India is fast becoming the “internet shutdowns capital of the world”, according to a report by the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC), as the country saw 59 shutdowns in 2022 till June, 100 in 2021 and 129 in 2020, the year in which demonstrations and political activities were restricted due to Covid-19.
The total number of shutdowns reported in 2012-13 was eight, according to the SFLC, a Delhi-based legal services organization that works on technology, law and policy.
Jammu and Kashmir (411), Rajasthan (88) and Uttar Pradesh (30) led the states in internet shutdowns from 2012-2022, as per the SFLC.
The longest shutdown was observed in J&K after the abrogation of Article 370 from August 5, 2019, till February 5, 2021. The Rajasthan government recently suspended the internet, following the murder of a tailor, Kanhaiya Lal Teli, in Udaipur.
In a recent report on internet shutdowns, the UN defined “access to the internet as an indispensable enabler of a broad range of human rights” and said that “such shutdowns inevitably affect many users with legitimate pursuits, leading to enormous collateral damage beyond the scope of their intended purposes”.
On the veracity of shutdown data, SFLC counsel Radhika Jhalani said, “We maintain India’s only real-time tracker on internet shutdowns.
We use a variety of mechanisms in absence of government data to record these shutdowns. These include newspaper reports, RTI (Right to Information) replies, citizen reporting mechanisms, etc. SFLC has been monitoring and advocating against these instances of kill switch since 2012.”
Jhalani said the number of internet shutdowns has increased by “leaps and bounds since 2012”. “From three shutdowns in 2012, we have reached numbers in double digits,” she said.
The shutdowns are ordered under Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency & Public Safety) Rules, 2017, which were amended in 2020. The rules state that the suspension order shall not be in operation for more than 15 days.
However, neither the telecom ministry nor the home ministry maintains data on internet shutdowns and there is no mechanism to review how many states have issued internet suspension orders and for what reasons. Before 2017, internet shutdowns were done under Section 144 of Code of Criminal Procedure, which allowed a district magistrate, sub-divisional magistrate or any other executive magistrate empowered by the state government to ban the internet. 1UPrankings