Govt has no count of times it shut off internet


NEW DELHI: The government has no data on how many times it ordered the snapping of internet services in various parts of the country, nor how such bans were beneficial in maintaining law and order, representatives of the ministries of electronics & information technology and home, besides the governments of Delhi and Bihar told the parliamentary standing committee on information technology at its meeting on Friday.
The panel, headed by Congress’s Shashi Tharoor, sought to know from the government the efficacy of internet shutdowns whenever they were implemented. Since the Centre and the two states were both unable to explain the link between internet stoppage and what it sought to achieve, the House panel gave them time until November-end to return with data on internet lockdowns, the methodology involved in imposing such bans, the objectives sought to be achieved and how imposing such restrictions helped.
The lack of data comes at a time when India has been listed among 26 countries with the steepest decline in internet freedom scores in 2020. According to a Freedom House report titled ‘Freedom on the Net 2020: The Pandemic’s Digital Shadow’, internet freedom in India has declined for a third straight year with government authorities increasingly shutting off connectivity to quell protests. The report also said India is home to more government-imposed internet shutdowns than anywhere else in the world, “justified by authorities for reasons including the need to counter disinformation, protests, communal violence and cheating on exams”.
During the panel’s meeting, Bihar said restrictions on internet were imposed based on local intelligence inputs, and on the basis of reports from district administrations about the possibility of violence or disruption of public peace. Delhi said there was no disruption in internet supply in the national capital except for four hours during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests on December 19 last year.
None, however, could answer pointed questions by some members whether there was any direct correlation between internet fuelling riots, nor provide data on whether such instances had increased since internet became available in India.

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