Government internet shutdowns are more dangerous in a pandemic

Governments all over the world proceed to limit or shut down internet entry to stifle inner dissent, a type of censorship that was particularly devastating throughout the coronavirus pandemic, in keeping with a new report from Google’s Jigsaw analysis group.

Whereas the overall variety of shutdowns fell considerably final yr, the overall period of shutdowns rose 49% in 2020, in keeping with the report, which pulls on knowledge from Access Now, a nonprofit that has been finding out shutdowns since 2016.

Throughout the pandemic, shutdowns disrupted individuals’s employment and education as virus restrictions prevented in-person conferences. However some shutdowns had been even more expensive. Current extended shutdowns in Myanmar after a February military coup are estimated to have value the nation’s economic system $2.1 billion—and stored individuals from studying concerning the coronavirus for months into the pandemic. And in Kashmir, individuals had been unable to obtain contact tracing apps due to internet shutdowns, in keeping with the report.


“Well being professionals are discovering it troublesome to entry vital data,” in international locations the place the internet is restricted, says Felicia Antonio, lead of Entry Now’s #KeepItOn anti-shutdown marketing campaign. No less than one hospital in Indonesia was compelled to briefly shut down after it was unable to entry its IT programs throughout an obvious shutdown, according to a report cited in the Jigsaw research.

Entry Now’s knowledge exhibits practically 850 shutdowns over the previous decade, together with 768 in the previous 5 years. “Now, there may be hardly ever a day the place at the very least one a part of the world has not been forged into the darkish,” in keeping with the report.

Shutdowns are getting more devastating total, says Dan Keyserling, Jigsaw’s chief working officer. As a result of the internet is changing into more vital to more individuals’s lives, shutdowns can dramatically impression regular existence, even past the pandemic.

“I believe in some methods the pandemic is kind of probably the most excessive instance of a broader pattern of individuals dwelling more of their lives on-line, of more individuals coming on-line,” Keyserling says.

A June report from the United Nations Particular Rapporteur on freedom of peaceable meeting and affiliation emphasised that shutdowns might be a violation of worldwide human rights regulation.

Nations usually shut down or prohibit internet entry throughout instances of unrest, political turmoil, or elections, in keeping with the Jigsaw report. In some circumstances, meaning blocking web sites like Fb, Twitter, and YouTube the place individuals share data. Cuba, for instance, had a vital internet shutdown just lately amid protests there, solely a couple of years after internet entry grew to become more widespread in the nation, says Marianne Díaz Hernández, a Venezuelan lawyer and fellow with Entry Now’s #KeepItOn anti-shutdown mission.

“These are the primary occasions the place individuals kind of have common internet connectivity,” she says.


Shutdowns can take a number of varieties, in keeping with the Jigsaw report. Governments can merely have telecom suppliers flip off entry, however they’ll additionally throttle speeds to unusably sluggish ranges, which might be falsely attributed to technical issues amid already chaotic conditions.

“It’s not at all times apparent, particularly in the form of quick aftermath, what’s occurring,” Keyserling says.

Different instances, restrictive governments might attempt to merely block specific IP addresses or domains. Full blockades might be troublesome to get round, though mesh networks the place individuals share data wirelessly from gadget to gadget might be helpful. More partial restrictions can typically be circumvented via digital non-public networks or proxy servers, in keeping with the report.

Entry Now works with individuals affected by shutdowns to assist them discover workarounds whereas they’re in place. The group additionally collects tales from the affected, normally after the actual fact, to attract consideration to the phenomenon, explains Díaz Hernández. The objective can be to light up how governments are changing into more refined about proscribing entry.

“Our civil society should additionally develop into more modern at figuring out these improvements they are utilizing, deliver them to gentle, and maintain them accountable for such acts,” she says.