The United States joined more than 60 countries on Thursday to launch an initiative to protect a safe and free internet in the face of a worrying rise in authoritarian governments. Intentional internet shutdowns by states increased significantly in 2021.
The “Statement for the Future of the Internet” is intended to continue the “enormous promise” of this network, the White House said. It aims to push back against ‘growing digital authoritarianism’ and ensure that it strengthens democracy, protects privacy and promotes a free global economy.
This goal is increasingly threatened by governments that suppress freedom of expression and access to information, spread disinformation or completely throttle the internet, the statement said.
Russia and China
In recent months, since the invasion of Ukraine, “Russia has aggressively promoted disinformation at home and abroad, censored internet news sources, blocked or shut down legitimate sites, and even went so far as to physically attack Ukraine’s internet infrastructure,” he said. a senior Biden. government official told reporters.
“Russia is not alone, however,” the official said, also citing China.
More than 60 countries have joined the effort, according to the White House statement, including countries such as Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Japan, as well as others such as Kenya, Argentina, Montenegro, Slovenia and Ukraine. Switzerland is not one of them.
While not legally binding, the statement establishes “fundamental principles” and “commits governments to promote an open, free, global, interoperable, reliable and secure internet for the world,” said another senior official.
The effort is aimed at curbing the fragmentation of the internet but will “respect the regulatory autonomy of each country,” the official said. The statement also emphasizes the need to ensure affordable access for disadvantaged populations.
Increase in budget cuts
According to the collective of organizations #KeepItOn, intentional internet shutdowns by states rose sharply last year, with 182 cases recorded, up more than 14% from 2020.
“With the gradual return to normalcy following the spread of the global Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen a dramatic resurgence in internet shutdowns in 2021,” write the authors of the report, published Thursday. Thirty-four countries closed access to their citizens last year, compared to 29 in 2020.
India is by far the country with the highest number of incidents recorded with 106 austerity measures. Much of these cases have taken place in the territory of Jammu and Kashmir, a dispute between India and Pakistan. ‘The continued use of internet shutdowns in India (…) shows that the situation there has not improved much’, the editorial regrets.
Demonstrations and coups
Burma is in second place (15 denominations), followed by Iran (5), Sudan (5), Cuba (4) and Jordan (4).
The austerity measures took place in different contexts: demonstrations and coups (Burma, Sudan, Iran, Jordan, Pakistan, Eswatini, Cuba, Burkina Faso), elections (Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran, Niger, Uganda, Zambia), conflict zones (Ethiopia , Burma, Gaza Strip) or to prevent cheating during exams (Algeria, Syria, Sudan).
However, #KeepItOn has seen a decline in internet suspensions around election time, citing examples of countries such as Benin, Iraq and The Gambia where access was maintained year-round. The collective also notes an intensification of actions to challenge in court the legality of suspensions in several African countries (Nigeria, Sudan, Zambia).
“Internet shutdowns and the rise of authoritarianism go hand in hand,” Marianne Diaz Hernandez worries about the digital rights protection NGO Access Now, which spearheaded the #KeepItOn project.