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India had more Internet shutdowns in 2016 than any other country.

State governments love to shut off the Internet, supposedly to thwart a range of evil-doers — from protesters to exam cheats. Millions of people are routinely cut off on some official'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, very often the real objective is to prevent journalists and citizens sharing evidence of the misconduct or failure of government representatives. To add insult to injury, consumers are even forced to pay telcos for Internet access even during the shutdowns.

Internet shutdowns are unnecessary, harmful, and have no place in a democracy.

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