According to a study released last Friday by the OpenNet Initiative – a partnership among Internet research groups at four leading universities, including the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School – at least 25 countries around the world block or filter Internet content, indicating a global trend towards Internet censorship.

“Online censorship is growing in scale, scope, and sophistication around the world,” said John Palfrey ’01, executive director of the Berkman Center and clinical professor of law at Harvard Law School. “As Internet censorship and surveillance grow, there’s reason to worry about the implications of these trends for human rights, political activism, and economic development around the world.”

Even though the study surveyed 41 countries around the world, researchers say they found more evidence of censorship than originally expected. Myanmar, China, Iran, Syria, Tunisia, and Vietnam had the most pervasive political site filters, while several countries in the Middle East had the strictest social content filters, including Iran, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

The study did find some surprising results of countries that engaged in little or no filtering, despite conflict taking place in the region, including Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, West Bank and Gaza, Malaysia, Nepal, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.

ONI, which also includes researchers at Cambridge, the University of Oxford, and the University of Toronto, published the study in an attempt to compare filtering worldwide. In future years, ONI will continue to investigate Internet surveillance, and will develop methods to test for filtering of content available through “edge locations” (such as cybercafes), during elections (election monitoring), and from mobile networks.