How to block the Internet and how to fight | Internet

Internet shutdowns come in many forms, from a complete shutdown hammer to screwdriver-style adjustments that target specific populations. These are some of the methods used by governments around the world to shut down the internet.


Nuclear option. On August 5, 2019, India’s Hindu Nationalist government unilaterally revoked the special status of the Kashmir region, removing its autonomy. It also sent in thousands of army troops and cut off internet, mobile and phone connections. The region will remain offline for 552 days, the world’s longest shutdown to date.

This type of extreme selection is used on a short-term basis in many countries every year for trivial reasons such as trying to stop cheating in exams. In Syria, all networks, including mobile internet, are turned off while students sit for high school entrance exams, while parts of India cut off mobile networks for trainee teacher exams.

A woman uses her mobile phone in Srinagar after internet services were restored in Jammu and Kashmir after a 552-day shutdown in February 2021. Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The screwdriver approaches

Speed ​​control: Speed ​​throttling slows down the internet so that 4G suddenly turns into glacial 2G. This can stop or delay news coverage of atrocities or human rights violations because internet speeds are too slow to stream or download videos. Slowdowns can be combined with approaches that exclude certain groups from accessing the Internet; for example, geo-based blocks targeting particularly troubled provinces or blocks on private internet connections.

The latest occurred in February 2012, on the third anniversary of Iran’s Twitter Revolution, when the platform was used to organize street protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial election victory. Private internet connections were shut down, while government internet users continued to enjoy normal speeds. This meant that protest organizers would no longer be able to share information or mobilize, while funding and government institutions would no longer be able to operate.

Blacklist or blocklist: Blocking access to a particular platform is a common tactic to prevent the flow of information, and as the cyber community moves toward using more inclusive language, it’s called a blacklist, or more recently, a blocklist. In Myanmar, the military blocked Facebook on February 4, three days after the coup, shutting most Burmese out of the internet. The Ministry of Communications and Information justified the blocking in the name of national stability, writing “fake news and misinformation and … misunderstanding between people using Facebook.”

Facebook’s ban has been devastating for small business owners who rely heavily on the platform. One woman in Yangon described how the ban destroyed her mother’s business in an instant, saying, “My mother cooked and sold it on her Facebook page and account, so she couldn’t do her business online.”

2021 protest against military coup in Mandalay, Myanmar
2021 protest against military coup in Mandalay, Myanmar. After taking power, the junta imposed strict restrictions on mobile internet and social media platforms. Photo: SH/Penta Press/Rex/Shutterstock

Whitelist or whitelist: This turns the internet into an intranet. Instead of blacklisting things on the open internet, websites are verified on a closed intranet, effectively creating a walled garden for government-approved platforms. “This inverts the norm 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 has allowed military interests to operate and crippled businesses to restart, while blocking the communication functions offered by the internet.

After that, the military junta began to prosecute the “white list”. The Burmese were given access to a total of 1,200 military-sanctioned websites, including banking and financial sites, gaming and entertainment sites such as Netflix and YouTube, and some news sites such as the New York Times. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter remained inaccessible. The connection is back, but the number of sites available has dropped dramatically. “What they’ve done is effectively re-created the censorship board, but only for the online space,” said Oliver Spencer of Free Expression Myanmar, referring to the censorship body that had been in place for 50 years until 2012.

Firewall: China’s firewall is an example of extreme whitelisting. Although it has used a kill switch in the past, Beijing appears to be moving away from this method, relying on sophisticated internet controls. In 2009, Beijing cut off Internet access to the Xinjiang region for 10 months following riots fueled by ethnic tensions. This was seen as a move to stop political organizing and limit reports of repression punishing the entire population.

However, the Communist Party never again shut down the internet in the region, even though it imprisoned at least a million Uyghurs and created mass political indoctrination centers. One factor is the effectiveness of Beijing’s control over the internet, which means that the blunt instrument of a complete shutdown is no longer needed; The monitoring and censorship provided by China’s great firewall effectively prevents most Chinese internet users from accessing the global internet while limiting the content they post.

There’s no need for such an ugly, fist-pounding of a key tool for economic activity,” says Simon Angus of the IP Observatory. “The Internet is their friend for both messaging and communication.”

People on the street in Beijing with Xi Jinping on a giant TV screen
China’s great firewall effectively blocks most local internet users from accessing the global internet. Photo: Mark Schiefelbein/AP

In one version of the future, following China’s lead, internet shutdowns may no longer be necessary as governments improve control over their internet. This trend points to a “splinternet” instead of a global internet, where the internet is divided into a number of intranets managed on a sovereign (sometimes hyperlocal or regional) basis.

But government control of the Internet faces a new obstacle: satellite Internet.

Satellite internet

Elon Musk’s Starlink technology uses a constellation of satellites in low-Earth orbit to send high-speed Internet access to Ukraine, allowing the government to maintain communications and bypass Russian servers, even as it destroys and redirects Russian terrestrial Internet infrastructure. The country’s military communications, combat operations and all critical infrastructure are comprised of 15,000 Starlink satellite sets, which allow President Volodymyr Zelensky to broadcast his daily videos, boost domestic morale and win international support.

In theory, a satellite internet service like SpaceX’s Starlink could make internet shutdowns a thing of the past, although in practice this has yet to be replicated at scale for the entire population of Ukraine. However, the promise that satellite internet services can allow users to bypass internet blocks is being demonstrated every day in Ukraine. This is closely watched by Chinese researchers who are developing new anti-satellite weapons.

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