Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC),an organization that works for internet freedom, has tracked 70 instances of internet shutdowns by the government of India in 2017
Bangalore, February 1, 2018: In its seven years of collecting data on internet shutdowns, SFLC website has tracked a total of 132 cases.
The data from the website for shows that the communal violence in Kasganj has was the latest addition to the barrage of internet shutdowns which have been taking place across the country.
The first month of 2018 has clocked five bouts of shutdowns.
“We believe that these shutdowns are unconstitutional and do not serve any purpose. They cause financial and emotional distress by blocking e-commerce and communications between people,” said Praneesh Prakash, the Policy Director of The Centre for Internet and Society based in Bangalore.
The increase in shutdowns corresponds to the rise in communal riots across the country. The National Crime Records Bureau(NCRB) data shows that communal violence cases in the country have increased by 41 per cent since 2014.
There were six instances of internet shutdowns in 2014 which increased by 133 per cent to 14 instances in 2015.
It further increased by 122 per cent to 31 instances in 2016 and by 125 per cent to 70 instances in 2017.
Though, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) recorded the highest number of shutdowns with 62 instances, UP topped the number of communal incidents with 60 cases. The latter saw only five cases of internet shutdowns in 2017 in the SFLC website.
Rajasthan recorded the highest number of shutdowns after J&K with 17 instances.
During the Ramganj violence in September, 2017 in Jaipur, many people were affected by the internet shutdown. G.Buji, the owner of an Airtel store in Jaipur, told the Softcopy that he incurred losses due to the shutdown. “We were on our way to finalising a Rs. 30,000 to 40,000 post-paid deal with a company and because of the shutdown, it fell apart,” Mr.Buji said.
“I couldn’t fill up the form for my Management Aptitude test or pay my bills. My friends and I suffered a lot during the shutdown period,” Nischal Jain, an MBA student said.
On April 11 2017, Director General of Police in J&K SP Vaidhadsaid that internet shutdown is the ‘need of the hour’ and that without the internet ban ‘things will be out of control’.
“Because the mischief mongers use the internet to spread rumours, instigate youth on social media to come on the locations and create law and order problems, so that is why Internet is being banned,” Mr. Vaid explained.
However, Mr. Prakash refutes that claim.
“We have clearly observed in several cases that the violence does not abate even after the internet ban. It is not as though this kind of digital curfew has made a difference,” he said. .
When the Kashmir Observer brought up this point, Mr. Vaid brushed it aside saying, “I am not here to argue with you.” The SFLC’s data in their website, ‘,shows that in the 73 bans that were observed, the duration of at least 16 shutdowns lasted for more than three days and 17 lasted between one to three days; 17 lasted for less than a day.
“These kinds of shutdowns could even cause great problems by hindering the work of companies and might lead to financial problems,” says Azith Dittakavi, an employee of Gionik: a staffing company that works for several leading MNCs.
The SFLC website says that, in total, 49 of the 73 observed bans targeted mobile internet services and 10 targeted both mobile and broadband services; 37 were preventive in nature
This meant that they were imposed in anticipation of law and order problems and 36 were reactive in nature, implying that they were imposed in response to an ongoing law and order problem.
The government imposed an internet shutdown under Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code which contains provisions for the crime of ‘Unlawful Assembly’ that causes ‘Obstruction, annoyance or injury. ’
But the Department of Telecommunications issued new rules titled Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules in 2017 that allowed the government to impose an interim ban on phone and internet services during public emergency or for public safety. What constitutes public emergency or danger to public safety has not been clearly defined under them.
“The government can still arbitrarily impose shutdowns. Proper rules must be introduced. Under the current rules, the District Magistrate can impose the government shutdown without providing a proper basis for the action,” Mr. Prakash said