To combat its own serious public security challenges, the Government of Pakistan has often instructed telecommunication operators to suspend mobile and/or Internet networks where intelligence indicates a threat to national security. Pakistan is not the only country to do this. Network shutdowns of varying scale are happening globally with creeping frequency for a variety of reasons- from national security threats to civil unrest or to disperse protests. Most countries’ national laws do allow for governments to take control of communications networks during a national emergency, but the situations in which governments can exercise this power are often vague, the request process to telecommunications operators may be unclear, execution is technically complex, and there is virtually no transparency. In addition, it is still a difficult topic for telecommunications operators to discuss publicly, due to the national security element.
There is little research in the public domain which is why IHRB, with support from CGCS, undertook research into network shutdowns in 2015 and produced the report, Security v Access: The Impact of Mobile Network Shutdowns Case Study: Telenor Pakistan. This study demonstrated the need for more in depth research and advocacy on the reasons for and impacts of network shutdowns. Without this research, there is little opportunity to understand the avenues for prevention, mitigation and redress.
Lucy Purdon, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Project Manager, joined IHRB in 2012 as a researcher on the European Commission ICT Sector Guide on Implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Lucy developed and now manages IHRB’s ICT Programme, including the Digital Dangers project, working mainly on situations where ICT companies are at risk of impacting negatively on freedom of expression and privacy. Lucy graduated with an MA in Human Rights from The Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS) at the University of London. Her thesis, “Privatising Dissent,” applied the UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights to the ICT sector. Prior to this, Lucy was a documentary producer/director. She also holds a First Class BA (Hons) in Film and Video from London College of Communications, University of the Arts.