New Delhi: Relaxation of restrictions on Internet access and content has helped India register the biggest improvement in Internet freedom this year compared to its global counterparts, a report said on Thursday.
According to the report 'Freedom on the Net 2014', very few countries registered any gain in Internet freedom compared to the previous year.
"The year's biggest improvement occurred in India, where authorities relaxed restrictions on access and content that had been imposed in 2013 to help quell rioting in north- eastern states," the report said.
Internet freedom around the world, however, has declined for the fourth consecutive year.
This is on account of a growing number of countries introducing online censorship and monitoring practices that are simultaneously more aggressive and more sophisticated in their targeting of individual users, it said.
The report, published by independent watchdog body Freedom House, assesses improvements and declines in Internet freedom across countries. This edition covered 65 countries.
On a scale of 0-100 (where zero was most free and 100 was least free), India saw its ranking improving to 42 this year, from 47 last year.
The report noted that while reports of online content manipulation rose before the polls, but discourse and social media campaigning remained robust on all sides.
"Blocks on content, thought to disturb public order, declined in comparison to the previous coverage period," it added.
With around 200 million users, of which nearly 150 million are active at least once a month, India is the third largest Internet consumer base globally after China and the US.
The report said that unlike the past when most governments preferred a behind-the-scenes approach to Internet control, countries are rapidly adopting new laws that "legitimise existing repression" and "effectively criminalise online dissent".
"As a result, more people are being arrested for their Internet activity than ever before, online media outlets are increasingly pressured to censor themselves or face legal penalties, and private companies are facing new demands to comply with government requests for data or deletions," it added.
Of the 65 countries assessed, 36 experienced a negative trajectory since May 2013 with the most significant declines being seen in Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.
Iran, Syria and China emerged as the world's worst abusers of Internet freedom overall, the report said.