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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