Syria and Sudan turn off the internet to suppress ... cheating by kids sitting exams

Access Now #KeepItOn campaign thinks that’s a very bad idea

The governments of Syria and Sudan have shut down the internet across their nations, apparently to prevent cheating during school exams.

A blog post by Cloudflare’s CTO John Graham-Cumming charted the scheduled outages in Syria showing they corresponded to the periods of time directly before exams start — from 4:00AM until 8:30AM, when exams start at 8:00AM — to prevent last-minute squirrelling away of answers.

Cloudflare also detected four shutdowns in Sudan, starting at 8:00AM local time and ending three hours later — corresponding with exam timings announced by the Sudanese Ministry of Education. More shutdowns are expected through the end of the month.

According to Graham-Cumming, the data suggested the largest drop in internet use is for mobile phones, with non-mobile access (somewhat) continuing. Interestingly, the data suggested that mobile data accounts for 75 per cent of traffic. For comparative purposes, mobile traffic accounts for 44 per cent of US internet activity.

While the story of a government preventing its student population from cheating on exams is cute at first glance, digital civil rights nonprofit Access Now said it could have “drastic consequences for human rights and economies”.

In 2017, an Access Now representative explained:

Everyone will be disconnected — from businesses to emergency workers, to hospitals and government agencies, all to stop students from sharing exam answers with each other. This will happen in a country with major security concerns, where communication through apps and the internet can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.

On the whole, internet shutdowns — both exam-related and those called for other reasons — seem to be decreasing in number but increasing in duration.

Access Now reports as a part of its #KeepItOn campaign that there were 115 internet shutdowns in 2019, 60 in 2020 and 50 between January and May of 2021. Of those so far in 2021, 24 affected a whole country or region, 11 took in more than one city or area, and 13 cut off only one city, county or village.

The longest shutdown in a democracy has occurred in Muslim-majority Indian state Jammu and Kashmir, lasting from August 4, 2019 until February 5, 2021, with intermittent shutdowns occurring since then.

Also in 2021, shutdowns in Myanmar have become routine. ®

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