Indian Government Sets New Record For 'Internet Shutdown By A Democracy'

from the headed-down-to-the-UN-to-collect-its-medal... dept

India’s internet blockade targeting the Kashmir state has set a dubious record that really shouldn’t be held by a government that considers itself a democracy.

It is now 134 days since the seven million residents of Kashmir had regular access to the internet beyond a handful of government controlled outlets, the longest denial of access by a democratic state.

This brings India close to its nearest competitors in shutdown longevity, China and Myanmar — neither of which consider themselves responsive to public concerns or demands. Ever since the Kashmir region lost its autonomy earlier this year, the Indian government has been in crackdown mode. The easiest way to control a population you feel needs more controlling is to remove their communication options.

When the region was still independent, it engaged in its own internet blackouts. But those were nothing compared to the Indian government’s efforts, which began with the selective censorship of certain content and expanded to eliminate access to almost everything internet-related.

The excuse for the blackout is national security. The Indian government claims it’s necessary to prevent Pakistani-led terror groups from organizing. Whether or not that’s been effective, the elimination of internet connectivity has done severe damage to the region’s population. People with no connection to terror groups and otherwise uninterested in shrugging off the Indian government’s shackles are being hurt.

Asmita Bakshi’s article for LiveMint covers the human cost of the internet shutdown. Killing off the internet has disabled support systems for women targeted by violent acts and made people — like Uber driver Dipesh Sharma — pretty much unemployed.

His earnings are crucial for his family—his wife and daughter, parents and younger siblings, all of whom he supports financially. He also pays ?4,000 as rent for his two-room accommodation and ?11,000 as monthly instalment for his vehicle.

The weekend without mobile internet, therefore, was particularly hard on him. “Saturday-Sunday aap samajh lo main berozgaar tha (On Saturday-Sunday, it was like I was jobless),” he says.

One doesn’t typically view India as an authoritarian regime, but Baskhi’s report points out India’s 134 internet shutdowns in 2018 outpaced a number of countries with worse international reputations, including a handful of nations on the UN’s human rights blacklist. Its 2018 total was more than Russia, Congo, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, and the Philippines combined.

The long-term shutdown is also causing other collateral damage. The region’s service providers are losing money every day no one’s paying for internet access they don’t actually have. Since they’re at the mercy of the government, they’re being forced to bleed cash until the Indian government feels it’s “safe” enough to lift the blockade.

On top of that, there’s further annoyance ahead for residents if the Indian government ever decides to give them back their internet connections. As James Vincent reports for The Verge, those affected by the blockade will likely have to rebuild their personal social networks from scratch.

On Wednesday, reports on social media appeared of Kashmiri WhatsApp users leaving group chats in droves. This was a surprise to friends and relatives outside the region given that India has shut down Kashmir’s internet for over four months as part of a dispute over the area’s autonomy.

Some thought the activity might be sign of a further crackdown, but, as first reported by BuzzFeed News, the accounts are being automatically removed in line with Facebook’s inactivity policy. If users don’t log into their account for 120 days (four months), they’re deactivated, meaning individuals will have to sign up to the service again.

It’s not an insignificant loss for WhatsApp, which has almost five times as many users in India than it does in the United States. It’s definitely a significant loss for Indian users, whose government has managed to terminate their accounts through an extremely disruptive action followed by more than three months of inaction.

The Indian government may be claiming this is a national security necessity, but the reality is it’s insulating itself from criticism and preventing unhappy Kashmir residents from organizing or protesting the absorption of the previously-independent region. Any collateral damage here is acceptable because it helps the Indian government achieve its goal of complete control.

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Comments on “Indian Government Sets New Record For 'Internet Shutdown By A Democracy'”

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Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Howdy Authoritarianism!

It’s the other way around. Trump is enamored of authoritarian leaders because at the end he’s still bound by constitutional rules and they’re not.

Good grief, we’ve got 40 years worth of Trump’s pre-president career demonstrating that his day is made if he starts it by exercising authority over others. Like walking into one of his buildings and firing the first five people he comes across.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: About that...

"One doesn’t typically view India as an authoritarian regime"

I’m with That One Guy on this. India has always had an ultra-authoritarian and incredibly corrupt regime.

The only reason it has an economy at all is because the political infighting makes it hard for the country to really clamp down on what little non-political industry they still possess.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: About that...

One doesn’t typically view India as an authoritarian regime

Sure, if one has not been paying attention. Part of the problem is that their justice system is so convoluted that you cannot fairly predict anything other success based on resources. [https://loweringthebar.net/2017/02/octopoid-embrace.html] (making fun of Indian court opinion)

And frankly, all the boiler rooms of Bangalore, with myriad callers offering to lower my credit card rates or save my social security, do not shift my opinion in India’s favor much. It is a poor kind of free speech, indeed, where they read from a script and hang up if the callee deviates from their expected responses.

If they allowed criticism of the govt, and less of the standard Indian phone scamming, maybe we would not view the govt as the sort of long-winded authoritarian dirtbags which they really are.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: About that...

"Part of the problem is that their justice system is so convoluted that you cannot fairly predict anything other success based on resources."

Oh, very nice. An opinion by the indian supreme court…in 570 pages(!). And that, apparently, is a norm.

This is worse than I thought. I recommend the link by Mr. Andrews, above, for anyone in dire need of a disbelieving laugh.

"…all the boiler rooms of Bangalore, with myriad callers offering to lower my credit card rates or save my social security, do not shift my opinion in India’s favor much."

There’s a reason for that, as there is for the vast amount of scam calls. Calcutta and Bangladesh have many vast call center specialist companies who rent their services out to any international business in quick need of a preprogrammed "customer service". Whenever those companies find a hole in the schedules of their thousands of "professional representatives" they just rent them out on an ad hoc basis to anyone.

Which is why half of the world has found itself on the receiving end of a professionally conducted scam call by a "Microsoft representative" with an indian accent who needs your account details because you’ve got a "Virus in your windows operating system".

"If they allowed criticism of the govt, and less of the standard Indian phone scamming, maybe we would not view the govt as the sort of long-winded authoritarian dirtbags which they really are."

I think they’d have to stop actually being long-winded authoritarian dirtbags before anyone will stop seeing them as such. Fat chance of that though.

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Anonymous Coward says:

The excuse for the blackout is national security. The Indian government claims it’s necessary to prevent Pakistani-led terror groups from organizing.

So the internet is an amazing tool for law-abiding citizens, yet immunized against "bad" messages spreading via this tool?

Asmita Bakshi’s article for LiveMint covers the human cost of the internet shutdown. Killing off the internet has disabled support systems for women targeted by violent acts and made people — like Uber driver Dipesh Sharma — pretty much unemployed. His earnings are crucial for his family—his wife and daughter, parents and younger siblings, all of whom he supports financially. He also pays ₹4,000 as rent for his two-room accommodation and ₹11,000 as monthly instalment for his vehicle. The weekend without mobile internet, therefore, was particularly hard on him. “Saturday-Sunday aap samajh lo main berozgaar tha (On Saturday-Sunday, it was like I was jobless)," he says.

Oh but platforms have the right to censor. The problem with the "my ball, my rules" game is that the internet is a vital backbone. A business can literally have the plug pulled by a censor, and that shouldn’t happen without a court order. All that internet censorship of the 1990s certainly didn’t help prevent the financial crisis as it nuked business e-mails and websites because SPAM.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

So the internet is an amazing tool for law-abiding citizens, yet immunized against "bad" messages spreading via this tool?

Yes, in the same way that a hammer is immunized against being arrested and tried for a murder committed with that tool. We don’t hold tools responsible for what people do with them — we hold the people who use them responsible.

Oh but platforms have the right to censor.

Twitter banning you for saying racial slurs is moderation. You choosing not to say racial slurs on Twitter is discretion. The government telling you that you can’t say racial slurs on Twitter or else you’ll be arrested for a crime (or worse) is censorship.

The problem with the "my ball, my rules" game is that the internet is a vital backbone.

Any business model that relies on a single platform — a single point of failure — is a shitty business model.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Any business model that relies on a single platform — a single point of failure — is a shitty business model.

To wit – The biggest advice a lot of internet personalities will give to those trying independent content creation is always diversify your revenue streams. A Wall street broker will give the investing advice to diversify your portfolio. A small retail business owner will suggest Diversifying your product offerings to grow business.

That said, I might argue that relying on the existence of the internet as implied by the green AC isn’t a shitty business model. The issue of course is that they can’t admit that a business model based on virulent attacks on the majority of the population isn’t economically viable in the first place.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Things like this are commonly called "self-censorship".

“Discretion” implies a choice made out of compassion (“I won’t say this because it could hurt somebody”). “Self-censorship” implies a choice made out of fear (“I won’t say this because someone could get angry”). Of the two, “discretion” has a more positive vibe, which is why I use it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

All that internet censorship of the 1990s certainly didn’t help prevent the financial crisis as it nuked business e-mails and websites because SPAM.

I’ve seen you spew stupid shit before Jhon boi… but this took the fucking wedding cake. You think the financial crisis of the late 90s was caused by blocking unwanted messaging? What’s next? Adblock Plus caused Lehman Brothers to fuck up?

Anonymous Coward says:

The Indian government claims it’s necessary to prevent Pakistani-led terror groups from organizing. Whether or not that’s been effective

If they can’t figure out how to sign up for satellite internet or use encrypted radio, they’re not competent enough to do any major damage. That claim is a flimsy cover-story for the real reasons the government is blocking communication.

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