India lost at least US$1.3bil to Internet shutdowns last year

Journalists using the Internet as they work inside a government-run media centre in Srinagar. The worst shutdown has been in Kashmir, where after intermittent closures in the first half of the year, the Internet has been cut off since Aug 5. — Reuters

India lost more than US$1.33bil (RM5.40bil) to Internet restrictions in 2019 as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government pushed ahead with his party’s Hindu nationalist agenda, raising tensions and sparking nationwide protests.

The worst shutdown has been in Kashmir, where after intermittent closures in the first half of the year, the Internet has been cut off since Aug 5 following the government’s decision to revoke the special autonomous status of the country’s only Muslim majority state, a study said. The prolonged closure was criticised by India’s highest court, which ruled Jan 10 that the "limitless” Internet shutdown enforced by the government for the last five months was illegal and asked that it be reviewed.

India imposed more Internet restrictions than any other large democracy, according to the Cost of Internet Shutdowns 2019 report released by Top10VPN, a UK-based digital privacy and security research group. The South Asian nation recorded the third-highest losses after Iraq and Sudan, which lost US$2.31bil (RM9.38bil) and US$1.86bil (RM7.55bil) respectively to disruptions. Worldwide Internet restrictions caused losses worth US$8.05bil (RM32.70bil), the report said.

The cost of Internet blackouts were calculated using indicators from groups including the World Bank, International Telecommunication Union, and the Delhi-based Software Freedom Law Center. It includes social media shutdowns in its calculations.

India’s ministry of information and technology didn’t respond to an email seeking a response to the report’s findings.

‘Conservative estimates’

Through 2019, India shut access to the Internet for over 4,000 hours. The report added shutdowns in India were often narrowly targeted, down to the level of blocking city districts for a few hours to allow security forces to restore order. Many of these incidents were not included in the report.

"These are conservative estimates,” said Simon Migliano, head of research at UK-based Top10VPN. "Internet shutdowns are increasing and it shows a damaging trend.”

India’s other major Internet disruptions coincided with two moves by the government that affect India’s Muslim minority. The first disruption took place in November in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan after the Supreme Court handed a victory to Hindu groups over Muslim petitioners in a long simmering dispute over a plot of land.

There were further disruptions in December when protests erupted against the introduction of a religion-based law that allows undocumented migrants of all faiths except Islam from neighbouring countries to seek Indian citizenship. The government enforced shutdowns across Uttar Pradesh and some north eastern states in order to quell the protests, the report said. – Bloomberg

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