WASHINGTON: Pakistan has been ranked 56th in Internet freedom and ranked among the countries having extremely low Internet penetration, said a report issued Monday by Freedom House. The “Freedom On The Net 2016” report raised the specific issue of increasing blockades against social networking websites and apps. Under the topic “Silencing the Messenger: Communication Apps under Pressure” the report revealed that Internet freedom has declined for the sixth consecutive year, with more governments than ever before targeting social media and communication apps as a means of halting the rapid disseminating of information, particularly anti-government protests.Freedom House is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that supports democratic change, monitors freedom, and advocates for democracy and human rights. The US State department funded the research report, but the Freedom House clarified the report did not reflect the views and policies of the US government. The 2016 report assessed 88 percent of the world’s Internet users population and found that 35 percent was not free, primarily in developing countries. The report observed that 24 percent of Internet usage is free, while 29 percent is partly free. The report ranked Pakistan 56th in the index of 65 countries in terms of Internet freedom, with 34 million users. The countries which have a worse score than Pakistan include Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Cuba, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia, Iran, Syria and China.Estonia was declared the country with the most Internet freedom, followed by Iceland, Canada, United States, Germany, Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom. Largely, Europe had maximum Internet freedom. India, with 340 million Internet users, was ranked 41st in the index. The report claimed that the Internet is “partly free” in India. However, in the largest democracy, Internet is often censored when someone criticises state authorities, makes a comment on conflicts like Kashmir, satirises politicians or other high profile personalities, does social commentary and says something which is considered blasphemous.In Pakistan, the topics censored include criticism on state authority, blasphemy, social commentary, and gay rights issues. Ethnic and religious minorities face partial or complete censorship. Senator Ron Wyden (Dem) told the seminar that US intelligence agencies were demanding sweeping powers to infringe the privacy of the Internet users. “A proposed legislation seeks absolute powers to the FBI to get access to browsing history of the (Internet) users. What could be more private than one’s browsing history?” he asked.He vowed to block the legislation in the upcoming session of the US Congress. In the aftermath of November 8 elections, the Republicans now control both Houses of the US Congress which means the Democrats may not be able to block the bill. President-elect Donald Trump already favoured more Internet scrutiny and censorship in the name of national security.