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.
I conduct analysis of events and trends across the global Internet for Kentik (previously Oracle Internet Intel, Dyn Research and Renesys).Follow Doug on LinkedIn
Peter Micek is General Counsel and UN Advocacy Manager at Access Now, based in New York City. Access Now is an international organization that defends and extends the digital rights of people and communities at risk.Connect with Peter on LinkedIn
Phillip Gervasi: 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 quickly 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. Since around 2011 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 individual's digital rights. What hasn't changed are our human rights, and today, a term we're going to discuss in more depth, our digital rights. With us today is Peter Micek, general counsel and UN policy manager at Access Now, a digital rights advocacy organization operating around the world. Also with us is Doug Madory, the director of internet analysis at Kentik, 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 Phillip Gervasi and you're listening to Telemetry Now, let's get started. Peter, thank you for joining today. I really appreciate you coming on and sharing some of your insight, your experience. Before we get started though, 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.
Peter Micek: Absolutely, and thanks for having me on Phil. It's a pleasure to be here, and good way to start off the year, I think, by looking backwards a bit. I've been in this space for over a decade, and by this space I'm talking about human rights advocacy, focused on how new technologies are impacting human rights, and that could be for good or for worse. I didn't start in this space. I was a big activist, I think in college. I had this orientation pretty early on from, I think my parents, but also the Jesuit schools I went to. An orientation towards fighting for equity, fighting for human rights, and trying to identify and have solidarity with, and understand my role in this larger system that is not fair or equal, and is built on centuries of exploitation and discrimination, and trying to account for that. I'm not sure I can point to one little thing. I do remember in college, spending some time with the Zapatista Rebel Group in Southern Mexico actually, and learning some hard lessons there, one of which was basically their mantra, " Oh, you like what we're doing? Go be a Zapatista where you're from. We don't need you to join us, necessarily." So I thought that was a good lesson to learn there.
Phillip Gervasi: 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?
Peter Micek: Yeah, I'm general counsel, I lead the legal arm at Access Now. We're a global digital rights organization. I've been at the org almost since the founding, over 11 years for me. We got our start actually in 2009 during the Green Movement in Iran.
Phillip Gervasi: Okay, great. Now I'm just going to shift for a moment over to our other guest today, Doug Madory. Doug, probably familiar to much of our audience, but Doug, 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.
Doug Madory: Let's see. Yeah, 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. Then it was a combination of the international angle as well as computer science led me to a small outfit called Renesys, that did basic BGP analysis for the global internet to multinational telecoms. 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 happened we stumbled into this topic by the virtue of just having all this data on- hand when Egypt went offline, was our first real high water mark for that small startup, where we had all this already mapped out of how does Egypt connect to the internet and how does that change second by second? That became super useful to try to tell the story from a technical standpoint when it was that particular government shutdown, and I've been doing it ever since, in some form.
Phillip Gervasi: Great, yeah. Before we get into that, and I do want to discuss specifically the events that occurred in Egypt over a decade ago. I'd like to ask you a question, Peter. You mentioned the words both human rights, which 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?
Peter Micek: Sure, thanks. Taking my lawyer hat off, I'd probably started with some notion of social justice or activism for civil rights, growing up in the US, as more common terms. But human rights does refer to a pretty specific discourse that was catalyzed during the fallout of World War II, and I mean a general, at least Western realization that made some pretty huge screw ups. And that we needed some sort of affirmation that all individuals have fundamental rights that actually don't depend on whatever sovereign state decides to recognize them or not. It's a formal discourse, it's got treaties. The International Bill of Human Rights is three treaties or so, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 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. Those are two main pillars. You've also 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 this basis in instruments and law that most states have signed on to, and that is the human rights framework that we work with. But this was, again, developed mid 20th century. It's got some visionary language in there to be sure, and I teach that to my students at Columbia University. You can find a lot of strength in passages talking about the freedom to impart, seek, receive, share information, ideas of all kinds across borders, regardless of medium, in Article 19, for example. But 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 visionary in terms of the need for free communications across borders, but didn't really foresee the internet and digital communications which scale and cross seas in fractions of a second. That's the work we've done in the last 20 years or so, is try to take what we've been given and see how it applies to digital spaces. And how our rights to freedom of expression, to privacy, to association and assembly can be interpreted in the digital age, how they should be best protected and promoted. And then also where the deficiencies are in this framework that we've inherited.
Phillip Gervasi: As a little background, and Doug alluded to this already, a little over a decade ago, January of 2011, the Egyptian government shut down internet services altogether to put down an uprising, a literal protest in the streets, correct? That was happening to 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'd like to ask, 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 2011 or so? And why was this particular shutdown so impactful?
Doug Madory: I'm sure somebody can come up with an example of something getting blocked prior to January, 2011. I'm sure that's the case. I think it serves more as a symbolic milestone in this space of this was a wake up call that 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 this internet service that we're using every second of the day could be taken away and you don't know when it'll come back. We 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, seemed like that had a real currency. So I think it's a bit of a milestone. I mean Peter may put it a different way. It's not the first time something got blocked, I often say they ushered in this era that we're in now, of regular cadence of governments around the world taking kind of some steps to repress communications to serve their aims.
Phillip Gervasi: Was that at a complete internet shutdown or was Egypt selectively shutting down applications or specific services, or regions of the country?
Doug Madory: In that case we considered this a hundred percent pull the plug on everything in connection. Now, just from a technical standpoint, initially they had left one ISP up. It turned out that they had a different physical route out of the country. With Renesys we were writing this like, " Why does..." We were writing blogs about this one provider that stayed up for the initial few hours. I'm like, " What kind of customers might these guys have, they got an exception?" And then they got pulled too, and later we realized they just didn't know that this provider had another way to connect out of the country. From a technical standpoint, actually the routes were pulled, traffic was still egressing. We had data... Stuff was still coming out of Egypt, but it couldn't go back in because the BGP routes were gone. Folks, academic outfits that study 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 in. That's one method, there's a variety of ways you can take service down.
Phillip Gervasi: Sure, and I'd love to get into that a little bit more in a few moments. But Peter, I want to ask, was this particular event, did that serve as almost like, you know those copycat kind of things where other countries saw that and said, " Hey, we can do this too, now?"
Peter Micek: It shouldn't have because it wasn't successful. I mean, by any metric, that extreme measure taken by the Mubarak regime failed. It brought way more attention to what people were saying in Tahrir Square and the protest movement, and he resigned fairly quickly after the shutdown started. Nonetheless, yeah, it seems like worst practices do spread and it's something that got the world's attention and soon became endemic, and a little bit below the headlines in a few countries. It became a go- to tactic, rather than maybe a last resort in the dying throes of a regime, it became a standard, even routine practice in a few other countries. That unfortunately didn't go without civil society monitoring, we have great partners in India who tracked from 2012, 2013 on, these events, but it certainly didn't get the global attention that that Egypt shutdown did.
Phillip Gervasi: Yeah, and I have to assume that there's some collateral damage to a government shutting down everything. I mean the government itself operates on the internet, doesn't it? Or much of it. And huge services infrastructure of the country itself depend on the infrastructure of the network in that country, right?
Peter Micek: Doug can speak to this further, but 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, to education, to governance do depend on cloud infrastructure and the internet. May be a little bit less true in 2012 and 2011.
Doug Madory: One other interesting technical detail of that particular incident, that shut down, by stopping the announcements of... Egyptian BGP routes to the rest of the world since, but it was very common in those days, was that a lot of Middle Eastern countries, you'd have this dynamic where domestic traffic would hairpin out of the country. So the way this ends up happening is you have an incumbent in the country, in this case, Telecom Egypt, that doesn't want to appear domestically to help their competitors. So they want to do everything they can to try to hurt their upstart competitors because they've got a corner on the market. So one of the things they won't connect domestically, force the competitor to pay transit to go out to Europe and back. Anyway, that's a somewhat common tactic that ends up happening. Usually a regulator has to step in to force the incumbent to connect domestically with a provider. But the result was that when they shut off the international links, they also disconnected a lot of domestic connectivity because it was relying on... It'd normally connect in Paris and London, which is maybe a surprising fact.
Phillip Gervasi: What can we point to that this led to from a policy or an action perspective? Did anything come out of this? Now you mentioned Peter, that ultimately the shutdown failed in its goal to shut down the protests, but what did it lead to for the rest of us?
Peter Micek: Yeah, If I could revise my long- winded answer about digital rights and human rights. To take Doug's assertion, you know something's a right when it's taken away. I think this was one of the first times that people really realized how directly internet access and mobile phone service was to them exercising their fundamental rights. It was taken away in one fell swoop, and that sense reverberated in that maybe fear even, of what could my government do in some times of pressure, to me and to our community's use of these exciting new tools? That is also a lasting legacy, and in the following two years, the UN really went full boar into declaring that human rights apply online as they do offline. That was a fundamental assertion that came in the aftermath of that Egypt shutdown.
Phillip Gervasi: Yeah, and you're referring specifically to the UN Human Rights Council first resolution on internet free speech, is that right?
Peter Micek: Yeah, the so called internet resolution. Yeah.
Phillip Gervasi: Okay. 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 with Cuba and China.
Peter Micek: Yeah, it's a resolution that passed by consensus, and consensus is hard won at the council. You'll notice the resolution didn't mention Egypt shutting down the internet, and didn't call out any particular country. There's reasons some of these passed by consensus, it often might be a really skillful block or coalition that advanced the resolution. I think Sweden helmed this one with the support of, I believe it was Turkey, Tunisia, US, a couple other countries, probably Brazil. Then also diplomats, they want to be seen as relevant, and this is one of the first purely digital- focused resolutions at the UN, and folks probably wanted to be on that train, on the right side and saying, " Look, we acknowledge the digital world and we have something to say about it."
Phillip Gervasi: Certainly we see some progress, but how effective that progress is, we've seen the last decade, 12 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. We started off talking about the shutdown in Egypt, which was 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 collateral damage of turning everything off, so I have to assume that things are done a little bit different, maybe more strategically? Especially as the internet itself has evolved, the way we consume it, the way it has grown up in the last 12 years.
Peter Micek: That's right. I can point to a new guide that Access Now has put out, called the Anatomy of an Internet Shutdown, really typifying the technical measures that states, that authorities or that telecom operators and others can take to affect shutdowns. I have to say too, the term internet shutdown was a conscious decision by Access Now and the # KeepItOn coalition that we coordinate to coin and push. There are probably more direct definitions one could use, the terms like kill switch, blackout, blocking, information controls, all get at various forms of censorship. But we thought it was useful, and it has been, to have a rallying term that is fairly broad. For us and our coalition of around 300 civil society organizations, it includes service level blocking, so it could just be a shutdown of Twitter, blocking on Facebook. Other messaging apps would qualify for us as a shutdown event, along with shutting down mobile towers nightly, as we saw in Bahrain for a while, or too, scaling up, as Doug has mentioned, BGP manipulation and full shutdowns.
Phillip Gervasi: Right. Ultimately though, you mentioned that it is about controlling that information. You used 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 being's rights, is there a link between these two?
Peter Micek: Yeah. It's an important question, 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 can feel viscerally when someone tells you to shut up. And this fundamental right in the digital age, it depends on access to the internet. We've lost a lot of the traditional, maybe broadcast or other channels to gain information and to express ourselves. We are forced to rely on these digital channels. So this space is actually essential to the realization 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 digital technologies. That can go to your right to housing, your right to the benefits of science and technology if we're talking about health and vaccine availability and accessibility. 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. They reverberate broadly and they're just not proportionate interferences.
Phillip Gervasi: So then can we identify a general goal here? Is it just to put down protests, to retain power, control information? What's the real end goal?
Peter Micek: For that, we'd have to know what the governments were actually trying to accomplish, which they're not always very forthcoming about. First of all, I would ask for transparency from the authorities on just what they are trying to achieve by shutting us off. But yeah, on the available evidence, the impacts to even the right to life, there's unfortunately been 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 suffered really horrific consequences. We also see during protests that protestors are put 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 throttled and blocked. So yeah, there are really egregious consequences and I would say there are very direct correlations between internet access and the exercise of human rights.
Phillip Gervasi: 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 rights, and I'm probably not alone in this, is imprisonment and the loss of freedoms, and perhaps physical violence and harm. And at the very far end of the spectrum, the extreme end, murder and genocide of entire populations. What you're saying is that digital rights sit right alongside human rights as we've traditionally understood them. 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 authoritarian personality exerting power and control for power and control's 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.
Peter Micek: That's a great question. One of the emerging trends that we're going to note in our Access Now report on shutdowns in 2022, which should be out next month, is something that 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 creating an information blackout as part of a larger scale war. 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 stopping a protest or stopping a form of expression, but really as a form of siege, akin to shutting off supplies of food and water, or electricity. Yeah, I think Doug has studied this as well in places like Syria.
Doug Madory: I mean, there's been a lot of these incidents in the last whatever, 10 or 12 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. After the Arab Spring, the war in Syria had gotten going, it seemed like the whole trend had migrated to Africa. Some of that may have been just coincidental because a lot of elections were coming due around that time, and then some of those, in a handful of places, ended up being contested. People didn't agree with the results, the people who were in power didn't want to leave, and it led to some sort of communication repression of one kind or another. And a lot of times those people stayed in power, so somebody might view that as successful to try to stay in power.
Phillip Gervasi: Doug, how do countries do this from a technical perspective? How do they completely shut down the internet or shut down specific services individually?
Doug Madory: Yeah, I guess we've seen a variety of different measures, there's no single mechanism that they all do. For a lot of developing countries, I guess it depends on the... Some of them just go through a single provider. If you take Syria, it just goes to, formally known as STE, Syria Telecom. They can just shut the country off in one place, it makes it pretty easy. Egypt is a case where there was multiple providers with different connections out. They happened to mostly connect through this one exchange in Cairo that could be de- energized, or they could take down these routing announcements. But it's also, we've seen this be a very non- technical mechanism as well. 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 had to-
Phillip Gervasi: Wait, fax as in F- A- X, fax machine? I don't think I've even seen a fax machine in 10 years. Okay.
Doug Madory: Yeah, facsimile machine, yeah. I think there was something similar in... Or maybe not a fax, but there was at least an order given to... I can't remember which African nation, but there was another one that had an outage, and to the credit of one of the telecoms involved, they published it and said, " Here's the order we got. We have no choice but to comply, but just so the world knows why is this happening or who's behind this, we're going to go public with the order that we got." But that's really not always the case that you have that clarity as to what's taking place.
Phillip Gervasi: 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 cybersecurity and change mitigation, those kind of things to stop some of these attacks from even being possible. But some of those things that you mentioned were not technical in nature.
Doug Madory: Yeah, I think for a while there was a discussion of like, " Oh, well if we have a larger number of international connections out of a country, then it makes it harder for the government to..." And maybe it does to some extent. It's not just a single place, you've got multiple places you have to shut services down. But I think in those cases, if the government sends an order by fax or other means to everybody involved that just says, " You follow this order or you lose your right to operate in the country," it's very hard for a business to not comply with that, and so they're in a tough spot. If they don't comply, they may lose all their investment and their license to operate, which is the whole thing for them. So it's not an easy thing for them 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 they'd lose their license to operate. That's what makes it a difficult problem.
Phillip Gervasi: 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 in some Western countries. I'm assuming that's your experience?
Doug Madory: I think in those cases there's no hope of the government... Like Syria Telecom, ETECSA in Cuba, these guys are definitely... I mean, it's one and the same, they're not going to be going against the government, for sure. I think in some of these places there's multinationals that operate a lot of the African nations, the mobile operators, they operate in many countries. And even still, they make a business decision and they may not like it, but they have to turn service off.
Phillip Gervasi: So Peter, you and an organization like Access Now, how do you deal with it when you're talking about a literal country, a king or a president, a corrupt president, how do you deal with that?
Peter Micek: Yeah, it's definitely different strokes for different folks. I think we try to tailor our advocacy interventions to the context, and that's hopefully and largely working under the leadership of local partners, local organizations who are invested and who know what works and what doesn't. Who've tried probably a hundred more things than we can come to them with. For me, at the UN level we've been able to make some gains. Even if we can't issue some proclamation that's going to turn the internet back on in a certain country, we can get at the reputation, the standing of some of these regimes in the international community, which you might be surprised, does actually matter to some folks that you wouldn't think. I can also say, with my lawyer hat on, we've been successful in litigating, and again, by supporting local litigators, these really intrepid, often solo practitioners with small offices, who just want their internet turned back on. In places like Zimbabwe, Sudan, Iraq, they've been successful against what you might expect.
Phillip Gervasi: Is that what gains look... You 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?
Peter Micek: Yeah, ideally we have robust access to the open internet that we can securely and safely navigate, and use to exercise our rights. In practice, obviously it does get more complicated, if you look at places like Ethiopia where there's huge problems with incitement to violence on Facebook, on social media and messaging. And there definitely need to be interventions by policymaker, by authorities acting under the rule of law, in order to ensure people stay safe online and off. We are making the case that those interventions should not and do not include internet shutdowns. But yeah, I think we want spaces where people feel free to connect without fear of reprisal, to speak freely, and mainly do have access to the internet. As far as success, 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 that letter we wrote, or pointing to some UN resolution as evidence that... They don't have a lot to gain by pointing to these factors as influencing their decisions not to shut down, not to take this extreme action. So yeah, we are left to look at the evidence that we do have.
Doug Madory: Phil, could I jump in here? I think a lot of times when people think of this scenario, Egypt is a good mental model for this kind of thing of, if you've got an embattled president that feels they may be imprisoned or maybe even executed if they lose power, then that's a hard to convince person to back off. It's hard to introduce logic there, but I would say not every case is like that, and I think it's important to appreciate that there are some other scenarios. 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, was this Iraqi CMC, was a good contact of mine and we were trading notes on what was happening. We were reporting... This is back to DYNE at the time. And he was saying that within the halls of government in the Iraq and Iraqi parliament, there's a lot of heated debate over this. This wasn't a unified front here and 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. I think it's Syria that's done it. But anyway, it just gave me hope that this guy was really anti, he was lobbying the prime minister to stop this. And I feel like in that scenario, that's where the advocacy work of trying to outline what are the costs? He would love to be armed with more information about what kind of damage are we doing to the people in the country, because it's not a scenario where the leader's going to get his head chopped off if he doesn't shut the internet off. There are other scenarios, and that's where work like what Access Now does, can make a difference.
Phillip Gervasi: And violent death is probably a good motivator, in this case in the wrong direction. 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 and conspiring to do violence? Well, how do you balance that in those scenarios, or do you?
Peter Micek: Yeah. It's a situation where we don't necessarily try to... Well, try not to pit rights against each other to say that there's some zero sum, and you get more expression the less privacy you have, and vice versa, as if there were scales. We do try to look for places where rights can reinforce each other. And I think that's something that I've certainly learned around discourse on the internet over the last few years, is that you can give people the physical connections, put the phone in their hand all you want, but if the second they go online and identify themselves as a woman or as trans, they start getting concerted campaigns of vitriol, that is not an open space. That is not a meaningful internet access. It's not meaningful connectivity that's going to foster greater free expression. So it is more than just having those five bars or that physical cable lit. I've got some colleagues who help, looking at corporate policies, looking at the business and human rights discourse, whether these platforms are doing their best to foster an open discourse. And then also looking at content regulation, and there's been a lot of work. I don't know if you've seen the Digital Services Act, the DSA in Europe and the EU that recently passed, as probably something that's going to reverberate around the world, a lot like the General Data Protection Regulation did for privacy and data protection. So it certainly doesn't stop at just keep the internet on. There have been places where our advocacy, our advocates have said, " We're actually going to hold back on some of this messaging. We're going to not hold this event at this time and this place because actually internet shutdown is a threat, but there are bigger threats that are more relevant to our local partners," for example.
Phillip Gervasi: 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 some of the tools that he uses.
Peter Micek: Yeah, absolutely. I'm happy to shout out Doug Madory's work at Kentik, and before Kentik as well, as he's one of the technologists that we work with consistently, that we've built a relationship with of trust and responsiveness. Equally important because these fast moving events are something that we do try to track and we are expected to speak to, as a global advocacy organization. So we work with the private sector. We depend on open sources of data like, say Google's transparency reports, Cloudflare's new Radar. But I would say we primarily, as Access Now, work closely with our partners in civil society and independent journalists in country, and that's our# KeepItOn coalition. It's again, around 300 organizations in over 100 countries, and they use our listserv that we have. They use our tips line, sure, I think it's accessnow.org/ keepiton is the webpage. It's all methods and more, 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 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.
Phillip Gervasi: Access Now has a global footprint and a global interest, correct? In fact, I believe you have offices all over the entire world, and you're personally based out of New York City, is that right?
Peter Micek: Yeah, thanks. Yeah, I'm in Brooklyn. But yeah, Access Now has a presence in probably at least 25 countries. It's remarkable that we have grown so much over the last 10 years. But again, it's always in partnership with the folks who are already there and face a struggle in a lot of ways more than we do.
Phillip Gervasi: Okay, yeah. And Doug, what kind of information are you providing to Access Now, other types of organizations like that? What is the helpful information from a more technical perspective?
Doug Madory: This is going to be some sort of internet measurement data that either corroborates or refutes a claim of an outage. Sometimes there is an outage and then we want to try to... We may or may not be able to help determine the nature of the outage. Was this a submarine cable break? Or was it a government? There's a lot of things that can go wrong. In the work that I've been doing for the last 12 years, maybe Peter's got his version of this, but you develop contacts all over the world of, if I need to reach somebody and this part of the world, I'd ask this guy, and if he doesn't know, then he'd point me to some other person. So 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 mark as to what is this? And then sometimes in the past, it hasn't happened recently, but we'll see an outage in the country and know that this is actually a technical thing, and I'll preemptively, to Peter or his staff, be like, " Hey, this is technical, just in case you're getting..." Because people get very exercised on this. And well, there was one case where there was a submarine cable outage on Eastern Africa, and it actually was a planned outage, a scheduled outage that wasn't well communicated. But the outage took place during the presidential debate in Somalia, and it was widely interpreted there as the government just cutting off the discussion. And it wasn't, it was actually, it wasn't well circulated that this was going to be a planned outage. And then yeah, later we were able to confirm that. But I mean a lot of people very legitimately believed that this was a government outage. It would be understandable why you would think that, but you could see outages up and down East Africa and the Somali government doesn't have the power to take down the internet in Kenya. Anyway, I occasionally... I mean, I wouldn't want to say we're doing that a lot, just every once in a while something like that happens and we try to use the 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 contribute in something positively, then we'll do that.
Phillip Gervasi: When you say contribute something positively, I'm going to shift over to Peter here, what would you say then... I'm Putting you on the spot, I know, but maybe you know this 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 lofty goals. What is that one underlying goal of Access Now?
Peter Micek: Thanks. Yeah, 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 people can dependably, securely, openly engage online and access the information, the resources they need. I don't know that there's any businesses that do better when their customers can't depend on their internet connection. Any legitimate government is going to want to be able to spread information that people can rely on. All of this in the digital age depends on access to the internet. That's the goal. How we achieve that, I do have to say we are a non- profit civil society organization and we absolutely need technical assistance like Doug and Kentik provide. We also do need funding and financial support, and participation, and that can be private, these sorts of pings, or it can be public. And our conference, RightsCon, 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.
Phillip Gervasi: Well Peter, I'm going to thank you for giving us that perfect conclusion. I would not have been able to create one better myself, even after thinking about it for hours and re- listening, 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?
Peter Micek: Great. Yeah, it's accessnow. org, spelled like it sounds. I am peter @ accessnow.org is my email. I'm also on Twitter @ lawyerpants, one word, and that's me. But you won't be able to ignore us, I think, once you poke around.
Phillip Gervasi: Very good. Okay. And Doug, Kentik's resident director of internet analysis, always a pleasure, of course. How can folks find you online?
Doug Madory: Yeah, I'm on LinkedIn and still on Twitter, and it's @ dougmadory, I don't have as much wit to come up with a clever handle as some people.
Phillip Gervasi: Great, thanks Doug. You can find me on Twitter as well @ network_phil. I'm still very active there, and you can search my name in LinkedIn. Now if you have an idea for a show or you'd like to be a guest on Telemetry Now, reach out to us at telemetrynow@ kentig. com, we'd love to hear from you. You can also find us online on both Twitter and LinkedIn. Until next time, thanks for listening. Bye- bye.
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.