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#KeepItOn report: internet shutdowns shatter dreams, endanger lives

Versión en español.

From Belarus to Bangladesh, authorities in 29 countries shut down or interfered with the internet at least 155 times in 2020. On a day-to-day basis, this prevented millions of people from working, studying, and communicating to their full potential. At its most extreme, this crippled access to life-saving information, and provided cover for shocking human rights abuses.

Launching today, 3 March, Access Now’s new report, Shattered dreams and lost opportunities: a year in the fight to #KeepItOn, explores where, how, and why, the internet was deliberately switched off in 2020, and the long-lasting repercussions for communities across the globe. Read the full report, and global snapshot.

“Internet shutdowns can turn life into mere survival,” said Berhan Taye, former Africa Policy Manager at Access Now. “For millions of people, everyday existence didn’t move online last year, it came to a standstill — no internet meant no access to education, employment, or resources. Opportunities were deflected, and dreams shattered.”

Government-mandated internet shutdowns are dangerous, and when implemented during a pandemic, protest, or conflict, can be deadly — as the world witnessed in India, Tanzania, and Ethiopia last year.

“Shutting down the internet during a global health crisis is incredibly unsafe,” said Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner and #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now. “But, with no regard for human life, this is what governments did in 2020 — again, and again, and again. As our new report, Shattered dreams and lost opportunities: a year in the fight to #KeepItOn, dissects, there is no fathomable excuse to justify these abhorrent government actions.”

The report’s key findings from 2020 include:

  • There were 28 complete internet shutdowns where authorities disabled both broadband and mobile connectivity;
  • For the third year in a row, India shut down the internet more than any other nation — a total of at least 109 times;
  • Shutdowns provided cover for human rights violations in at least 17 incidents, including against protesters in Belarus disputing election results, and in Ethiopia’s Tigray where an unknown number of people have been killed in civil unrest; 
  • Throttling — the deliberate slowing down of the internet — was used to target marginalized groups, such as Rohingya communities in Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin states, for almost half of 2020;
  • Shutdowns were implemented in response to violence, including in Azerbaijan when war broke out with neighboring Armenia;
  • Fighting “fake news” or “illegal content” has become a go-to justification for governments to cut off their citizens, such as in India, Ethiopia, and Vietnam;
  • Tech companies including Sandvine and Allot play a key role in — and profit from — censorship, and the global community is demanding recourse; and
  • Taking authorities to court can pay off, as evident by victories in Indonesia and Togo, where shutdowns in 2017 and 2019 were ruled as unlawful.

In 2020, internet shutdowns were implemented in: Africa: Burundi, Chad, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, and Uganda; Asia-Pacific: Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan, India, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Vietnam; Latin America and the Caribbean: Cuba, Ecuador, and Venezuela; Europe: Belarus and Azerbaijan; and the Middle East and North Africa: Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and Yemen.

Read Shattered dreams and lost opportunities: a year in the fight to #KeepItOn, and the global snapshot.