About 155 Internet shutdown incidents were documented across 29 countries in 2020, of which India accounted for 70 percent or 109 incidents, according to a report released by Access Now, a non-profit organisation, on March 3, 2021.
“Internet shutdowns disrupt lives and livelihoods, damage human rights, and hurt public health and safety,” states the report titled ‘Shattered Dreams And Lost Opportunities--A year in the fight to #KeepItOn.’
“The negative impact of shutdowns is deepened during COVID-19. Those who have had access to the Internet during the pandemic have depended on it to get the most recent and often life-saving information,” it said.
Yemen reported six incidents of shutdowns, second after India, followed by Ethiopia (4) and Jordan (3). The top three countries--India, Yemen and Ethiopia had been among the worst disruptors of the Internet in 2019, the report states.
The number of countries reporting shutdowns has come down from 33 in 2019 to 29 in 2020, while it was 25 in 2018. These three years have seen 564 shutdowns. The number of reported incidents of shutdown declined by 27 percent in 2020 over a year.
“The 155 intentional communication disruptions came at a high cost to the fundamental human rights of people around the world,” the report said.
Globally, there were 28 complete internet blackouts in 2020 that affected people, often the most marginalised, into digital darkness as authorities disabled both broadband and mobile connectivity, the report highlights.
In India’s context, the report majorly attributes disruption of services in Jammu and Kashmir, followed by other incidents in states like West Bengal and Manipur.
Political instability was among the top causes noted for Internet shutdowns in India, followed by elections and protests. Conflict was the major cause of the trigger in other parts of the world that recorded these incidents.
“One notable trend in 2020 is an increased number of shutdowns being deployed in response to the ongoing violence—particularly in active conflict zones during this year,” the report notes.
The report also documents at least 26 attempts to deny social media access to people in 2020. These include platforms like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, Telegram and others.
“Internet shutdowns can turn life into mere survival,” said Berhan Taye, former Africa Policy Manager at Access Now. “For millions of people, everyday existence didn’t move online last year, it came to a standstill—no Internet meant no access to education, employment, or resources. Opportunities were deflected, and dreams shattered.”