Internet blackouts come in many different forms, ranging from a complete blackout to screwdriver-type fixes targeted at certain populations. Here are some methods used by governments around the world to shut down the Internet.
The nuclear option. On August 5, 2019, the Hindu nationalist government of India revoked the special status of the Kashmir region, unilaterally removing its autonomy. He also sent in thousands of army troops and cut off Internet, mobile, and phone connections. The region would remain offline for 552 days, the world’s longest shutdown to date.
This type of extreme option is used in many countries every year on a short-term basis for reasons as trivial as trying to stop cheating on exams. In Syria, the entire network, including mobile internet, crashes when students take their high school matriculation exams, while parts of India take the mobile network offline for teacher-in-training exams.
speed throttling: Speed throttling slows down the Internet, so 4G suddenly becomes glacial 2G. This can stop or delay news of atrocities or human rights violations from breaking, as internet speeds are too slow to stream or load video. Speed regulation can be combined with approaches that deprive certain groups of Internet access; for example, geographically based blocks targeting particularly troublesome provinces or blocks on private Internet connections.
The latter occurred in Iran in February 2012 on the third anniversary of the Twitter revolution, when the platform was used to organize street protests in opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s controversial election victory. Private Internet connections were blocked, while state-run Internet users continued to enjoy normal speeds. This meant that protest organizers were no longer able to share information or mobilize, while financial and state institutions continued to operate.
Black list or block list: Blocking access to a particular platform is a common tactic to stop the flow of information and is called a blacklist or more recently a blocklist as the cyber community moves towards using more inclusive language. In Myanmar, on February 4, three days after the coup, the military blocked Facebook, effectively cutting off most Burmese from their main gateway to the Internet. The Ministry of Communications and Information justified the blockade in the name of national stability, writing “fake news and misinformation and… misunderstandings among people using Facebook.”
The Facebook ban was devastating for small business owners who relied heavily on the platform. “My mom cooked food and sold it on her Facebook page and account, so she couldn’t do her business online,” said a woman in Yangon, describing how the ban destroyed her mother’s business. her in one fell swoop.
White list or allowed list: This transforms the Internet into an intranet. Instead of blacklisting things on the open internet, websites are approved on a closed intranet, effectively creating a walled garden for government-approved platforms. “It’s reversing the normalcy of the internet, where everything is accessible and only certain things can be restricted or blocked,” says Access Now’s Raman Singh. In Myanmar, this allowed military-led interests to operate and stalled the restart of business, while continuing to hamper the communication functions offered by the Internet.
After this, the military junta began testing whitelisting. The Burmese were given access to just 1,200 military-approved Internet sites, which included banking and finance sites, gaming and entertainment sites like Netflix and YouTube, and some news sites like the New York Times. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter remained inaccessible. Connectivity returned, but the number of accessible sites was drastically lower. “In effect, what they have done is recreate the censorship board, but for the online space,” says Oliver Spencer of Free Expression Myanmar, referring to the censorship body that had operated for 50 years until 2012.
A firewall: China’s firewall is an example of extreme whitelisting. Although it has used the kill switch in the past, Beijing appears to have moved away from this method, relying instead on sophisticated internet controls. In 2009, Beijing cut off Internet access to the Xinjiang region for 10 months after unrest fueled by ethnic tensions. This was seen as a move to stop political organization and limit news about the crackdown that followed, which punished the entire population.
Yet even as the Communist Party has established massive political indoctrination centers, seizing at least a million Uyghurs, it has not shut down the internet in the region again. One factor is the effectiveness of Beijing’s controls over the Internet, which means the blunt tool of total shutdown is no longer needed; The control and censorship provided by China’s Great Firewall effectively prevents most Chinese Internet users from accessing the global web, while limiting the content they post.
“They don’t need to do this kind of dirty, clumsy shutdown of an important tool of economic activity,” says Simon Angus of the IP Observatory. “The Internet is your friend for both messaging and communication.”
In one version of the future, following China’s lead, internet shutdowns may no longer be necessary as governments refine their control over their respective networks. This trend points towards a “splinternet” rather than a global Internet, where the Internet is divided into a series of sovereignly governed intranets, sometimes hyperlocal or regional.
But government control of the web faces a new obstacle: satellite Internet.
Elon Musk’s Starlink technology uses constellations of satellites in low Earth orbit to beam high-speed internet access to Ukraine, allowing the government to continue communications and bypass Russian servers, even as Russia destroys and bypasses infrastructure. terrestrial internet. The country’s military communications, combat warfare and all of its critical infrastructure are powered by 15,000 Starlink satellite kits, which also allow President Vlodymyr Zelensky to broadcast daily video of him, boosting national morale and garnering international support.
Theoretically, satellite internet service like SpaceX’s Starlink could make internet blackouts a thing of the past, although in practice this is not yet replicable at scale for the entire population of Ukraine. However, the promise that satellite Internet services can allow users to transcend Internet blocks is demonstrated in Ukraine every day. It is being closely watched by Chinese researchers, who are developing new anti-satellite weapons.