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The 10 worst countries for web freedom (and the 10 best)

Verified by Amy Reeves

The internet has long been an integral part of modern life – without it, many of us would be lost. The right to internet access is closely linked to the right to freedom of speech, which is why removing such rights is often a sign of oppression and can have negative effects on a country. 

Every country has different laws concerning internet censorship, with some countries heavily monitoring web activity, restricting the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) or outright banning the internet altogether. 

The lack of internet freedom across the globe is shocking, so we’ve put together a list of the worst (and best) countries when it comes to web restrictions. If you’re ever downloading a VPN, you’ll want the provider to be headquartered in one of the countries with the best web freedom.

Here’s a brief overview of the 10 best and 10 worst countries for internet freedom:

10 worst countries 10 best countries
China Iceland
North Korea Estonia
Syria Switzerland
Iran Canada
Belarus Georgia
Russia United Kingdom
Turkmenistan Australia
Myanmar Italy
Cuba Germany
Vietnam France

10 worst countries for web freedom

China

China map with mobile phone and a padlock over it
China is the most censored country in the world, and the government blocks sites and apps that go against its authoritarian regime. (Adobe)

If you’ve ever heard of (or experienced) The Great Firewall of China, then you’ll know why China tops this list. It’s the most censored country in the world and the government blocks any sites or apps that it believes could interfere with the Chinese communist regime. This means that, in China, to use popular social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok you’d need a VPN – you also cannot access messaging apps such as WhatsApp. While some VPNs do work in China, the Chinese Firewall is so prevalent that most VPN proxies fail to bypass it and, recently, Chinese developers created an open-encryption tool – Shadowsocks – in order to bypass censorship.

North Korea

North Korea is heavily censored, so it comes as no surprise that the use of VPNs is outright banned. The authoritarian regime severely restricts internet access and full global internet access is only available to a small number of high-level officials in the Workers’ Party of Korea. Students at certain universities might also have limited access, but all sites are heavily monitored and censored. Smartphones were introduced in 2002 and then banned between 2004 and 2008, until Egyptian Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding established a new 3G phone service. The very few tourists and visitors who are permitted to enter the country each year are able to gain uncensored internet access via the 3G network. North Korean citizens can only gain access to Kwangmyong – an intranet-like service tightly controlled by the government – via their 3G devices.

Syria

The internet in Syria is heavily monitored and some VPNs are blocked. People in the country are also barred from accessing some technology, such as software and OS updates, due to US sanctions. Internet access is generally limited throughout Syria and the country rations connections – citizens who exceed their allocation are seriously punished.

Iran

A female protester with her head uncovered in Iran protesting strict laws around the hijab during unrest in 2022.
Iranian citizens have staged numerous protests over the years, which resulted in complete internet shutdowns imposed by the government. (Adobe)

Iran’s internet censorship has changed over the years. In 2012, the government blocked a large number of websites and, during the 2017-2018 protests against the government due to the soaring prices of goods, internet access to mobile websites was blocked, including social media sites like Instagram. In 2019, there was a total internet shutdown in response to protests over the price of fuel and there were several more shutdowns in 2022. Since 2013, the country has banned the use of VPNs. However, citizens are permitted to use a government-approved VPN (which is heavily monitored) – if caught using a non-approved VPN, users could face up to a year in prison.

Belarus

In Belarus, the use of any technology that anonymises internet usage is considered illegal – both Tor and VPNs have been illegal since 2015. This also includes private messenger apps, such as Signal and Telegram, making it extremely difficult for citizens to enjoy any sense of online privacy.

Russia

VPNs are not completely illegal in Russia, but the government has had conflicts with VPN companies over the years. In 2017, Vladimir Putin signed a bill restricting the use of VPNs, and compiled a list of all those that are now blocked; this includes ExpressVPN, IPVanish, NordVPN and others. The blocked VPN list mostly consists of services that did not wish to log user data or block certain websites. 

Turkmenistan

The Turkmenistani government is notorious for its strict internet policies. Its government imposes heavy online censorship and citizens can only gain access to the internet via a controlled internet service provider (ISP) based in Turkmenistan. As well as this, the internet is very expensive, slow and only available to vetted citizens. VPNs have been banned since 2019.

Myanmar

Following a political transformation in 2021, whereby Myanmar’s democratic party was overthrown by a military group, internet freedom is a thing of the past for citizens. In 2022, the government banned VPNs under a new cybersecurity law – breaking this law now carries a prison sentence. In addition, internet use is heavily censored and citizens can only access government-approved websites.

Cuba

Cuba’s internet is heavily censored and monitored by its government. Only 18 per cent of Cubans have access to the internet and those that do experience slow and unreliable connection speeds. The internet is controlled by the government and, although social media is not banned, it is heavily surveilled. 

Vietnam

Vietnam holds some similarities to China – it’s illegal to express opposition to the state. The government has a tight grip on internet freedom by restricting service providers and implementing shutdowns. Online news is censored and the content on websites, such as Facebook and Youtube, is manipulated by government agencies.

10 best countries for web freedom

Iceland

A keyboard with the Icelandic flag on one key and a red key that says freedom
Iceland has the best internet freedom in the world and imposes very few restrictions (Adobe)

Iceland is a worldwide leader in internet freedom. The country imposes very few online restrictions and there are no reports of any government internet shutdowns. In recent years, the government has invested in its information technology and communication infrastructure to provide citizens with fixed-line connections of 100 megabits per second.

Estonia

Political and civil rights are widely respected in Estonia and protection for user rights is strong. The Estonian government places very few restrictions on online content, apart from restricting access to Russian media websites, which attempted to spread propaganda in 2022.

Switzerland

Switzerland is often one of the best places for VPN companies to be headquartered. Its data protection laws protect personal data for Swiss citizens, which includes any information that directly identifies a person. There have also been no reported government restrictions on internet access or monitoring of online activity. VPNs based in Switzerland – including Proton VPN and PrivadoVPN – are usually a safe bet when it comes to privacy.

Canada

Internet access is reliable and affordable throughout most of Canada, though rural areas have less telecommunication access. Canada has a good level of online freedom and citizens are free to express their opinions online; the government does not block or filter online content, or require ISPs to do so. Although Canada’s citizens enjoy a good level of internet freedom, the country is part of Five Eyes – an intelligence-sharing alliance. While this doesn’t mean the internet is censored, the government may request more data from VPN companies. 

Georgia

Internet freedom has improved in Georgia, since the Rose Revolution (20 days of protests that brought the National Movement-Democrats coalition into power), and it has suffered no recent cybersecurity attacks. Internet access in Georgia is unrestricted and uncensored, due to the legal constitutional framework developed after the Rose Revolution, which restricts the state from censoring the internet.

United Kingdom

The UK enjoys a good level of internet freedom and online content is not censored or heavily monitored by the government. Some of the UK’s ISPs began a web filtering program in 2013, which blocked content from certain categories, including drugs, pornography and nudity – customers can opt out of said filtering to view blocked content. UK mobile phone operators began filtering content in 2004 that was regarded as content for over-18s; again users can access this content, providing they are of age and can provide evidence of this. The UK is part of Five Eyes, an intelligence-sharing alliance, which could mean that the government may request customer data from VPN providers, but this does not affect citizen’s general internet freedom.

Australia

Australia has good freedom of speech and relaxed internet laws, which means that the internet is not censored by the government. As well as this, the use of VPNs is also legal within Australia, should you wish to access geo-restricted content. Similar to the UK, the country is part of Five Eyes but this does not affect everyday internet access and does not impose internet restrictions.

Italy

Italy has no censorship and citizens benefit from a high level of internet freedom. The country is not part of an intelligence-sharing alliance, such as Five Eyes or Nine Eyes, which also makes it ideal for using a VPN.

Germany

Germany has a low level of internet censorship and has good laws around freedom of speech and press, but it does have some of the toughest laws around hate speech. Germany has been known to remove websites from Google searches when content is considered hate speech – one example of this includes search results that deny the Holocaust.

France

There is a small degree of internet censorship in France, which includes limiting websites that promote terrorism or racial hatred. Apart from that, France has a good level of internet freedom and it’s also one of the most affordable countries when it comes to paying for an internet connection.

rachel

Rachel Sadler

Home Tech Writer

Rachel is a seasoned writer who has been producing online and print content for seven years. 

As a home tech expert for Independent Advisor, Rachel researches and writes buying guides and reviews, helping consumers navigate the realms of broadband and home security gadgets. She also covers home tech for The Federation of Master Builders, where she reviews and tests home security devices. 

She started as a news and lifestyle journalist in Hong Kong reporting on island-wide news stories, food and drink and the city’s events. She’s written for editorial platforms Sassy Hong Kong, Localiiz and Bay Media. While in Hong Kong she attended PR events, interviewed local talent and project-managed photoshoots. 

Rachel holds a BA in English Language and Creative Writing and is committed to simplifying tech jargon and producing unbiased reviews.

Amy Reeves

Editor

Amy is a seasoned writer and editor with a special interest in home design, sustainable technology and green building methods.

She has interviewed hundreds of self-builders, extenders and renovators about their journeys towards individual, well-considered homes, as well as architects and industry experts during her five years working as Assistant Editor at Homebuilding & Renovating, part of Future plc.

Amy’s work covers topics ranging from home, interior and garden design to DIY step-by-steps, planning permission and build costs, and has been published in Period Living, Real Homes, and 25 Beautiful Homes, Homes and Gardens.

Now an Editor at the Independent Advisor, Amy manages homes-related content for the site, including solar panels, combi boilers, and windows.

Her passion for saving tired and inefficient homes also extends to her own life; Amy completed a renovation of a mid-century house in 2022 and is about to embark on an energy-efficient overhaul of a 1800s cottage in Somerset.