INTERNET FREEDOM IN INDIA (Syllabus: GS Paper 3 – Sci and Tech)

News-CRUX-10     29th March 2024        

Context:  For the straight years India has topped the global list of countries imposing internet bans, with about 60% of all blackouts recorded in the world, between 2016 and 2022 having been in India.

Internet freedom in India

  • Frequency of Shutdowns: The Indian government enforced a staggering total of 780 shutdowns between January 1, 2014, and December 31, 2023, as per data collected by the Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC).
  • Triggers for Shutdowns: Shutdowns were particularly notable during protests against significant events such as the Citizenship Amendment Act in 2019, the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019, and the introduction of Farm Bills in 2020.
  • Economic Impact: Internet disruptions in India contributed to over 70% of the total global economic loss in 2020, emphasizing the extensive ramifications of these shutdowns.
  • Legal Framework: Indian States and Union Territories are authorized to impose internet shutdowns only in situations of "public emergency" or "public safety" according to the Indian Telegraph Act. However, the law lacks clarity regarding the definition of emergencies or safety issues.
  • Judicial Stance: The Supreme Court, in the landmark Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India case, affirmed that internet shutdowns violate fundamental rights to freedom of expression. The court also declared indefinite shutdowns as unconstitutional.

India and Global Trends

  • Global Internet Freedom Decline: According to the latest Freedom House report, global Internet freedom has decreased for the 13th consecutive year, with deterioration seen in the online human rights environment in 29 countries.
  • India's Consistent Ranking: Over the past three years, India's ranking in terms of Internet freedom has remained relatively stable, hovering around the same benchmark.
  • Decline in India's Score: Despite the stability in ranking, there has been a noticeable decline in India's score from 2016 and 2017, where it scored 59 points, to 50 points in 2023, indicating a significant drop in Internet freedom perception.