22 August 2017

From the Annual Conference

Keep It On: IFLA calls for an end to Internet Shutdowns

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Internet Shutdown buttonThe Internet provides opportunities for finding, sharing and creating knowledge that were unimaginable a generation ago. It allows for more effective delivery of the human right of access to information than ever before, as well as letting families, friends, colleagues and research collaborators connect.

When the right laws and social conditions are in place, and people have the necessary skills and confidence, Internet access is a driver of development at all levels.

The fact that around half of the world’s population are not connecting is therefore a major concern. As set out in the Principles on Public Access, libraries can make a major contribution to bringing people online, both through computer terminals in library buildings, and as hubs for community networks.

However, even where connections exist, the use of Internet shutdowns by governments and others shows how vulnerable this access can be. ‘Shutdowns’ refer to the deliberate disconnection of a group of people from the Internet, with excuses offered ranging from national security to preventing cheating in school exams.

Such shutdowns are increasingly common, as research by organisations such as AccessNow has indicated, and carry significant economic costs. Perhaps more importantly, they also place serious limitations on human rights and people’s ability to improve their lives. They prevent farmers from accessing weather forecasts and market information, parents from finding out how best to treat their children’s illnesses, schools and universities from helping their students to learn and perform research, and rural communities from escaping isolation.

While there may be exceptional circumstances where shutdowns are justified, they are usually disproportionate, doing more harm than good. Where there are fears about how people will use the Internet, education must be the first response. Libraries are experienced in helping people to become skilled, confident and responsible digital citizens. Simply shutting down the Internet slows down development both today and in the future.

In a statement released today, IFLA therefore calls on governments to refrain from using shutdowns. In line with their commitments under the UN 2030 Agenda, they must rather invest in reliable, resilient Internet connections for their communities, and the institutions help citizens make the most of access.

You can download the full statement (in English), as well as additional resources and links on Internet shutdowns.

FAIFE (Committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression), Access to information, Access to knowledge, Development, IFLA WLIC 2017, Internet access, Internet censorship