#EndSARS: How to communicate when there’s an internet shutdown?

the massive protest against the unfair and brutal activities of the rogue unit of the Nigerian Police Force, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS has gained a lot of attention all over the world.

the Nigerian government has not fully met the demands of clamoring protesters, which are

  • Immediate release of all arrested protesters
  • Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families
  • Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation & prosecution of all reports of police misconduct (within 10 days)
  • In line with the new Police Act, psychological evaluation & retraining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed
  • Increase police salary so that they are adequately compensated for protecting the lives and property of citizens.

This endless protest spreading wild like a fire on social media all over the world, has made the Nigeria government uncomfortable,

Since the two moves by the authorities to placate protesters — dissolving SARS and creating a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team — have proven ineffective, there are now fears that the government might shut down the Internet.

A restriction of social media platforms and at worst, a total Internet shutdown are anticipated.

If this were to happen, Nigeria would be completely disconnected from the rest of the world and real-time communication between online and offline protesters will be restricted. Also, fund donations will stop and aid delivery will be disrupted, possibly bringing the movement to an end.

It might seem unlikely for such a repressive act to occur in Nigeria, but it is commonplace in some African and Asian countries. However, the move can’t be ruled out because there was a similar scare before the general elections in 2019.

Unfortunately, the government regulates the Internet in the country, and ISPs — telcos inclusive — will have to comply if it issues the shutdown order.

Since it appears the government is threatened by the magnitude of public expression, it is necessary to adopt the Scout motto: Be Prepared. And knowledge of the options available to the government and citizens is a good way to start.

Here tip on how to stay connected.

Thankfully, the digital world has developed apps to help users communicate in the event of an internet blackout. Mesh-based apps such as FireChat, Bridgefy, Signal Offline and Briar, and virtual walkie-talkie app Vojer will help you connect to your contacts in case of emergencies. However, please note to download the apps from Google Playstore and App store when you have internet access and/or if you’re anticipating an internet shutdown.

FireChat

FireChat is a free peer-to-peer messaging app that works with or without Internet access or cellular data to send text and images. The app lets you send messages directly between mobile devices using peer-to-peer Bluetooth and WiFi connections. Every device with a FireChat app acts as a relay or a cell tower, creating a mesh network among groups within 200 feet in your phone to communicate directly with other devices that are also running FireChat.

Firechat transfers messages from person to person in an encrypted format; first to the mobile next to you, then to the person next to them and so on. The message reaches the intended person but with a slight delay. FireChat’s efficiency increases with the number of people using the app. The more the number of users, the more effectively and swiftly will the message get transferred.

FireChat also has a public chat where the messages posted are visible to others. In case of emergencies, this feature can be used to reach a larger audience. However, you should also be aware that police and law enforcement agencies will also have access to such messages.

The app was used by community organizers, emergency responders and private citizens to communicate when cut off from outside networks, including in the pro-democracy protests in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Bridgefy

The mesh network, like that in FireChat, connects one smartphone to another and likewise, creates a long line of communication | Image courtesy: Jorge Ribs Medium post 

Similar to FireChat, Bridgefy also uses Bluetooth connectivity to connect with different phones to relay messages. Smartphones can connect over a range of 330 feet (100 meters). The mesh network, like that in FireChat, connects one smartphone to another and likewise, creates a long line of communication. “The people in the middle don’t have access to your messages, have to perform any action whatsoever, or have to be in your contacts list,” explains blogger Jorge Ribbs in Medium.

Users can use Bridgefy to even ‘broadcast’ messages. The ‘broadcast’, which is a virtual chat room, allows you to text anybody around you that is also using the Bridgefy app, even if they’re not on your contacts list. You can automatically connect with up to 6–7 people at a time, noted Jorge.

Briar

Briar is another messaging app that connects one phone to another via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, keeping information flowing in a crisis. Briar uses direct, encrypted connections between users to prevent surveillance and censorship. Since messages via Briar are encrypted, the app has ruled out the chances of potential surveillance and censorship threats.

Signal Offline

The signal is also a peer-to-peer technology, which enables Android devices to connect directly to each other via WiFi without any intermediate access point. Unlike Briar and Bridgefy, Signal is an offline messaging app that connects via Wifi Direct. Signal allows you to communicate without the internet or local network in a range of up to 100 meters. Messaging could be one-on-one or in a group. Signal allows you to send audio, text, photo and video messages to users around you over WiFi direct.

On start-up, the Signal app sends a signal to discover nearby devices. User can send additional signals by swiping the available list. Once the devices are found, they appear in the available user list. A grey colour signifies no connection while colours indicate that the device is connected. Once the devices are found, Signal establishes connections between the devices.

Vojer

Vojer app lets you make voice calls in high quality, even if there is no connection available on your device. The app turns your device into a walkie-talkie or a two-way radio. The app enables you to share information with those friends that are nearby. You’ll receive a confirmation once your message has been delivered. The app developers claim that all messages received and sent are encrypted to keep them private. However, Vojer is available only for iOS devices.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *