India recorded highest internet shutdowns for sixth straight year in 2023: Report

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NEW DELHI: For the sixth year in a row in 2023, India led the world in the number of state-sanctioned internet shutdowns, as documented by digital rights and privacy organisation Access Now.

A total of 116 internet shutdowns were ordered by the Indian government in the previous calendar year, as against 283 state-sanctioned shutdowns globally, the organisation alleged in a report released on Wednesday.

In India, 65 of the 116 internet shutdowns in 2023 were in response to communal violence, the report said. Shutdowns were ordered in total of 13 states and Union territories, of which seven disrupted internet services five times or more.

“India, for the sixth time, carried the shameful mantle of the world’s shutdown leader with at least 116 recorded shutdowns,” a press release accompanying the report said. “In the last five years, Indian authorities have hit the kill switch over 500 times, repeatedly plunging millions in the world’s largest democracy into darkness.”

“Between May and December [2023], roughly 3.2 million people in Manipur suffered under a statewide shutdown for 212 days,” the release pointed out. This was the world’s longest internet shutdown of 2023.

Shutdowns spanning over five days or more shot up from 15% of all shutdowns in India in 2022 to more than 41% in 2023. Meanwhile, 59% of shutdowns exclusively targeted mobile networks in a country where almost 96% of the persons with internet access depend on wireless services, Access Now said.

“Across India in 2023, internet shutdowns undermined democracy, with the government implementing more shutdowns than any other on earth, for the sixth time in a row,” said Namrata Maheshwari, senior policy counsel at Access Now, in the statement. “From Manipur to Punjab, Indian authorities steamrolled over people’s right to free speech, information, and assembly with unjustified shutdowns.”

The geographic scope of internet shutdowns in India widened substantially in 2023, with restrictions on services imposed in more than one district in the same state, province or region 64 times, compared to 15 in 2022.

Not only were shutdowns implemented at wider geographic scales, they lasted longer in 2023, the organisation said.

The report said: “When combined with nationwide blocking of 14 messaging apps starting in early May, 7,502 URL-blocking orders issued between January and October 2023, and India’s new telecom law giving the central government nearly unchecked power to impose internet shutdowns, trends in India point not only to a high number of short shutdowns but a spectrum of harmful, increasingly longer, and wider-ranging disruptions shrinking the civic space in the country.”

“It is unacceptable for India’s highest elected officials to repeatedly profess a commitment to a ‘Digital India’ even as they relentlessly order internet shutdowns impacting millions of the most vulnerable, at-risk people,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia Pacific policy director at Access Now.

Jammu and Kashmir saw 17 shutdown orders in 2023, down from 49 in 2022, the report added.(CNI) Current News of India

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