Listen to this article:
New Delhi: Indian authorities blocked or disrupted Internet access at least 106 times in 2021, making it the world’s biggest offender for the fourth straight year, according to a new report released by digital rights advocacy group Access Now.
Data compiled for the report also shows that governments across the world imposed Internet shutdowns some 182 times in total in 34 countries, a slight uptick compared to at least 159 shutdowns in 29 countries in 2020.
“After India, Myanmar imposed the highest total number of shutdowns in 2021, with 15 disruptions, followed by Sudan and Iran with five shutdowns in each country. Over the past five years, our documentation shows that authorities have increasingly moved to disrupt the Internet during events that affect the country’s political situation, such as elections, protests,” the report notes.
“With a gradual return to normalcy following the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a dramatic resurgence of Internet shutdowns in 2021…Following trends we’ve seen developing for years, in 2021 governments imposed both prolonged and increasingly targeted Internet shutdowns, and relied on many of the same justifications for deploying these inherently disproportionate and drastic measures.”
Access Now also notes that it is possible that its report misses “some network disruptions” in India due to a lack of “government transparency”.
This, the report adds, is a result of the Union government’s reluctance to create and maintain a “centralised repository of data” on the shutdowns that authorities order across the country.
“This represents a failure to meet the requirements of the 2017 Suspension Rules and the Supreme Court order backing them. The lack of a centralized repository continues to make it difficult for civil society and other actors to effectively monitor and document shutdowns, and some are likely to go unreported,” the report notes.
Economic cost too
While civil society stakeholders and digital rights experts have long pointed out how Internet shutdowns often mask the inability of the Indian state in dealing with law enforcement issues, there is an unspoken economic cost.
A 2016 analysis by Brookings Institution found that Internet shutdowns cost India nearly $1 billion in 2015-16, the largest loss among 19 countries that were part of its assessment exercise.