IGF 2022 WS #482 Internet Shutdowns: Diverse risks, challenges, and needs

Time
Friday, 2nd December, 2022 (06:30 UTC) - Friday, 2nd December, 2022 (08:00 UTC)
Room
Large Briefing Room

Organizer 1: Laura Schwartz-Henderson, Internews
Organizer 2: Chinmayi S K, The Bachchao Project
Organizer 3: Benjamin Whitehead, Internews

Speaker 1: Laura Schwartz-Henderson, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Chinmayi S K, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 3: DIAGNE El Hadji Daouda, Technical Community, African Group
Speaker 4: Miraj Chowdhury, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group

Moderator

Laura Schwartz-Henderson, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator

DIAGNE El Hadji Daouda, Technical Community, African Group

Rapporteur

Benjamin Whitehead, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Format

Round Table - U-shape - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

1. How can multistakeholder communities in countries that experience internet shutdowns develop multi-pronged strategies to resist shutdowns and push for more resilient networks? 2. What are the reasons governments are using internet shutdowns and interfering with networks in both democracies and autocracies? What are the situations that lead to increases in shutdowns ? 3. What are policy proposals and narratives that can push governments to take alternative approaches instead of shutting the internet?

Connection with previous Messages:

SDGs

3. Good Health and Well-Being
4. Quality Education
5. Gender Equality
8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
10. Reduced Inequalities
16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Targets: Internet shutdowns impact almost everything in a society and an economy. For this reason, we have selected several SDGs. This session will pull on quotes and data from the private sector (banking institutions, digital infrastructure providers, small e-businesses) to reflect on the impact of shutdowns on industry innovation and resilience infrastructure. Apart from the obvious economic impact that shutdowns have, the presentation will also discuss how disrupted internet impacts the ability to provide quality formal and informal education and distribute information, and how shutdowns are used during elections and protests to destabilize democracies and delegitimize governing institutions. We will also draw on the perspectives of health institutions to discuss how internet shutdowns not only prevent effective health delivery, but increased disinformation and rumor during Covid-19 and have widespread and deleterious mental health effects on those who experience them. Finally, internet shutdowns exacerbate digital and physical equalities both within and across countries, especially when it comes to the gendered digital divide.

Description:

The number of internet shutdowns have increased over the past few years. These shutdowns have led to no internet or reduced access to the internet for people across the globe. Over the past year, we have been working with multistakeholder coalitions in four countries (India, Bangladesh, Tanzania, and Senegal) to engage in a robust research process to better understand how civil society in each of these countries understand the risks of internet shutdowns, the tools and skills needed to prepare for shutdowns, and the strategic and legal avenues that exist to fight back against them. This research involved distributing surveys and interviewing diverse stakeholders and sectors of society impacted by shutdowns (digital rights activists, human rights organizations, womens’ rights groups, journalists, technologists, policymakers, small businesses reliant on the internet, and educational and health sector workers). We asked questions probing stakeholders’ assessment of risk and understanding about the technical and legal underpinnings of internet shutdowns, the impact of past shutdowns on human rights and economic development, and the skills and resource gaps that exist for these stakeholders to better fight back against network interference. From these surveys, we invited respondents to participate in collaborative national workshops to review the findings, collect additional insights, and collectively set an agenda to respond, build and translate needed resources, and set up ‘Prepare & Prevent’ networks working to measure censorship and shutdowns, distribute information on circumvention tools and strategies, and engage in longer term research and advocacy. Through this session, the authors will present the National Internet Shutdowns Needs Assessment Reports for India, Bangladesh, Tanzania, and Senegal and describe how we used this collaborative research process to build a diverse coalition of actors to join our ‘Prepare & Prevent’ networks in each country. We will also compare findings across these four diverse countries looking at common trends in these countries, extrapolating global insights and recommendations for the wider Internet Governance community on tackling this issue at the global level. We will also seek reflections and input from civil society and other stakeholders fighting internet shutdowns in other countries, and will share our methodologies for replicating this work in other countries. We also hope to have a discussion around strengthening civil society effort to push back on shutdown and discuss alternatives.

Expected Outcomes

Unfortunately, internet shutdowns are increasingly used by governments around the world, and we believe that localized community input and participation is vital to develop national multi stakeholder approaches to prevent shutdowns in the longer-term and to provide much-needed resources to targeted communities and at-risk populations.As part of the session, we will present the four published country reports, the cross-country comparative report, and describe the formation & development of the ‘Prepare & Prevent’ networks. We will invite participants to contribute to the ‘Prepare and Prevent’ networks in each of these four countries, and we will offer support to participants who would like to use our methodologies and engage in similar research processes in their own countries.

Hybrid Format: Considering that this session will begin with presentations from our four country teams, we will ensure that presentations are possible both remotely and in person, such that these speakers will be able to be received by anyone whether they are onsite or online. We will also encourage participation from speakers in locally organized meetings. These presentations will take up the first twenty minutes of the session. For the discussion-based second half of the session, in order to facilitate active debate without technical disruptions in both onsite and offline contexts, we will ensure that there are two discussion facilitators, one in an online discussion space and one onsite. The online discussion will take place on zoom, and one will be facilitated onsite. They will both receive the same question sets. We will then re-convene for a short presentation (online and onsite) of the main takeaways from the two discussion group’s conversations. Someone in the online group and the onsite group will be responsible to note-take and present to in-person and online audiences for the last 10 minutes. If there are community meetings happening in addition, we will have one representative from those meetings also present back to the entire group.

Online Participation

 

Usage of IGF Official Tool.

 

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Need more support to activists in countries for longer-term coalition building, training and advocacy to prepare for and prevent shutdowns.

Session Report (* deadline 16 December) - click on the ? symbol for instructions

 

Participatory research for internet shutdown advocacy

 

The OPTIMA project works with advocacy communities all around the world to predict, prevent, prepare and respond to internet shutdowns. What we’re going to present today is research we have done over the past 6-9 months regarding the assessment of needs from our partners in different countries, which feeds into an internet shutdown toolkit that you can find online.

As it can be read in the report, every context is different, politically, socially, and in terms of resources and capabilities. There’s also lots of different kinds of stakeholders involved in shutdown advocacy strategies (governments, ISPs, activists, technologists, journalists, industry). Normally when we do this kind of work we’re in crisis mode; shutdowns occur in times of crisis such as elections, political uprising, etc. If we can plan for something, such as in the case of elections, we will attempt to mobilize resources in advance, but this is very often not possible.

We wanted to understand different stakeholder’s perceived experience regarding shutdowns, and also what they think are their skills and the perceived gaps around doing this kind of work, in order to understand how to broaden coalitions, provide support mechanisms, and develop better campaigns.

We first did a survey -snowball sampling- and then we followed up with a workshop in specific settings talking to people about the results we had. And then finally we had co-design workshops, which allows people involved in processes to be more involved in designing the outcome and to tell us what they really needed.

 

Bangladesh (Miraj Chowdhury)

  • From 2012 to April 2022, we have seen at least 17 shutdowns. Just in this past month, we have seen at least 4 throttling events targeting political rallies. Targeting mobile networks, Facebook blocking are all common practices and internet censorship is growing since 2018.
  • There is an election in 2024 and they are already anticipating some sort of censorship event for that time.
  • All of these events were mostly targeting political tensions and mostly communal riots.
  • This outcome comes from talking to hundreds of different people from different organizations.
  • 88% of people said they have experienced internet shutdowns in the past three years.
  • Most said that the largest impact of shutdowns is in business and economy.
  • Shutdowns are often justified to contain disinformation, and what we found is that when there is a shutdown people are unable to get proper information. 
  • Whenever there is a shutdown there is no accountability because neither the telecom service provider nor the government issues any kind of statement justifying why the internet is being shut down.
  • Civil society doesn’t have the technical capacity nor the larger understanding of digital rights to respond to shutdowns properly. 
  • Most people do know how to use VPNs but they’re not responding to shutdowns in a way that creates advocacy in a national level.
  • We need to create digital rights capacity and broaden communities engaged in this issues, as well as support technical skill-building. Even in remote areas, if there is a shutdown it might be never reported, and we need to document these cases and bring them into the discussion. 
  • For a country like Bangladesh, internet shutdown advocacy will need to start from scratch.

 

Senegal

  • Long been seen as one of the most stable democracies in Africa, but backsliding under Macky Sall. High rate of internet penetration; high rate of mobile devices.
  • There was an incident in March 4, 2021, when following a day of protests across the whole country, social media platforms were unavailable, but there were not enough people on the ground measuring the disruption, and so the shutdown was not well documented because there was not enough people on the ground and also not enough technical skills to document it. 
  • We found that civil society is not well prepared on internet shutdown topics, which is why we don’t have good data regarding the 2021 event. When the internet is not working, people will just assume it is a technical issue and leave it at that. There aren’t the skills on the ground to prove if it’s technical or if it is a shutdown.
  • 64% of respondents believe that a shutdown is very unlikely within the next year.
  • 61% reported civil society capacity as low or nonexistent.
  • There is low general awareness of circumvention tools, a dire need of skill-building regarding network measurement, low levels of awareness amongst lawyers and judges for censorship and digital issues, and a need to develop strategies to engage the government and the private sector.

 

India (Chinmayi SK)

  • India continues to top the list of countries for most internet shutdowns carried out in one year (106 shutdowns in 2021 alone).
  • There are many different reasons why shutdowns happen in India (law enforcement, exams, etc).
  • Media freedom is decreasing, internet censorship is increasing.
  • There are certain laws that enable internet shutdowns to be used as tools in certain scenarios.
  • They wanted to build and plan based on how people are affected and what their needs are.
  • They needed to add interviews on top of the surveys because the surveys were targeting English-speaking people and they needed to add access for people who didn’t have that skill. 
  • They were able to involve people from 14 states in India, including students, researchers, journalists and activists. These were people who had experienced shutdowns, challenged shutdowns in some cases, these were smaller groups so the discussions could be free-flowing.
  • 76% of people had experienced at least one internet shutdown in the past three years.
  • Internet shutdowns disproportionately impact certain states and communities. Even within the same state, some people had very different experiences than others.
  • 60% are familiar with shutdowns, but do not understand how they occur technically or legally, how they were implemented or any of that.
  • Certain pockets of the country have certain capacities —in certain places, people does have the capacity and the understanding to fight shutdowns, reporting a capacity of 33% in network measuring, which we can consider to be high. They also have the shutdown tracker so we could consider that the capacity for documenting is good.
  • They have been able to engage in litigation an fight cases to question the necessity and proportionality of shutdowns, and in some cases they have been able to give good judgements. 
  • There is a lot of hesitancy regarding the usage of any sort of circumvention tool. “Are VPNs illegal? Is it risky?”
  • It is important to document the events even if we’re not able to fight back.

 

Tanzania (Rebecca)

 

  • Restrictions to posting on social media, restrictions to NGOs.
  • Even after the change in president, people are being very cautious.
  • The 2020 shutdown was the first of its kind in Tanzania and it means that now, the communities are thinking more about that as something that can happen again. 
  • It seems that media and activists have been figuratively taken out of “prison”, but the laws that put them there in the first place haven’t changed. 
  • Awareness about shutdowns is high, but knowledge is low. 71% of the respondents reported having experienced an internet shutdown, but 46% of them said that they can’t tell —or aren’t sure if they can tell— the difference between a shutdown or an internet connectivity problem or a technical issue.

 

(At this point in the note taking process I got a horrible headache and life got really hard)

 

(Miraj) In order to advocate against shutdowns, we need to document the impacts, because that is the only way in which we can develop the arguments and the evidence to fight the shutdowns. I think this is where we are lacking the most in Bangladesh. On the other hand, we need to engage businesses; sometimes businesses have a stronger voice than civil society, depending on the social and political context of the country. What kind of advocacy is needed to empower and engage businesses to also advocate against shutdowns from their perspective and their interests?

 

(Chinmayi) In the case of India, there is enough documentation to start conversations with, regarding the effects, the consequences, the problems caused by shutdowns. It’s now for us to have the government look at this documentation and really think about necessity and proportionality.