We first wrote about the phenomenon back in 2006, in relation to the conflict areas in Sri Lanka and Kashmir. We started formulating the issues in terms of Gyanendra’s Law and its various exceptions around the time of the Arab Spring.
I wrote the main piece on the subject, sitting in a hotel room in Teheran in February 2011.
Since those days, the practice of shutting down networks has become more common, and more sophisticated. The Global Network Initiative has put out a one-pager on the subject:
“GNI urges all governments to consult our one-page guide and to weigh carefully the human rights, economic and reputational harms that can flow from the decision to disrupt public access to vital communications services and platforms,” said GNI Executive Director, Judith Lichtenberg. “We hope that by outlining the extensive risks of these tactics, policymakers will better weigh the costs beforehand,” Ms. Lichtenberg said.
The consequences of disruptions include restricting internationally recognized rights to free expression, preventing access to vital emergency, payment and health services, and disrupting contact with family members and friends. In some cases, these mandates pose additional human rights harms when they restrict the free flow of information in the lead up to elections, or are used to target particular regions, districts or ethnic groups.
Shutdowns can also undermine economic growth and longer-term development, affecting local businesses such as goods trading and tourism.
“The immediate gains for governments are often disproportionate to the inherent risks and costs of mandating disruptions,” said GNI Independent Board Chair and international human right lawyer, Mark Stephens, CBE.