Thumbnail image: internet shutdowns

U.N. propels internet shutdowns into the spotlight, calls on key stakeholders to act

Access Now is thrilled to promote a new addendum report to the United Nations (U.N.) Human Rights Council on the pressing need to combat internet shutdowns globally. 

Clément Voule, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, submitted Ending Internet shutdowns: a path forward to the 47th Session of the Council, as a follow up to a 2019 report on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the digital age. Since then, “shutdowns are lasting longer, becoming harder to detect and targeting particular social media and messaging applications and specific localities and communities,” the addendum states.

“We’re excited to see the U.N. step up and not only draw the world’s attention to the destructive blitz of internet shutdowns implemented to silence populations, but to also call out governments and the tech industry — including investors — as responsible for catalyzing change,” said Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner and #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now

Citing Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition’s work, the addendum places the devastating impact of internet shutdowns during protests and elections front and center, and unpacks the “magnitude and severity of internet shutdowns as a means to suppress the right to peaceful assembly.” A series of recommendations for state actors, companies, investors, and international organizations, lays out an action-oriented, achievable route to reverse the proliferation of this deadly trend. 

“The Special Rapporteur rightly reaffirms that internet shutdowns are never justified under international human rights law, a timely reiteration at the Human Rights Council as we continue to witness the alarming trend of internet shutdowns during elections and protests,” said Laura O’Brien, U.N. Advocacy Officer at Access Now. “With the support of the #KeepItOn coalition, Access Now looks forward to working with the U.N. and all global actors to implement these recommendations on internet shutdowns.”

Recommendations for key actors include: 

  • States: Establish legal prohibitions against internet shutdowns; make a state pledge to not impose unlawful restrictions on internet access and telecommunications; ensure that the internet remains open, accessible, and secure; provide effective remedies; and develop national action plans to ensure human rights are respected during peaceful protests.
  • Companies: Scale up good business practices; preserve evidence and document the impacts of shutdowns; improve transparency reporting; engage with civil society to advance a free and open internet; and challenge shutdowns before  various mechanisms worldwide.
  • Investors: Leverage investors’ human rights due diligence to prevent and mitigate shutdowns; ensure companies have clear policy development processes for dealings in countries where governments may request internet disruptions; and support companies’ litigation efforts to challenge shutdown requests or non-disclosure measures.
  • The U. N. and international institutions: Address implementation gaps and ensure human rights accountability; and ensure coherence between ITU norms and practices and human rights norms and principles.

The Special Rapporteur presented the addendum along with the thematic report on access to justice as an integral element of the protection of rights captured within his mandate.

On July 1, Access Now joined Article 19 and the Association for Progressive Communications to deliver an official oral statement to the Council welcoming the Special Rapporteur’s efforts on internet shutdowns.