A new report from Access Now and the #KeepItOn campaign finds that 35 countries hit the kill button in the past year.
A record number of countries enforced internet shutdowns by 2022 that had a “devastating impact on human lives,” a new report found.
Digital rights group Access Now and the #KeepItOn campaign — a coalition of about 70 organizations — documented 187 blackouts due to protests, active conflict, exams, elections and political instability.
These were introduced in 35 countries, the most in a single year since the groups began collecting data in 2016. report said.
India emerged as the “biggest offender” for the fifth consecutive year, with at least 84 internet outages by 2022.
Apart from India, last year also saw the highest total number of closures in the rest of the world to date.
Ukraine suffered 22 closures imposed by the Russian military during its full invasion, while Iran followed with 18 amid mass protests across the country.
Closures in Ethiopia’s Tigray region since 2020, and in regions in Myanmar since 2021, were the longest on record, lasting more than two years.
Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn campaign manager at Access Now, said authoritarian regimes and democracies have disrupted the internet to “fuel their agendas of oppression by manipulating narratives, silencing voices and providing cover for their own acts of violence and abuse”.
“Secure internet access belongs to everyone and we will meet these attacks on human rights with collective resistance,” said Anthonio.
The report’s authors warned that the number of shutdowns rose again after peaking at 213 blackouts in 33 countries in 2019 and then fell to 159 in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The human toll of conflict-related closures is “massive,” the report said, with power outages hampering international humanitarian efforts and limiting access to lifesaving information about troop movements and humanitarian corridors.
The perpetrators imposed 48 closures in 14 countries to cover up violence and serious human rights violations, such as murder, torture, rape or apparent war crimes, both in conflict zones and during mass protests.
While the effect is particularly strong in contexts where people are most at risk of violence, all internet interruptions violate human rights.
Shutdowns are deepening the digital gender divide and disrupting women’s ability to conduct business or access reproductive health information, the report said.
Lack of access to resources, an inability to communicate with loved ones, and problems sending or receiving news and doing business are all consequences of disrupted internet access.
Some governments are becoming “more sophisticated and deliberate” about how they implement closures to target certain groups and minimize the economic fallout.
Perpetrators also use shutdowns in “obvious attempts to force people to alternate platforms and infrastructure where surveillance and censorship are easier to implement.”
Turkmenistan, which has experienced four shutdowns in 2022, is reportedly developing a centralized national intranet, suggesting that the government will take additional technical measures to gain more control over digital spaces.
“We call on all stakeholders to do their part in advancing our cause to uphold freedom of expression and keep people connected,” said #KeepItOn. “It is clear that the fight against internet shutdowns will continue.”