The Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in internet rights around the world. It originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Mahsa Alimardani, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Nevin Thompson, Laura Vidal, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.
Since Jan. 1, 2017, there have already been seven regional-level internet shutdowns in India. In 2016, there were 31 such shutdowns. And India isn’t alone here. It appears that internet blackouts are becoming an increasingly common tactic for local and regional authorities when faced with public consternation around politics and elections, ethnic and religious tensions, and incidents of violence.
In February, the Software Freedom Law Centre of New Delhi released an online interactive map that shows the location and details of each incident, along with a short description of public events coinciding with the shutdown.
In a recent blog post, centre director Mishi Chaudhary argued that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government needs to reconcile its reliance on internet shutdowns as a means of controlling public speech and activity with its increasing dependency on networked communication technologies for government services, public health, finance and more, all part of the administration’s “Digital India” campaign. “If we are to have the promise of digital empowerment through Digital India,” she wrote, “shutdowns cannot become the new ‘normal.’ ”
The state of Jammu and Kashmir has been by far the most affected by the tactic. It experienced 10 shutdowns in 2016 alone and saw five per year since 2014. Jammu and Kashmir are not alone in this—regional-level network shutdowns in outlying, often marginalized states and provinces where political and ethnic tensions run high are so habitual in some parts of the world that they no longer count as news.
In Tibet and Xinjiang, predominantly ethnic minority regions of Western China, shutdowns are a routine response to public unrest and even holidays, such as the Tibetan New Year, and can last for weeks or months at a time. In Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, shutdowns of several hours have been a regular feature of military clashes with violent insurgent groups in the north, which abuts Israel and Palestine’s Gaza strip, since 2013.
In 2016, the Brookings Institution estimated that internet shutdowns incurred a worldwide collective cost of $2.4 billion, based on a measurement of GDP totals against the scope and duration of the blackouts. But the collateral damage that shutdowns bring upon citizens—leaving them unable to communicate, access information and public services, and make financial transactions, among many other things—is incalculable.
Iranian judge confirms death sentence for 21-year-old
A young Iranian man is facing a death sentence for public messages he posted on the messaging platform LINE that were deemed to be against Islam and the Quran. Sina Deghan was arrested in 2015 at the age of 19 for the posts, and had his sentence confirmed by Iran’s Supreme Court in late January of this year.
Nigerian blogger arrested over Instagram post
Nigerian journalist and blogger Kemi Olunloyo was arrested March 13 for publishing on Instagram a letter regarding an extramarital affair involving a church pastor and a member of his congregation. Her publisher, Samuel Walson, was also arrested, and both have been charged with defamation and “publishing false news.”
Paraguayan advocates face criticism for reporting rape threats online
After a Paraguayan journalist was threatened with rape online, in what her attacker described as an effort to “correct her sexual orientation,” Paraguayan digital rights organization TEDIC published an article recounting her harassment and the problem of sexual violence online. An individual named in the piece has since initiated a legal action demanding the post be taken down. According to TEDIC, the request “seeks to silence a legitimate claim, to limit public debate through censorship and to prevent more women from encouraging further denunciations.”
Venezuelan independent media and NGO websites weather online attacks
In the weeks following CNN’s unceremonious ousting from Venezuelan network television, multiple independent news and civil society websites have suffered technical attacks that have left them offline for hours and, in some cases, days at a time. Among those affected were media sites Provea and Caraota Digital.
Japan may use mass surveillance to punish “preparations” for crime
Japanese legislators will soon review an anti-conspiracy bill that includes controversial provisions that resemble predictive policing methods. The bill covers a wide range of possible crimes (277 in total) and would punish “preparations” for future crimes when undertaken by two or more people, with at least one of them obtaining funds or supplies for the crime, or surveying its potential location. Tokyo Bar Association president Motoji Kobayashi said in a public statement in January: “The conspiracy bill goes against the basic principles of our country’s criminal code and the legal system. It threatens the function of protecting human rights.”
“Information smugglers” are scaling China’s Great Firewall—and spreading fake news
Information smugglers in China work to translate and repackage content from banned overseas websites for Chinese readers across the Great Firewall. The investigative news platform the Initium interviewed several information smugglers, asking them about how they use circumvention tools to access news stories on blocked sites like BuzzFeed and Reddit and rewrite them in Chinese. The sites yield steep profits, the Initium found, but tend to prioritize click rates over public interest journalism.
Brits say goodbye to the EU—and encrypted apps too?
U.K. Home Secretary Amber Rudd said that the British government would seek to establish backdoors to encryption. This followed the release of evidence that the person behind the recent Westminster attack had communicated over WhatsApp prior to his attack. Several British politicians and civil liberties groups expressed concern that the demands were neither proportionate nor effective as a response to the attacks.
“Post-Snowden Internet Policy”—Journal of Media and Communication, special issue dedicated to policymaking after the Snowden revelations
“The State of Internet Censorship in Myanmar”— Open Observatory of Network Interference