Internet shutdowns: what are they, why do governments use them and what are their consequences?

By: ASHLEIGH STENT


posted on: July 1st, 2020

As the internet grows, so does the use of internet shutdowns.

First, we will consider what internet shutdowns are. Secondly, we will consider the reasons a government might impose an internet shutdown. Finally, we will consider what the consequences of these shutdowns are.

WHAT ARE THEY?

Internet shutdowns are when the internet is intentionally disrupts access to the internet. This can be by an individual, but more commonly by a government.

This can happen in a variety of ways. The internet may be entirely blocked, some content restricted, or it may be ‘throttled’. ‘Throttling’ is where they make internet speed so slow that it can’t be used

WHY DO GOVERNMENTS USE THEM?

Governments often claim to use internet shutdowns to protect national security or the public order. In some cases, they have claimed to shutdown the internet to prevent students cheating in exams.

Despite the reasons they governments give for their shutdowns, the real reasons are quite different.

Governments may use internet shutdowns to control the sharing of information. This can prevent people from knowing what is going on in the world around them. More worryingly, this control of information can be to control people’s views. Governments believe that by limiting people’s ability to communicate, they can control the political narrative. This can be to prevent discussion about politicians committing fraud, or other atrocities by their military, as Sudan has recently been accused of.

WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF INTERNET SHUTDOWNS?

There is no evidence that shutting down the internet helps to terrorist attacks. Nor is there evidence that internet shutdowns stop them while they’re occurring. It is more likely that they prevent emergency services from doing their jobs when they’re most needed. Furthermore, it can cause psychological harm, as people can’t find out if their loved ones are safe.

Also, internet shutdowns do not prevent the protests and unrest they are designed to prevent. They often cause further protests instead. The shutdowns often are condemned internationally. This can raise the profile of the issue and put governments under greater pressure. These shutdowns also cause businesses large losses in profit.

These internet shutdowns can be avoided using VPNs or ‘virtual personal networks’. Practical solutions like this are useful as there is rarely any legal consequences for the government. Old fashioned laws, where there is no ‘right to information’, make it difficult to hold these governments accountable.

CONCLUSION

Whilst internet shutdowns become more frequent, people continue to find ways around it. Freedom of information is important because it is important to be able to communicate. Governments use them to restrict their citizens access to information and freedom of speech. International pressure as well as civil unrest may force governments to provide these basic rights to their citizens.

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