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How can internet shutdowns impact society?

Shutdowns are a tactic employed by governments to shut down dissent. Shutting from the Internet during moments of political turmoil, civil unrest and instability is among the essential elements for the rule of law,” a cybersecurity expert at the World Economic Forum said.

There’s been a recent wave of protests that include photos and videos of unrest that are flooding the internet, as well as demands for reform.

However, protesters soon realized that communications were being shut down, with popular messaging apps like WhatsApp along with Signal being unable to connect. In several places the internet was shut down completely off the internet and protests myanmar netblocksfingasengadget.

Internet shutdowns are a common technique used by governments to silence dissent and dissuade unrest. In 2021, at the very least 182 shutdowns of the internet were recorded in 34 countries, according to Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition, an international group of digital advocacy groups.

The practice has also been cited as a major human rights issue as many claim that shutting down the internet is a violation of freedom of assembly and expression.

What is the process for governments to shut down the internet?

While internet networks are often vast and complex, deliberately shutting down the internet is simple for governments–especially for more authoritarian states that maintain broad control over the private sector.

“For for too long, internet shutdowns were too simple to government officials to makeand easy an action for them to take,” said Felicia Anthonio who is the campaign manager for #KeepItOn on Access Now.

Governments, along with public and private Internet service and utility providers are able to shut down the internet in a variety of ways. For example, they could shut off power lines or demolish internet service infrastructure, including cell phone towers, as well as fiber optic cable. Domain name and network routers systems can also be altered. They are both blocking content from passing through important gateways to networks, effectively interfering with all internet activity, and redirecting traffic away from internet sites.

Governments may also block access to specific websites or communication platforms–like Facebook, Telegram or WhatsApp–by blocking specific sites or IP address. Distributed denial-of service attacks, which involve interrupting internet access by overloading a server with a deluge of traffic, may be utilized, too. For instance, some governments have restricted access to sites like Google and YouTube during political speeches, according to the internet freedom tracking organization NetBlocks.

“The process of interrupting internet access may provide a clue to the intentions behind the shutoff,” said Gretchen Bueermann an expert at the World Economic Forum’s Centre for Cybersecurity. “For instance, certain types of disruptions are fairly simple to navigate for a technologically aware person, while others are nearly impossible, revealing the government’s desire to shut down critical infrastructure for the sake of control.”

Furthermore, governments can also impose shut downs that slow the internet to unusable speeds. This technique is known as throttling and often entails limiting bandwidth capabilities. Throttling in particular can render sharing live streams–key components of modern protest movements, nearly impossible. The year 2021 was the last time Access Now recorded throttling in at minimum 10 countries.

“Again and time again, we’re witnessing governments plunge people into darkness while they need access information and communications platforms more than anything else,” Anthonio added.

How can internet shutdowns impact society?

Internet access has become an integral and important aspect of life for most of the world. In fact, in the year 2016 the United Nations declared that it considers internet access as a basic human right.

Some critics claim that internet shutdowns are contravention of the rights of citizens since they limit the capacity of the public to come together and also block the stream of news. It can also allow authoritarian governments to silence critics and make echo chambers that contain distorted information.

“Shutting off the internet ” not only hinders the ability of citizens to access vital information and connect with one with each other, but also obfuscates the affected region from the outside world in turn creating a path of least resistance to deception, misinformation and slanderous propagandists,” Bueermann said.

Internet shutdowns can also be a collective punishmentthat negatively impacting not only political opposition and protest groups , but also society in general. This is particularly alarming experts point out, due to the widespread dependency of internet connectivity. These consequences can hinder hospital care and disrupting the schooling. In the COVID-19 pandemic research showed that remote learning was significantly hindered by the shutdown of internet in Bangladesh, Myanmar and India.

“Shutdowns limit a variety of rights for humans, ranging from the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as well as economic and social rights, in a world where people depend on internet for their livelihoods in education, health, and education,” said Deborah Brown who is a senior researcher in technology and advocate for Human Rights Watch. “What’s more, shutting off access to the internet as well as communications networks can endanger lives, especially during times of unrest , or when there is a public crisis in health.”

Internet shutdowns have significant consequences for businesses, too. In Myanmar for instance, the government has imposed various internet shutdowns over the months following the military coup that took place in February 2021. The World Bank estimates that the shut downs cost Myanmar’s economy roughly $2.8 billion.

A different study revealed that between the years 2019 and 2021 Internet shutdowns in 46 nations caused losses of more than $20.5 billion in accordance with the United Nations.

Initiatives to reduce the number of internet shut downs

The frequency and duration of internet shutdowns are increasing experts claim. But are also efforts to record and prevent the shutdowns.

These efforts are in large part due to technological advancements which can offer alternative internet connections using technology such as virtual private networks and monitoring platforms that can record internet manipulation and surveillance.

Governments and technology companies are also working to combat Internet shutdowns. Google is one example. Google made steps to enhance its connectivity during the month of November, when protesters faced widespread shut downs. The actions followed the relaxation on sanctions that were imposed by the United States to allow more online communication to occur.

Red Note: 30 September 2022

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