This post was written by Kat Townsend, Web Foundation Interim Director of Policy
The Web Foundation has joined AccessNow, Wikimedia Foundation, and other #KeepItOn members to call on US President Biden and other governments to refrain from disrupting internet access in Russia through sanctions and work to ensure that digital communications platforms remain in operation. Read the letter.
We strongly condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the deplorable violations committed by Russian forces and we welcome efforts to respond with an outpouring of support for the people of Ukraine and in parallel strong, targeted measures that counter the actions by the Kremlin. However, these actions should not extend to disrupting internet access and shutting the people of Russia off from the global internet. Access to the internet is a fundamental human right and we must fight for that right for everyone, regardless of where they live — especially in times of crisis.
Here’s why political and industry leaders must preserve the open internet in Russia:
- To enable Russians to access independent information. As the government in Russia passes a restrictive new bill targeting journalists, the internet remains as one of few remaining portals for Russians to hear outside voices. Blocking access would further cut citizens’ access to accurate information, including about atrocities in Ukraine. This risks granting the Kremlin total control of the information space inside the country.
- To help journalists to do their work. Journalism and independent media depend on access to secure and reliable information technologies to document events, communicate with sources, and get their work published. And they enable readers to bypass state controls on information. Shutting down the internet would make the job of journalists in Russia even more precarious.
- To support those organizing for human rights and democracy. The internet and the web have long been used to resist oppression, document injustice, and build movements for change. Restricting internet access in Russia would deal a blow to those working for democracy and human rights and opposing the invasion of Ukraine.
- To avoid hastening a sovereign Russian internet. The internet was designed as a global, open network, not split up and controlled along national lines. Cutting Russians off from the global internet risks inadvertently speeding up what the Kremlin has been attempting to build for several years — a sovereign internet with complete control of content and expanded capacity for surveillance. To avoid increasing internet fragmentation, leaders must ensure the global internet remains widely accessible.
- To defend internet access for everyone as a fundamental principle. When governments try to shutdown the internet in their own country, we join with a global and growing coalition of human rights defenders to urge them to #KeepItOn. We say the same to governments considering cutting off people beyond their borders. While targeted measures to put pressure on the Russian government are necessary, this is not the answer. We must safeguard the internet as a basic right.
We cannot set a dangerous precedent of cutting off access to the internet in Russia. We must maintain our support for a free and open internet, for everyone or risk fracturing global connectivity and losing the immense opportunities it creates.
Our friends at Access Now are actively tracking the digital rights implications of the Ukraine-Russia conflict and has published digital security resources for human rights defenders in Ukraine and in Russia and Belarus.
Tim Berners-Lee, our co-founder, gave the web to the world for free, but fighting for it comes at a cost. Please support our work to build a safe, empowering web for everyone.