Thirty governments of the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC) declared their commitment to fight internet shutdowns in an important new statement issued at RightsCon Brussels 2017.
The FOC which includes member countries as diverse as France, Tunisia, Ghana, the United States, and Australia made the joint statement on March 29.
Deji Bryce Olukotun, Senior Global Advocacy Manager at Access Now said the bold statement from the Freedom Online Coalition is an important step in preventing internet shutdowns from becoming the new normal. “We now have a group of countries who have drawn a firm line in the sand against this human rights violation, and they can hold other governments accountable by setting the right example.”
In the statement, the FOC expressed “deep concern”, and called “on all governments to end such violations of the rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly.” It explained that “disruptions undermine the economic benefits of the Internet and disrupt access to essential services such as health care,” citing two influential studies by the Brookings Institution and the Global Network Initiative, the former of which found that shutdowns had drained $2.4 billion from the global economy.
“Stopping internet shutdowns is a moonshot problem, but there are multiple moons and a thousand trajectories,” Olukotun continued. “The FOC’s statement draws us closer to one of the moons. But there’s much more work to be done to end this violation of human rights in the digital age.”
The FOC statement caps an important month of victories against internet shutdowns. The Internet Society, a global non-profit with 110 chapters on 6 continents, recently joined Access Now’s #KeepitOn campaign to fight internet shutdowns. The regional internet registry AFRINIC also came out strongly against shutdowns, and earlier in the month the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, widely seen as a moral authority on the African continent, condemned the practice.
Nonetheless, there are ongoing internet shutdowns in Cameroon, Bahrain, and Pakistan, and India has already experienced eight disruptions in 2017, according to the Software Freedom Law Centre. Access Now tracked 56 shutdowns in 2016, up from under 20 in 2015. Earlier this week, digital rights groups in Ecuador also reported internet disruptions during its elections, which are still being investigated.
At RightsCon Brussels, activists, technologists, companies, and governments also gathered at the Keep it On Summit to explore new frontiers and strategies for fighting disruptions.