SRINAGAR, INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR — Officials here recognize that the internet has become an integral part of daily life. But during the last two years, the government’s increasingly frequent suspension of internet services, often done to prevent riots or the spread of misinformation, has been denying ordinary citizens their basic liberties.
As a reporter who works for an international media organization, my job depends on the internet.
I send stories to Global Press Journal editors in Washington, D.C., and I work with fact-checkers and copy editors around the world. I have often missed deadlines and caused worry for my global team members who try, in vain, to reach me.
And I’m not alone.
Students face difficulties finishing assignments. Businesses report significant losses when the internet is intentionally shut down.
In this time of unrest, there are frequent calls for political protest, where violence is often the result. In response, officials continue to shut down the internet or reduce speeds to 2G services. These days, it happens at least once a week.
In 2016, the internet was down for five months after the killing of Burhan Wani, commander of an armed group, spurred ongoing protest.
In 2017, officials blocked 22 websites, including Facebook, Twitter, Skype and YouTube. When requesting those sites, visitors got messages that read: “Certain elements were transmitting objectionable content with the aim of spreading disaffection among the public at large.”
According to internetshutdowns.in, a website that tracks incidents of internet shutdowns across India, the internet has been shut down 172 times in different parts of India since 2012. Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir has the highest number of internet shutdowns ordered by any state in India.
So far in 2018, the internet has been shut down 43 times.
According to a report by the Brookings Institution, India has recorded more days of internet shutdowns than have Iraq or Pakistan. The report also estimates business losses to India of $968 million because of the internet shutdowns in the 2015-16 fiscal year. This figure is the largest amount of damages caused to one country by internet shutdowns.
This technology-driven censorship has proven ineffective, as protests and violence continue despite the shutdowns. It’s time officials found a new strategy that doesn’t harm ordinary citizens, too.