The free version of Windscribe is capable, with generous limits and access to most features. For example, it’s one of our top picks for using a VPN in China.

The service is based in Canada. We’d normally avoid FVEY-affiliated nations when choosing a VPN, but they do offer the ability to pay anonymously with cryptocurrencies. They also offer a transparency report showing that “zero requests were complied with due to lack of relevant data.”

It’s known to consistently bypass firewalls and gain early access to geo-restricted content. Additionally, Windscribe supports P2P traffic and guarantees your online safety while streaming thanks to multiple encryption protocols, IP/DNS/WebRTC leak protection, and a kill switch.

Final Thoughts

No matter where you live, you’re likely to be subject to a range of internet restrictions. 

This will be more sorely felt depending on your country of residence, and internet freedoms vary drastically depending on borderlines. (Take the example of China and Taiwan, which take a drastically different approach to policing online content.)

Data also seems to suggest that the situation is getting worse each year, due to electoral and constitutional crises, as well as the ongoing threat of misinformation. 

Internet freedom can be defined using the following criteria:

  • The right to expression
  • The right to freedom of assembly and association
  • The right to access to information
  • The right to privacy

Many online limitations can be bypassed by using a VPN, and we’d recommend finding one that’s a trusted, audited service that has a strict no-logs policy.

Bypass firewalls & browse the internet freely with NordVPN.

Related Posts

SurfShark VPN logo

Surfshark Summer Deal!

Expires 07/11/22
Snag a 2-year Surfshark VPN subscription for just $2.49/mo. & get unlimited device connections!