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Amritpal Singh Case in Punjab: How an internet shutdown works, explained

You may have seen the term thrown around in the news recently but how exactly does one restrict access to the internet?

March 19, 2023 / 12:59 PM IST
Amritpal Singh.  (Screengrab from ANI)

Amritpal Singh. (Screengrab from ANI)

If you have been following the news lately, you would know that mobile internet services have currently been impacted in the state of Punjab.

Radical preacher, Amritpal Singh, is still on the run and Punjab has imposed a statewide suspension of mobile internet services in the region to maintain public safety.

But how does an internet shutdown work? And what services does it disrupt?

If you are looking for answers, below is a primer to some essential questions on this topic.

Also Read: Who is self-styled, controversial separatist leader Amritpal Singh, dubbed Bhindranwale 2.0?

What is an internet shutdown? 

An internet shutdown or blackout as it is sometimes referred to is when a governing body intentionally disrupts internet services in a region.

A shutdown can be absolute, as in the case of Punjab, or the governing body might choose to restrict access to certain websites, services or apps.

These can even be linked to throttling, which is when an ISP (Internet Service Provider) slows down the speed of your network intentionally. These can also be used to target specific IP addresses or websites.

Why do we need an internet shutdown? 

Given the current context of Punjab, the state has taken these steps in the interest of public safety. These steps were likely taken to stop the spread of fake news or hate speech.

Shutting down these services is a way to control the spread of information. This can be both a good and a bad thing.

In the case of Punjab, the government has decided to curtail mobile data internet services in the region, which means it is not a complete blackout, as fixed-line services should be operational.

Digital rights advocacy group Access Now published a report in 2022, which covers blackouts, disruption of mobile networks or apps, and throttling of particular services.

It turns out that India imposed the highest number of internet shutdowns in the world for 2022, and has topped the list for five consecutive years.

The group said that the government regularly imposed communication restrictions, and network blackouts on security grounds. Out of 187 recorded instances of blackouts around the world, India accounted for 84.

49 of these were imposed in Kashmir with a string of 16 back-to-back orders for three-day shutdowns in January and February 2022.

Also Read: Punjab cracks down on radical preacher Amritpal Singh; 78 supporters arrested

Can people bypass internet shutdowns? 

That depends on the kind of disruptions the services are facing. If it is a complete blackout, there would be no other way to get online.

If it affects certain websites, apps or services, then a Virtual Private Network (VPN) might work to access those pages. It should be noted that governments can interrupt services at a server level, which means they can simply deny connection requests to VPNs.

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Rohith Bhaskar
first published: Mar 19, 2023 12:40 pm