We missed this earlier
Mobile Internet services were cut off for more than 24 hours in Udaipur, Rajasthan last week as communal tensions flared up in the city following the hacking of a Muslim migrant worker from West Bengal, reports Press Trust of India. Internet shutdown was imposed after a mob gathered in support of Shambulal Regar who was in police custody for the killing.
Regar had posted a video of the killing along with inflammatory and communal comments. Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) was imposed on the city.
Note that the report quoted Udaipur superintendent Rajendra Prasad. Earlier this year, the government issued guidelines for the enforcement of internet shutdowns in the country. In states, the Secretary to the State Government in-charge of the Home Department can issue an order. Right now, it is unclear where the order for Internet shutdown came from.
Historically, mobile Internet bans are enforced under the Section 144 of the CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure) where it targets unlawful assembly. Earlier, Section 144 of the CrPC was usually be invoked by a district magistrate or the collector.
Meanwhile, report added that a person was arrested for posting on social media for organizing a rally in favour of Regar.
Increase in number of shutdowns
The number of Internet blocks has also increased dramatically with the Supreme Court’s ruling which upheld the districts and states’ right to ban mobile Internet services for maintaining law and order in February 2016. The Software Freedom Law Center, India (SFLC) has counted at least 60 internet shutdowns in 2017. Last year, the number of internet shutdowns were 31 and the number stood at 14 in 2015. Haryana has seen 11 Internet shutdowns.
In December alone, the Udaipur shutdown takes the number to three now. There was an internet shutdown in 13 districts in Haryana as a “preventive measure” in anticipation of violence between political parties in the state. While there as another Internet shutdown in three districts in North Kashmir following the death of three militants and a civilian.
It’s unclear whether any alternatives were looked at before the shutdown was ordered. As we have pointed out before:
“The only option [administrators feel exist to stop spread of rumours] is to pause the spread of information, give the administration some time to allow things to calm down, because they’re overwhelmed with dealing with addressing the situation while also trying to deal with the spread of the information that is causing the situation; one situation less to deal with helps.”
One interesting alternative that came up in this year’s open house discussion was area-specific disabling of end-to-end encryption on messaging services like WhatsApp. Another that has been discussed in the past is better investigative due diligence for rumour-mongering: since every forwarded message can usually be traced back to the source in less than six individuals, a participant said, investigators need to routinely identify rumour-mongers so they know that they will not remain immune from investigation.
Read our coverage of our previous open house discussion on Internet shutdowns here:
- The impact of Internet shutdowns
- Why governments shut the Internet down, and legal issues with their approach
- Alternatives to Internet shutdowns