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IGF 2018 LIGHTNING SESSION #24 Living in Digital Darkness: A Study on Internet Shutdowns in India

Governments across the world have been increasingly resorting to Internet shutdowns as a means to control information exchange online. Internet shutdowns are imposed for a number of reasons, though most frequently as a response to law and order breakdowns. The frequent resort to Internet shutdowns, especially in developing countries is a cause for serious concern. Between January 2012 and November, 2018, India has experienced a total of 259 Internet shutdowns. Apart from India, Internet shutdowns have also been reported in over 30 other countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mynamar, Egypt, Congo, Syria, Sudan, Burundi, Iraq, and Venezuela.

As a non-profit organization working on digital rights, one of SFLC.in’s key drivers is advocating for unhindered access to the Internet for all. In furtherance of this cause, we have been maintaining a dynamic ‘Internet Shutdown Tracker’ - https://www.internetshutdowns.in/ , which documents reported instances of Internet shutdowns in India. Though it primarily relies on published reports, information is also collected directly from residents of affected areas, and this database has become a widely used repository of information on shutdowns. In addition, we recently (May 2018) published a report called - ‘Living in Digital Darkness: A Handbook on Internet Shutdowns in India’, in which we have discussed in detail about how Internet shutdowns have grown in India, the laws and policies that determine their imposition, the problems emanating from such shutdowns and the efforts to tackle the menace of such shutdowns.

Presenter: Shashank Mohan

Session Time: 
Wednesday, 14 November, 2018 - 15:00 to 15:20
Theme: 
Technical & Operational Topics
Report: 

- Session Type (Workshop, Open Forum, etc.):

Lightning Session

- Title:

Living in Digital Darkness: A Study on Internet Shutdowns in India

- Date & Time:

14th November, 2018 - 15.00-15.20

- Organizer(s):

SFLC.in (Software Freedom Law Centre, India)

- List of speakers and their institutional affiliations (Indicate male/female/ transgender male/ transgender female/gender variant/prefer not to answer):

Shashank Mohan, Male (Volunteer at SFLC.in - Software Freedom Law Centre, India)

- Theme (as listed here):

Technical & Operational Topics

- Subtheme (as listed here):

Internet Shutdowns

- Please state no more than three (3) key messages of the discussion. [150 words or less]

1) What are Internet Shutdowns and what is the extent (how many) of such shutdowns in India.

2) What is the impact of Internet Shutdowns in India - on basic human rights, the social fabric and its economic effects.

3) The way ahead.

Short Description.

Governments across the world have been increasingly resorting to Internet shutdowns as a means to control information exchange online. Internet shutdowns are imposed for a number of reasons, though most frequently as a response to law and order breakdowns. The frequent resort to Internet shutdowns, especially in developing countries is a cause for serious concern. Between January 2012 and November, 2018, India has experienced a total of 259 Internet shutdowns. Apart from India, Internet shutdowns have also been reported in over 30 other countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mynamar, Egypt, Congo, Syria, Sudan, Burundi, Iraq, and Venezuela.

As a non-profit organization working on digital rights, one of SFLC.in’s key drivers is advocating for unhindered access to the Internet for all. In furtherance of this cause, we have been maintaining a dynamic ‘Internet Shutdown Tracker’ - https://www.internetshutdowns.in/ , which documents reported instances of Internet shutdowns in India. Though it primarily relies on published reports, information is also collected directly from residents of affected areas, and this database has become a widely used repository of information on shutdowns. In addition, we recently (May 2018) published a report called - ‘Living in Digital Darkness: A Handbook on Internet Shutdowns in India’, in which we have discussed in detail about how Internet shutdowns have grown in India, the laws and policies that determine their imposition, the problems emanating from such shutdowns and the efforts to tackle the menace of such shutdowns.

Please elaborate on the discussion held, specifically on areas of agreement and divergence

SFLC.in initiated their discussion by sharing a story about a girl from India who had to skip a year of higher education due to an Internet Shutdown imposed on her locality which did not allow her to fill university applications.

We then moved on to our definition of Internet Shutdowns i.e. a government imposed complete suspension of access to the Internet in a particular locality in India or the entire country, for any duration of time.

We focussed on the extent of shutdowns in India – most in the world at 263 from 2012 to date. Reasons given by governments for imposing such shutdowns are – public safety and security. But India has also been witnessing shutdowns for reasons like – avoiding cheating in exams and during public festivals. Last year the government in India enacted a set of rules for imposing Internet Shutdowns called the – Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017.

Studies show that there is a large economic and social impact due to shutdowns in India. A study conducted by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations had estimated the total cost to the Indian economy of shutdowns from 2012 to 2017 to be nearly $3.04 billion. In SFLC.in’s report on Internet Shutdowns we have captured the social impacts of shutdowns due their effect on business, human rights, and impact on the health industry.

Within the participants, there was a consensus that shutdowns shall not be imposed for reasons like avoidance of cheating in exams or during public festivals. Even in cases of public safety and security, the participants agreed that governments should follow a reporting mechanism. Some participants were of the view that in cases of national security and public safety, shutting the Internet is a reasonable and necessary course of action.

- Please describe any policy recommendations or suggestions regarding the way forward/potential next steps. [200 words]

One of the potential next steps/ recommendations was for advocacy and policy consultation with the Indian government(s) to build a reporting mechanism for imposing Internet Shutdowns. Other recommendations were around working with government(s) to ensure that shutdowns are not imposed in situations such as – avoiding cheating in exams and during public festivals. Some participants suggested that governments(s) should be consulted to ensure that they ensure compliance with the telecom suspension rules.

- What ideas surfaced in the discussion with respect to how the IGF ecosystem might make progress on this issue? [150 words]

The IGF’s multistakeholder community can help local civil society organizations in India towards their efforts in measuring the impact of Internet Shutdowns in India and support their work towards advocating with government(s) in India to reduce the extent of shutdowns.

- Please estimate the total number of participants.

10 participants

- Please estimate the total number of women and gender-variant individuals present.

2 women was present for the discussion

- To what extent did the session discuss gender issues, and if to any extent, what was the discussion? [100 words]

The discussion briefly touched upon how Internet Shutdowns adversely affect women’s rights and their access to the Internet. The discussion revolved around the fact that of the total number of Internet users in India, only 30% are women and in times of Internet Shutdowns, women get doubly affected. The recommendation was to work at grass-root levels to advocate for more use of the Internet by women in India.

Contact Information

United Nations
Secretariat of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

Villa Le Bocage
Palais des Nations,
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland

igf [at] un [dot] org
+41 (0) 229 173 678