Indian government shut off the Internet over a 100 times in 2019 — and China is lovin' it

People protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act in BengaloreBCCL
  • The Indian government has been shutting down internet services in select parts of the country amid protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
  • The internet shutdowns have led an outcry from human activists that such measures aren’t coming down through the ‘right channels’.
  • The accelerated pace and expanse of the internet shutdowns also has China citing India as ‘setting an example’.
  • Businesses aren’t immune to the effects either as many online retailers rescheduled orders or reported a dip in sales.
Amid the protests, violence and discord over India’s newly formed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), authorities have been shutting down access to the internet in selected areas to control the situation.

When the internet isn’t being shut down, it’s at least being slowed down — known as throttling. Human rights activists claim that the order did not come down the ‘right channels’ making the entire exercise ‘illegal’.

Throngs of anti-CAA protests outside the Red Fort in New DelhiBCCL

It can only be ordered by a competent authority like Union home secretary or state home secretary, but this order was not issued by them," technology lawyer Mishi Choudhary told ET.

And, this is not the first time that the government is being accused of using internet shutdown as a ‘quick fix’ solution for ‘potentially’ volatile situations.

Phone with postpaid connections finally get network access in Kashmir on 14 October 2019 after 71 days of an internet shutdownBCCL

In fact, India has turned so infamous for it during the last few months that China — known for its strict surveillance of online activity — is citing India as an example. India’s internet shutdown shows normal practice for sovereign countries," said an editorial by Qing Qiu in People’s Daily — China’s largest newspaper and a controlled entity of the country’s ruling party.

Internet shutdown capital of the world

The government is allowed to sanction an internet shutdown in the case of a public emergency under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017.

The problem is that internet shutdowns have become so common in India that it now has a reputation for being the ‘ internet shutdown capital of the world’. Kashmiris had to endure a four-month-long shutdown while the networks in Assam and parts of West Bengal were sporadically cut and activated.

Parts of Kashmir remain under curfew and internet black outBCCL

Since 2012, the internet has been shut down in India a total of 375 times and most of them have occurred during the last two years — 134 in 2018 and 103 in 2019.

It means that shutting down the internet in a state of emergency should be standard practice for sovereign countries," according to the People’s Daily editorial.

Impact of internet shutdowns

The damage of an internet shutdown isn’t restricted to missing messages on WhatsApp or an update on Instagram either. Although, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did ironically try and send out a tweet his ‘brothers and sisters in Assam’ when it was under an internet blackout.



Internet shutdowns are affecting businesses as well. Between 2012 to 2017, they cost the economy nearly $3 billion, according to an estimate by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations ( ICRIER).

This time around, food delivery apps like Zomato, Uber Eats and Swiggy saw their volumes dip by 10 to 20% in Delhi. Grofers, an online grocery delivery service, had to reschedule 20,000 to 25,000 of its orders in Lucknow.

Traffic comes to half as roads get blocked by anti-CAA protestors in New DelhiBCCL

In addition the effect on businesses, this might not be the best time for the Indian government to be exercising its power in such a way with the Personal Data Protection Bill underway.

The bill is currently under discussion by a joint committee after being tabled in the Parliament in its last session. There are concerns that it has too many loopholes that will give the government access to user data in the name of ‘national security’ or a ‘public emergency’ — the very same reason used to justify the many internet shutdowns across the country.

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

All the countries where someone managed to shut down the entire internet - and why they did it

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