Rio de Janeiro – Access Now is urging authorities to resist using new “jamming” technology to shut down communications networks, and to keep the internet on during the Olympic games.
“We’ve seen worrying encroachments on the fundamental rights of Brazilians in recent months,” said Jamila Venturi, Google Policy Fellow at Access Now. “In this critical moment, the interim government should show the world its commitment to human rights by keeping the internet on. The Olympic Games shouldn’t be used as an excuse to clamp down on free expression or to turn Brazil into a surveillance state.”
More than 30,000 journalists are traveling to Brazil to cover the Rio Olympics. This comes as a new report (in Portuguese) reveals that the telecom authority, ANATEL, is allowing the Brazilian military to shut down the internet during the course of the games. The permit grants the Brazilian Armed Forces — which are in charge of security during the Olympics — the ability to use equipment that, in addition to “jamming” illegal drones and potentially thwarting potential terrorist attacks, could shut off all or parts of mobile internet.
“The Olympics embody perfection, ambition, competition, and — crucially — peaceful international cooperation, and internet shutdowns undermine everything they stand for,” said Deji Bryce Olukotun, Senior Global Advocacy Manager at Access Now. “Disruptions are early warning mechanisms of human rights violations. They damage the local economy and block emergency services, which are crucial for safety during public events.”
Brazilian authorities have built a formidable new surveillance apparatus, including dedicated balloons, that will capture high-definition video of entire areas. This comes at a critical time in the country, which is facing a major economic crisis. Activists calling for social change may hold protests around corruption scandals, the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, service delivery, or police abuses. The government has responded to street protests by filming activists and monitoring their social media accounts. Amnesty International has documented that police killings in Rio de Janeiro have increased by 103% in recent months. And just a few weeks ago, Brazil shut down WhatsApp — cutting off access to 100 million users — during a criminal investigation.
UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai pushed back strongly against the use of shutdowns during protests, and in July the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution that specifically condemns internet shutdowns. The Global Network Initiative also joined the Industry Dialogue — which together include Facebook, Google, Microsoft, AT&T and Vodafone — to speak out against shutdowns. This statement was swiftly followed by a policy position from the GSMA, one of the world’s largest technology associations, that laid out strict standards for orders issued to telcos to restrict service.