As of 2018, ITU estimated that 51.2% of the global population was using the internet. Much of the recent growth is occurring in Africa, which saw a 20% bump in internet users over the course of 2017. There are now half a billion users across the continent, with some of the highest percentage of connectivity occurring in Southern Africa. As people have become more connected, it has changed how citizens participate in civic life, as well as how governments respond to their citizens.
One of the troubling government responses to digital life has been internet shutdowns. Access Now is one international human rights organisation that focuses on human rights in the digital age who has been tracking internet shutdowns for a decade. They define internet shutdowns as:
“An internet shutdown is an intentional disruption of internet or electronic communications, rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow of information.”
Internet shutdowns violate human rights and can lead to many negative socio-economic impacts. In response to the growing number of internet shutdowns around the world and in the Southern Africa region, civil society has started advocating against internet and other communications disruptions. One important avenue that can be used to respond to internet shutdowns is litigation. Litigation is a way to challenge the laws used to justify internet shutdowns, and to achieve redress for economic damage caused and human rights violated. This report explains the legal considerations relevant for challenging internet shutdowns in courts in Southern Africa.
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