The Legality of Internet Blackouts in Times of Crisis: An Assessment at the Intersection of Human Rights Law, Humanitarian Law and Internet Governance Principles
6 Pages Posted: 17 Jul 2016
Date Written: September 26, 2011
On 28 January 2011, Egyptian authorities ordered the country’s Internet Service Providers to shut down. On 5 March 2011, Libya shut down its data traffic. Already in 2009, Iran had greatly reduced connection speed, and China had shut down the Internet in the region of Xinjiang. What connects all of these cases of Internet blackouts in times of crisis is the lasting conviction by governments that shutting down information and communication channels in times of crisis increases the country’s stability and security, as defined by the ruling authority. Given the potential of information and communication technologies (ICTs) it is highly likely that this pattern will continue in times to come. Therefore, an evaluation of the legal framework that governs Internet shutdowns in urgently required.
Against this background I will enquire whether states can shut down the Internet because of reasons of “national security” and what international rules limit their behavior. After an introduction (section 1), I will elaborate on the normative frame provided by human rights law (section 2), humanitarian law (section 3) and by Internet Governance Principles (section 4). In my conclusions, I will show that Internet blackouts do not occur within a legal black hole and are only legal in very specific situations (section 5). The legal framework I will develop in my paper will help assess states’ actions, point out their legal limits, and frame the response of the international community.
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