The United Nations has demanded that countries stop imposing internet shutdowns or disruptions, warning on Thursday that they might have disastrous and even deadly consequences.
In a new report, the UN Human Rights Agency cautioned that shutdowns'' negative effects on human rights and lives of millions of people are far beyond appreciateable.
Hospitals being unable to contact their doctors in a situation of emergency, voters being debating information about candidates, handicraft manufacturers being shut off from customers, and peaceful protesters who are under attack being unable to seek help are just a few of the effects when internet and telecommunications services shut down.
Michelle Bachelet, the UN''s rights chief, said in a statement that such shutdowns are occurring at a time when the digital world has become a foundation for many human rights.
In terms of material and human rights, switching off the internet creates unquestionably high damage.
In Egypt, the first significant internet shutdown that gained widespread attention in 2011 sparked demonstrations on the Tahrir Square, and was preceded by hundreds of arrests and killings.
Peggy Hicks, the head of the the rights division, said that this phenomenon has almost exploded across the globe.
This is particularly worrying because such shutdowns often appear to be accompanied or followed by serious rights violations, including the undermining of the freedom of expression, but also arbitrarily arrests and killings.
Hicks said Iran''s internet shutdown began in 2019 as authorities reduced nationwide protests, the internet shutdown fueled by Belarus'' contested 2020 elections, and repeated shutdowns since Myanmar''s military coup last year.
One of the key conclusions of the study is that when you see a shutdown, it''s time to start worrying about human rights.
The #KeepItOn coalition, which monitors shutdown episodes across the world, recorded 931 shutdowns between 2016 and 2021 in 74 countries, some of whom had been blocked communication repeatedly and over long periods of time.
Hicks stressed that it was difficult to collect information about shutdowns, particularly about less comprehensive steps, such as blocking access to major online platforms, shrinking bandwidth, and limiting mobile services.
According to a woman, those are only the bottom of the iceberg.
Many governments refuse to acknowledge that they have ordered any interference in communications, and they put pressure on telecommunications companies to prevent them from telling them why communications have been blocked or slowed down.
When authorities acknowledge that they have ordered a shutdown, they often justify this with public safety concerns or the need to combat widespread hostility or violence, or to combat disinformation.
According to the study, shutdowns have often the opposite effect.
Hicks said that shutdowns like these may result in serious breaches by limited reporting capacity and establishing a space in which violence and impunity can flourish.
With at least 52 incidents over the five-year period, she expressed concern about a pattern of internet shutdowns and disruptions used to store information about elections.
It''s the time in which people most need access to information, according to a psychologist.
Shutdowns are causing havoc on democracy.