Internet Blackout in Sudan

Sudan has been rocked by protests after ousting President Omar al-Bashir in April, who was in power for 30 years. Now under the control of the Transitional Military Council, the internet blackout in Sudan has swept the country while peaceful protestors demand a transition to a democratic civilian government, which has turned deadly.

One-hundred people were killed by government militia, the Rapid Support Forces, during a sit-in protest in early June. Seven more were killed and 181 injured in the biggest protest since at a commemoration event for those who died earlier the same month in Khartoum.

Between 2010 and 2018, internet freedom has declined across the globe. China, Iran, Thailand and Tunisia have a history of blocking news outlets and social networking sites during times of conflict. In addition, although it is a democracy, India has the highest number of internet shutdowns than anywhere in the world.

The problem in Sudan, however, mirrors the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, which remained under the rule of Hosni Mubarak for 30 years. Egypt and Sudan faced internet blackouts in an attempt to silence protestors and hide human rights violations. Despite their attempts, both countries have shown ways of overcoming internet oppression.

African journalist, Zeinab Mohammed Salih, told BBC News that most protests in Sudan are held at night in the suburbs, neighboring cities and small streets, but when more people hear about them, the bigger the protests become. Despite the lack of internet freedom, the latest Khartoum protest is proof of the growing opposition.

How to Bypass the Internet Blackout in Sudan

  1. Neighborhood Committees: Neighborhood committees are spread throughout different districts in the state of Khartoum. In the Omdurman district, just northwest of Khartoum city, four committees consist of almost 60 households. Originally, committees planned the routes of protest marches, but now they are working to share information and provide support and safety to those in need. In the Bahri district, they built barricades just days after the sit-in protest, and in Omdurman, 300 people protested as militia soldiers patrolled Khartoum city.
  2. Phone and Landlines Reign Supreme: When the internet is shut down, phone and landlines become the keys to connecting to the outside world. Although protestors have forwarded the information by SMS text over the cellular network instead of the internet, others find that their texts are not always delivered. In order to bypass the internet blackout in Egypt, several international internet service providers offered dial-up access to the internet, which connects users to phone lines.  Although the connection is slow, it works. When Salih, an African journalist, failed to text her articles to a news outlet in London, she tried to reach a landline at a hotel in Khartoum but struggled to get around the barricades protestors had made, forcing her and others to walk. The internet in Sudan is only accessible through telephone lines or fiber optic cables, although the connection is not so reliable. Despite this, men, women, whether they are protestors or not, crowd mobile shops and cyber cafes in Khartoum.
  3. Peer-to-Peer Network: Adam Fisk is the creator of the free open-source censorship circumvention tool Lantern. The program gives anyone’s computer the ability to become a server by sharing its internet connection with those without it. Those in censored regions can choose who they want to add and shift their traffic through, and the tool bypasses any blocks to Google, Facebook and Twitter. In 2013, the Chinese government blocked the program after the number of users rose to more than 10,000, but the program does not provide anonymity. Fisk recommends Tor to remain anonymous, another tool that encrypts traffic and sends it around the world, masking the user’s actual location and making them harder to track.
  4. Innovation for the Future: After the Egyptian Revolution, innovators like Fisk are still trying to create tools to circumvent future government-mandated shutdowns. Bre Pettis is one of them. The goal is to create quick and reliable chats on a local network so users can communicate without internet access in an emergency situation.

According to Haj-Omar, what Sudan needs to achieve freedom and uphold human rights is more attention from the international community, even though the internet blackout makes it easier for the Sudan government to conceal these issues. The internet blackout in Egypt robbed the Egyptian people of freedom, only inspiring more to take to the streets. Sudan can learn and grow from Egypt’s past.

– Emma Uk
Photo: Flickr

internet access in IndiaIndia is a heavily populated country with over one billion citizens. Many of these people are living in extreme poverty, lacking both life-sustaining basic needs and other more modern necessities. Among these inadequacies is the connectedness through the World Wide Web. With a national GDP of USD 2,000 in 2017, the internet access in India is hard for many to obtain. Though India is the second largest online market in the world, roughly 75 percent of the population is offline. Furthermore, 71 percent of internet users are men, which means that less than 30 percent are women.

Problem background

Across the nation, urban and rural areas are lacking internet access in India and here is a quick look into why this void exists.

  • Poor infrastructure: cables and/or fibers have yet to be installed in many undeveloped and poorly developed areas, especially low-income ones.
  • Purchasing electronic devices to access the internet is not a basic need for people in extreme poverty.
  • The absence of IT education prevents citizens from the desire for internet access.
  • Gender inequality prevents women from using the web since to assure they will not be tempted to stray from cultural norms and expectations.
  • Net neutrality: in all of India, there was a total of 174 internet shutdowns in the six years up to mid-2018.

Why does it matter

As previously stated, there are over a billion people in India. Today’s world is mostly connected to the internet and those without access are being left behind which represents a huge disadvantage. With 75 percent of a billion people in one geographical location left unconnected, there is a huge untapped market that India and the rest of the world are being deprived of. In 2016, the U.S. gained 16 billion dollars from India’s digital buyer market. If more people had internet access in India, it is likely the economy would grow and poverty would decrease, resulting in improved international relationships as well.

The solution

Fortunately, the movement to provide more citizens with internet access in India is in motion. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is reducing the internet shutdowns that happen due to net neutrality thanks to the influence of the Telecommunication Regulation Authority of India (TRAI). The Government of India is making progress in providing access to more Indian citizens and is partnering with independent partners such as BharatNet is enhancing the internet infrastructure. India Accelerator is another organization doing the groundwork to raise funds for many internet start-up companies which encourages entrepreneurship.

Internet future in India

Moving forward, facts above mostly mean a brighter future for India in internet access. As the DoT and the TRAI work together to prevent unfair blocks to internet access in India, internet freedom is becoming a reality for many formerly oppressed people. According to Inc42 Media, India has a 50 billion dollars potential online commerce market. When millions of people gain access to this market backed by empowerment and funding, this has a power to change India economy in a positive direction. By launching new companies, creating more income and more jobs, the GDP will rise, significantly lowering the poverty rates and creating a more sustainable and stable India.

India currently lacks the power to provide its citizens with the means to send and receive electronic data, something many would consider a basic human right in today’s world. This is coming to an end as internet access in India is becoming a priority for the Government and for the people.

– Heather Marie Benton
Photo: Flickr

U.S. Congress could soon pass legislation to fast-track the embattled Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP), the Guardian reported Monday, a deal which has divided the Democratic party in the final months of Obama’s two-term presidency. One divisive factor of the controversial deal stems from language used in its chapter on Intellectual Property (IP), which some believe would curb internet freedom by restricting users’ access to copyrighted materials, while increasing penalties for doing so.

Internet freedom advocates argue that the changes made to intellectual property enforcement internationally will inhibit participating countries from enforcing their own, oftentimes shorter copyright terms, while additionally placing further controls upon the fair use exception to copyright law, which The Intercept explained allows individuals to “repurpose copyrighted material to make art or music.”

Negotiations of President Obama’s trademark, albeit controversial deal have been infamously secret, which is one reason prominent political figures from within the President’s own party have voiced their opposition.

On her website, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) hosts a petition to bring TPP brokerages out from behind closed doors where entities other than corporate lobbyists could access the deal that will affect international environmental policy, labor standards and regulations, as well as intellectual property standards and enforcement.

Pleas for transparency by Warren and her contemporaries were finally quelled by a May 14 Senate vote, which advanced a bill that would grant Obama, and future presidents, sole authority to negotiate the terms of the TPP, Bloomberg reported.

The TPP unites 12 countries with a combined 40 percent of the world’s economy, including some major economic players like Japan, South Korea and Canada, as well as developing countries such as Vietnam and Brunei.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit which advocates for freedom of expression and innovation on the Internet, secured a draft of the TPP chapter on intellectual property containing language that would limit users’ “freedom of speech, right to privacy and due process, and hinder peoples’ abilities to innovate.”

Each participating nation will be forced to adopt the TPP’s standards for intellectual property online, which the EFF says goes beyond current U.S. law and lengthens the time an individual or corporation maintains ownership of copyrighted material.

It would also punish alleged copyright infringers by kicking them offline without due process through the termination of their ISP contract. Additional, harsher criminal sanctions, such as jail time without so much as a formal complaint from the copyright holder beforehand, are also a possibility under TPP parameters, the EFF reports.

The EFF also said TPP’s stance on trade secrets–forged as a “tactic to address cyber-espionage on the global stage,”–is nebulous on what exactly constitutes a trade secret, and also lacks any safeguards for journalists or whistleblowers who access information “without criminal or commercial intent.”

The inevitable result, EFF asserts, will be a chilling effect on free and uninhibited expression, which Harvard economist Amartya Sen argues is both the means and the end to development in underdeveloped countries.

Without transparency during the negotiation process, it is difficult to say exactly how restrictive TPP’s IP controls will be. But as of late last month, Sputnik International found that more than 2,354 websites and tech companies had called on users to contact their congresspersons in opposition to the TPP.

– Amanda Burke

Sources: The Guardian, EFF, First Look, Bloomberg, Sputnik News
Photo: Flickr