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  • More governments are kicking people off the Internet than ever before.

  • It usually happens during politically-sensitive times like elections, protests, and conflicts.

  • Last year, governments shut down the Internet more frequently than in previous years, according to a digital rights group that started tracking the practice in 2011.

  • For instance, in India, it happened in parts of the country more than 100 times.

  • Authorities say shutdowns help stop unrest and the spread of fake news and even prevent cheating on school exams.

  • Advocates for an open Internet say shutdowns can cripple economies and disrupt daily life all while curtailing civil rights, so here's how governments can kick you off the internet.

  • Usually when you type in a URL or hit an app icon, the Domain Name System looks up that address and resolves it to a string of pre-assigned numbers.

  • In under a second, you can usually connect to the server and access the site.

  • If the government wants to block access to a specific site, it can request the Internet Service Provider to interfere with the DNS traffic.

  • The provider can then redirect traffic so it never reaches those servers.

  • This happened last year at the height of a political crisis in Venezuela when opposition leader Juan Guaido tried to seize power from President Nicolas Maduro.

  • Guaido was standing with soldiers outside a military base when he began live-streaming on Twitter.

  • The moment is now.

  • He called people to rise up against President Nicolas Maduro.

  • While Guaido's call to action ricocheted across the world, at home, his message's blocked for a large number of Internet users.

  • This chart shows that Venezuela's state-run Internet provider restricted access to social media.

  • The company didn't respond to a request for comment.

  • We're looking at something similar to radio censorship or TV censorship when authorities might bleep out parts of a sentence or a speech.

  • Alp Toker is the founder of an Internet advocacy group called NetBlocks.

  • He says it's surprisingly easy for the government to turn off access to specific sites.

  • This is basically an engineer with a button on the switch.

  • When they see something they don't like, they press the button.

  • But authorities can be more subtle in how they control the Internet, not just by blocking sites, but by simply slowing down the connection.

  • This is called throttling, so it looks like your apps are still running when, in fact, the interference is at a level that makes using the internet painful, so the video you're trying to watch on YouTube becomes very low-res or it keeps loading.

  • We spoke to network engineers who monitor Internet censorship, and they say that it's even hard for them to really pinpoint the specific reason behind a slow connection, and they say that's likely why some governments have turned to throttling to shrug off accountability.

  • In some extreme cases, governments can order service providers to turn off the Internet completely.

  • This happened last year during anti-government protests in Iraq when the Internet was cut off.

  • You connect the WiFi and opened the browser, there is nothing and the provider sent us messages we are sorry because the government cut off the internet.

  • Ameer Hazim is an Iraqi photographer in Baghdad, and he's been posting his photos on Instagram.

  • The Iraqi Prime Minister at the time said it's the government's right to restrict access when the Internet is being used to stoke violence and conspiracy against the homeland.

  • Because Internet blackouts disrupt critical services and can hurt the economy, authorities often target specific networks and geographic areas.

  • At the height of the protests in Iraq, the government imposed daily digital curfews between 5 p.m. to 7 a.m.

  • Then during business hours, the government ordered service providers to turn on the connection again.

  • We spoke to private companies in several countries, and they say they have little power to refuse a request because authorities can threaten to terminate their licenses.

  • Citizens have looked for workarounds like using VPNs that connect to networks outside of the country.

  • Some will pay for expensive satellite connections.

  • Others, like Hazim, have bought international SIM cards from Jordan that are activated before entering Iraq.

  • That helped us to keep people updated.

  • I start doing lives from Tahrir Square showing the area around and what's happening really and how people are living and how the government are using violence.

  • Toker says these solutions may end up encouraging more aggressive moves from the government.

  • The more people attempt to get around it, the more governments are gonna try to switch it off.

  • The UN says restrictions on Internet access are a violation of human rights, but many countries already have laws that make it legal to shut down the Internet on grounds related to national security or stopping the spread of fake news.

  • So while this might have started off as authoritarian dictatorship move, it gets encoded into laws.

  • It becomes very difficult for the public to complain about it.

More governments are kicking people off the Internet than ever before.

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How Governments Shut Down the Internet | WSJ

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    Fibby posted on 2020/03/22
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