There were at least 104 Internet shutdowns in 20 countries in 2017 ranging from a few hours to months, says the #KeepItOn team at Access Now who track worldwide reports of shutdowns. Justifications for shutdowns vary, but there is mounting evidence that access to the Internet is used as a tool of control and oppression by the authorities of different countries, for instance to silence opposition voices during protests or elections.

Shutdown instances counted in 2017 more often target local or regional populations instead of national ones, which makes them harder for civil society groups fighting to keep the Internet open to track and document. Access Now says it could be a trend, but that it’s hard to say for sure. We hear less about these shutdowns in the news – even within the countries affected. India alone has authorized dozens of shutdowns concentrated in the north of the country, far away from the urban centers of Bangalore or Mumbai where outages would never go unnoticed.

Shutdowns that are ongoing since the previous year only count as one “instance” and do not register in the numbers shared below. Among these, Pakistan has kept millions of people in a semi-autonomous tribal region offline since 2016, and populations of northwest and southwest Cameroon were also kept offline for large parts of the year.

Reports of local, regional and national Internet shutdowns worldwide


Data source: #KeepItOn, Access Now, 2017

Being without Internet access is extremely disruptive for students, families and work life. It can be traumatic and even life threatening to be without Internet access in times of conflict or terrorist attacks. Shutdowns have far reaching implications for safety, free speech and even the network itself.

The majority of shutdowns last year occurred in Asia and Africa with justifications ranging from “reactive” in response to conflicts or political activity, or “preventive” to stop undesired activity.

Last year, nearly 7% of shutdowns were attributed to preventing cheating in school exams, while just over a quarter of official justifications fell into the broad category of “public safety.” In somewhat positive news, the number of shutdowns with no asserted rationale has shrunk.

Sometimes only mobile connections are affected, but this is often the only Internet widely available.

Shutdowns are unhealthy for the Internet. We need more legal safeguards against them, nationally and internationally. With more research and evidence-gathering to determine how many shutdowns occur and why, we can hone in on tactics and technologies to stop them for good.

Official justifications for Internet shutdowns worldwide


Data source: #KeepItOn, Access Now, 2017