There have been more than 50 government shutdowns of the Internet in 2016, costing the respective countries hundreds of millions of dollars and choking citizen freedoms during crucial moments.
According to a report from the Brookings Institute, strangling the internet cost $2.4 billion over the course of 2016. Senior Global Advocacy Manager Deji Olukotun of the Access Now digital rights organization believes that an even greater cost can be counted in human lives.
Olukotun says that the shutdowns “go hand in hand with atrocities,” citing the deaths of Ethiopian protesters “during the kind of blackout where it’s difficult to report on what’s happening.” Other shutdowns include communication blackouts during the Ugandan elections, and governments that chose to go so far as shutting down all Internet access just to keep students from cheating on exams.
The biggest losses are clustered near the top, with three major contenders. Conservative estimates suggest that India lost nearly a billion dollars due to its shutdowns, while Saudi Arabia managed nearly half a billion on its own. Morocco gave up $320 million.
Even governments that didn’t wall off the entirety of the Internet still blocked access to social media in some cases, and their methods have steadily become more sophisticated. As time goes on, it grows more and more difficult for citizens to find any way around restrictions on digital information.
Olukotun would like to see “telecommunications companies [push] back on government orders, or at least document them to show what’s been happening, to at least have a paper trail.” The UN’s International Telecommunications Union could also discourage such measures by shining a light on the events as they happen.
The good news is, “most governments want to expand internet access,” so that they can “participate in the global economy and be competitive.” There have been as many or more investments in expanding access to the unlimited information made available by the Internet as there have been instances of censorship.
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