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Telemetry Now  |  Season 1 - Episode 8  |  February 21, 2023

The role of internet measurement in the battle for digital rights

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In this episode, Peter Micek, General Counsel and UN Advocacy Manager at Access Now, joins us to discuss the fight for digital rights across the globe. We touch on nation-state activity to put down protests, the nature of digital rights as part of human rights, and the role internet measurement data has played in the effort to secure peoples' access to information.

Key Takeaways:

  • [00:00 - 02:07] Episode introduction
  • [02:26 - 04:32] How Peter got into digital rights advocacy and human rights
  • [04:35 - 06:05] Introduction to Doug Madory
  • [06:13 - 09:33] Human rights and digital rights, are they synonymous?
  • [09:33 - 11:34] Background on the Egyptian internet crisis in 2011, and the practice of internet shutdowns
  • [11:35 - 12:54] The severity of the Egyptian shutdown
  • [12:58 - 14:20] How other countries saw an opportunity to emulate the Egyptian government
  • [14:21 - 16:12] The collateral damage and impact of the government shutting down internet infrastructure
  • [16:14 - 19:01] Changes in policy and the UN Human Rights Council's first resolution on internet free speech
  • [19:01 - 21:16] Access Now's guide "The Anatomy of an Internet Shutdown"
  • [21:18 - 23:31] Censorship, internet shutdowns, and human rights violations: how they're connected
  • [23:32 - 24:52] The end goals of internet shutdowns
  • [24:53 - 27:45] Why do countries do this when data shows it isn't particularly effective? Lessons from Yemen, Ukraine, Syria, and the Arab Spring
  • [27:46 - 29:35] How do governments even achieve completely shutting down the internet and/or services?
  • [29:36 - 31:01] Combatting shutdowns through cyber security and change mitigation
  • [31:02 - 31:45] Why it's more difficult for countries to shutdown infrastructure when intertwined with Western countries
  • [31:46 - 33:18] How Access Now works with leaders to show that internet shutdowns aren't effective
  • [33:19 - 35:01] What do gains in preventing shutdowns look like? Is it just turning the internet back on?
  • [35:06 - 37:16] Egypt as a mental model for governments shutting down internet infrastructure
  • [37:21 - 39:54] How Access Now tries to reinforce meaningful connectivity
  • [39:57 - 42:22] Access Now's global interests and how they track activity with Doug
  • [42:25 - 45:21] The kind of information Doug provides Access Now from a technical perspective
  • [45:33 - 47:23] What Access Now's one sentence bumper sticker would say


It goes without saying that the internet has completely changed the world. The flow of information has changed, access to information has changed. With regard to the way that people communicate, everything has changed. Today, if you want to connect with other like minded people, you can start a group online and quick grow a community of hundreds or even thousands of people local to you and around the world.

You can have entire group conversations in real time. You can have a video call with anyone anywhere at any time. And what's happening in one small corner of the world can be broadcast and shared and disseminated to everywhere else in the world almost instantly.

This is unlike any time in history. Think about the sheer speed information can spread around the world and the vast amount of information available to anyone anywhere usually for free.

Access to information, access to knowledge is power, real power for the masses, power to inform, power to engage, power to inspire, and power to unite.

And some governments, some rulers, some powerful organizations, they don't like it. It threatens their plans and it thwarts their will. And since around twenty eleven or so, we've started to see nation state internet shutdowns, at least at a large scale. Government control over information and an attack on individuals, digital rights.

What hasn't changed are our human rights. And today, a term we're gonna discuss in more depth, our digital rights.

With us today is Peter Maysak, general counsel and UN policy manager at Access Now, a digital rights advocacy organization operating around the world.

Also with us is Doug Madore, the director of internet analysis, I can't take, and a subject matter expert on monitoring global internet activity, including deliberate government disruptions.

We'll be discussing the nature of internet shutdowns disruptions and censorship. How and why governments choose to do this? And what's going on to protect the digital rights of people around the world? I'm Philip Gervasse, and you're listening to telemetry now. Let's get started.

So Peter, thank you for joining today. Really appreciate you coming on and sharing some of your insight, your experience. Before we get started though, I I would really be interested in learning a little bit about your background professionally, of course, but also specifically about your foray into digital rights advocacy?

Absolutely. And thanks for having me on, Phil. And, It's a pleasure to be here and good way to start off the year, I think, by by looking backwards a bit. I've been in this space for over a decade.

And by the space, I'm talking about human rights advocacy focused on how new technologies are impacting human rights. And could be for the for good or for worse. You know, I didn't start in the space. I was a big activist, I think, in in college, I had this orientation pretty early on from, I think, my parents, but also the kind of, jesuit schools I went to and orientation towards, you know, fighting for equity, fighting for human rights, and, trying to kinda identify and have solidarity with and understand my role in this this larger system that is not fair or equal and is built on, you know, centuries of, exploitation and discrimination and trying to account for that.

And so, I'm not sure I can point to one little thing. I I do remember, in college spending some time with the Zapatista rebel group in in Southern, Mexico, actually, and, learning some hard lessons there, one of which was, like, basically their mantra Oh, you like what we're doing. Gopi is Habitista where you're from. You know, we don't need you to to join us necessarily.

So I thought, yeah, that was a good lesson to learn there.

Yeah. You said you couldn't identify one specific thing, but the one that you chose was very interesting.

And, currently, you are, with access now as an attorney. Correct?

Yeah. I'm general counsel. I lead the legal arm at access now where I global digital rights organization.

I've been at the org almost since the founding of, over eleven years for me. We got our start actually in two thousand nine during the green movement in Iran.

Okay. Great.

Now I'm just gonna shift for a moment over to our other guest today, Doug Mendory, Doug, probably familiar to much of our audience. But, Doug, what, just a little bit about your background now, and I know it's a little bit more from a technical perspective, but in this context of global internet analysis and monitoring the activity going on out there in the world.

Let's see. So, yeah, so I, my background is as a computer scientist. And, after I finished my degree, I was in the military. I served overseas and got a strong interest in international affairs.

And then that those combination of, the international angle as well as, computer science led me to, a small office called Renesys that did basic BGP analysis, for the global internet. To multinational telecoms, and we did a lot of work to try to understand, make sure we had a good picture of what was the internet in any given country, and it just so happen. We kind of stumbled into this topic by just by the virtue of just having all this data on hand when when Egypt went offline was our first real high watermark, for that small startup, where you know, we had all this already planned, you know, mapped out of how how does internet, how does Egypt connect to the internet at any and how does that change second by second? And that became super useful. To try to tell the story from a technical standpoint when it was that particular government shutdown and I've kind of been doing it ever since in some form.

Great. Yeah. So, before we get into that, and I do wanna discuss, specifically the events that occurred in Egypt over a decade ago, I I'd like to ask you a question, Peter. You mentioned the words both human rights, which I I think I understand, but you also use the term digital rights Is there a divergence there? Are they synonymous? Can you explain that a little bit?

Sure. Thanks. So taking my lawyer hat off, you know, I probably started with some notion of social justice or, you know, activism for civil rights, right? Growing up in the US, as more common terms.

But, you know, the human rights does refer to a pretty specific discourse that was catalyzed during the, fallout of World War II and to meet our general, at least Western realization that made some pretty huge, screw ups and, and that we needed, you know, some sort of affirmation that all individuals have fundamental rights that, you know, actually don't depend on whatever sovereign state decides to recognize them or not. And, so that is a, you know, it's a formal discourse. It's got treaties.

The international bill of human rights is is three treaties or so, including the international covenant on civil and political rights. So that was one of the ones that the US really pushed, alongside what Russia was promoting the national covenant on economic, social, and cultural rights. And so those are two main pillars you call we got, the UN charter again signed just after the World War II and the universal declaration of human rights, around that time as well. So You've got, you know, this basis in, in instruments and law that, most states have, signed on to, and that, you know, is the the human rights framework that we work with.

But, you know, this was, again, developed mid twentieth century It's got some visionary language in there, to be sure. And, I I teach that to my students at Columbia University, you know, you can find a lot of strength in in passages talking about, you know, the freedom to impart, seek, receive, share information ideas of all kinds across borders regardless of medium in article nineteen, for example, but it did it did not look forward. It did not really envision a world where, there would be powers greater than nation states.

And it didn't really foresee the growth of multinational corporations.

Again, was was visionary in terms of the need for free communications across borders, but didn't really, foresee the internet and and digital communications, which, you know, scale and across Cs, in fractions of a second.

So that's the work we've done in the last twenty years or so. It's try to take what we've been given and, see how it applies to digital spaces and to, you know, how our rights freedom of expression to privacy to association assembly can be interpreted in the digital age, how they should be best protected and promoted.

And then also where the deficiencies are, you know, in this framework that we've inherited.

As a little background and Doug alluded to this already, a little over a decade ago, January of two thousand eleven, the Egyptian government shut down internet services altogether to put down an uprising, a literal protest in the streets. Correct? And that was happening to a protest against president, Hosni Mubarak.

And that ultimately led to his resignation But according to what I've read from some blog posts from both of you and some other work that I've read, that was the beginning of a new era of government censorship of a large scale, maybe geographically large scale, maybe even global, sponsored internet shutdowns.

So I I'd like to ask and and Doug you already brought it up. So I know that I'm on the right track here with my questioning. Was this the first of its kind? Did this kind of activity really only begin in twenty eleven or so? And and why was this particular shutdown so impactful?

I I'm sure somebody can come up with an example of something getting blocked prior to January twenty eleven. I'm sure that's the case. I think it serves more as a symbolic milestone in this space of like, this is a wake up call. It got people's attention around the world.

I know as being part of the coverage of it of that incident and, working with news outlets all the world that this really captured people's imagination that that you that this internet service that we're using every second of the day could be taken away and come back. You know, you don't know when it'll come back. And this isn't this isn't we can take it for granted that it's here all the time and the fact that someone who doesn't like you might just take it away from you is seem like that that had a real currency. And, so I think it's, it's a bit of a milestone.

Peter may have a may put it a different way. It's it's not the first time something got blocked, it did. I like I often say they kind of ushered in this era that we're in now of regular cadence of of governments around the world taking some kind of steps to repress Communications, to serve their aims.

Was that in a complete internet shutdown or was Egypt selectively shutting down applications or specific services or regions of the country?

In that case, it was we we consider this a hundred percent pull the plug on everything, connection. Now, just for the technical, for a technical standpoint, you know, like, initially, they had left one ISP up. It turned out that they had a physical route out of the country.

With Redesys, we were writing this. Well, what's why does, we're writing a blog blog about this one provider to state up, for the initial few hours. I'm like, what kind of what kind of customers might they guys these guys have to get an exception, and then they got pulled too. And I and we later realized They just didn't they didn't know that this provider had another way to connect out of the country. From a technical standpoint, actually the the routes were pulled traffic was still egressing. There's, you know, we had, data stuff stuff was still coming out of, Egypt, but it couldn't, go back in because the b g routes were gone.

Folks academic outfits that study like backscatter or background radiation traffic, or automated things that are just sending DNS queries don't require a response so they'll just keep sending out queries. So, you can see that the traffic continued outbound, but it didn't come back and That's one method. There's a variety of ways you can take service down.

Sure. And I'd love to get into that a little bit more in a few moments. But Peter, I I wanna ask, was this particular this particular event, did that serve as almost like a, like, you know, those copycat kind of things where other countries saw that and said, Hey, we can do this too now.

It shouldn't have because it wasn't successful. I mean, by any metric, you know, that extreme measure taken by the Magark regime failed. It brought way more attention to what people were saying in Tucker Square and the protest movement, and he resigned, you know, fairly quickly after the shutdown started. So, nonetheless, yeah, it's, seems like worst practices do spread, and it's something that got the world's attention and soon became, like, endemic and little bit below the headlines in a few countries.

It became a go to tactic rather than maybe a last resort, you know, in the dying, throws of a regime, it became kind of a standard, even routine practice in, in a few other countries.

And that unfortunately, you know, didn't go without civil society monitoring. We have great partners in India who tracked, you know, from twenty twelve, twenty thirteen on. These events, but it certainly didn't get the global attention that that Egypt shutdown did.

Yeah. And I have to I have to assume that there is some collateral damage to a government shutting down everything. The government itself operates on the internet, doesn't it, or much of it? And huge services the infrastructure of the of the country itself depend on the infrastructure and of the network in the in that country. Right?

Doug can speak to this further, but, you know, that might have even been something that's changed over the last decade. I would say certainly after COVID, right, so many more essential systems from banking to health education to governance do, depend on cloud infrastructure and and the internet. May be a little bit less true, in twenty twelve, twenty eleven.

So what other interesting technical detail of the, that particular incident that shut down? So that by stopping the announcements of Egypt and b to b routes to the the rest of the world since, but it was very common in those days was that, a lot of well, the middle eastern countries would you'd have this dynamic where domestic traffic would hairpin out of the country, and the way this ends up happening is you have an incumbent in the country, in this case, telecom, Egypt that doesn't wanna appear domestically to help their competitors. So they wanna do everything they can to try to hurt their, upstart competitors because they've got a corner on the market.

And so one of the things that they won't connect domestically forced the competitor to pay transit to go out to Europe and back. And, anyway, so that that's, that's a somewhat common thing, tactic that ends up happening. Usually, a regulator has to step in to kind of, force these provide the incumbent to to connect domestically with a provider. But the end result was that when they shut off the international links, they also disconnected a lot of domestic connectivity.

So, because it was relying on, it would normally connect in, like Paris in London, which is kind of, maybe a surprising fact.

So what did this what can we point to that this led to from a policy or an action perspective Did anything come out of this now? You you mentioned Peter that ultimately the the, you know, the the shutdown failed in its goal to shut down the protest. But what did it lead to for the rest of us?

Yeah. And if I could revise my long winded answer about digital rights and human rights, you know, to to take to take Doug's, you know, assertion, you you know something's a right, when it's taken away. Right? And it's, I think this was one of the first times that people really realized how directly, internet access and, you know, mobile phones service, was to to them exercising their fundamental rights. And, you know, it was taken away in one, fell swoop And, that that sense reverberated in that, you know, maybe fear even, of what could my government do sometimes of pressure, to me and to to our community's use of these exciting new tools. And that is, I also a lasting legacy and, you know, and, in the following two years, the UN really went full bore into declaring that human rights apply online as they do offline. And that's, that as a fundamental assertion that came in the, aftermath of that Egypt shutdown.

Yeah. And you're referring specifically to the, UN human rights council first resolution on internet free speech. Is that right?

Yeah. This are called the internet resolution. Yeah.

I I remember reading, in fact, that Cuba and China approved that resolution, didn't they?

So I guess, did this resolution mean anything for the long term? I mean, I can see where we are today. Cuba and China?

Yeah. It's, it's a resolution that passed by consensus, and, consensus is hard won at the council. Right? So you'll notice the resolution didn't mention, you know, Egypt shutting down the internet.

Right? And, didn't call out any particular country. You know, there's reasons, some of these passed by consensus that often, you know, might be a really skillful block or coalition, that advance the resolution, I think Sweden, you know, helmed this one, with the support of, I believe it was, Turkey, Tunisia, US, a couple other countries, probably Brazil. And then, also diplomats, you know, they wanna be seen as relevant and, when you this is one of the first purely, you know, digital focus resolutions at the UN and, you know, folks probably wanted to be, you know, on that train, right, on the right side and saying, you know, look, we acknowledge the digital world and we wanna have, you know, something, we have something to say about it.

Certainly, we we see some progress, but how effective that process or rather that progress is, you know, we we've seen the last tech that gave twelve years. Which I assume is why organizations like access now and others exist to continue the work in a very real palpable form, not just giving speeches on the floor of the UN. Right?

So we started off talking about the shutdown in Egypt, which is a complete and total shutdown except for the one provider, which then was subsequently shut down. But what form have these shutdowns taken over the last decade? We've seen some of that lateral damage of turning everything off. So I have to assume that things are done a little bit different maybe more strategically, especially as the the internet itself has evolved the way we consume it, the way, it has grown up in the last twelve years.

That's right. I can point to a new guide that access now is put out, of the anatomy of an internet shutdown, really, typifying the technical measures that states or that authorities or that telecom operators, and others can take, to affect shutdowns. And, I have to say too, the the term internet shutdown, right, was, was a conscious decision, by access now and the keep it on coalition that we coordinate, right, to to coin and push.

There are probably, you know, more, direct Definitions one could use, the terms like kill switch, blackout, you know, blocking information controls, all get at various forms of censorship. Right? But We thought it was was useful and it has been to have a kinda rallying term, that is fairly broad. And, for us, it's, in our coalition, of, you know, around three hundred civil society organizations. It includes service level blocking. So it could just be shutdown of Twitter, blocking on on Facebook, other kind of messaging apps, would qualify for us as a shutdown event, along with, you know, shutting down mobile towers, you know, nightly as we saw in Bahrain for a while, or to, scaling up as, as Doug has mentioned, BGP manipulation and, and full shutdowns.

Right. Ultimately, though, you, you mentioned that it is about controlling that information. Use the word censorship several times.

So is there a link between internet shutdowns, and I'm using the term broadly?

And outright human rights violations.

We started off by you defining human rights. And so when I say human rights violations, And then this newer idea of digital rights, I mean, an actual affront on a human beings rights is there a link between these two?

Yeah. It's it's an important question, and and we shouldn't just assume I've talked about freedom of expression, and freedom of opinion as fundamental human rights. Those are in, all the instruments that I named earlier. The declaration, the covenant, and it's something that I think we we can feel, you know, viscerally, right, when someone tells you to shut up, And this this final model, right, in the digital age, it depends on access to the internet.

We've lost, right, a lot of the traditional, maybe broadcast or other channels to to gain information and to express ourselves, we are forced to rely on these digital, channels. And so this, this space is, actually essential to the realization of of that one. Right? For example, but then we also see again after COVID especially, a host of other rights really being, directly realized, exercised, blocked interfered with through through digital technologies.

And so that can go to, you know, you write to housing, you write to the benefits of science and technology if we're talking about, health and, and, you know, vaccine, availability, accessibility, and and so we look at the range of rights that the internet helps deliver and we say, what's a proportionate and what's, a necessary interference with those rights in order to ensure whatever it is, safety and security or other human rights and shutdowns just fail every time on the proportionality prong. They are broad blunt. Their impacts are almost impossible to fully understand in any case, and they reverberate proudly and, and they're just not proportionate interferences.

So then can we identify I, a general goal here, is it just to put down protests to retain power, control information? What's the real end goal?

So for that, we'd have to know what the governments were actually trying to accomplish, which they're not always very forthcoming about, you know. So, first of all, I would ask for transparency from from the authorities on just what they are trying to achieve by, shutting us off. But yeah, on the on the available evidence, the the impacts to even the right to life. There's there's unfortunately documented, multiple cases where say pregnant women have been unable to access emergency services if something goes wrong during their pregnancy, haven't been able to reach their doctors during an internet shutdown, during a blackout and have have suffered really, horrific consequences and And, you know, we also see during protests, right, that, protesters are put in, in harm's way, when they don't, know what's really taking place, on the streets, and they can't access those services.

They need their support networks, because, communications have been throughout all the blocks. So, yeah, there are really egregious consequences, and I would say there are very direct, correlations between internet access and the size of human rights.

So you've mentioned several different human rights.

But the first thing that comes to my mind, the first thoughts that come to my mind when I think of the violation of human I'm probably not alone in this, is, is imprisonment and the loss of freedoms and perhaps physical violence and harm And at the very far end of the spectrum, the extreme and murder and genocide of entire populations. And what you're saying is that digital rights sit right alongside human rights as we've traditionally understood them. And so why? Why are countries still choosing to do this when the data show that this is not a particularly effective method, is it that it's just a matter of an author Tarian personality exerting power and control for power and control sake?

Is it manipulating elections, as a means to acquiring wealth? Maybe it's some combination of all of these things. I don't know.

You know, that's a great question.

One of the emerging, trends that we're gonna note, in our Access Now report on shutdowns in twenty twenty two. Which should be out next month. Is, something that came to came to light last year during the full scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia, but also in attacks in Yemen and beyond, and that's, looking at really kinetic, attacks on internet infrastructure, with the intention of you know, creating kind of an information blackout as part of a larger scale war. And this has happened in multiple places across borders, often And I think that that does go to, seeing internet shutdowns even beyond that sense of just you know, stopping a protest or stopping a form of expression, but really as a form of siege, you know, akin to shutting off supplies of food and water or electricity. And, yeah, I think Doug has studied this as well in in places like Syria.

Right. There's been a, there's been a lot of, there's been a lot of these incidents in the last, whatever, ten or twelve years, and I think, there's probably a handful we could point to and maybe make an argument that this was successful in order to try to help somebody maintain power. There was after after the air spring, you know, the war in Syria had gotten going. It seemed like the whole trend had migrated to Africa.

Some of that may be may have been just coincidental because there was a lot of elections were coming due around that time and then some of those and a handful of places ended up being contested.

People didn't agree with the results. The people who were empowered didn't wanna leave and led to some sort of communication, repression of one kind of another, and a lot of times those people stay in power. So somebody might view that as successful, to try to, stay to stay in power.

So, Doug, how do countries do this from perspective, how do they completely shut down the internet or shut down specific services individually?

Yeah. So I guess we've seen a variety of different measures. There's no, like, single mechanism that they all do for a lot of developing countries. I guess it depends on the, of them, we just go through a single provider. If you take, like, Syria, just go formally known as STE, Syria Telecom, They can just shut the country off in one place.

That makes it pretty easy. Egypt is a, is a case where there was multiple providers, a different connections out. They happen to mostly connect through this one exchange in Cairo that could be, deenergized and, or they could take down these, these routing announcements.

But it's also we've seen this in be a very nontechnical mechanism as well. So in in Myanmar, I know of at least one provider that had to take their service, down by order of a fax.

They received a fax and, and how they did faxes in FAX fax machine.

Don't think I've even seen a fax machine in ten years. Okay?


Faximally machine. Yeah.

And I think I think there was, there was some, something similar in, or maybe not facts, but there was at least an order given to I can't remember which africa, African nation, but there was another one that had a an outage and then, you know, and into the credit of one of the telecom evolved, they they published it and say, here's the order we got. We have no choice to what to comply, but just so the world knows why is this happening or who's behind this. We're gonna go public with the the the order that we got.

But that's really not always the case that you have that clarity still what's, taking place.

So some of those things that you, described are technical in nature, which presupposes that there are technical answers that we can employ some methods of cyber security and, change mitigation, you know, those kind of things to stop some of these attacks from even being possible, but some of those things that you mentioned were not technically nature.

Yeah, there's, I think, for a while, there was a discussion of, like, oh, well, if we have greater, we have a larger number of international connections out of a country that makes it harder for the government to and and maybe it does to some extent, like it's not just a single place. You got multiple places you have to shut services down. I think in those in those cases, if the government sends an order by facts or other means to everybody involved, it just says, you follow this order or you lose your right to operate in in the country. It's very hard for a business to not comply with that.

And so they're in a they're in a tough spot. If they don't comply, they may lose all their investment.

Their their license to operate, which is the whole whole thing for them. So it's not it's not an easy thing for them to to not follow that and ultimately even if they were to continue to operate, they probably would eventually fail where the government would find a way to turn them off and and they'd lose their license to operate. So that's what makes it a difficult, problem.

And therefore, I have to imagine that it's, that much more difficult for countries where the state and private enterprise are much more intertwined than some Western countries. Right? Is that I'm assuming that's your experience?

I think in those cases, there's no hope of, the, the, the government, like, Syria Telecom, at Texas and Cuba, these guys are definitely. I mean, they're, it's one in the same. They're not gonna be going against the government for sure.

I think in some of these places, there's like multinationals that operate like a lot of the a lot of African nations, the mobile operators are, yeah, they're, they operate many countries. And, even still, they they they make up a business decision and they may not like it, but they have to turn service off.

So so Peter, how does you and an organization like access now? How do you deal with when you're talking about a literal country, a king or a president, a corrupt president. How do you deal with that?

Yeah. It's it's definitely different strokes for different folks. I think, we, you know, try to tailor our advocacy interventions to the context, and that's, hopefully, and largely working, under the leadership of local local partners, local organizations who are invested and who know what works and what doesn't who've tried, you know, probably, a hundred more things than than we come to them with. And, you know, for me, at the at the UN level, you know, we've been able to to make some gains, and you know, even if we can't issue some proclamation that's gonna, turn the internet back on in a certain country, we can get at, you know, the the reputation, the standing of some of these, regimes in, the international community, which, you know, you might be surprised does actually, matter to to some folks that you wouldn't think.

And, you know, I can also say as with my lawyer hat on, we've been successful in litigating. And again, by supporting local litigators, these really intrepid kind of often solo practitioners with small offices, who just want their internet turned back on and in places like Zimbabwe, Sudan, Iraq, Iraq, they've been successful. Against, you know, what you might expect.

Is that what gains look use the term gains. We've seen gains. Is that what that looks like is basically just having the internet turned on, completely open without any filtering or censorship and available. Is that what gains look like?

You know, yeah, ideally, we have robust access to the, open internet, that we can securely, you know, and safely navigate and used to exercise our rights.

Yeah, in practice, obviously, it does get more complicated. Right? If you look at places like Ethiopia where there's huge problems with, incitement to violence on Facebook on, social media and messaging. And, they're definitely to be interventions by policy makers by authorities, you know, acting, under the rule of law, in order to, you know, ensure people stay safe online and off.

We are, you know, making the case that those interventions should not, you know, and do not include internet shutdowns, But yeah, I think, you know, we want spaces where, people feel free to, you know, to connect without fear of reprisal to speak really, and, you know, mainly do have access to the internet. As far as success, you know, it is hard to prove the shutdowns that didn't occur. We don't often have government officials coming to us and thanking us for, you know, that letter we wrote or, you know, pointing to some UN resolution as, you know, evidence that they don't have a lot to gain by, you know, pointing to these factors as as influencing their decisions, not to shut down, not to take this you know, extreme action.

So, yeah, we're we are sort of left to to look at the evidence, that we do have Phil, could I, jump in here?

I had, like, I I think a lot of times, when people think of this, scenario, Egypt is a good, model for people's mental model for this kind of thing of an embattled ruler who feels, you know, if you've got an, you know, a metal, president that feels they may be imprisoned or maybe even executed if they lose power, then that's hard to convince a person to back off like they're they, it's hard to make hard to introduce logic there.

But I would say there's not every cases like that. And I think, it's important to appreciate that there are, there are some other scenarios. And so, I'll just mention this one that when, Iraq started shutting down their national backbone to combat cheating on student exams I had a good contact within the Iraqi government. It was basically the equivalent of their FCC. It was this Iraqi CMC.

Was a good contact of mine. And, and we were trading notes on what on what was happening. We were reporting this back to Dine at the time.

And then, and he was saying that, you know, within the halls of government and the Iraq, and Iraqi, you know, parliament, there's a lot of heated debate over this. This wasn't a unified, front here and and they I guess, I don't know. They haven't done that. They haven't done a student exam shut down in the last year, I believe, serious that's done it.

But, anyway, it just gave me hope, that this guy, this guy was really anti. He was lobbying the prime minister, to stop this and, I feel like in that in that scenario, that's where, you know, the advocacy work of trying to outline what are costs. Like, he would love to be armed with more information about what are the what kind of damage are we doing to the people in the country? Because there is it's not a scenario where some, like, the leader's gonna get his head chopped off if, he hasn't shut the internet out.

Like, the, there are there are other scenarios, and that's where work like, the access now does can make a difference.

And violent death is probably a good motivator.

In, in this case, in the wrong direction. So how does access now balance some of these things that are more nuanced where you say hey, we want the internet to be open and people to have robust access, secure access.

But there's also factions that are coordinating it and conspiring to do violence? Well, how do you balance that in in those scenarios? Or do you?


You know, it's It's a situation where we don't necessarily try to we, well, we try not to pit rights against each other to say that there's some zero sum and, you know, you're you get more expression, you know, the less privacy you have and vice versa, right, as if there were scales. We do try to, look for places where where, you know, rights can reinforce each other. And, you know, I think that's something that, I've certainly learned, around discourse on the internet over the last few years is that, you know, you can give people the, you know, the physical connections, put the phone in their hand all you want, but you know, if the second they go online and identify themselves as, as a woman or as trans, you know, they, they start getting, you know, concerted campaigns of vitriol, That is not an open space.

You know, that is not, meaningful internet access. Sometimes connectivity that's gonna foster greater for expression. Right? So it's it is more than just, you know, having that, those five bars or that physical, cable lit.

And, you know, that's, I've got some colleagues who help, looking at corporate, you know, policies, looking at the business and human rights discourse, you know, whether, these platforms are doing their, their best to to foster, you know, an open discourse.

And then also looking at content regulation and there's been a lot of work. If you've seen the Digital Services Act, the DSA in Europe and the EU that recently passed, you know, as probably something that's gonna reverberate around the world a lot like the general data protection regulation did, you know, for for privacy and data protection. So It's, it certainly doesn't stop at, just, you know, keep the internet on. It's, and there are there have been places where our advocacy, our advocates have said, you know, we're actually gonna hold back on some of this, messaging. We're gonna not hold this event, at this time in this place.

Because, actually, you know, internet shutdown is a threat, but there's also there are bigger threats that, that are more relevant to our, to our local partners, for example.

Right. And so how how do you monitor this activity? How do you actually track? And when I say you, I mean, access now and other organizations that do similar work. How do you track what's going on?

Or is there a tip line? And then, of course, the data itself, which I know that Doug provides, through through some of the tools that he uses?

Yeah. Absolutely. I'm happy to to shout out, Doug Madery's work.

Have Kentic and, and before Pentic as well, as, you know, he's one of the technologists that that we work with consistently, that we've built a relationship with of trust and, and responsiveness, equally important, because, you know, these fast moving events, are something that we do try to track and we are expected to to speak to as a, you know, a global advocacy organization.

So we work with a private sector we, you know, depend on open sources of data like, say Google's transparency reports, cloud of flares, new radar.

And we, But I would say we primarily, as I said, we work closely with our partners in civil society and, independent journalists in country and that's our hashtag keep it on coalition.

It's, again, over around three hundred organizations.

In over a hundred countries, and they, you know, use our, in turn, our listserv that we have, they use our, tips line. Sure.

I think it's access now dot org slash keep it on as the web page it's it's all methods and, and more, you know, to to find out when service is being disrupted what the impacts are, what's the scope, what's the duration, when does it get back up? It's it's really a scramble with a lot of human work, as well as a lot of machines, and we do invite, more volunteers to the struggle.

And access now has a global footprint and a global interest. Correct? In fact, I believe you have offices all over the entire world, and, and you're personally based out of New York City. Is is that right?

Yeah. Thanks. Yeah. I'm in, Brooklyn. But, yeah, access now has a presence in probably at least twenty five countries.

It's a, it's remarkable that We have grown so much over the last ten years.

But again, you know, it's, it's always in in partnership with the folks who who are already there and, you know, face us struggle in a lot ways more than we do.

Okay. Yeah. And and, Doug, what kind of information are you providing to access now with the types of organizations that? What is the helpful information from a more technical perspective?

So this is gonna be some sort of internet measurement data that either corroborates or refutes, you know, a claim of a of an outage. And then sometimes there is an outage and then, you know, we wanna try to we may or may not be able to help determine the nature of the outage. Is this was this a submarine cable break or was it government? There's a lot of things that can go go wrong.

You know, in the work that I've been doing for the last, twelve years, maybe Peter's got his version of this, but you kind of develop contacts all over the world of like if I need to reach somebody in this part of the world, I'd ask this guy and if he doesn't know or, then he'd point me to the, some other person. So within the, I I've got a pretty good extensive, professional network within the internet industry and, can reach just about anywhere if I need to get, some help understanding what took place. It's usually not that difficult.

It's only occasionally that there's like a question, Marco, so, like, what what is this? And then, sometimes, then the past hasn't happened recently, but we'll see one we'll see an outage in the country and know that this is actually a technical thing. And I'll preemptively write to Peter's staff and be like, hey, this is this is technical. This is, you know, just just in case you're getting because people, you know, that people get very exercise, on this. And one well, there was one case where, there was a submarine cable outage on eastern Africa.

And, actually was a planned outage, a scheduled outage that wasn't well communicated, but that the outage took place during the presidential debate in, in Somalia and it was widely interpreted there as the government just kind of kind of cutting off the discussion and it wasn't. It was actually, like, they just hadn't, you know, it wasn't well circulated that this is gonna be a planned outage and, and then yeah later it was, you know, we were able to confirm that, but like, oh, that's, I mean, a lot of people very, very legitimately believe that this was, a government outage, I would, I would be understandable why you would think that, but you could see outages up and down East East Africa and know smallly government doesn't have the power to take off, take down in Kenya.

So, anyway, so I I occasionally, I mean, I wouldn't own and wanna say we're doing that a lot. It's just every once in a while, something like that happens and we try to, use, the the kind of business intelligence and data intelligence that we do that I use in the course of my work every day anyway. You can point that at this problem as well. If there's a way that we can help, you know, contribute something positively, then we'll we'll do that.

So, when you say contribute something positively, I'm gonna shift over to Peter here, what would you say then, putting you on the spot? I know, but maybe you'd know this off offhand. But what would you say is your one sentence bumper sticker style mission statement. I mean, I'm looking at your website, business and human rights, digital security, freedom of expression, privacy. These are all, you know, lofty goals. What what is that one underlying goal of access now?

Thanks. Yeah. Our our mission is to defend and extend the digital rights, of users and communities at risk around the world.

I would say in this context, it's, to bring all stakeholders together to realize our common good advances when, you know, people, can dependably, securely, openly, engage online and access the information, the resources they need. So you know, I I don't know that there's any businesses that do better, when their customers, can't depend on their internet connection.

You know, any legitimate government is gonna want to, be able to, you know, spread information that people can rely on and all of this, you know, in the digital age depends on access to the internet. So, that, you know, that's the goal, how we achieve that, you know, I do have to say, you know, we are a non profit civil society organization, and we, you know, absolutely need technical assistance like and Doug and Kentic provide. We also do need, funding and financial support, and, participation and that can be private, you know, these sorts of pings, or it can be public and, our conference rights con, which we are bringing back in person, this June is a really great expression of the community that I think we've been able to build.

Well, Peter, I'm going to thank you for giving us that perfect conclusion. I I would not have been able to create one better myself even after thinking about it for hours and relistening. So thank you. And, gentlemen, to the both of you, this discussion has been, thoroughly fascinating to me, at least, especially considering that we've been talking about ideas that really they impact our entire world.

They impact the course of human events. We've been talking about kings and presidents and rulers and countries, and the millions and billions of people within that framework. So thank you both for joining today, and especially thank you to you, Peter, our special guest today for sharing your experience and insight with us. Much appreciated.

For, comments, questions, and to learn more, Peter, how can folks find you online?

Great. So, yeah, it's, access now dot org, spelled like it sounds. I'm peter at access now dot org is my email. I'm also on Twitter at lawyer pants, one word.

You know, that's me.

But, you know, you won't be able to ignore us, I think, once you, poke around.

Very good. Okay. And Doug, Kemptick's resident director of internet analysis, always a pleasure, of course. How can folks find you online?

Yeah. I'm on LinkedIn and still on Twitter.

So and it's at Doug Madori. I don't have I don't have as much wit to come up with a better, a clever handle.

Some people Great.

Thanks, Doug. And, you can find me on Twitter as well at network underscore fill. I'm still very active there, and you can search my name in LinkedIn. Now if you have an idea for a show where you'd like to be a guest on telemetry now, reach out to us at telemetry now at kentic dot com.

We'd love to hear from you. You can also find us online on both Twitter and LinkedIn. And until next time, thanks for listening. Bye bye.

About Telemetry Now

Do you dread forgetting to use the “add” command on a trunk port? Do you grit your teeth when the coffee maker isn't working, and everyone says, “It’s the network’s fault?” Do you like to blame DNS for everything because you know deep down, in the bottom of your heart, it probably is DNS? Well, you're in the right place! Telemetry Now is the podcast for you! Tune in and let the packets wash over you as host Phil Gervasi and his expert guests talk networking, network engineering and related careers, emerging technologies, and more.
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