Why do ISPs comply with government requests to
shut down the internet?
role do the ISPs’ shareholders play in such decisions?
ISPs be held accountable for their actions?
problematizes the responsibility of internet service providers (ISPs) in
politically motivated disruptions of access to (specific) internet services.
ISPs, when faced
with a government request to block internet access, can be confronted with conflicting
local and international laws.
license agreements can contain clauses that require
ISPs to temporarily shut down their services on government request during
periods of national emergencies. If a company’s majority shareholders are
headquartered in established democracies, they may be held accountable for
their actions abroad. Under the EU Regulation No. 1215/2012 of 12 December
2012, for instance, victims of human rights violations can make a tort claim
against companies domiciled in the European Union.
In response to
increasing pressure from civil society, many firms actively promote higher social
corporate responsibility standards. In the telecom sector, a group of
multinational internet companies, including Orange and Vodafone, founded the Global
Network Initiative (https://globalnetworkinitiative.org/) that develops
guidelines to respect freedom of expression and privacy.
In 2020 the
Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice
ruled that the September 2017 internet shutdown ordered by the Togolese
government during protests is unlawful and a violation of the right to freedom
of expression as protected by international law. Despite the illegality of many
internet shutdowns, to date, no ISP has faced any legal consequences.
Some telecommunications companies disclose how often and on what
grounds government agencies compel customer data or request content blocking or
disruptions. This study demonstrates that the extent to which these transparency
reports are useful in determining actual corporate behavior tends to be fairly