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Internet shutdowns and restricted online expression

Pakistan has long used network shutdowns, turning off the internet entirely to limit the flow of information in certain parts of the country. In a leap forward in 2018, Pakistan’s Islamabad High Court ruled that network shutdowns were an ‘illegal and disproportionate response to security threats’.[1]

Internet shutdowns are also common practice in countries like Sri Lanka, where the government ordered all telecommunications operators to restrict access to certain social media websites in March as part of a declared state of emergency, amid anti-Muslim violence.[2]

India also regularly uses this deeply repressive practice.[3] Indeed, according to Facebook, it has the most disrupted services of all countries, amounting to more than 15 weeks over 2018[4] – a practice it took even further in 2019 .

India’s government also makes more requests to Facebook for user data than any other in the region, though Japan makes the most requests to Twitter (with India coming second in the region).[5] Despite its leap forward in terms of internet shutdowns, Pakistan was among the countries that made the largest number of requests for content restrictions on leading social media platforms.

Barriers are being erected for the fast-growing online population of the region; governments are establishing ‘cyber troops’ to monitor the internet, social media, and messaging platforms for ‘false information’.

Singapore (Digital score: 0.39), Thailand (Digital score: 0.15), and Vietnam (Digital score: 0.14) have passed cybersecurity laws with broad and vague definitions of national security and the threats posed. This leaves the provisions open to arbitrary or selective interpretation – and therefore abuse.[6] Cambodia revealed its own, highly problematic, new cybersecurity draft in early 2019.[7]

China has among the worst records in the region for digital rights (see p.x).

In many cases, the region’s new raft of cyberlaws mandate harsher punishments for online offences than for their offline counterparts.[8]

 

[1] Bytes for All (B4A), Verdict: Islamabad High Court Declares Network Disconnections as Illegal, 26 February 2018, available at https://bytesforall.pk/post/verdict-islamabad-high-court-declares-network-disconnections-illegal

[2] Free Media Movement, ‘Sri Lanka blocks social media following communal violence’, IFEX, 11 March 2018, available at https://www.ifex.org/sri_lanka/2018/03/11/state-emergency-social-media/

[3] Software Freedom Law Centre India, Internet Shutdowns, available at https://internetshutdowns.in/

[4] Facebook Transparency Reporting, Jan–June 2018, available at https://transparency.facebook.com/internet-disruptions/jan-jun-2018

[5] Facebook Transparency Reporting, July–December 2018, available at https://transparency.facebook.com/government-data-requests/jul-dec-2018

[6] Southeast Asian Press Alliance, [Regional] The Slide Backwards Across Southeast Asia, 3 May 2019, available at https://www.seapa.org/regional-the-slide-backwards-across-southeast-asia/; see also Global Society Watch, Unshackling Expression: A Study on Laws Criminalising Expression Online in Asia, 2017, available at https://www.giswatch.org/sites/default/files/giswspecial2017_web.pdf

[7] Mech Dara, ‘Ministries review content of draft law on cybercrime’, The Phnomn Penh Post, 12 July 2018, available at https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/ministries-review-content-draft-law-cybercrime

[8] Global Society Watch, Unshackling Expression: A Study on Laws Criminalising Expression Online in Asia, 2017, available at https://www.giswatch.org/sites/default/files/giswspecial2017_web.pdf

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