Short-term Internet Shutdown in Bali Tied to Holiday

By Grant GrossTechnology Reporter

The Indonesian province of Bali has asked mobile providers to shut down customers’ access to the Internet during Nyepi, a Hindu holiday known as the Day of Silence.

Mobile Internet access will be cut off at 6 a.m. local time Saturday, March 17, and the island’s airport will also close for 24 hours during the New Year celebration. Other Internet access will be available during the holiday, the Bali government said.

Internet advocates oppose shutdowns, saying they can hurt local economies and endanger users who depend on connections to contact emergency and health services. Internet shutdowns cost countries $2.4 billion in 2015, according to a Brookings Institute study.

“In a globally connected world, social and economic freedoms depend on reliable access to the Internet,” Sally Shipman Wentworth, the Internet Society’s vice president of global policy development, wrote in Quartz recently. “The internet is the lifeline to the global economy and each shutdown contributes to a more divided world.”

Without Internet access, many business activities are also disrupted, she said. Digital payments can’t be made, contracts can’t be signed, and data in the cloud can’t be accessed.

Although the Internet outage in Bali is limited, it can create problems for people, said Zak Rogoff, campaign fellow for Access Now’s KeepItOn campaign, which tracks Internet shutdowns. Journalism, business, online education services, and web-based communications are among the activities that will be affected, he noted.

“Even a partial shutdown for apparently benign reasons has serious effects on freedom of expression, information, and association,” he said. “Though some Balinese may choose to refrain from these activities on Nyepi anyway, other people within Bali’s religiously diverse society will also be swept up in the shutdown.”

Internet outages during holidays and festivals are not confined to Bali, and they also happen regularly in Pakistan, India, and other countries, Rogoff said.

Shutdowns can weaken investor confidence in country economies, and “set a bad precedent which can be leaned on by governments to suppress political activity during elections or unrest,” Rogoff added.  “As connectivity and reliance on the Internet grows, so does their harmful impact.”

While the Bali shutdown is a limited one, several other countries have enforced long-term outages in recent months:

  • The government of India has repeatedly cut off Internet users, particularly in the disputed Kashmir region, where there were 19 shutdowns between mid-2016 and mid-2017.
  • Iran began blocking some Internet service on Dec. 30 to combat large-scale protests.
  • The Houthis, a northern insurgent group in Yemen, has shut down the Internet for short stretches, and it has also blocked some sites and throttled Internet speeds.
  • Access Now counted 61 shutdowns worldwide in the first three quarters of 2017. India, Pakistan, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria were the countries with the most shutdowns, with India the leader by far.

In Bali, many Hindus observe four prohibitions – no fire, travel, activity, or entertainment – during the Nyepi holiday. While Indonesia is a majority Muslim country, more than 80 percent of Bali residents are Hindu.

“Many Hindu people are addicted to gadgets,” the BBC quoted Hinduism Society head Gusti Ngurah Sudiana as saying. “I hope during Nyepi they can be introspective.”

Religious, civil, and law enforcement leaders asked the Bali government for the mobile Internet shutdown. This year is the first time the government approved the request, after denying it last year, the BBC reported.

Part of the reason for the shutdown request was to prevent tourists from taking selfies during the holiday, a representative of Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia, the country’s leading authority on Hinduism, told News.com.au.

In recent years, many governments are placing a greater emphasis on national security and political control than on personal data privacy. “The result is the mainstreaming of shutdowns,” Nicolas Seidler, senior policy adviser at the Internet Society, told the Daily Dot.

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