Internet shutdowns in India have skyrocketed — but now the Indian government wants that to stop

  • India’s central government’s Department of Telecommunications has issued a notice to the state governments to keep from implementing ‘unwarranted’ internet shutdowns in India.
  • Internet shutdowns in India have skyrocketed to being the highest in the world, with 40% of them occurring the volatile state of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • The DoT has asked the state governments to thoroughly ensure that they are following the parameters set by the Telegraph Act.
The Indian government’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has issued a notice to its state governments warning against issuing an ‘internet shutdown’ in situations where ‘public emergency’ or ‘public safety’ are not in question.

Those are the two clearly identified rules of the Telegraph Act that allows for the ‘temporary suspension of telecom services’. The parameters for internet shutdowns in India may be broad, but they are clear in their intent.

Despite this clarity, internet shutdowns in India are the highest in the world with 130 shutdowns occuring in 2018 according to the internet shutdown tracker by the Software Freedom Law Center. That’s nearly double the amount from 2017 that stood at 79 internet shutdowns in India.

Here’s how states manage to manage to overlook a basic law

The Indian government is well aware of the problem and knows that in certain cases this could be treated as a violation of basic human rights. Especially in the a state like Jammu and Kashmir that has cumulatively lost its access to internet for nearly a month over the last four years.

Of the total number of shutdowns this year, 40% of them happened in that state.

The reasons of revoking citizens’ access to internet ranges from blocking access to social media to blocking off all telecom services in specific localities. But, in most cases it has been a statewide shutdown of the internet under the guise of protests, agitation and ‘precautionary measures’.

Internet shutdowns have become a tool in the hands of state government and law enforcement authorities where they need a ‘quick-fix’ solution to ‘potentially’ volatile situation. And, in every scenario, there are arguments to be made on the legitimacy of the reasons by implementing an internet shutdown in India.

Especially when you look at the example of the internet shutdown in the western state of Rajasthan, where the state government justified it was to ‘prevent cheating during examinations’. Public safety was not in question and neither was it a public emergency as stipulated by the Telegraph Act.

An estimate by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) from earlier this year projects that internet shutdowns in India may have cost the economy nearly $3 billion between the years of 2012 and 2017 — not to mention the hampering the Digital India initiative, as highlighted by the DoT’s directive.

This what the full notice of the DoT said:

See also:
India accounted for most number of intentional internet shutdowns in South Asia 2017-18: UNESCO

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