Internet Shutdowns are Now a Thing

Internet Shutdowns are Now a Thing, by Jan Skoyles.

Internet access has been curbed 116 times in 30 countries since January 2016.

“Internet shutdown: An intentional disruption of Internet or electronic communications, rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow of information.” – Access Now.

Infographic: Internet Shutdowns on the Increase Worldwide | Statista You will find more statistics at Statista

It was the Egyptian shutdown of 2011 that prompted many other governments to realise the powers they could attain:

Until then, many governments had assumed it was not possible to turn off internet access to their entire nation, due to the decentralized nature of the network. But soon after, governments across the globe educated themselves about AS numbers and internet routing, and started using their power to set up systems that would allow them to order network shutdowns.

What was originally only intended to be used in more extreme circumstances has quickly devolved into officials using their powers for all sorts of questionable – and often political – reasons.

Internet shutdowns can be either at the will of the domestic government or a form of financial or military warfare from an outside authority or organisation. …

Even in the EU, ten years ago technologically advanced Estonia appears to have been a victim of Kremlin-sponsored cyber warfare, when Estonians found they could no longer access their bank accounts. Individuals and companies could not use their computers for the simple daily tasks that we take for granted today – such as email. …

India is where we see the highest number of authorised internet blackouts. Here government policy states that whilst such action requires the highest-level official in charge of domestic security – the Ministry of Home Affairs for the whole country or a state’s Home Department official – to sign off on any shutdown a junior member can shutdown the internet for a full 24-hours should gaining permission be unfeasible.

Indian governments have shut down the Internet 79 times since 2012

Many in Western countries might dismiss such government behaviour as perhaps a feature of developing nations or despot-led countries. Not so. In the UK the Communications Act 2003 and the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 gives internet suspension powers to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. This can be done either by ordering the shutdown of operations by internet service providers or by closing exchange points.

When questioned about such a power a government representative said that it would have to be a very exceptional circumstance that led to the shutdown of the internet. However, those circumstances have not been specified and therefore cannot be challenged. Who is to say from one government to the next or one perceived threat to the next what an ‘exceptional circumstance’ is? …

In India the majority of shutdowns happen in Kashmir, the region which is heavily involved in a political border dispute. The same goes for Turkey which since 2016 has allowed authorities to implement an internet ‘kill switch’ to “partially or entirely” suspend internet access when deemed necessary.

In most countries government-sanctioned internet shutdown is now part and parcel of policy. More often than not they are justified by their use in protecting citizens. However, as Deji Bryce Olukotun, Senior Global Advocacy Manager at Access Now explains:

There is no evidence that shutting down the Internet helps prevent terrorist attacks or stops them while they’re occurring.