Internet blocked and social media not accessible? Yeah, that’s right. Sounds absurd? Stop joking! Well guys, I’m not joking. Net Neutrality is no longer going to be a priority for any country or their government! This is truly evident from the fact when Google agreed to develop a censored version of their search engine in China!

Back in 2016, a milestone was created for all the digital activists, when the UN Human Rights Council resolution on promoting and protecting the freedom of users online, was adopted. However, 51 intentional disruptions of the internet and electronic communications took place in the first 10 months of 2016 in countries across the world. Let’s not forget how the year 2016 came to be known as “the year of shutdowns”. Well, that’s what happens when more than a 10 governments interfered with the internet during elections and protests! Today, the threat of internet blackouts, besides surveillance and monitoring of online activities, still looms large. Even today, Bangladesh snapped mobile internet connectivity under the context of containing protest. The threat to Net-Neutrality is real.

Governments usually direct telecommunication companies to block certain websites or completely shut down the telephone and internet network. The next time that happens, here are a few things you can do to avoid the blackouts.

1. Use Circumvention Tools and Proxies

I’m sure everybody is aware of the various proxy and circumvention tools that are available out there. These can be used to evade censorship and to access the internet anonymously. The most popular among them include Psiphon and Hola. Psiphon is an an open source web proxy that helps users skirt content-filtering systems.

Then there is Tor, which can be used to browse the internet anonymously by preventing people from tracing your location or spying on your browsing habits. Tor is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android.

The Guardian Project also has a number of apps like Orbot that can help you browse the internet anonymously, send messages and encrypt your internet traffic. Pretty cool, right? An then there is Tails which is an operating system that enables you to start on any computer, allowing you to bypass censorship, and uses cryptographic tools to encrypt files and email messages.

Also, you can make use of peer-to-peer networks, which essentially helps people in uncensored areas, to share their connection and servers with those without the same unfiltered level of access. Lantern works this way! Peer networking is also used with FireChat, an off-the-grid messaging app that allowed users to chat using Bluetooth or wireless during blackouts in Iraq, Iran, and Hong Kong!

I urge everyone to be aware of the various rules in his/her country, as sometimes, government could issue jail terms for using them!

2. Understand VPN Safety 

It is very important to ensure the safety of the VPN you use! Most of the people use VPN’s to get secure access over the internet! But did you know VPN’s essentially differ regions to regions ? Thus, it is a must to know the specifics as to how each VPN works. Access Now recommends That One Privacy Site as a source that compares different virtual networks.

3. Don’t forget to protect yourself 

So let’s say your country has officially shut-down internet. Trying to circumvent this is not as easy as it sounds. You need to start small. Make sure all the websites you access are delivered over HTTPS. For instance, this very blog is uses  HTTPS to make it secure for readers to browse our content. In addition, You can install the HTTPS Everywhere extension in your browser.

Next comes the installation of an anti-virus software. This is basic thing which plays a key role is removing any harmful or malicious software. I highly recommend NOT to install the free anti-virus softwares that are available! It’s always good to go for a premium paid anti-virus software to ensure you are protected.

4. Seek help from experts! 

For journalists, media bloggers and writers who are involved in reporting sensitive information in such situations , it is very important to know where to seek help before blackouts.  Please note – Access Now,  runs a 24-Hour Digital Security Helpline, which can advise users even during emergencies. I strongly recommend reading their Digital Security Booklet which is a good place to start!

Net Neutrality should be a  fundamental right to every human being. I hope this post helps everyone when such a dark situation arises in your country!

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