Internet shutdowns harm access to information, freedom of expression & economic growth

Internet shutdowns are an increasingly common tool by governments to restrict dialogue, debate, online organizing, and information dissemination. Internet shutdowns have been occurring in countries across the globe, such as Zimbabwe, China, Myanmar, Chad, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo and India.

Internet shutdowns both harm economic growth as well as people's rights to freedom of expression and access to information. In 2018, Access Now tracked 196 internet shutdowns worldwide. The Software Freedom Law Centre tracks internet shutdowns in India on this interactive map.

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3 May 2020

GNI calls on govts. to meet human right standards when considering decisions that could result in network disruptions

Author: Global Network Initiative

"GNI statement on network disruptions in the pandemic context," 3 May 2020

To lessen the negative impacts of the pandemic, ensure the public’s access to information, and facilitate the development and application of new, constructive, and inclusive solutions in fields such as healthcare, education, and participatory governance, it is important to understand how government-mandated network disruptions and intentional degradation of access can undermine these goals... As we have pointed out, among other consequences, government-mandated network disruptions can negatively impact human rights, conflict with the Sustainable Development Goals, cause economic harm, and increase insecurity. They can also make it more difficult for journalists to access government information and conduct independent reporting... these concerns have only become more acute in the context of the ongoing pandemic. Lack of access to stable channels of communication disrupts and delays critical emergency services and threatens people’s ability to receive the treatment they need, especially in vulnerable communities. It also prevents access to vital and accurate information about the pandemic.

... GNI calls on governments to meet international standards for human rights when weighing any decision that could result in the disruption or degradation of networks or network services, or illegal discrimination in their delivery. Where network disruptions are in place, governments should move expeditiously to rescind them... Governments should also work collaboratively with network providers and other stakeholders to increase the availability and accessibility of high-speed information and communication networks.

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15 January 2020

As 2G returns to Kashmir after 5 months, these are some strong arguments against internet shutdowns in the future

Author: Prabhjote Gill, Business Insider

Internet shutdowns can have a lot of negative and harmful consequences for innocent individuals who don't necessarily pose a threat to 'national security', Marietje Schaake, president of the Netherlands-based Cyberpeace Institute. "I think internet shutdowns are very problematic. They are hardly ever anchored in rule-of-law principles or in any kind of mechanisms where victims can have avenues of redress,"... [I]n places of unrest, lack of access to the internet can be a threat to individual security... India's been in the spotlight for two consecutive years for having the highest number of internet shutdowns globally — 134 instances in 2018 and 103 in 2019... The effect of suppressing freedom of expression is reflected in India's ranking 140th out of 180 countries on the global press freedom index — an annual assessment conducted by Reporters Without Borders. 

"I think we need to wake up to the fact that if we're going to take a global approach to this, democracies today are not in the majority," claimed Schaake... Internet shutdowns are only one part of the problem. Surveillance technology is also being used for nefarious purposes... The same tool that people use to express themselves on social media can, in turn, be used to track those individuals, hack into systems, or target human rights defenders.

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10 January 2020

India's Supreme Court orders review of Kashmir internet shutdown

Author: Manveena Suri, CNN

The Indian government has one week to review the suspension of internet services in Indian-administered Kashmir following an order from the Supreme Court... Jammu and Kashmir has not had internet access for more than 150 days... [T]he judgment directed that access to the internet is guaranteed under the Constitution as freedom to speech and expression; curtailing that right is unconstitutional if the government does it indefinitely and without legitimate reason... "freedom of press is impacted by the shutdown of communication and internet" [said Vrinda Grover, a lawyer representing one of the petitioners in the case]... [T]he ruling said, "we think it necessary to reiterate that complete broad suspension of telecom services, be it the Internet or otherwise, being a drastic measure, must be considered by the State only if 'necessary' and 'unavoidable.'"

The ongoing internet blackout in Indian-controlled Kashmir is now the longest ever in a democracy, according to Access Now, an advocacy group that tracks internet freedom. Only the autocratic governments of China and junta-era Myanmar have cut off access for longer. Kashmiris have been without internet access for so long that WhatsApp has reportedly begun deleting their accounts for inaction.

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2 January 2020

Kashmir internet shutdown takes toll on economy

Author: Niala Mohammad, Yusuf Jameel, VOA

The internet shutdown... in Jammu and Kashmir... has been the longest lockdown in a democracy... Access Now, a global digital rights group... [said] "loss of connectivity in the valley" because of the shutdown has been "devastating to the local economy."... Experts say the action against Kashmir has led to losses in tourism, health care, education and in the communications industries.  "The state economy has lost more $1.5 billion due to [the] lockdown. Several companies, whose operations were internet-dependent, have been closed," Swain [a professor of peace and conflict studies at Uppsala University]... said... The internet lockdown "has affected education, health service and even regular movement of the people, creating a severe humanitarian crisis. Business, particularly fruit trade and tourism, have [been] affected severely," he added. 

The government defended its decision... Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, "The Kashmir decision will bring positive changes in the lives of the common man. It would mean the protection of Indian laws, industrialization, a boost in tourism and, therefore, more employment opportunities.”... Sheikh Ashiq... president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry... [said] that there has been a rapid rise in unemployment and a significant drop in Kashmir’s cottage industry... "Our handicraft sector, that is solely based on the internet, is at a standstill. As a result, 50,000 artisans are jobless,” Ashiq said, adding that the export of its heritage industry handicrafts had declined by 62%. 

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21 December 2019

Internet shutdowns becoming increasingly common tactic by govts. to silence dissent

Author: James Griffiths, CNN

"Internet shutdowns used to be rare. They're increasingly becoming the norm in much of the world," 21 Dec 2019

... Internet blackout in Indian-controlled Kashmir is now the longest ever in a democracy -- at more than 135 days... David Kaye, the United Nation's special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression... [described this as] "communications siege" and "collective punishment without even the allegation of an underlying offense"... As more and more countries have seen the internet being used to organize for political change... internet blackouts have become increasingly common, a go-to tool for controlling unrest and stifling criticism of the government... In 2018, there were 196 internet shutdowns globally... [Losing internet access] can deprive people of vital information during periods of unrest, putting them at risk... Peter Micek, general counsel for Access Now, said that "every internet shutdown should be tracked and called out by the United Nations."

... Much of the global economy depends on communications technology... and internet shutdowns can have major economic repercussions... "The business community can band together in their existing associations ... and demand governments rein in their destructive tendency to order internet blackouts and throttling," Micek said. "Disclosing the financial cost of shutdowns is a clear way businesses can illustrate the adverse economic impacts to policymakers." Companies can also refuse to carry out network disruptions and instead challenge governments with legal, lobbying and policy tools."

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18 December 2019

India: Internet shut down in major cities in effort to silence protests

Author: Access Now

"With shutdowns in major cities to silence protests, India tries to black out democracy," 19 Dec 2019

The #KeepItOn coalition has received numerous reports of an internet shutdown, with the suspension of broadband and mobile data as well as voice calling services, in numerous neighborhoods in Delhi, India. These reports have been corroborated by two telecom service providers in Delhi, namely Vodafone India and Airtel, and residents who are currently experiencing difficulty accessing the internet. Reports indicate that the Special Branch of the Delhi Police — controlled directly by the Government of India’s Ministry of Home Affairs —  ordered service providers via a letter to suspend internet connections.

...The current rights-harming, inherently disproportionate shutdown comes at a time when Indians have taken to the streets of Delhi to protest the Citizenship Amendment Act, legislation controversial for its alleged religious discrimination that was pushed through the Indian parliament on the urging of the Union Government... Over the last week, Indians have exercised their fundamental rights to express an opinion and peacefully protest, which is protected under the Indian Constitution and international human rights law, whether online or off. The government must respect and safeguard these rights, and must therefore keep the internet on across India.

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22 April 2019

GNI report reveals the economic costs of internet shutdowns

Author: Global Network Initiative

The Global Network Initiative... launched a new report: "The Economic Impact of Disruptions to Internet Connectivity," which highlights the significant economic damage caused when governments around the world deliberately shut down or disrupt Internet services... The report... made possible by funding from GNI member Facebook, lays out a framework for measuring the costs of shutdowns in terms of the daily gross domestic product lost in countries with varying levels of Internet connectivity... “Governments should recognize the serious consequences of disrupting network access and see shutdowns through a human rights and development lens, not solely through a political or security lens,” said GNI Independent Board Chair Mark Stephens... GNI Executive Director Judith Lichtenberg [said] "The economic and human rights harms of network shutdowns reinforce each other, and are of particular concern in developing countries, emerging and fragile democracies, and jurisdictions with weak rule of law."

... More work is needed on the effects of shutdowns on consumer and business confidence, the opportunity costs for businesses and the wider economy, and the social and human rights harms when families are cut off from one another and their access to basic health, education, and other vital services and information is restricted... Mr. Stephens[said]... “We encourage academics, development agencies and others to build on this work so that the true costs of shutdowns can be properly measured and understood, and so we can engage governments and prevent their use.”

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26 June 2018

GNI report details human rights impacts of internet shutdowns & recommends involving businesses in advocacy against disruptions

Author: Jan Rydzak, Global Network Initiative

"Disconnected: A Human Rights-Based Approach to Network Disruptions," June 2018

Since 2011, network disruptions and large-scale network shutdowns have become a widespread tool of information control. Governments in at least four continents (Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America) have shut down connectivity or social media... [and] this new form of digital repression requires far greater attention.., [This report] reveal[s] that individual actors within the digital rights community are seeking more coordinated efforts to resist shutdowns... [It also] outlines a broad range of civil and political, as well as economic, cultural, and social rights that are typically impacted by network disruptions, moving beyond the typical focus on freedom of expression, elections, and economic impacts to broaden the arguments and actors discouraging disruptions... A calculation of the cumulative duration of network disruptions reveals that the Internet and/or social media were disrupted around the world for about 2,500 cumulative days in 2017 alone. [refers to Alphabet, Facebook, Google, Orange, Twitter, WhatsApp]

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