Internet is imperative for Digital India and Startup India to work.

In an effort to draw the Government’s attention towards the alarming rise in instances of Internet shutdowns across India, a group of concerned organizations and citizens led by SFLC​.in — a Delhi-based not-for-profit organization, has sent joint letters to the Chief Ministers of 12 Indian states impacted by Internet shutdowns since 2012, urging them to curb this practice.

An online petition drafted on the same issue by a PhD student at IIT Madras with nearly 250 signatures in support as of 24th March, 2017, was also part of the letters sent to the Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Maharashtra, J&K, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat and Haryana.

Mishi Choudhary, president and legal director of SFLC​.in says, Increasing instances of state interference with Internet services in a democratic country like ours are perturbing. Not only Internet shutdowns result in huge social and economic costs to the affected communities, they also deny people of their basic right to expression and access to information. We urge the governments of various states to acknowledge and address the issue of Internet shutdowns.”

Signatories to the joint letters include civil society organizations like Centre for Internet and Society, Digital Empowerment Foundation, Internet Democracy Project, IT for Change and Society for Knowledge Commons, as well as individuals like Anivar Aravind (Executive Director, Indic Project), Chetan Gupta (Advocate), Faisal Farooqui (CEO, MouthShut​.com), Geeta Seshu (Journalist), Prof. Kannan Moudgalya (IIT Bombay), Dr. Nagarjuna G (Chairperson, Free Software Foundation, India), Satish Babu (Chair, APRALO, ICANN), and Venkatesh Hariharan (Director — Fintech, iSPIRT).

In February 2017, SFLC​.in launched inter​net​shut​downs​.in — a website featuring among other things, a continually updated Internet Shutdown Tracker that documents all known shutdowns in India since 2012. According to the tracker, so far India has experienced a recorded number of 66 such incidents since 2012, with the number increasing more than two fold from 14 in 2015 to 31 in 2016.

The letter urges the Chief Ministers to take requisite action that would prohibit the issuance of orders that make Internet services entirely inaccessible for a particular area, and rather recommend that Section 69A and the procedure established by the rules therein be applied to limit the restriction to certain specific online content.”

Mishi added, We are hopeful that our efforts will make the government take in account the enormous effects of Internet shutdowns on the social-economic condition of our citizens and understand their plight.”

SFLC​.in is a donor supported legal services organization that brings together lawyers, policy analysts, technologists, and students to protect freedom in the digital world. SFLC​.in promotes innovation and open access to knowledge by helping developers make free and open source software; protecting privacy and civil liberties of citizens in the digital world by educating and providing free legal advice, and by helping policy makers make informed and just decisions with the use and adoption of technology.

Originally published in BWDisrupt.