Over the past few years, the number of instances in which Internet access was blocked for entire regions by the Indian Government has been steadily climbing. These “Internet shutdowns” are usually instituted as responses to conflict situations i.e. to prevent rumor-driven escalations of civil unrest, but they are also instituted at times for reasons far more trivial, such as to prevent cheating during examinations. This rise in frequency and broadening of reasons behind shutdowns even in the face of strong international condemnation of the practice are causes for concern as they not only threaten the democratic working of nations, but also point to the gradual normalization of the mindset that permits such blanket restriction on Internet access.
SFLC.in maintains a dynamic “Internet Shutdown Tracker”, which contains detailed records of all Internet shutdowns reported from 2012 and presents this data on an interactive map. As of 24th February, 2017, 63 shutdowns have been reported across 12 Indian States, with the State of Jammu and Kashmir topping the list at 27 shutdowns instituted since 2012.
With the view to extract more information from the data collected through the tracker, we categorized these shutdowns on the basis of:
- Kind of service of restriction: Whether the order issued restricted mobile, fixed line, or both the modes of connecting to Internet services?
- Duration of the shutdown: Ranging from less than 24 hours to more than 72 hours; how long was the Internet shutdown instituted for?
- Nature of the shutdown: Was the Internet shutdown a preventive measure taken in apprehension of an event, or as a reaction, post the occurrence?
The following is the analysis based on data available through our tracker that has recorded incidents from 2012 to 6th February, 2017:
Kind of service restricted
Of the 62 reported incidents, 44 were targeted at mobile Internet services, 8 targeted both, fixed-line and mobile Internet services, while no conclusive information was available for a total of 10 incidents , and no shutdowns targeting fixed-line services alone were recorded during the period of study.
Duration of Shutdowns
23 of the 62 Internet shutdowns since 2012 lasted 24 hours or less, 14 lasted between 25 and 72 hours, 12 lasted for 73 hours or more, while no information was available on the respective durations of 13 Internet shutdowns. The non-availability of information is attributable chiefly to the fact that no public notifications are issued by the Government before, during, or after shutdowns, leaving stakeholders outside affected areas to source this information from available news reports, which do not consistently mention the durations for which Internet access was blocked.
Nature of Shutdowns
Furthermore, a sum total of 30 Internet shutdowns since 2012 were observed to be preventive measures i.e. restrictions imposed in anticipation of public unrest, whereas 32 shutdowns were reactive in nature i.e. imposed in order to contain on-going unrest.
For a complete catalogue of every Internet shutdown in India along with external references, please visit our Internet Shutdown Tracker at: http://sflc.in/internet-shutdown-tracker-india-2013-2016/.