Internet Shutdowns During Political Unrest Are Becoming Normal – And It Should Worry Us

Courtesy Michael Coghlan / Flickr

This article was originally published by the Political Violence at a Glance on 16 September 2016.

Last night, for the eleventh night in a row, Internet access was shut down in Gabon. Starting again at 7pm, network accessibility almost came to a halt. These “Internet curfews” come in the aftermath of highly contested and controversial national elections. Just over a week ago, Gabon’s incumbent president, Ali Bongo, declared himself winner of the elections by a narrow margin with 49.8 percent of all votes. His opponent, Jean Ping, who allegedly lost with 48.2 percent of votes has demanded a recount, and the international community has backed him up. Amidst the uncertainty surrounding the election results, protesters took to the streets and set fire to a parliamentary house, while the opposition reported attacks against their premises by incumbent forces. Throughout the post-election tensions, the government has resorted to extreme digital censorship. Prior to the nightly Internet curfews, connections were cut for more than five days across the country while protesters took to the streets across Libreville, and according to Reuters, thousands were arrested under the charges of rioting.

EU Cybersecurity Policy: A Model for Global Governance

Image by br1dotcom/Flickr.

While only 6 percent of all cyber incidents reported in 2011 were perpetrated with malicious intentions, there is still an important vacuum of data regarding cybercrimes. In this context, the European Union (EU) established the European Cybercrime Centre in January as part of the Europol. This important event raises the question of the effectiveness of the instruments established by the European Union to address cybersecurity. The mode of governance developed by the European Union is coherent and comprehensive but now the international community must support and adopt this model for it to be effective.

The European Union has structured its mode of governance around three pillars that parallel the economic and social opportunities of the Internet and both categories of cyber threats: cybercrimes, such as online bank robbery, and attacks on critical infrastructures through the development of online viruses, such as Flame and Stuxnet that were used to break down Iranian nuclear facilities.

A Reading List on: Cybercrime and Cybersecurity

The world has entered the digital age. We rely on the internet for information, communication and so much more; and technology influences almost every aspect of modern society, from personal banking to the management of global conflict.   As an area of academic study, ‘cybercrime’ is still very much in the initial stages of development, as even the experts struggle to come to terms with ever-quickening pace of technological change and proliferation.  This syllabus provides insight into some of the sources currently available on cybercrime and cybersecurity (with an additional focus on the controversial issue of ‘cyberwarfare’).

Misguided Priorities for Internet Governance

Server room, courtesy of Torkild Retvedt/flickr
Server room, courtesy of Torkild Retvedt/flickr

This is a cross-post from the Lowy Institute’s blog, The Interpreter.

If you had to choose between human rights and governance, which one would you pick? Most might go for human rights, but when it comes to the internet, that would be the wrong answer.

In February, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) held its last preparatory meeting before the 2011 annual meeting, due to take place in Nairobi. The IGF was created following the UN World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) held in Tunis in 2005. The summit was an attempt to internationalise internet governance and make it more open.

The summit had four principal goals: ensuring the access, openness, development and security of the internet. The WSIS attempted to shape a new form of internet governance, that would give more power to international organisations and less power to the private sector organisations like the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Since no agreement was reached in Tunis, UN member states agreed to mandate the IGF to continue discussions on internet governance.

As Cyberparanoia Spreads

All Rights Reserved? Courtesy of Paul Gallo/flickr

A new fear is engulfing Switzerland and this time its about cyberspace.

True, the threat of ‘cyberwar’ and cyber-attacks is real and sometimes very difficult to prepare for. Recent events, like the hacking of political parties’ websites or the recent distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS) on Postfinance, the bank hosting Julian Assange’s account, point to a future where sometimes crippling cyber-attacks are an all-too common occurrence.

The Swiss parliament recently passed a motion asking the government to develop the legal framework for responding to and defending against cyber-attacks. The government, however, is not really convinced that a legal basis to fight ‘cyberwars’ should be the priority and I agree with them.

A solid legal framework is certainly needed for cybercrime. But when it comes to cyber-attacks, having a legal framework is of no help. What legal measures could you take if someone launches a cyber-attack on your country, key industries or public figures?  This also links up to the equally tricky debate about attribution in the case of such attacks. Who attacked and from where? Who is behind the attack and who should be held resonsible? Moreover, we still lack a clear definition of what a cyber-attack even is. Experts still disagree on this and I don’t think that the Swiss government will be able to break this definitional deadlock.

The legalization of cyberspace is generally speaking a dangerous trend. So far, no international treaties exist on the subject, and attempts to “nationalize” part of it by promulgating a national legal framework for hostile acts on the internet is creating borders and limits on a ‘global good’. The internet cannot be structured on the basis of national borders and it should remain so: common, shared, unlimited and open. Indeed, legalizing cyberspace from a national standpoint is not only inefficient; it also sets a dangerous trend for the fragmentation of cyberspace.