Again & Again: India Shuts Down the Internet

India Shutdowns From Software Freedom Law CenterShutdowns are India’s standard operating procedure against dissent and disorder. The authorities shut down Internet and most phone service to over 20M people for several days. They believed shutting communications would prevent the demonstrations from spreading after Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was arrested and convicted of rape. Over 30 people died and hundreds were injured in the unrest. Effective action was called for but that doesn’t mean shutting communications was appropriate. Even more troubling to those of us who believe in free expression, India has shut down the Internet in Darjeeling for almost three months to hinder the campaign for Gorkhaland independence.

Singh was the leader of a sect with a very strong following among the poor. Between the charges in 2002 and the arrest in 2017, he was massively courted by Indian politicians of several parties. The newspapers believe the evidence of rape was strong, but obviously this is more than a simple criminal case. 

The Internet makes it easier to organize anything, from responses to natural disasters to parades after football victories. There’s no evidence the shutdowns reduced the violence in this case or several other temporary shutdowns around violent events. The authorities obviously think so; I’m dubious, but also have no evidence. 

There have been internet shutdowns in Kashmir more than 30 times in the past five years.  One this year came after videos depicting alleged abuse of civilians by security forces sparked protests.  The government has responded with rules requiring authorizations before shutting down the Internet, but they are extremely vague. 

GuruThe map is from the Software Freedom Law Centre, India. They declare,

Instances of Internet shutdowns in India are increasing at a worrisome pace. As the Internet is a key enabler of many fundamental rights, including freedom of speech and expression, such frequent disruptions have been a cause for concern. They threaten the democratic working of nations, and also point to the gradual normalization of the mindset that permits such blanket restriction on Internet access. As a part of this project, we track incidents of Internet shutdowns across India in at attempt to draw attention to the troubling trend of disconnecting access to Internet services. With this tracker, we aim to stand strong with the message that Internet is essential for the holistic socio-economic and cultural development of the country. #KeepItOn.

Two notes: 

I signed a petition condemning the Internet shutdown in Cameroon.

There’s a “study” by Darrell West at Brookings with an inaccurate figure for the cost of shutdowns, based on implausible assumptions and errors in economics.


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