Internet outages

Published February 8, 2024

THE government has hinted at the possibility of suspending internet services in some places today due to ‘security’ concerns, once more raising alarm among the people. Pakistan has recently witnessed several internet disruptions, often during online events hosted by the PTI, with the government presenting flimsy excuses such as a coincidental software upgrade of the PTA. Mobile internet suspensions were previously reserved for specific security reasons, for instance, during Muharram processions in certain areas; never have they been so broadly applied, certainly not during election season. While the recent uptick in violence is most unfortunate, as noted in the editorial above, beefing up security and increased patrolling in sensitive areas should take precedence over measures such as internet shutdowns. The very prospect opens a Pandora’s box of issues. It begs the question of how the transmission of election results will be affected. While the ECP has provided assurances that their new Election Management System can operate offline over a ‘private network’, its reliability remains a matter of concern given the 2018 RTS debacle. The PTA’s announcement that it has received no instructions regarding an internet shutdown, offers a glimmer of hope; however, one cannot help but take it with a grain of salt.

Internet disruptions ripple through the economy, affecting everything from small businesses to major corporations that depend on uninterrupted internet access. The digital economy faces billions in losses with each outage. Such disruptions also infringe on the rights of access to information, freedom of expression, assembly, and association. Amnesty International has called for uninterrupted internet access, highlighting the fundamental role of digital communication in modern democracies, while the Sindh High Court’s directive to ensure smooth internet underscores the judiciary’s recognition of its importance. The government and the ECP must ensure internet availability, recognising that it is not a luxury but a necessity. The credibility of the polls and the trust of the people are at stake.

Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2024

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