UPDATE, 9/5/2019: One year later, Iraq continues its practice of blocking internet access to prevent cheating on exams. It’s no less harmful, and we urge authorities once again to #KeepItOn.
Iraq is imposing curfew-style internet shutdowns, where the internet is shut down repeatedly, routinely blacking out online communications on an ongoing basis. It appears that the rationale is (once again) to stop cheating for exams, in this case 6th-grade school exams. Tech 4 Peace reported that the Iraq Ministry of Communications (MCI) announced the shutdown, a deliberate cut in all online communications every day from 6:30 am to 8:30 am for 10 days, starting on September 1, 2018.
NetBlocks.org Real-Time Network Disruption Event Monitor, September 1 – 5, 2018
Oddly, even though multiple credible sources in Iraq confirm that these shutdowns are actually happening, the MCI has published an official statement to deny any intent to shut down the internet. It’s not clear why this is so, and it may be that the government is cutting internet access because of protests as well as exams.
Regardless of the official justification, internet shutdowns restrict access to vital information, harm the fundamental right to freedom of expression, and negatively impact the economy. Whether they are imposed during protests or for school exams, the harm is just as grave. This is far from the first shutdown in Iraq; in fact, according to our records, it is at least the 5th time this year alone that the government has taken this action. In May, the government cut off the internet and blocked social media sites during national exams. In July, it cut access during protests in Basra and Southern Iraq. It explained that the cause of the mid-July disruption was “the protesters.”
According to the Ministry of Communications, when Iraq shuts down the internet for exams, it is at the request of the Ministry of Education. Yet routinely and deliberately shutting down the internet, even for two hours at a time, has significant negative implications for human rights and the economy. It is imperative that the Ministry of Education seeks less harmful approaches to stop cheating during exams.