Democracies meddle with Internet connectivity more often than authoritarian regimes

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Authoritarian governments use public network interference as a governance tool, and while authoritarian regimes conduct shutdowns with greater frequency, democracies actually participate in more network interventions, according to a new report.

"While authoritarian regimes practice controlling full-networks, sub-networks, and nodes more than democracies, democracies are the most likely to target civil society actors by proxy by manipulating Internet service providers," finds the report, published Oct. 5 by the Brookings Institution. 

Since 1995, 99 countries have disconnected Internet exchange points 606 times, say report authors Philip Howard, associate professor of Communication at the University of Washington and doctoral students Sheetal D. Agarwal and Muzammil M. Hussain. Not all acts are explicitly for state censorship and many are difficult to describe and classify, they note.

Thirty-nine percent of the incidents happened in democracies, 6 percent occurred in emerging democracies, 52 percent took place in authoritarian regimes and 3 percent occurred in fragile states.

"Governments have offered a range of reasons for interfering with digital networks, employed many tactics, and experienced both costs and benefits in doing so," says the report.

National security was the most commonly cited reason to for intervening with Internet access, with officials often citing "terrorism threats" or the need to prevent the spread of "state secrets." Report authors found commonly-cited reasons for disabling social media were to preserve cultural and religious morals, preserve racial harmony, protect children, cultural preservation, protect individuals' privacy and dissuade criminal activity.

For more:
- see the Brookings paper (.pdf)

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