FAQ on Internet Shutdowns

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What are Internet Shutdowns?

Internet shutdowns are an absolute restriction placed on the use of internet services due to an order issued by a government body. It may be limited to a specific place and to specific period, time or number of days. Sometimes it can even extend indefinitely. An internet shutdown may be limited to mobile internet that you use on smartphones, or the wired broadband that usually connects a desktop - or both at the same time.

  • The Centre for Communications Governance has referred to a shutdown as an, “internet kill switch”. Read more

  • The Digital Empowerment Foundation in a recent report has called them, “digital curfews”. Read more

  • The Center for Internet & Society, Bangalore in a recent report has identified six categories of disruptions, “national internet, subnational internet, national mobile internet, subnational mobile internet, national app/service, and subnational app/service”. Read more

  • The KeepItOn campaign coordinated by Access Now has noted: “An internet shutdown happens when someone — usually a government — intentionally disrupts the internet or mobile apps to control what people say or do. Shutdowns are also sometimes called “blackouts” or “kill switches”. Here’s a more technical definition developed by experts: “An internet shutdown is an intentional disruption of internet or electronic communications, rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow of information”. Read more

What are some of the common reasons for restricting the use of the Internet?

The reasons for shutting down the internet have often first been said to be to respond to concerns about law and order but they have only grown with time. Reasons for shutting down the internet now have included to ensure peace during a festival procession as well as to prevent cheating in exams.

  • The Digital Empowerment Foundation in a recent report has stated that, “[t]he reasons behind the shutdowns were not always properly described. in most cases, state governments allowed these shutdowns in the time of protests”. Read more

  • The Internet Democracy Project has in a stakeholder report stated that, “no checks and balances are in place to ensure that shutdowns are indeed legitimate… sometimes for reasons as frivolous as cheating on an exam”. Read more

How frequently, where, are Internet shutdowns done?

We are quickly moving towards a digital life. Unfortunately as more of India gets connected to the Internet, the frequency and geographic extent of shutdowns are spreading. Research indicates that India ranks the highest in the number of internet shutdowns in 2016.

Does blocking the internet even have any “actual” or “real” harm, or is it entirely about protecting freedom of expression?

Shutting down the internet can lead to a direct harm to the economy of the country. Studies suggest that India loses at least $968 million (more than Rs.6000 crores) in a year due to internet shutdowns. There also has an adverse impact on common man, that is both short term and long term.

  • Reports by the Brookings Institute and by the Global Network Initiative discuss the economic cost of Internet Shutdowns.

  • The Gujarat Chamber of Commerce noted the impact of internet shutdowns in their state: “Communication through internet is the crux of business nowadays and this has hampered business transactions adversely. We are cut-off from international market completely” Read more.

  • Access Now states is quite well when it calls an internet shutdown, “a threat to human rights around the world. They harm everyone: businesses, emergency services, journalism, human rights defenders, and demonstrators.” Read more

If by shutting down the internet during a riot or a protest, the police will be able to save a few lives, why should we question it?

There has been zero evidence that internet shutdowns help quell violence, because rioters are organized and have other ways to communicate — after all, we’ve had riots far longer than we’ve had the Internet.

In fact, shutting down the Internet might delay the return to normalcy: rioters go home when they think the Government is back in control; an information blackout is a strong signal that it is not.

  • During the Kaveri riots, Bangalore police posted frequently on Facebook and Twitter about their presence in various troubled areas, using the Internet to amplify their on-the-ground presence and help restore normalcy. Read more.

  • Cutting off communication in itself is an enormous public safety risk. Citizens are left without access to information about emergency services like the volunteer-built solutions like chennairains.org.

How will Keep Us Online help prevent Internet Shutdowns?

“Keep Us Online” is an online platform which allows you to sign on to a list of demands that will be sent to the Prime Minister’s Office. Our objective is to highlight this issue to everyday people who use, rely on and cherish the Internet. Public opinion can then be channeled into a positive policy change.

To do this we are making efforts to:

Nuanced, credible research: We are working with research organisations to understand the nature and the extent of network shutdowns in India. Already people from the Centre for Communications Governance, Centre for Internet & Society and the Digital Empowerment Foundation have been kind enough to support us with their time and expertise. We welcome more supporters and are happy to work with more persons and organisations.

Break down the jargon: Issues such as network shutdowns are heavy in complexity. But that does not mean it does not impact the public. Having worked on network neutrality through “Save the Internet”, we believe that the victory for network neutrality was possible because in large parts due to a popular debate on the issue. To make your voice heard we are working with content creators and breaking down research with FAQs and guides.

Engage positively with government: More than a million people signed up to support net neutrality through Save The Internet. This included everyday people like you, startups, engineers and techies, professors and scientists, lawyers and policy professionals. A similar cross section of support by people and organisations can sign on to the petition that clearly lists three demands that will prevent internet shutdowns -- or in any instance make them incredibly hard to do in future. This petition will be given to the Prime Minister’s Office with copies to the Minister for Communications and IT and the Minister for Law and Justice and Electronics and IT.