Iraq has been shutting down the internet periodically to prevent students from cheating on exams, according to data from DYN Research, a firm that tracks web outages across the world. The company's data shows that internet access was nearly entirely blocked for three hours on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday morning this week, between 5AM and 8AM local time. That pattern mirrors shutdowns that the Iraqi government ordered last year, which coincided with final exams for sixth grade students.
"There was certainly a lot of skepticism about this explanation last summer, but the outages did coincide with exams and nothing emerged to dispute the explanation," Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at DYN, tells Vocativ.
Iraq's Ministry of Communications has not commented on this week's outages, nor has it posted anything to its Facebook page. In an email obtained by the human rights group SMEX, an Iraqi internet service provider alerted customers that the internet would be down this week, citing orders from the communications ministry. Earthlink, another ISP, posted a similar notice to its Facebook page on Sunday.
The Iraqi government has previously blocked internet access and social media sites for political reasons; about a quarter of the country was blacked out last year in an attempt to hinder ISIS. As Vocativ notes, other countries have curtailed web access to prevent cheating on exams, including Uzbekistan, which implemented a nationwide block in 2014, and the Indian state of Gujarat, which shut down mobile networks for four hours this year to thwart cheating on a national test for accountants.
Human rights groups have expressed concern over Iraq's shutdown, which comes amid heightened political instability. "Given the security situation in Iraq, it’s quite an extreme measure," Deji Olukotun, senior global advocacy manager at the digital rights group Access Now, tells The Atlantic. "We see this as really disproportionate to what they’re trying to achieve."