As the Olympics unfold in Brazil this week, the digital rights group AccessNow started a petition to make sure the government there doesn’t turn off the Internet.
But that’s not a thing Brazil could do, right? And even if it were possible, it wouldn’t, right?
Wrong. It could shut down the entire Internet, or just block certain sites, as it has done repeatedly. On June 19 a Brazilian judge ordered Internet providers to block access to What’sApp in an attempt to force the company to reveal personal user data for a criminal investigation. It was the third time in seven months that Brazilians lost access to the extremely popular encrypted messaging platform, which boasts more than 100 million users across the country.
This time around, the Brazilian Supreme Court overturned the website block the same day it was issued, on the grounds that it violated constitutionally protected free expression, as well as Brazil’s net neutrality law, Marco Civil, which was passed in 2014.
Now, with the entire world watching and more than 500,000 visitors in Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics, it’s unlikely Brazilian authorities will try to censor the Internet during the games. But, it could. Easily. That’s because Internet infrastructure is remarkably malleable. If a government does order censorship, in only a few seconds an Internet provider can block any point on their network from sending or receiving information, whether targeting a single website or the entire Internet.
Here’s how easy it would be.
The old adage that the Internet routes around censorship is more of an ideal than a reality.