Internet shutdowns have seen an increase in frequency over the years, with 2016 recording close to 30 instances, according to the InternetShutdown tracker released by SFLC.in.
Even though we have the freedom of speech, we all know it isn't absolute. In a country such as India, where offence is taken liberally, absolute freedom of speech could prove to be detrimental as well. A lot of the time, we have seen internet services being disabled during times of terror attacks, or conflict-ridden areas, or natural disasters, when the prospect of spread of rumours is high.
We are all part of that one WhatsApp group where you routinely keep coming across scams and fake forwards.
This is in addition to the censorship that is already happening on the internet in India. Last August, there were reports of blocked websites issuing a warning message which included Sections of the Copyright Act under which you could be booked as well as be fined amount you would be liable to pay.
Torrent as well as pornography websites have been blocked, and later unblocked at regular intervals. Social media sites such as Facebook keep getting requests to take down profiles or posts or are approached by legal authorities to share data. In the January to June 2016 period, there were 2,034 content pieces that were restricted.
InternetShutdown.in has listed instances of shutdowns overlaid on a map of India. Hovering over the number lists the incidents of shutdowns from 2012 onwards. According to the site, these shutdowns are imposed by the government; i.e. Internet Service Providers serving the locality in question are ordered by an agency of the government to cut-off Internet services to that area.
An internet shutdown, unlike blocking certain websites, pertains to putting a blanket ban on internet services as a whole. Telecom service providers and internet service providers have blocked all access to internet on 3 occasions in 2012, 14 occasions in 2015, 30 occasions in 2016 and around 4 instances already this year.
Here are a few screenshots of different states and the reasons behind the shutdown.
Data shared on this site will be updated regularly. Users can themselves report instances of shutdowns as well. There have been 62 instances of Internet shutdowns across various regions in 12 states in India. Around 30 were reported in 2016 and 4 have been reported in 2017.
Mishi Choudhary, the executive director of SFLC, says, "Many countries block Internet services as responses to conflict situations, or even for trivial reasons such as to prevent cheating during examinations. Unfortunately, these shutdowns not only imperil civil liberties, but also grievously hurt the economy, as a recent report by the US policy think-tank Brookings Institution showed. The shutdowns in 2015-16 cost Indian businesses an estimated amount of $968 million (Rs 6,485 crore)." SFLC has partnered with Access Now for this initiative.
According to the tracker, the state of Jammu and Kashmir has faced the maximum number of internet shutdown, with 27 instances, with the last three years having 5 instances each. There's a pattern of shutting mobile internet and telephony services on 15 August and 26 January in J&K. Last year Kashmir witnessed over three months of internet shutdown. Naturally, this made the information technology sector dysfunctional, leading to job cuts and shifting operations outside the state.
In 2016, there have been over 50 Internet shutdown instances and the SFLC tracker puts the India number at 30, which is over half of those instances. This has led to a loss of close to $968mn in India, $465mn in Saudi Arabia and $320mn in Morocco, due to the loss in economic activities. The Brookings Institution study analysed 81 short-term shutdowns across 19 countries between 1 July, 2015, and 30 June, 2016, and estimated that these shutdowns cost the global economy at least $2.4 billion (around Rs 16,080 crore).
In the majority of the cases, the internet block has been resolved in 24 hours, but there are cases where it has gone on for more than three days.
According to SFLC, the data is currently being collected from reports published in national and regional newspapers. "As the Government does not formally announce Internet shutdowns to the public before or after they happen, we currently rely entirely on secondary sources for information. We are working on technical methods to be notified of Internet shutdowns in real-time, but these are still in early stages of development and do not supply any information to our tracker as of yet."
Users can also report shutdowns in their areas here.