Internet shutdowns continue to be used to silence voices, limit freedom of expression, restrict access to information, and disrupt the efforts of civil society, political opposition, and marginalized populations during political and social unrest. The past year has been a stark reminder of the willingness of governments to use complete Internet blackouts to exert illegitimate, authoritarian control over citizens, use political violence with impunity, restrict media coverage, and hamper human rights documentation efforts.
Through the use of intentionally timed blackouts, and violent attacks on human rights defenders (HRDs), protesters, media, and civil society, these shutdowns impact all citizens, even those trying to stay out of conflict. Everyone is put at risk when their ability to communicate is removed.
However, no one technology is a silver bullet. While satellite-based Internet is receiving increasing attention and continues to offer a unique solution to connectivity that is less reliant on local infrastructure, its use during crises is complicated, and absolutely not risk-free.
During a crisis, threat models are hyperlocal and evolve rapidly. Responding appropriately and effectively is simply beyond the abilities of any static document, international organization, or technology. This resource is built to provide on-the-ground digital and operational security experts with a reference of well-documented research into known capabilities a wide array of potential adversaries could leverage against satellite communications users to intercept or block their communications or even locate the device being used.
With this information and some suggestions for mitigating each risk, local experts will be able to more rapidly provide contextualized and nuanced guidance and help make risk-informed decisions.
As this is the first comprehensive risk review of satellite communications in a dexage, this first public draft is intended to help draw additional reviews and refinements, so feedback is welcome.
Next steps beyond this review stage are:
- Review and finalize suggested mitigations
- Translate the entire document into additional languages
- Update the Small World News Guide To Safely Using Sat Phones