Human Rights 20 January 2017

Internet Society Calls on Governments to Stop Internet Shutdowns

The Internet Society calls on all governments to stop Internet shutdowns. Often used in the context of elections, demonstrations or other tense social situations, this technical measure is rarely effective and has a negative impact on citizens, national and regional economies, the Internet’s stability and, ultimately, the country itself.  Cameroon is just one of the most recent examples.

The increasing number of government orders to temporarily shut down or restrict access to Internet services, from social media sites to entire network closures, is cause for deep concern.

In today’s connected world, network restrictions have wide-ranging economic and social consequences: people rely on the Internet to do things like stay in touch with families and friends, conduct online commerce and financial transactions, or do their everyday jobs. Internet shut downs impact all of those and more, including preventing the use of emergency services that might be particularly needed in the situation where shutdowns happen. The result is social instability, human insecurity and loss of people’s trust in situations that are often already marked by social and political unrest.

Recent studies give a sense of scale on the economic costs that shutting down all or parts of the Internet can have.

The Brookings Institute estimates network shutdowns cost countries $2.4 billion from June 2015 to June 2016. Examples of recent economic costs to countries include:

  • India: $968 million
  • Saudi Arabia: $465 million
  • Morocco: $320 million
  • Brazil: $116 million

A recent report from Deloitte estimates that countries with high connectivity stands to lose at least 1.9% of their daily GDP for each day all Internet services are shut down.

Today, policymakers have a choice to make. One leads to an open and trusted Internet with all the social and economic benefits it brings. The other leads to an increasingly closed off network that fails to drive growth and is distrusted by people around the world. One path leads to opportunity, the other to stagnation. The key is trust, and building it will take all of us.

Preventing access to information and communications online is not the solution.

In this sense, we join the landmark Resolution from the UN Human Rights Council (A/HRC/32/L.20, July 2016) that “Condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law”.

Additionally, the technical means used to block access to information online often dangerously undermine the stability and resiliency of the Internet. For example, interfering with a country’s routing of Internet traffic not only harms citizens’ ability to communicate and innovate as part of the global Internet platform; it can also lead to a fragmentation of the network at the regional and global level.

Unilateral technical measures are rarely appropriate tools to fix political, social or legal issues. Instead, dialogue, transparency, due judicial process and openness should be the first steps to find solutions to difficult issues, in a way that is inclusive of all stakeholders.

Policymakers have a choice. We understand that governments are faced with sometimes challenging situations that may threaten public order and national security. But we do not believe that shutting down communications for whole or part of a country is an appropriate and proportional measure. We encourage governments to look at alternative means to address such issues.

The Internet Society has been at the forefront of the struggle from the beginning.

We believe that trust is a cornerstone for all successful connectivity strategies, in developing and developed countries alike. This cannot happen when the network and its applications are arbitrarily restricted.

Together with Access Now, help us call on all governments to stop Internet shut-downs. Not only is this mechanism rarely effective, but it negatively impacts citizens, national and regional economies, the Internet’s stability and, ultimately, the country itself.

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