Home Web information Internet shutdown causes incalculable damage, says UN report – Reuters

Internet shutdown causes incalculable damage, says UN report – Reuters


A hospital unable to contact a doctor for emergency surgery. Voters deprived of candidate information during an election. Students missing entrance exams for university programs. Atrocities in hidden conflict zones.

These are just a few examples of the profound damage to the daily lives and human rights of millions of people caused by government-mandated internet shutdowns, warns a new report from the United Nations Human Rights Office United.

The report, Internet shutdowns: Trends, causes, legal implications and impacts on a range of human rights, aims to shed light on internet shutdowns, examining how they undermine a range of human rights, first and foremost the right to freedom of expression. It details how shutdowns are undermining development and how some governments are increasingly using the measure to stop protests and silence dissent.

“While internet shutdowns profoundly affect many human rights, they have a more immediate impact on freedom of expression and access to information – one of the foundations of free and democratic societies and a prerequisite to the full development of the person,” the report said.

As digitalization advances in societies, the impact of internet shutdowns on people’s lives will increase, the report adds, bringing heavy costs to jobs, education, health, life, political participation and social and cultural life.

“Internet shutdowns have arisen as the digital world has become increasingly important, even essential, for the realization of many human rights. Internet shutdown causes incalculable damage, both in material terms and in human rights,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

States should therefore refrain from shutting down the internet, the report insists.

Affected elections

The report notes that the #KeepItOn coalition, which monitors shutdowns around the world, documented 931 shutdowns between 2016 and 2021 in 74 countries, with some countries blocking communications repeatedly and for long periods. Globally, all regions have seen multiple shutdowns, but the majority reported have occurred in Asia and Africa.

The report adds that nearly half of all closures recorded by civil society groups over the past six years have been carried out amid protests and heightened political tensions to quell protests over a wide range of social, political and social grievances. and economic.

Shutdowns affected at least 52 elections between 2016 and 2021. In 2019 alone, governments in 14 African countries shut down internet access during election periods.

Such was the case in Zambia, which held presidential elections in August 2021 under hastily adopted cyberlaws to restrict the internet, said Susan Mwape, founder and executive director of Common Cause Zambia, an organization that seeks to promote participation. citizen.

Mwape said services such as WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have been affected, with the consequence of compromising access to essential digital tools to campaign and promote public debate.

“The cyber laws were meant to militarize the internet and shut down those who oppose the government,” Mwape said.

The report highlights that shutdowns have shifted from full outages to more targeted disruptions, made possible by new digital tools and monitoring technologies. Governments are increasingly resorting to bandwidth “throttling” or limiting mobile service to 2G, which hinders meaningful internet use.

Raya Sharbain of the Jordan Open Source Association (JOSA), a nonprofit that advances digital rights in Jordan, said some countries that enforce controls on free speech use vaguely worded laws to restrict communications and often do not inform the public about the interventions they put in place.

“Closures can be difficult to detect – we get complaints that communications slow down during a protest and we need to perform technical analysis to identify which services are affected,” Sharbain said.

Humanitarian work and atrocities

The report also gives examples of the impact of internet shutdowns on humanitarian work. In Somalia, aid workers reported that internet shutdowns were hampering life-saving humanitarian assistance. In Myanmar, the closures have put local aid organizations at risk.

In conflict-affected areas, blocked access to digital tools used to document and report abuses may have contributed to further violence, including atrocities, the report says. Some closures may have been implemented with the deliberate intention of covering up human rights abuses, he adds.

Due to the growing reliance of business and commerce on digital technologies, disruptions in communication services are having a severe impact on the economy, undermining the flow of remittances and pushing start-ups to ruin, the report highlights. . The World Bank recently calculated that internet shutdowns in Myanmar alone cost nearly $2.8 billion between February and December 2021, reversing the economic progress made over the previous decade.

Stops and way forward

The report discusses ways in which businesses, development cooperation agencies and civil society can help make it harder for the shutdowns to continue.

Halting internet shutdowns should be seen as an essential ingredient of global efforts to bridge the digital divide, the report stresses.

A key step to ending shutdowns is ensuring greater visibility when and while they happen. The report highlights the need for better real-time information on the different types of outages and recommends the establishment of a collaborative mechanism to collect information on disruptions.