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All Posts | Feb 09,2017

[Press Release]: ‘Internetshutdowns.in’ launched by SFLC.in as a one stop destination for resources on Internet shutdowns in India

‘Internetshutdowns.in’ launched by SFLC.in as a one stop destination for resources on Internet shutdowns in India

New Delhi, February 8: Delhi-based not-for-profit legal services organization SFLC.in today launched ‘internetshutdowns.in’, a new portal to provide policy makers, academics, media-persons and the public at large with a repository of instances where blanket bans on Internet services, either mobile or fixed line, were imposed in India. Till date, their data reflects 62 incidents of Internet shutdowns across various regions in 12 states in the country, with 30 being reported in 2016 itself, and 4 instances in the first month of 2017.

‘Internetshutdowns.in’ also hosts a continually-updated Internet Shutdown Tracker for India. This tracker offers detailed records of all Internet shutdowns reported from 2013 and presents this data on an interactive map. It also contains resources such as an analysis of the legality of such incidents in the country, along with a study of these shutdown trends in India based on the medium that was restricted, duration of shutdown, as well as the nature of the measure, i.e. if it was a preventive or reactive action. It revealed that the number of shutdowns increased more than two fold from 14 in 2015 to 30 in 2016.

Mishi Choudhary, President and Legal Director at SFLC.in said, “There is a global consensus that access to Internet is a human right, in a digital and connected world. Yet, 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). As the pace of shutdowns increases, the costs will mount, particularly given the new emphasis on transactions by Internet payment systems linked to Aadhaar. Shutdowns are a very imprecise means of achieving any social end, imposing immense collateral damage. In democracies, essential social facilities should not be turned off by the State, which acts in the peoples’ interests. The dependence on mobile Internet services for public safety and order, education, business, and family life is a fact of our existence. It should not be intentionally broken by government, pursuing one form of ‘law and order’ at the expense of all other social functioning.”

“Internet shutdowns are a global, not merely an Indian problem,” said Ms Choudhary. “SFLC.in has been working with Access Now on its global campaign to study and reverse the adoption of shutdown policies around the world. We acknowledge their assistance and leadership in this area.”

This resource portal also provides users with the option to report an Internet shutdown in their vicinity to keep the shutdown tracker up to date with disruptions SFLC.in has recently written to the Additional Secretary of Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Dr. Ajay Kumar requesting him to take requisite action to ensure that stable and reliable Internet services are assured to citizens, especially at a time when the Digital India programme is encouraging e-governance initiatives and the Government is advocating for transactions through cashless modes.

Per SFLC.in’s record, the state of Jammu and Kashmir has experienced highest number of shutdowns (27 since 2012). Out of the total 62 shutdowns recorded since 2012, 44 were targeted at mobile Internet services, 8 targeted both, fixed-line and mobile Internet services, while no conclusive information was available for 10 incidents and no shutdowns targeting fixed-line services alone were recorded during their period of study.

All Posts | Feb 07,2017

Letter to MeitY raising concern about frequent Internet shutdowns in India

In the last few years, India has witnessed a constant increase in the instances of Internet shutdowns in the country. These incidents point to the issuance of orders mostly by State Governments to block mobile and/or fixed line Internet services in an attempt to curb unrest or violence or as a preventive measure in certain cases. SFLC.in has been keeping a track of such instances in India and has maintained a dynamic tracker as well. In this regard, we wrote to Dr. Ajay Kumar, the Additional Secretary at Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology raising concern about the rising frequency of such shutdowns. The text of this letter can be accessed below.

However, since the sending of this letter, we have updated our Internet shutdown data as well as revised the shutdown trends. As of 6th February, 2017, we have tracked India to have experienced62 incidents of Internet shutdowns of varying durations across 12 states since 2012. This data can be accessed here. A revised version of the Internet shutdown trends can be accessed here.

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2nd February, 2017

To,

Dr. Ajay Kumar

Additional Secretary, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology

Electronics Niketan, 6 CGO Complex,

Lodhi Road, New Delhi- 110003

 

Dear Dr. Ajay Kumar,

Sub: Raising concern regarding frequent disruption of Internet services in India

I write to you on behalf of SFLC.in (Software Freedom Law Centre, India), a not for profit organization that works towards protection and promotion of digital freedoms and civil liberties on the online sphere. This is to draw attention to the increasing instances of limiting access to Internet services in entire towns, or districts in the country.

We have been consistently tracking such state imposed disruption of Internet services in different regions across the country, for reasons varying from restricting spread of hateful and communal messages on social media platforms, to prevention of cheating in exams. Till date, our record shows 49 Internet shutdowns in India from 2013 to 2016, with 28 such incidents being reported in 2016 itself.

Moreover, we have analysed these shutdown trends in the country based on the mode of service disconnected (fixed line, wireless, or both), the duration of shutdowns, as well as their nature, i.e. if restricting access to the internet was a preventive or a reactive measure. In our findings, we observed not only an overall increase in the number of shutdowns consistently over the years, but also noted that most of these shutdowns are instituted for mobile Internet services. At this point, it is important to be mindful that Internet proliferation in India is mostly through the provision of mobile networks, with the recent Performance Indicator Report by TRAI stating that as of September 2016, out of a total of 367.48 million Internet subscribers, 345.60 million subscribers access Internet through the medium of mobiles and dongles.

The flagship programme of the Government, the Digital India initiative and its aim to digitize provision of government services to ensure convenience and transparency, is laudable. However, as the applications of Internet expands to areas such as e-commerce, education, and e-governance, it has become an intrinsic part of every citizen’s day to day life. Especially in light of the Central Government’s recent decision to demonitize Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 currency notes, along with the encouraged use of applications and payment mechanisms such as BHIM (Bharat Interface for Money) and Aadhaar Enabled Payment Systems (AEPS) that involve digital transactions, assurance of stable and consistent Internet connectivity is imperative.

Such frequent disruptions of Internet services not only incur extremely high levels of economic losses, but also bring the lives of residents of that particular area to a standstill. A report by the Centre for Technology Innovation at Brookings Institute, that attempted to quantify the economic losses suffered by a country due to Internet shutdowns, adjudged India to have suffered highest losses in the world, along the lines of US $968 million due to such temporary restrictions on complete Internet access.

We at SFLC.in are aware that the Information Technology Act, 2000 provides for restriction of access to some online resources in certain situations related to security of state. Section 69A and the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009 framed under this Section create a detailed framework and procedure for conditions that warrant temporary disabling of public access to contentious content. We acknowledge that for such reasons, a targeted restriction of online resources could be instituted as per Section 69A and this provision should act as the standard operating procedure instead of a complete restriction of Internet services on any medium in an area. In fact, even these Rules need to be reviewed to ensure that the restrictions imposed are necessary and proportionate.

Presently, most of the orders for such restrictions are issued by the state governments under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, which is a power given to the state governments to issue directions to a person in case of emergencies to prevent apprehended danger or nuisance. In the past this provision has been used to curb unlawful assemblies of people, however, the current use of this clause as a legal basis to disable an entire communication network is arbitrary.

Therefore, we strongly urge the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to take requisite action that would prohibit the issuance of orders that make Internet services entirely inaccessible for a particular area, and rather recommend that Section 69A and the procedure established by the Rules therein be applied to limit the restriction to certain specific online content. In interest of transparency, we further request you to make public any such guidelines or recommendations issued to officials designated to order restriction of Internet access.

For your kind perusal, we are attaching our record of Internet shutdowns from 2013 to 2016, and the analysis of these shutdown trends mentioned earlier along with this letter. We sincerely hope that you will take note and take appropriate action on this issue that is affecting overall development of the country and welfare of the citizens.

Yours sincerely,

Mishi Choudhary

President and Legal Director , SFLC.in