Governments and the shutdown of the Internet as a form of control

Today, digital authoritarianism seems to be the option that governments have chosen to carry out the control of information for citizens. This trend has been growing in countries such as Sudan, Syria, Jordan and India, although it has had consequences in other parts of the world.

An example of this has been pointed out by reporter Ko Zin Lin Htet, with the coup d’état that occurred in February 2021 in Myanmar. The journalist was able to report that a person called him for information, given that the military had seized power and arrested opposition politicians. After hanging up, Ko Zin Lin Htet checked his phone and found that he had no Internet to investigate what had been happening. He then drove to the parliament and observed police personnel guarding the government buildings.

The reporter personally verified what he had been told was happening in Myanmar. Ko Zin Lin Htet was able to confirm that the coup had happened and, moreover, the new junta had taken the country back to the pre-internet era. This situation experienced in the small Southeast Asian nation is the sample of what seems to be coming in terms of digital authoritarianism for this 21st century.

Governments and their power to control

The various investigations confirmed that, during the early hours of that day, the junta had sent the soldiers to the Internet providers. They went with the requisition that the engineers had the obligation to close any kind of connection or access to the outside world. We are facing what can be defined as the first stage of an engineered digital coup. In this way, the way to exercise control over communications had been initiated, slowing down and producing a strategic shutdown of the Internet. The whole country found itself in a black hole of information.

Internet outages are very common in countries where democracy is in decline; all or most of them are caused by the government in power. During 2021, a total of 34 countries experienced some 182 global communications outages. This was confirmed by Access Now, a non-governmental organization that tracks connectivity around the world. In African and Asian countries, these closures have become recurrent to control social behavior.

Currently, there are regions of India such as Jammu and Kashmir that are in a shroud of darkness on the digital face. There is a global trend towards more and more use of the Internet access off switch. Governments saw that they could use this method, as they pleased or needed, as a weapon against the very people they governed.

No freedom of information

Michelle Bachelet, UN Human Rights chief, has been condemning these Internet shutdowns. The former president of Chile referred to this government control in the following way: “shutting down the Internet causes incalculable damage, both in material terms and in terms of human rights”.