India needs to lay down net shutdown protocols1 min read 20 Mar 2023, 10:13 PM IST
We have the world’s most internet shutdowns. This is a major blot on our record of digital freedom. Such clamps may have their utility but we need clear rules to prevent their abuse
In the scramble of Punjab Police to catch hold of Amritpal Singh, it’s the state’s folks who found themselves under siege, or its digital equivalent, after their mobile internet access was snapped off by authorities to suspend online chatter and help nab the separatist leader. The aim was not achieved, but web users had to stay offline over the weekend and may have to wait till the operation is over; on Monday, that snap-off was extended again till Tuesday noon. Unfortunately, this is only another example in an embarrassing trend of data clamps imposed on various parts of India with little regard for digital rights. According to advocacy group Access Now’s 2022 report, India topped the list of countries with the most internet shutdowns for the fifth consecutive year. In second place was Ukraine, where the Russian army cut web access at least 22 times following its invasion last February; in third place was Iran, with 18 instances as the theocrats in charge sought to silence protests by women. That we fared worse than a war-zone and a theocracy notorious for its violation of civil liberties has cast our record on digital freedom in unflattering light. Of the 187 net shutdowns recorded globally by Access Now last year, as many as 84, or more than half, were in India—49 of them in Kashmir.