How to turn off the Internet – and how to resist. | Internet

Internet shutdowns come in many different forms, ranging from complete blackout hammer to screwdriver-style arrangements targeting specific demographics. These are some of the ways It is used by governments all over the world To turn off the Internet.


The nuclear option. On August 5, 2019, the Hindu nationalist government revoked the special status of the Kashmir region, unilaterally revoking its autonomy. It also sent thousands of army soldiers and Cut off internet and mobile phone connections. The region will remain offline for 552 days, the longest shutdown in the world to date.

This type of extreme option is used in many countries every year on a short-term basis for such trivial reasons as trying to stop cheating in exams. In Syria, the entire network including mobile internet is blocked when students take their high school exams, while parts of India Turn off the mobile network for teacher trainee exams.

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

Screwdriver approaching

speed throttle: Speed ​​throttling slows down the internet so that 4G suddenly becomes icy 2G. This can stop or delay news of atrocities or human rights abuses because internet speeds are too slow for video streaming or uploading. Speed ​​throttling can be combined with methods that deny certain groups access to the Internet; For example, geo-based blocks that specifically target troubled provinces or blocks on private Internet connections.

The latter occurred in Iran in February 2012 on the third anniversary of the Twitter revolution, when the platform was used to organize street protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial election victory. Private internet connections were blocked, while state-run internet users continued to enjoy normal speeds. This means protest organizers can no longer share information or mobilize, while allowing financial and state-run institutions to continue operating.

Blacklist or blocked list: Blocking access to a particular platform is a common tactic to stop the flow of information and is called blacklisting – or more recently blocklisting, as the cyber community moves toward using more inclusive language. In Myanmar on February 4, three days after the coup, army blocked facebook, effectively causing most Burmese to shut down their primary gateway to the Internet. The Ministry of Communications and Information justified the blocking in the name of national stability, writing “false news, misinformation and … misunderstanding between people using Facebook.”

The Facebook ban was devastating to small business owners who were heavily reliant on the platform. “My mom was cooking and selling food on her page and Facebook account, so she couldn’t do her business online,” said a Yangon woman, describing how the ban destroyed her mother’s business in one fell swoop.

2021 demonstration in Mandalay, Myanmar, against the military coup
A 2021 demonstration in Mandalay, Myanmar, against the military coup. The junta imposed strict restrictions on the mobile internet and social media platforms after seizing power. Photo: SH/Penta Press/Rex/Shutterstock

Whitelisting or allowing: This turns the Internet into an intranet. Instead of blacklisting things on the open internet, websites are approved on a closed intranet, effectively creating a walled garden of government-enforced platforms. “It is the natural heart of the internet, where everything is accessible and only certain things can be restricted or blocked,” says Raman Singh of Access Now. in MyanmarThis allowed military-run interests to operate and again paralyzed businesses, while continuing to frustrate the communication functions provided by the Internet.

Subsequently, the military council began the trial of the whitelisting. The Burmese were given access to only 1,200 Internet sites subject to military sanctions, which included 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 such as Facebook and Twitter remained inaccessible. Connectivity is back, but the number of accessible sites is significantly lower. “What they effectively did was re-establish the oversight board, but for the online space,” says Oliver Spencer of Free Expression Myanmar, referring to the oversight body that was in operation for 50 years until 2012.

Firewall: The Chinese firewall is an example of an extreme whitelist. Although it has used a kill switch in the past, Beijing appears to have moved away from this method, instead relying on sophisticated internet controls. In 2009, Beijing suspended internet access in the Xinjiang region for 10 months after riots fueled by ethnic tensions. This was seen as a move to halt political regulation and reduce news of the ensuing crackdown, which punished the entire population.

However, even with the Communist Party setting up massive political indoctrination centers, and detaining at least one million Uyghurs, it never shut down the region’s internet again. One factor is the effectiveness of Beijing’s controls on the Internet, which means that the blunt tool of a total lockdown is no longer necessary; The monitoring and censorship provided by the Great Chinese Firewall effectively prevents most Chinese Internet users from accessing the World Wide Web, while restricting the content they publish.

“They don’t need to do this kind of dirty, turbulent shutdown of a major tool of economic activity,” says Simon Angus of IP Observatory. “The Internet is their friend for both messaging and communication.”

People on a Beijing street with Xi Jinping on a giant TV screen
The Great Chinese Firewall effectively blocks most domestic Internet users from accessing the global Internet. Photo: Mark Schiffelbein/The Associated Press

In one version of the future, following the lead of China, cutting off the internet may not be necessary as governments supplement their control of their own intranets. This trend refers to a “splinternet” rather than a global Internet, in which the Internet is divided into a series of internal networks that are controlled on a supremacy – sometimes highly local or regional – basis.

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

satellite internet

Elon Musk’s Starlink technology uses constellations of satellites in low Earth orbit beam high speed internet access to Ukraine, allowing the government to continue communications and bypass Russian servers, even as Russia destroys and diverts the Internet’s terrestrial infrastructure. The country’s military communications, combat warfare and all of its vital infrastructure operate from 15,000 Starlink groups of satellites, which also allow President Volodymyr Zelensky to broadcast his daily videos, boosting local morale and gaining 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 cannot be replicated on a large scale for all residents of Ukraine. However, the promise that satellite Internet services can allow users to bypass Internet blocks appears in Ukraine every day. It is closely monitored by Chinese researchers, who are developing new anti-satellite weapons.

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