South Asian countries have been between a rock and a hard place when it comes to Internet freedom and censorship. Internet shutdowns and blackouts have been prevalent and rose sharply in the year 2017, questioning citizen’s freedom of expression as a whole. Considered to be a major headstall on freedom of press and expression, there have been 82 internet shutdowns alone in India. The Clampdowns and Courage-South Asia Press Freedom Report 2017-18 by UNESCO reveals at least 97 such instances where there was complete internet blackout in South Asia between May 2017 and April 2018, India alone accounting for 82 of them.
This report divulges further about instances of such shutdowns all over South Asia, including Pakistan having 17 records while Sri-Lanka encountered 1 over the year. Irrespective of major attempts in Bangladesh and Afghanistan, timely intervention by the civil society helped to forestall Internet shutdowns in the aforementioned countries.
Internet Shutdowns are any intentional disruption of the broadband or mobile internet or internet-based mobile apps, by an order of the authorities or threat of non-state party, to control communication or online content or slowing down the access to general public – Clampdowns and Courage-South Asia Press Freedom Report 2017-18
Internet Shutdowns In India 2017-18
A nerve centre of Internet shutdown over the past year, Jammu & Kashmir witnesses a lion’s share of the overall shutdowns in the country. As per the data compiled by a Delhi-based non-profit organisation, “Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC)”, out of 177 internet shutdowns all over India since last seven years, 80 happened in J&K.
Apart from J&K, Saharanpur of Uttar Pradesh saw an internet blackout for over 12 days due to communal disharmony. Darjeeling stands witness to the inferior notoriety of political protests and clashes, due to which it had to bear the brunt of complete shutdown for about 45 days. With such citing, it doesn’t come off as an astonishment that five out of six biggest shutdowns are in claimed to be solely in India.
The Backwash of Such Shutdowns
- A report by Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), namely, “The Anatomy of an Internet Blackout” claims that Internet shutdowns have incurred a loss of $3.04 billion (approx Rs 87,000 crore) to India between the year 2012-2017.
- The approx. loss of Rs. 87,000 crore was a result of Internet shutdown that was close to 680 days or 16315 hours.
- There are citing that suggest a slope in the targeted mobile-only internet shutdowns in the past five years.
- Jammu & Kashmir, Rajasthan, Gujarat, West Bengal and Bihar have manifested the maximum number of shutdowns over the period of 2012 and 2017.
- By 2016, India was topping the global charts on the number of Internet shutdowns.
- Internet-dependent domains such as eCommerce, media, IT services, freelancers etc were among the most affected sectors during internet shutdowns.
- The study also highlights the poor reality of sheer inefficacy of powers-that-be in maintaining public records or documentation of such blackouts.
- Although the goal of Internet filtering is to block access to politically sensitive content, it is a violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Internet Shutdown Reports; Sum and Substance:
As per reports, apart from incurring massive losses in the economic spectrum, it also affects the society. They are major drawbacks in the lucid sharing of vital information by citizens. Furthermore, shutdowns, slowdowns and blackouts, impose dire straits on credible research and essential communication.
The report adds that Internet shutdowns prevent journalists from freely accessing information and broadcasting news. For a country like India, which is the world’s second-largest country when it comes to the number of Internet users, this report which bones up such statistics is indeed alarming.