Network disconnections: Affects on Civil and Trade Rights

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Session Description

The practice of shutting down communications or suspending certain services continues globally. This has happened over the past decade or so for a variety of reasons, sometimes due to national security concerns but also to prevent the organisation of protests or the spread of civil unrest. The government blocked access to social networking sites Facebook and Twitter, and messaging applications Viber and Whatsapp. Due to the extremely sensitive nature of the subject, most telecommunications operators rarely address publicly the issue of network shutdowns and associated policies. Therefore, relatively little is known about the reasons for shutdowns, the mechanism through which governments affect such shutdowns, or the economic and social impacts of shutdowns on telecommunications companies, users, and society at large. Without such information, there is little opportunity to understand the avenues for prevention, mitigation and redress for business, users, or civil society. The Government of Pakistan’s stated intention in blocking access to communication at such a time is primarily in order to protect the right to life13 as violent extremists use mobile phones to inform each other of their movements and in some cases, mobile phones have been used to detonate bombs. However, many experts argue that network shutdowns violate a range of human rights, and are neither necessary nor proportionate responses to potential violent activities. While the debate is often framed around the resulting restrictions to freedom of expression, network shutdowns also impact other rights, including life, access to health services, education, and work. The aim is to:

• Analyse the Pakistan context as an introduction to further research on the economic and social impacts of network shutdowns.

• Explore how requests for disconnection are made by authorised agencies to telecommunication operators.

• Discuss day-to-day impacts and the perception of Pakistani citizens of network shutdowns,not look into the full economic impact of a shutdown.

• Analyse instances of mobile and Internet shutdowns outside of Pakistan, which were followed by corporate and government campaigns to achieve positive change, such as an amendment in the law.

• Provide best practices and guidelines for telecommunication operators with regard to handling network shutdown requests. This session will be useful to the human right defenders, civil society people, businesses and particularly those working on freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Network disconnections: Affects on Civil and Trade Rights
Presenter/s Shahzad Ahmad, Moderator B4A Dr. Ben Wagner, Centre for Internet and Human Rights (CIHR) Lucy Purdon, Project Manager, Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) Peter Misek, Lawyer Teleco Representative (Name TBC)
Bio/s Submitting this proposal on behalf of Bytes for All - a civil society organization based in Islamabad, Pakistan working on digital rights and civil liberties. Currently, I am leading a project focusing on Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Association and Assembly online and Right to privacy in cyberspace.
Language English

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