Security v Access: The Impact of Mobile Network Shutdowns on Human Rights Case Study: Telenor Pakistan

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//A new report published by the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB), with support from the CGCS Internet Policy Observatory, highlights the practice of mobile network shutdowns in Pakistan and the wider implications for human rights of such practices by governments around the world. Click here to read the full report.

While many States recognize the economic and social benefits of investing in and improving access to Information and Communication Technology (ICTs), some are reaching for the communications “off” switch at times of civil unrest, or in the name of national security. Although country-wide network shutdowns on the scale of Egypt during the Arab Spring in 2011 are extremely rare, shutdowns may target a specific geographical area of mobile coverage, internet access, or a specific service such as Facebook or WhatsApp. This can potentially impact millions of people, as happened in the Gujarat state in India recently.

However, network shutdowns adversely affect a range of human rights, and in the view of many experts, such shutdowns are neither necessary nor proportionate responses to potential violent activities. Experts are concerned that network shutdowns are becoming the norm, rather than an exception. They say shutdowns are being utilized as the main strategy to curb terrorism, when instead states can do much more to improve other methods of investigation.

Network shutdowns indeed affect freedom of expression, but they also impact other rights, including life, access to health services, education, and work. In particular, IHRB’s report stresses the importance of ensuring access to emergency services (ambulance, police and fire) even at the time of a shutdown so that these services can continue to operate. The report also highlights how disruption has a wider impact on companies, schools, universities and colleges, and online commercial and public services.

This study was published by the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB), with support from the CGCS Internet Policy Observatory. Click here to read the full report.

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Internet Governance and Internet Usage: Linking Two Disparate Fields

Harsh Taneja (Missouri School of Journalism, University of Missouri) and Angela Xiao Wu (School of Journalism and Communication, Chinese University of Hong Kong) examine the clustering of global internet web usage. To read their full study, please click here. 

Scholars of internet governance have traditionally focused on how institutions such as sovereign nation states and multilateral organizations establish public policy. In doing so, experts and policy makers often presume the impact of internet policies on internet usage, but rarely do they examine usage aggregated from the behavior of individual web users.

To address this gap, earlier this year we initiated a research program to link the two disparate areas of internet governance and internet usage with a grant provided by IPO. Unlike most policy research, we took a bottom-up approach–that is, to evaluate user behavior first, and then link the observed patterns to policy initiatives. Our user behavior analysis relies on the web use data from ComScore, a provider that measures internet use from the computers of 2 million people in about 170 countries.

For this analysis, we conceptualized the internet as a network of interconnected websites, linked to one another if they had audiences in common. We constructed this network for the 1,000 most visited websites globally in September of 2009, 2011 and 2013. Analysis of these networks revealed a number of “clusters” of websites, whereby sites within the cluster had more users in common than they did with sites outside the cluster. In each of the three years, we found that the most salient means upon which websites clustered together were language and geography (and not content type).  We interpreted such clusters as online expressions of place-based cultures, or “regional cultures.” The changes in online regional cultures over the years are particularly worthy of note.

First, we noticed what may be indicative of an ongoing de-Americanization of the WWW. In 2009, the largest cluster was of websites of US based companies, primarily in English. In 2011 and 2013, the cluster consisting of US-focused sites became more isolated as in these years “global” sites (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) become a distinct group, separating from the US cluster to form a cluster of their own. In other words, with the passage of time, just like many other online regional cultures that are distinct from the global cluster, the US-focused sites appear as a regional culture rather…

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To read the full study, The Rise of the Global South on the World Wide Web: Bridging Internet Policies and Web User Behavior, please click here