IGF 2020 WS #253 Internet censorship in India:A blunt-force policy instrument

Thematic Track

Organizer 1: Prateek Waghre, The Takshashila Institution
Organizer 2: Chinmayi S K, The Bachchao Project
Organizer 3: Rohini Lakshané, The Bachchao Project
Organizer 4: Pawel Ngei, Global Innovation Gathering

Speaker 1: Prateek Waghre, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 2: Chinmayi S K, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 3: Rohini Lakshané, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group

Moderator

Pawel Ngei, Technical Community, Eastern European Group

Online Moderator

Pawel Ngei, Technical Community, Eastern European Group

Rapporteur

Rohini Lakshané, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group

Format

Round Table - U-shape - 60 Min

Policy Question(s)

What are the necessary and proportionate measures that governments can employ in complex geographies experiencing long-term conflict or civil war, in terms of Internet censorship and Internet shutdowns?

Issues: State-imposed restrictions on internet access Online censorship Challenges: Impact on freedom of expression Unequal access to opportunities Additional adverse impact on religious and gender minorities Long term psychological impact Further erosion of trust in the state

SDGs

GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-Being
GOAL 4: Quality Education
GOAL 5: Gender Equality
GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequalities
GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Description:

Internet censorship in India has been steadily growing over the past few years. It manifests in different forms, some direct and some indirect. In this session we talk about two case studies about the government’s attempts at censorship. The session will present significant findings from: Usability testing of the whitelist for Internet access issued by the government of Jammu and Kashmir, India in January 2020, after approximately 5.5 months of total Internet shutdown in the region. (https://zenodo.org/record/3635885). The study was conducted from the perspective of the end-user. We will also shine a light on its methodology, limitations, various challenges involved in empirically analysing the whitelist, the timeline and events leading up to the issuance of the whitelist; and various developments that happened after the whitelist was released and updated periodically. This required changes to be made to the technical tests and the logging of results; the selection of entries included in the whitelist; and the current status of Internet access in the region. A year-long research study on the online censorship landscape in Manipur, India and its impact on press freedom and the freedom of expression, especially those of women and gender minorities in the state. This study employed mixed methods of measuring censorship using tools such as OONI and qualitative interviews to understand the nature of censorship in the state. There will be a free-wheeling but topical discussion with participants. The structure for the session is as follows: 20 minutes: Brief introduction of the speakers and context-setting. 40 minutes: Testing methodology, results, policy interventions and other follow-up action(s). 30 minutes: Questions and answers with the participants, feedback and suggestions on the research method, methodology and findings, and a discussion of research work and interventions possible in the future. Audience participation will not be restricted to the last 30 minutes of the session but will be sought and encouraged throughout.

Expected Outcomes

Outcomes: Obtain feedback on methodology for studying whitelisting regime and effects of 2G-speed restrictions Invite the participants to speak about similar or comparable experiences in their respective regions and document them. Recommendations/ suggestions for future policy interventions. Increased awareness of the situation on the ground in these conflict-stricken states of India. Output: With permission from all the participants, we will take notes of the discussion and compile the presentations as well as the significant and anonymised discussion points into a blog post or session report.

We have budgeted a third of the proposed session time (30 minutes) for interaction with the participants and have chosen a seating style where participants can freely interact instead of being seated as members of the audience. We wish to invite members to the audience to give feedback on the research methodology of the Jammu and Kashmir studies, share similar or comparable experiences (if they are comfortable doing so) and studies in different parts of the world, and discuss possible policy levers and interventions relevant to such censorship.

Relevance to Internet Governance: The Indian government has regularly employs various methods to censor the Internet and the content accessed online. India experiences the highest number of recorded state-initiated Internet shutdowns globally. Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has experienced prolonged, armed conflict and public unrest over the past few decades, which have shaped the nature of civil liberties that can be exercised in the region. An Internet shutdown that lasts 5.5 months and was followed by whitelist-mediated Internet access for an indefinite period, for a population as large as the one residing in the Jammu and Kashmir region is an unprecedented occurrence. The whitelisting arrangement was suspended on 4 March 2020, however the speed restriction to 2G continues to be in place. Such measures when implemented as an alternative to blanket Internet shutdowns have severe and long-lasting implications for Internet policy, human rights, censorship, regulation and fundamental rights in a democracy, especially in view of J&K’s conflict-strained status. Manipur, a state in north-eastern India has also been the site of prolonged armed conflict and has experienced suspension of civil liberties for almost six decades. Manipur has experienced Internet censorship in the form of intentional Internet shutdowns, blocking orders from the government, and diktats from insurgent groups (called Underground Groups) and arrests over online content. Via this session, we hope to start a conversation about the technical and policy implications of such approaches to Internet access. We also hope to obtain feedback and suggestions from the participants about our methodology, technical results, and subsequent policy interventions.

Relevance to Theme: Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes the “promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet”. Therefore, the right to internet access, free from any state imposed restrictions whether partial or complete should be considered inalienable. Even more so when the world is battling a pandemic. Without unrestricted access to connectivity, the following are curbed. 1. Human rights 2. Freedom of expression online 3. Access to information to dispel misinformation, disinformation and counter ‘fake news’

Online Participation

 

Usage of IGF Official Tool.