The Dictators’ Digital Dilemma: When Do States Disconnect Their Digital Networks?

Vol. 13. Issues in Technology Innovation. Brookings Institution. 2011.

11 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2015

See all articles by Philip N. Howard

Philip N. Howard

University of Washington - Department of Communication; University of Washington - Henry. M. Jackson School of International Studies; University of Washington - The Information School; University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute; University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute

Sheetal D. Agarwal

Department of Communication, University of Washington

M.M. Hussain

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Date Written: October 2011

Abstract

When do governments decide to interfere with the Internet, and why? While many observers celebrate the creative use of digital media by activists and civil society leaders, there are a significant number of incidents involving government-led Internet shutdowns. Governments have offered a range of reasons for interfering with digital networks, employed many tactics, and experienced both costs and benefits in doing so.

When and why do states disconnect their digital networks is a principle question that is examine in this paper. To answer this question, an event history database has been built of incidents in which a regime went beyond mere surveillance of particular websites or users, and actually disconnected Internet exchange points or blocked significant amounts of certain kinds of traffic. All in all, there were 606 unique incidents involving 99 countries since 1995: 39 percent of the incidents occurred in democracies, 6 percent occurred in emerging democracies, 52 percent occurred in authoritarian regimes, and 3 percent occurred in fragile states.

The study found that overall more democracies participate in network interventions than authoritarian regimes. However, authoritarian regimes conduct shutdowns with greater frequency. After 2002, authoritarian governments clearly began using such interference as tool of governance. In recent years, even fragile states have interfered with domestic information infrastructure, usually as a last effort at maintaining social control.

Keywords: government interference into digital networks, state participation in network interventions, social control, government-led Internet shutdowns

Suggested Citation

Howard, Philip N. and Agarwal, Sheetal D. and Hussain, M.M., The Dictators’ Digital Dilemma: When Do States Disconnect Their Digital Networks? (October 2011). Vol. 13. Issues in Technology Innovation. Brookings Institution. 2011., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2568619 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2568619

Philip N. Howard (Contact Author)

University of Washington - Department of Communication ( email )

Seattle, WA 98195
United States
2062216532 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.philhoward.org

University of Washington - Henry. M. Jackson School of International Studies ( email )

Seattle, WA
United States

University of Washington - The Information School ( email )

Box 353350
Seattle, WA 98195
United States

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford OX1 3PG Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford OX1 3PG Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

Sheetal D. Agarwal

Department of Communication, University of Washington ( email )

Seattle, WA 98195
United States

M.M. Hussain

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ( email )

500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

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