Disruption or shutdown of services
In the wake of the UK riots in 2011, the British Prime Minster was quick to assert that control of access to the internet and social networking sites was a legitimate option for the British authorities to consider. Authorities were able to use social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, as a means of quickly identifying alleged offenders following the riots. While social media platforms can act as instruments of protests, they can also render users vulnerable to state surveillance, particularly when combined with facial recognition technology.
Government interference with SMS messaging for ‘security reasons’ is also frequent, whether in Cameroon, Ethiopia or Mozambique, or the Kashmir region in India, and amidst post-election violence in Kenya. In some cases interference is on a massive scale, such as in India where bulk messages services were banned for 10 days in Allahabad, effectively shutting down services to 36 million users.
Further pressure has been placed on freedom of association by government policies on user registration to enable surveillance of internet use, including in public places such as internet cafes. A number of countries, including South Korea, have attempted:
“…to track users by requiring government identification to use certain websites or to enter cybercafés. Government-enabled or sponsored attacks on infrastructure or individual websites have become increasingly common. And more recently, governments aware of the internet’s organising potential have taken to implementing ‘just-in-time’ blocking – limiting access to sites during specific periods of election or protest, or worse, arresting bloggers and social media users or shutting down the internet entirely as has occurred in Egypt, Libya and Syria.” 
Perhaps even more concerning are covert forms of surveillance and monitoring of HRDs practised by some regimes, such as ‘sockpuppets’ (fake identities) and ‘astro-turfing’ (fake grassroots organisations) to create pseudo movements, infiltrate legitimate organisations and conduct surveillance of what activists say in these ‘trusted’ spaces.
Intermediary liabilities and the private sector
Governments are also increasingly requiring the private sector, including internet intermediaries such as internet service providers or mobile network operators, to exercise gatekeeper functions. For example, demands by governments for social networking platform providers to regulate the political activities of members appear to be increasing. In many countries the primary threat to speech appears to come from private actors in collusion with government, and under the umbrella of intellectual property concerns. For instance, Apple initially banned the app of Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore on the grounds that Apple’s terms and conditions limited material that “ridicules public figures and in Apple’s reasonable judgment may be found objectionable, for example, material that may be considered obscene, pornographic or defamatory.” Such private contractual terms seek to limit freedom of expression.
International private sector companies can also impose or be complicit in limiting free expression when obliged to follow domestic law in the countries where they do business. In countries where restrictions to online content are the norm, this results in businesses aiding government censorship. Historically, states have been known to place restrictions on content for the purpose of national security, but “never before has the determination of what constitutes a national security threat been left to minor agencies or private regulators, creating greater room for error and corruption.”
New forms of resistance
While interference with internet rights is growing, so is the movement to resist it – using ICTs. The 2007-2008 post-election violence in Kenya gave birth to the Ushahidi movement where cell phones and PCs were used to map incidences of violence in the country. Sex workers in India and throughout Southeast Asia have used technology to aid their efforts in organising and demanding that their voices be part of women’s human rights movements and democratic processes. The use of ICTs for increasing the reach of marginalised voices is growing.
Women’s rights online
ICT’s have the potential to provide tremendous support for women, who are key actors for development and social change. ICTs have been effectively used to document abuses, build knowledge and networking in the women’s movement, and redefine histories by adding women’s voices and experiences. They have helped disseminate information, mobilise support and amplify the pressure for change. Unfortunately these benefits are threatened by the human rights abuses discussed earlier in this paper. Research indicates that women also make up the majority of victims of the disturbing phenomenon of online violence. They experience violence in the form of cyber-stalking, online harassment, blackmailing and cyber-bullying.
Fortunately, women around the world are building their capacity to put ICTs to the use to defend their rights. Take Back the Tech is a collaborative campaign that began in 2009. It connects issues of violence against women and ICTs and has global reach and impact.