internet shutdown #KeepItOn

Civil society to U.S. government: Do not disrupt internet access in Russia or Belarus

Today, Access Now, Wikimedia Foundation, and over 50 civil society organizations called on U.S. President Biden and his administration to ensure the people of Russia and Belarus are not cut off from the internet. The signatories deplore Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and urge that further restricting the internet in Russia and Belarus will only accelerate violence and repression. 

Signatories to the letter are concerned that the U.S. government and like-minded governments may be considering disrupting internet access in Russia and Belarus through new sanctions. Limiting internet access will hurt individuals attempting to organize in opposition to the war, report openly and honestly on events in Russia and Belarus, and access information about what is happening in Ukraine and beyond.

“We call on the Biden Administration and allied governments to ensure their sanctions do not tighten Putin’s grip over information and ideas,” said Peter Micek, General Counsel at Access Now. “People in Russia and Belarus struggle to find accurate news, and the internet, for all its faults, remains the last open space for free flowing discourse. The President and Treasury Department should signal to tech companies — and governments supporting Ukraine — that cutting internet services in Russia or Belarus will be counterproductive.”

The letter calls on the Biden Administration and like-minded governments seeking to sanction the actions of the Russian Federation and its allies to:

  • Immediately authorize the provision of services, software, and hardware incident to personal communications over the internet, while providers are still considering compliance strategies, rather than waiting until after individuals in Russia are cut off from these vital services;
  • Consult with civil society actors and technology companies to understand the likely ramifications of potential sanctions; 
  • Ensure that sanctions are implemented in a smart and targeted manner, consistent with international human rights principles, including by providing clear guidance about how sanctions should be implemented in ways that protect human rights and humanitarian initiatives;
  • Be transparent about the justifications for and impacts of sanctions, clarify how they are developed, and enable stakeholders to provide evidence on current and potential targets and measures;
  • Pledge to regularly review and, if necessary, revise sanctions to ensure that they remain fit-for-purpose, in close consultation with civil society; 
  • Include clearly articulated guidance about the possibility of sanctions removal and delisting, and the specific factors that will lead to the revision of sanctions; and
  • Apply a similar approach to any potential sanctions on Belarus, as its role in the conflict evolves.

Access Now is actively tracking the digital rights implications of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, and has published digital security resources for human rights defenders in Ukraine and in Russia and Belarus.

Read the full letter.