India leads in global internet shutdowns for sixth year in row

Out of 116 instances, 47 were in Manipur, where the impact was ‘severe’, making it ‘more difficult to document rampant atrocities’.
Modi with an image of the report by Access Now and #KeepItOn coalition.
Modi with an image of the report by Access Now and #KeepItOn coalition.Shambhavi Thakur
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The internet was snapped 283 times across 39 countries last year, an increase in 41 percent from 2022. And India holds the dubious honour of documenting the most shutdowns globally – an honour that the country has carried for six years now in a row – with 116 instances.

These are the findings of Shrinking Democracy, Growing Violence, a report by Access Now, an internet advocacy watchdog, and the #KeepItOn coalition. Such were the shutdowns in India that graphical representations of shutdowns were calculated separately for the country. Details on its methodology can be found here

The country with the second highest shutdowns was Myanmar with 37, though the report acknowledged that this is probably a “fraction of what were likely hundreds”. Next was Iran (34), Palestine (16) and Ukraine (8). The report noted that shutdowns in Palestine and Ukraine were “imposed by external parties”.

Screenshot from the report.
Screenshot from the report.
Screenshot from the report.
Screenshot from the report.

Alongside Algeria, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey and the UAE, India is on the list of “repeat offenders”, having maintained a shutdown every year since 2016.

More states hitting ‘kill switch’

The report said Indian authorities “continue to use shutdowns as a near-default response to crises, both proactively and reactively”.

Shutdowns also lasted longer last year. In 2022, 15 percent of India’s internet shutdown spanned five days or more. This shot up to 41 percent in 2023. Sixty-eight shutdowns – 59 percent of the total – “exclusively targeted mobile networks”.

Importantly, more states are “reaching for the kill switch”. Seven states in 2023 instituted five or more internet shutdowns last year, up from two in 2021 and three in 2022. 

The report calculated 47 shutdowns in Manipur, noting that a series of 44 orders affected the entire state for 212 days. 

“It changed in scope and scale throughout the year, primarily impacting mobile networks but also including a statewide shutdown of broadband and mobile internet lasting two-and-a-half months. The impacts were severe, particularly for women, as the shutdowns made it more difficult to document rampant atrocities, including murder, rape, arson, and other genderbased violence, and thereby hold perpetrators accountable.”

Punjab recorded “one of the country’s most extensive blackouts in recent years” during the police’s hunt for Amritpal Singh in March 2023. Authorities “blocked internet access impacting about 2.7 million people across the country for four continuous days”.

Among other states, there were 17 shutdowns in Jammu and Kashmir, 12 in Bihar, 11 in Haryana, six in West Bengal, five in Maharashtra, and five in Rajasthan. 

Additionally, authorities ordered 65 shutdowns in 2023 “specifically attempting to address communal violence”.

Impact on people, economy 

India also issued 7,502 URL-blocking orders between January and October 2023. The report pointed at the new telecom law for “giving the central government nearly unchecked power to impose internet shutdowns” with other trends pointing to a “spectrum of harmful, increasingly longer, and wider-ranging disruptions shrinking the civic space in the country”.

The report’s assessment of the impact of these shutdowns was startling. It calculated that a single-day shutdown can “push up to 379 people into unemployment” in India. It also suggested these shutdowns “cost the country $1.9 billion and a loss of $118 million in foreign investment in the first half of 2023 alone”.

Overall, in the last five years, Indian authorities have instituted shutdowns “at least 500 times”. And officials “continue to fail to publish shutdown orders and have been repeatedly corrected by courts for failing to comply, underscoring the urgent need for reform”.

Raman Jit Singh Chima, the Asia Pacific policy director of Access Now, said in a press release: “With over 500 documented shutdowns in the past five years, Indian government leaders must immediately commit to ensuring that the world’s largest democracy is internet shutdown free if they wish to be credible in their efforts to be recognised as global digitisation leaders. They cannot claim to advance digital access for the world while disrespecting human rights in the digital age at home.”

This report was republished from Newslaundry as part of The News Minute-Newslaundry alliance. Read more about our partnership here.

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