Thursday, February 10, 2011

Latvia proposes an internet kill-switch -- Mubarak on the Baltic?

Latvia's new draft law on a “ A State of Emergency”, which was presented to the meeting of state secretaries (part of the process of introducing it to the parliament or Saeima) last September, was way ahead of Egypt's authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak by granting the government the right to throw a kill switch on the internet and all other electronic media. They can also censor the press and all correspondence, too.
The draft law also contains provisions for regulation the movement of citizens during an emergency, for overruling the decisions of local authorities, for searches and seizures in private homes and a number of other totalitarian measures. It also provides for emergency allocation of resources, goods and services and other steps that are at least superficially reasonable in case of a natural disaster, war or insurrection.
What is worrisome is that a state of emergency can be declared for political reasons, such as “a threat of civil disorder”, and that the provisions for regulating media and electronic communications, especially the internet, are dangerous and disproportionate. It is hard to see what benefit the population could gain from being shut off from domestic and outside media during a major global or regional disaster. As far as preventing people in Latvia from disseminating information over the internet and social media, it looks like the main purpose of such measures would be to keep the outside world from learning of repression or other violent and irrational actions by Latvia's own government and authorities.
Let us assume that a megastorm, a Cyclone Yasi or Hurricane Katrina type of storm was raging over Northern Europe and about to hit Latvia, where a state of emergency had been declared. Why should people be cut off from looking at the Weather Channel, the BBC, CNN or other news sources on the internet or on their mobile phones for a “second opinion” in addition to what the government was saying in official announcements?
I don't think the government would cut off the internet simply because a storm was coming, but such measures could be used if there were mass demonstrations that presented a “danger of civil disorder” to police and government bureaucrats advising those able to declare a state of emergency. In such a case, the reason for cutting off electronic communications, including the internet and the social media that live on it, would be to prevent information about state repression from getting out and to interfere with efforts by dissident groups and civil society to self-organize using the internet.
In short, this is a dangerous piece of draft legislation that leaves way too much leeway for the state to censor, repress, and prevent the dissemination of information about its own repression. This law must be stopped and/or drastically modified so that it is not a compilation of “rubber clauses” that can be stretched to attack inalienable human rights in times of social and political tension. There shall be no Latvian Mubarak, no internet kill switch.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well look at the rage in Egypt which followed after the internet was cut off. By terminating the internet the goverment would clearly mark themselves as enemy and would just further fuel rage. Let's not forget that the internet and communications is a crucial part for many businesses to function and this will only get more profound in the future. You take bread and butter away and too many have nothing to lose...

Ophelia said...

Hello I'm a journalist for Owni.fr in France, I would like to contact you about Internet regulation in Latvia. Do you have an email so that I can send you my questions or a phone number where I can reach you ?
Thanks,
Ophelia
Our office number is +33158305100