Prepare, Prevent, Resist: The OPTIMA Internet Shutdowns Resource Library

The OPTIMA Library is a compilation of new and existing resources, guides, methodologies, and more to assist individuals and activists before, during, and after an Internet shutdown.

Some governments treat the internet like a water tap – slowing access down to a drip or even turning it off entirely to prevent citizens from sharing information, silence citizens, stifle political opposition, and ultimately stay in power. States have a large arsenal of tools at their disposal to limit internet access; from blocking specific social media platforms, to shutting down broadband and mobile services, or even throttling (slowing) internet bandwidth so it can take an hour to upload a short video. Activists and internet users, however, find themselves too often under-resources and under-prepared. This library seeks to help by serving as a one-stop-shop for individuals looking to better prepare for, respond to, and advocacy against internet shutdowns. 

So what are internet shutdowns? Shutdowns are among the most extreme and draconian censorship tactics that governments use to control speech and stifle civic participation; shutdowns not only deny citizens their rights to expression and information, but also threaten health, safety, and economic security. While the reasons governments publicly give for these shutdowns may differ (fighting fake news! preventing cheating on exams! national security!), the message they send to their citizens is the same: we control you.

OPTIMA has spent two years mapping community capacity to respond, and has curated the following library to respond to gaps and needs identified by our trusted network of partners. To learn more, check out our comprehensive needs assessment report below. 

Assessing Civil Society Preparedness

Since 2019, Internews has worked closely with leading digital rights and internet freedom organizations to engage in a series of four country-specific comprehensive needs assessments. These assessments, and the associated reports, sought to understand civil society’s capacity to engage in internet shutdown advocacy, and provide recommendations for next steps to better prepare for, and prevent shutdowns. 

Before

Support those preparing for a potential future disruption to understand threats, build coalitions and civil society capacity, and engage in preventative advocacy, measurement and outreach.

During

Assist those actively experiencing an internet shutdown to stay connected and document abuses.

After

Provide resources and guidance to document the impact of a shutdown, sustain coalitions to prevent future shutdowns, and fight shutdowns in court.

Not sure where to start, or which resources to use?

Take our Internet shutdown risk and advocacy assessment to receive a customized guide for conducting advocacy in your specific context, including relevant resources and recommendations.

Do you have a resource to add? This is a constantly evolving library so please share it with us by clicking here!

The resources in this library have been sorted into four distinct categories. These categories, defined below, were identified by our global network as the most pressing cross-cutting components of resilient advocacy communities.

Designing effective advocacy campaigns around Internet shutdowns can be challenging. This section provides guidance and examples to support you in building impactful messaging and getting the word out even during a crisis.

The library includes resources such as:

  • Access Now’s KeepItOn Toolkit on conducting Advocacy around elections
  • A series by Witness on capturing video documentation during a shutdown
  • A report on strategies to document and communicate rights violations during a shutdown
  • Research reports illustrating shutdowns’ impact on communities
  • Guides on reaching wider audiences through campaign design

Understanding how to continue your work and maintain communications can be a daunting task. This section outlines some of the tools that you can use, and guides to help you determine which is best for your specific needs.

The library includes resources such as:

  • EFF’s guide on choosing the VPN that’s right for you
  • Non-technical guides on strategies to bypass internet shutdowns 
  • Introductions to Psiphon, F-Droid and other tools to circumvent blockages

Sometimes the most effective way to challenge or prevent a shutdown is to do so through the courts. This section includes resources, strategies, and legal landscape reviews to help you build and argue strong litigation.

The library includes resources such as:

  • Guides on conducting strategic litigation to address governments’ use of shutdowns
  • How to navigate country-level and regional legal mechanisms to challenge shutdowns in court
  • Reviews of laws and legal frameworks that relate to the use of shutdowns as a tool by governments

A key element to fighting against shutdowns is understanding when and how they happen in your country. Network Measurement is a critical tool to reinforce advocacy with data.

The library includes resources such as:

  • How to use various measurement tools  to document instances of network disruptions and shutdowns. Those tools include
  •  OONI
    • IODA
    • Google Transparency Report
    • Censored Planet
    • M-Lab
  • Links to key measurement resources and data repositories to map shutdown use around the world

Browse the Resource Library

To browse resources that are relevant and useful to you, please use the navigation features below that filter the library by issue area (definitions above), resource type, and language.

GNI

The Global Network Initiatives Country Legal Framework Resource

The Global Network Initiatives Country Legal Framework Resource (CLFR) is a detailed set of resources examining governments’ legal authorities to intercept communications, obtain access to communications data, or restrict the content of communications in more than 50 countries. Through this resource you can review a country’s laws pertaining to 1) provision of real-time lawful interception assistance; 2) disclosure of communications data; 3) national security and emergency powers; 4) censorship-related powers; 5) oversight of access-related powers, and 6) oversight of censorship-related powers.
Litigation
Tool
Understanding Legal Frameworks and Precedent
Association for Progressive Communications

Dialling in the Law: A comparative assessment of jurisprudence on internet shutdowns

This APC report “Dialling in the Law” outlines jurisprudence across the Global South on the legality of internet shutdowns. It tackles the growing challenge of government-mandated disruptions of internet access around the world, often under the guise of safeguarding public order and upholding national security interests.
Litigation
Report
Understanding Legal Frameworks and Precedent
Access Now

The Laws That Let Internet Shutdowns Happen

Access Now’s Primer on Internet Shutdowns and the Law provides a comprehensive look at questions such as the legality of Internet shutdowns, existing legislation, impacts, and community members.
Litigation
Primer
Understanding Legal Frameworks and Precedent
Media Defense

Internet Shutdowns: Module 2: Restricting Access and Content

This module, developed by Media Defense, gives a high level overview and review of regional and international level legal responses to internet shutdowns.
Course
Litigation
Understanding Legal Frameworks and Precedent
Association for Progressive Communication

Digital rights strategic litigation: Suing governments when online freedoms are violated

APC’s guide to Digital Rights Strategic Litigation is a very quick and simple starting point for understanding where to begin when conceptualizing a strategic litigation campaign in Africa.
Guide
How to Conduct Strategic Litigation
Litigation
Association for Progressive Communications

Internet Rights are Human Rights

The Internet rights are Human Rights is a series of training modules concerned with the relationship between human rights, ICTs and the internet. These modules are intended to help those who work on human rights and/or ICTs to understand ways in which the internet is affecting the enjoyment and protection of rights, and may provide useful legal background to inform both advocacy and litigation.
Course
How to Conduct Strategic Litigation
Litigation