India topped global list of internet shutdowns for 5th year in row in 2022
There were at least 84 internet disruptions in India last year, international digital rights organisation Access Now said in a report
India topped the global list of internet shutdowns for the fifth year in a row in 2022 with at least 84 disruptions, international digital rights organisation Access Now said in a report released on Tuesday in collaboration with the #KeepItOn coalition.
The report said India has accounted for approximately 58% of all documented shutdowns globally since 2016. “Authorities [last year] disrupted internet access at least 49 times in Jammu & Kashmir, including 16 back-to-back orders for three-day-long curfew-style shutdowns in January and February,” the report said.
There were 12 shutdowns in Rajasthan, seven in West Bengal, and four each in Haryana and Jharkhand.
The report said the authorities “interfered with access during high-profile events such as protests, conflict, school exams, and elections”.
It added while shutdowns were lower than in 2021, the Union government’s refusal to document and publish orders for them and technical challenges in tracking likely mean not all disruptions were recorded.
Raman Jit Singh Chima, Access Now’s senior international counsel, and Asia Pacific policy director, said India shut down the internet more than any other country on earth. “That is 84 attacks on fundamental rights across the world’s biggest democracy. For a country chairing the G20, and on the eve of its pivotal 2024 general elections, these disruptions are jeopardising the future of India’s tech economy and digital livelihood ambitions — truly a global shame.”
Felicia Anthonio, the campaign manager of the #KeepItOn coalition of organisations around the world fighting internet shutdowns, said governments wield internet shutdowns as weapons of control and shields of impunity.
“In 2022, from targeted blocking in the Jammu & Kashmir region to knee-jerk shutdowns seeking to crush [the] public protest, authorities in India worked hard to exert control further over India’s online sphere. But, slowly, they are learning that the world is watching, and people are fighting back.”
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology this month asked the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the Union ministry of home affairs (MHA) to ensure the states and Union territories strictly complied with the rules and the Supreme Court’s guidelines when imposing telecom or internet shutdowns.
In 2020, the Supreme Court called access to the internet a fundamental right by extension as it pulled up the government for the telecommunications blackout in Jammu & Kashmir. It said the blackout cannot go on indefinitely.
The court said orders on blackouts must now be published with specific reasons and should be proportional to the concerns necessitating such suspension.
In its report, the parliamentary panel underlined the need for a mechanism to maintain a centralised database of all shutdowns orders as per its recommendation.
The panel said no efforts have been made to implement the recommendation. “No centralized data is maintained either by DoT or MHA and they are not aware of the number of internet shutdowns imposed by the States.”
The panel sought a study to assess the impact of internet shutdowns. “Frequent shutdown of [the] internet without any empirical study to prove the effectiveness of internet shutdown in controlling law and order, civic unrest, etc. is a matter of great concern to the Committee.”