Internet Shutdowns Are a Rising Threat to Press Freedom

NARRATION: Internet shutdowns, where an authority cuts off internet access for citizens of a country or region, are happening more and more often. In 2018, there were 196 shutdowns around the world, up from 106 in 2017 and 75 in 2016, according to research by the internet freedom nonprofit Access Now. – A shutdown is a very blunt instrument. It is a way to respond to something that you perceive as a threat or can’t control, whether that be… unrest, or a protest, or even cheating on exams. The problem is that it doesn’t address the root cause of those issues, and so it will always be a short-term fix. As the internet becomes not only the primary way that people access news and information around the world, but also a major part of how journalists report the news, communicate with sources, and stay safe, every internet shutdown is an attack on press freedom. – These tools increasingly are fundamental to the way that we gather information, verify information, and share information. And without full internet access, journalists can’t do their jobs. – Governments have perfected the art of preventing journalists from going in and telling their stories. And now with the simple device of a full internet shutdown, it’s been possible to prevent them from communicating anything about their stories. NARRATION: Shutting down or restricting access to the internet is becoming a common move in the authoritarian playbook. But it’s not just so-called “authoritarian” regimes that do this: governments in supposedly democratic countries are also increasingly using internet shutdowns as a tactic of control. On August 5, India implemented a total communications blackout in the territory of Kashmir, including an internet shutdown that’s still ongoing more than two months later, at the time of this video’s publication. – Kashmir is subject constantly to internet shutdowns. And people from mainland India are finding it hard to understand what’s happening on an everyday basis in Kashmir, because it’s both— the media has been prevented from reporting and there’s a full internet shutdown. NARRATION: India, which had general elections in the spring of 2019, is often referred to as the “world’s largest democracy,” with 900 million eligible voters. But India was also responsible for more than two-thirds of all government-ordered internet shutdowns in 2018, with at least 134. The country with the next-highest number was its neighbor Pakistan, which had 12, according to Access Now’s data. – The fact that we see shutdowns in democratic environments like India is very worrying. It’s not a tool that is restricted to repressive states, and the arguments being used to justify them often sound like they make sense in a democratic environment. NARRATION: Governments frequently use “security concerns” as a pretext for shutting down the internet, commonly targeting minority- or opposition-held regions of a country, where conflict and protests provide convenient excuses for switching off access. Earlier this year, for example, Sudan imposed mass internet blackouts in an attempt to suppress demonstrations against its military government. But while authorities often attempt to use security reasons to justify these internet shutdowns, they almost always violate the human rights of residents in doing so. – Minority groups are first deprived of access to the press, right? Which means that the only way that they can communicate about their situation is the internet, and when an internet shutdown takes place, then they’re just unable to— to tell anyone what’s happening with them. But if we’re thinking of one villager trying to tell a story of how the police burned his house down, or if an act of violence was committed, a horrific act, and the people of that community wanted to tell or show that story, they wouldn’t have any way of telling the world. – International standards allow for some limits on access to certain content in cases where it is a serious threat. But those limits have to be narrow, and they have to be proportionate, and they have to be transparent. Internet shutdowns, by definition, are very unlikely to meet those standards. – And besides being devastating to the people of the affected regions, internet shutdowns pose serious and immediate threats to press freedom and journalists’ safety everywhere they’re used. Internet shutdowns obstruct journalists’ ability to gather information, communicate, and access safety advisories. And they also push journalists into risky behaviors that can put their lives and the lives of sources in danger. – CPJ hears from journalists who are trying to work during an internet shutdown. They say things like, they have to find a phone to call a colleague, give their colleague their password, and dictate a story to them over the phone. Practices like that flout all of the basic digital security advice that CPJ recommends to journalists. And what’s worse is that this is happening in places where journalists are likely to be most at risk. So, it’s very unsafe. – We have to question the use of internet shutdowns, because it means that all of these people are deprived of their voice, and the rest of the world is deprived of that story, and neither of those things are right. So, we have to change this.

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