IFLA Call on Governments to Refrain from Internet Shutdowns

Gerald Leitner, Secretary General, IFLA
Gerald Leitner, Secretary General, IFLA

The Execute Committee of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) has called on governments to refrain from using Internet shutdowns as a means of achieving policy objectives saying access to the Internet enhances access to information for a broad spectrum of people and ultimately development.

IFLA said only in exceptional conditions, that is, where there are legitimate grounds, and then only when shutdowns are based on law, limited in their scope and duration, and communicated and explained transparently should government contemplate shutting down the Internet, adding that governments should commit to maintaining this stance in future.

The Association pointed out that its Internet Manifesto underlines that “the provision of unhindered access to the Internet by library and information services forms a vital element of the right to freedom of access to information and freedom of expression, and supports communities and individuals to attain freedom, prosperity and development.”

It also argued that successfully achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, which all governments have committed to, and for the benefit of all their citizens, rests maximally on access to information.

IFLA also called on governments to strengthen investment in Internet infrastructure (including in power networks) in order to ensure more reliable Internet access as well as invest in education and training, at all levels and for people of all ages, in order to promote the skills and attitudes necessary to navigate the Internet critically and responsibly.

It argued that human rights such as freedom of expression and access to information, right to education, health, economic opportunity, civic engagement, enjoyment of the benefits of science, association, and participation in cultural life depend on access to the Internet.

IFLA said the long term effect of Internet Shutdowns among others is the lack of certainty as to whether Internet access is possible, this it said will eventually discourage investments and innovation because it will put countries on a slower development path than otherwise. It added that when acting in a discriminatory manner, barriers to Internet access will create development gaps and restrict rights.

Freedom of expression online is not absolute right. However, any restrictions on freedom of expression, including access the internet, must be necessary, proportionate, and pursuant to a legitimate aim.

Pointing out that these shutdowns see all or part of a country denied access to all or part of the Internet, through deliberate government intervention, IFLA expressed great disappointment at seeing governments increasingly choosing to use Internet shutdowns or slowdowns for a range of reasons.

The Association therefore encouraged its members to underline the importance of preventing Internet shutdowns, given their impact on education, access and broader development, and promote the broader values of freedom of access to information.

To achieve this IFLA encouraged its members to work with partner organisations in civil society to help strengthen its advocacy impact.

Member organisations of IFLA were also encouraged to share information about shutdowns with civil society partner organisations and other stakeholders, as well as IFLA headquarters and to continue to support users in making effective, critical and responsible use of the Internet and the resources it provides.