Over the course of last few years, countries all over the world have resorted to blocking access to the entire Internet as a measure to curb violence, public mobilizations, or even to prevent cheating in examinations. However, the rise in frequency of such shutdowns is a cause of concern not only for the democratic working of nations, but also points to the gradual normalization of the mindset that permits such blanket restriction on Internet access.
India, is one of the countries that has witnessed a sudden increase in the imposition of such restrictions on mobile, and/or wireless Internet services and as of 24th February, 2017 we have recorded 63 such incidents. Most of these orders for Internet shut down are given under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which authorizes state governments to take action to curb unlawful assemblies or to prevent apprehended danger. A Special Leave Petition (SLP) challenging the use of this provision for restricting access to Internet was filed earlier this year in the Supreme Court. However, the Apex Court dismissed the petition and upheld the power of state government under Section 144 to suspend Internet services by stating that the use of such mechanisms becomes necessary for law and order situations.
In lieu of the ongoing increase in such instances around the globe, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution on 1st July, 2016 condemning these network disruptions for stifling freedom of expression that is an internationally recognized human right, and forms the core of any democratic framework. Moreover, such disruptions have also been observed to be an obstruction in the flow of information, and hampering economic and business interest as well. Contributing to the momentum, we have joined society organizations and others to partner in the #KeepItOn campaign initiated by Access Now against the increase in the number these Internet shutdowns. As a part of this campaign, a definition for Internet shutdowns was drafted through crowd sourcing. This definition describes an Internet shut down as, “An intentional disruption of Internet or electronic communications, rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow of information.” This definition covers a wide range of activities that extend beyond a blanket disruption of the entire Internet service, but also includes restrictions placed on using the Internet and other electronic services, such as throttling, and blocking of websites and services, or other telephonic, or broadcast means of communication, usually at strategic times.
We recently wrote a letter to Dr. Ajay Kumar, Additional Secretary of Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, expressing our concern regarding the rising number of instances of such blanket restrictions on Internet services and requested him to take requisite action. A copy of this letter can be accessed here.
SFLC.in is tracking instances of online censorship such as blocking and take down of websites and content here, whereas, on this page for Internet shut downs, we are only documenting events where access to the entire Internet, mobile and/or wireless was restricted by the government authorities.
You can read our analysis on the legality of Internet shutdowns here.
For a graphical representation of the Internet shutdown trends based on the data compiled below, please refer here.
Keep a watch on this page as we update it with instances of Internet shut downs in the country.