Centre for Internet & Society

India reported over 100 internet shutdown in 2018, according to an annual study of Freedom House, a US-based non-profit research organization.

The article was published in the Hindustan Times on December 11, 2019. Pranesh Prakash was quoted.

The internet shutdown on Tuesday in Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura amid spiraling protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the Northeast is the latest in a series of such shutdowns across India, which topped the list of countries that resorted to such measures in 2018.

India reported over 100 internet shutdown in 2018, according to an annual study of Freedom House, a US-based non-profit research organization. The study on the internet and digital media freedom was conducted in over 65 countries, which cover 87% of the world’s internet users

Police and administrative authorities have cited protests and other security reasons to routinely snap the internet in India.

The Centre promulgated the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017, under the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, in August 2017 for legal sanction to the shutdowns.

As per the rules, Union home ministry secretary or secretaries of state home departments can order temporary suspension of the internet. An internet suspension order has to be taken up for review within five days.

Prior to 2017, authorities could shut down the internet under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which empowers an executive magistrate to prohibit an assembly of over four people.

Section 5 (2) of the Telegraph Act, 1855, allowed the government to prevent transmission of any telegraphic message during a public emergency or in the interest of public safety.

The Kashmir Valley has remained under an internet shutdown since August 4. The shutdown was imposed hours ahead of the nullification of the Constitution’s Article 370 that gave Jammu and Kashmir special status.

Internet and phone lines were snapped ahead of Republic Day celebrations in 2010 in one of the first reported shutdowns in the Valley. Kashmir also holds the record for the longest shutdown when the internet was snapped for 133 days after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani in July 2016. The current shutdown, with 122 days and counting, is the second-longest.

The 100-day blackout in Darjeeling during the Gorkha agitation in 2016 is the third-longest internet shutdown in India.

Ahead of the verdict in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit last month, the internet was shut down in parts of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The internet was shut down for three days in Gujarat during the agitation for a quota in jobs and educational institutes for the Patidar community in 2015.

As per the Software Freedom Law Centre, which provides free legal services to protect Free and Open Source Software, the total number of shutdowns in Indian since 2012 is more than 359. As per the tracker -- internetshutdowns.in -- which records such instances from newspaper clippings -- there have been 89 internet shutdowns in 2019, 134 in 2018, and 79 in 2017.

“As a part of this project, we track incidents of Internet shutdowns across India in an attempt to draw attention to the troubling trend of disconnecting access to Internet services, for reasons ranging from curbing unrest to preventing cheating in an examination,” it states as part of its purpose.

In September this year, the Kerala High Court held that access to the internet is a fundamental right. According to Pranesh Prakash of the Centre for Internet Society, the shutdowns are largely unlawful.

“David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, has condemned the shutdowns and noted that the principles of proportionality and necessity should be adhered to in case of shutdowns. Yet, there have been several instances where lives have been lost in Kashmir due to the lockdown,” he said.