Switching off the internet causes incalculable damage: UN report

A hospital unable to contact a doctor for emergency surgery. Voters deprived of information about candidates during an election. Students missing entry exams for academic programs. Atrocities in conflict zones covered up.

These are just a few examples of the profound damage to the daily lives and human rights of millions of people caused by government-imposed internet shutdowns, a new report of the UN Human Rights Office warns.

The report, Internet shutdowns: Trends, causes, legal implications and impacts on a range of human rights, aims to shed light on internet shutdowns, examining how they undermine a range of human rights, first and foremost the right to freedom of expression. It details how shutdowns undermine development and how some governments increasingly use the measure to stop protests and silence dissent.

“While internet shutdowns deeply affect many human rights, they most immediately impact freedom of expression and access to information – one of the foundations of free and democratic societies and an indispensable condition for the full development of the person,” the report states.

As digitalization advances in societies, the impact of internet shutdowns on people’s lives will increase, the report adds, bearing heavy costs on jobs, education, health, standard of living, political participation and social and cultural life.

“Internet shutdowns have emerged as the digital world has become ever more important, indeed essential, for the realization of many human rights. Switching off the Internet causes incalculable damage, both in material and human rights terms,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

States should therefore refrain from shutting down the internet, the report urges.

Source: UN Human Rights Council