Whenever you see a government – or a group, in the case of the Taliban – expressing authoritarian, authoritarian and repressive views, they can do what they say, restricting access to information and communication. I am very concerned about the situation in Afghanistan. Ensuring people’s access to information, communication and access to news.
How sophisticated does one have to be to make one of these shutdowns effective? Can anyone engage in these activities with meaningful level control over the Internet infrastructure?
You have rightly mentioned that shutdowns are often related to how much control the government has over a country’s telecommunications infrastructure. And it changes: it changes from country to country and it changes over time.
One of the things we have observed, and it has been well reported by others, is that many governments are considering legislation that would increase their control over telecommunications infrastructure. It is part of three simultaneous trends. First, your internet shutdown has a growing frequency. Second, your focus has increased on how governments control telecommunications infrastructure in their countries. And you also see the decline of democracy around the world and the rise of authoritarian governments that exercise power over civil society.
What is the real risk?
This is certainly more than an inconvenience. It is a matter of life and death in some cases. It is, of course, a matter of losing livelihoods, restricting civil society, restricting access to information, and undermining freedom of expression. I think as more and more people are living their lives online and democratic institutions are increasingly relying on the Internet to facilitate citizen participation, the cost increases when the government shuts down the Internet to exchange news and information, people to communicate with each other and the risk of people organizing.
Global intentional Internet shutdown
January 2020 – May 2021
What can the average internet user do about this? What can we do to better recognize and prevent this from happening?
It depends a lot on your situation. There are many tools that allow you to access a free and open Internet-Virtual Private Network (VPN), for example. There are certain tools that allow you to protect yourself from certain types of censorship. DNS poisoning is a common form of censorship where the government uses individual URLs. We have a tool called Intra (and other tools) that protect users and allow them to avoid those restrictions.