How India became internet shutdown capital of world

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Wahid Bhat, Srinagar: With ongoing protests against the Citizenship Act in the country, India has become the world’s ‘internet shutdown capital’ and there’s no debate on that. The situation mirrors last year’s track record. The trend of internet shutdowns, which was compiled by a Delhi-based net shutdown tracker last year, shows the surge in 2019 also. In fact, such is the situation that an expert lamented on the internet freedom in India by giving example of China, which is not a democracy!

In his September 2018 paper The Legal Disconnect: An Analysis Of India’s Internet Shutdown Laws, Google public policy fellow Nakul Nayak wrote: “Between mid-2015 to mid-2016, over 19 countries suspended internet access. That number increased to more than 30 in 2017. Notable international examples include the Egyptian government cutting internet services in its entire country for over four days, with China doing the same in its Xinjiang province for over 10 months,” writes “However, it is India that has the dubious distinction of witnessing the most number of shutdowns in the world,” he added.

According to data compiled by internetshutdowns.in, India has witnessed 91 shutdowns so far. From 2012, India has registered 363 internet shutdowns. In 2016, erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir registered the longest internet shutdown. Internet services were suspended in Jammu and Kashmir for 133 days. Web services remained suspended between July 8 and November 16 in 2016 after the encounter of Hizbul militant Burhan Wani. While mobile Internet services on postpaid numbers was restored on November 19, 2016. Mobile Internet services for prepaid users were resumed in January 2017, this implies they faced almost a six month Internet shutdown, the shutdown tracker website report said.

At present, Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh are witnessing internet shutdown since August 4, 2019. Right now, there is no mobile internet and broadband connection. Recently, sms service was resumed in the region.

As the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act intensified, several other local Internet services have been shutdown. In Jammu and Kashmir, people have been living without Internet services since August 5 this year after the government stripped the state of its special status under the Constitution.

Internet services are typically shutdown when there is civil unrest to ensure that the flow of information about government actions is blocked and that there is no communication among activists. It is also done to prevent the spread of rumours and fake news. =India leads the world in the number of Internet shutdowns, with more than 100 incidents reported in 2018 alone, as per a report by Freedom House a US-based non-profit organisation that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights.

Freedom House, in its country report on India, stated that India has been shutting down Internet services in the country since 2010, during periods of unrest. Citing the reason as measures to stop the spread of rumours and disinformation that incite violence, authorities temporarily shut down telecom networks during riots and protests, on several occasions.