India had more Internet shutdowns in 2016 than any other country.
State governments love to shut off the Internet, supposedly to thwart everyone from protesters to exam cheats. Millions of people are routinely cut off on someone's whim, with zero rules or oversight. This is unacceptable.
Even for stopping riots — the official justification for most shutdowns — there is evidence that blackouts do more harm than good. Cutting off Internet access prevents innocent people from using the Internet to learn about trouble spots to stay away from, from reaching out for help and from making sure that loved ones are safe.
There is little evidence that riots are actually stopped by Internet shutdowns. Misinformation spreads when credible sources are inaccessible; the Internet, like other mass media, is a powerful tool to restore order. Bangalore police understand this well — during the Kaveri riots in 2016, they used Twitter and WhatsApp effectively to prevent panic and highlight police presence in volatile areas.
When governments shut down the Internet, the real objective is to prevent journalists and citizens sharing evidence of misconduct — whether you are a chief minister in India or lifelong dictator in Gambia.
To add insult to injury, we’re even made to pay for the Internet access we’re denied. Telcos pocket our money while politicians steal our freedom.
Internet shutdowns are unnecessary, harmful, and have no place in a democracy. We demand credible measures to stop their indiscriminate use, including the following:
1. Clearly condemn shutdowns: A statement of concern from the Prime Minister’s Office condemning internet shutdowns as violative of the fundamental right to access to the Internet.
2. Stop using Section 144: An interministerial commitment and direction through the Ministry of Home Affairs to all state governments and the Indian Police Service expressly stating that using Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure for internet shutdowns is illegal.
3. Reform Shutdown laws: Commit to ensuring that the Constitution and other laws (IT Act, Telegraph Act) are not unlawfully bypassed, with the Union Govt commencing a consultation process on how to frame specific updated rules under these laws for preventing internet shutdowns and access.