The Internet has become closely associated with freedom of expression and the global economy. Today, it plays a direct or indirect role in almost every aspect of life. Yet many fear the Internet as we have come to know it is at risk, with restrictions forcing fragmentation along political, corporate, or cultural lines. Despite growing concerns about the future of the Internet, discussion surrounding online freedom remains largely mired in a handful of issues: the necessity and appropriateness of government surveillance in the United States, digital privacy in Europe, and censorship in authoritarian states such as China. However, between them, the United States, Europe, and China account for less than half of the world’s Internet users. For much of the rest of the world, any discussion of Internet freedom falls at the complex intersection of political and social liberties, nation-building, security threats, economic development, and resource constraints.
Asia’s biggest developing democracies — India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Thailand — account for one-quarter of the world’s people, but only about one-tenth of the global online population. The policy decisions these states make going forward will be of considerable importance for the future of the Internet and offer some useful lessons about the limitations and vulnerabilities of the global Internet freedom agenda as it is currently being pursued by the United States and Europe.