Internet Shutdowns Still a Popular Weapon of Authoritarian Regimes

Restrict partially or totally people’s access to the Internet : an increasingly frequent trend in authoritarian regimes. According to a study published on January 20 by Cloudflare, an American security services and content distribution company, the year 2022 was marked by more frequent use of this technique, despite a slight drop in the last quarter. These cuts, sometimes involuntary can be uninterrupted Where occur at regular times. In both cases, they have adverse consequences for citizens and organizations who suffer them.

Sometimes unintentional causes

As of the start of 2022, Cloudflare lists government internet shutdowns and major outages occurring around the world. The study highlights several reasons for these discontinuities.

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One year ago, Tonga Islands were cut off from the world following the explosion of a volcano, having damaged the submarine cable bringing the Internet to the country. In November, an earthquake disrupted internet access in the Solomon Islands. Natural disasters are thus regularly responsible for cuts, and the climate crisis is unlikely to improve the situation.

In developing countries like in Pakistan and Bangladesh, the malfunctions are also explained by the dilapidated state of the infrastructure.

Controlling the Internet: the dream of authoritarian rulers

In 2022, authoritarian regimes are at the origin of many cuts, in their national territories and abroad. Ukraine’s internet infrastructure has been regularly targeted by Russian missile strikes, leading to power outages and disruptions in internet connectivity. Iran, plagued by protests, has made extensive use of this method on its own network, to repress the Iranian population, and cut her off from the rest of the world.

A cut, consequences

Cutting the Internet voluntarily is often a political act. Obstructing the flow of information, when it calls into question the legitimacy of leaders, prevents journalists, associations and civil society from obtaining information, exchanging and above all mobilizing. It also makes it possible to conceal the situation from the rest of the world, in particular the abuses of the regime. Cut Internet also presents economic risks for organizations, such as data loss. According to David Belson, head of data analytics at Cloudflare, they now need to “take this into account in their risk matrix. »

Internet and freedoms, a battle on all fronts

As our societies digitize, the Internet becomes a new object of power for authoritarian governments. States have understood this very well, such as China, which shapes it through the prism of its ideology. In response, cybersecurity and telecommunications solutions are emerging, such as VPNs and satellite networks, including Starlink by SpaceX, less vulnerable than submarine cables. Will freedom of access to information be at the mercy of private actors?

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