Internet freedom in India declined dramatically for a third straight year. Government authorities increasingly shut off connectivity in a bid to suppress protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which gives certain non-Muslim groups special access to citizenship. New evidence also pointed to spyware campaigns targeting human rights defenders, adding to an already restrictive environment for privacy. International platforms were increasingly pressured to remove content critical of the government’s Hindu nationalist agenda and its actions in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state. Meanwhile, both the CAA protests and COVID-19 pandemic led to an information environment plagued by disinformation, often pushed by political leaders themselves. Within this environment, women, religious and marginalized communities in particular experienced online harassment and trolling. In a positive development, the Supreme Court laid down certain safeguards to be followed by the government before ordering internet shutdowns. Both governmental and nongovernmental entities continued their efforts to bridge the country’s digital divides.
India maintains a robust electoral democracy with a competitive multiparty system at the federal and state levels, though politics are marred by corruption. The constitution guarantees civil liberties including freedom of expression and freedom of religion, but harassment of journalists, marginalized communities, and other government critics has increased under the current government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Editor’s Note: Indian Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is not covered in this report. Certain territories that are assessed separately in Freedom House's Freedom in the World report are excluded from the relevant country reports in Freedom on the Net, as conditions in such territories differ significantly from those in the rest of the country.
- India continued to be home to more government-imposed internet shutdowns than anywhere else in the world, justified by authorities for reasons including the need to counter disinformation, protests, communal violence, and cheating on exams. Courts directly responded to the legality of such restrictions during the coverage period (see A3 and C1).
- More political, social, and cultural content was either removed or blocked for India-based users during the coverage period, including information on Twitter about Kashmir and criticism of the government on streaming platforms (see B2).
- In October 2019, the Delhi High Court issued an interim injunction, with worldwide effect, mandating that Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter, and other intermediaries remove certain allegedly defamatory videos around the globe if the content was uploaded from India, as well as geolocation block content and render it inaccessible in the country (see B2 and B3).
- In August 2019, amendments to the Foreign Direct Investment Policy imposed a limit of 26 percent on foreign investment in digital media, and required government approval for such investment (see B6).
- The government’s harsh response to nationwide protests against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendments Act featured internet shutdowns in at least nine states, including Delhi, as well as arrests for online speech and police violence against online journalists (see B8, C3, and C7).
- Government officials attempted to control the online narrative about the COVID-19 pandemic, issuing restrictions on reporting, arresting and detaining numerous people for their online speech, and reportedly forcing users to remove content from their social media accounts (see B2, B5, C1, and C3).
- Two separate coordinated spyware campaigns were uncovered targeting journalists, activists, lawyers, and other human rights defenders. Activist Anand Teltumbde was targeted by both spyware campaigns and subsequently arrested in April 2020, with the case reportedly relying heavily on information pulled from his electronic devices (see C5).
- Digital monitoring efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the rollout of the closed-source contact-tracing app Aarogya Setu, raised concerns over a lack of transparency, oversight, and other protections for fundamental freedoms (see C5).
Internet penetration in India continues to improve, with a majority of people going online using their mobile phones. However, inadequate infrastructure still remains an obstacle to access, especially in rural areas. Various governmental and nongovernmental efforts to improve access nationwide are underway. Information and communication technology (ICT) shutdowns ordered by local authorities continued to increase in duration and frequency during the coverage period, positioning the country to be the global leader in connectivity restrictions.
|Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections?||3.003 6.006|
India has the second-largest number of internet subscribers in the world after China, having overtaken the United States in 2016.1 Official statistics recorded almost 718.7 million subscribers in December 2019, though only 22.38 million had wired internet connections; approximately 63 percent of users were in urban areas.2
While access is expanding, the rate of internet penetration among India’s nearly 1.4 billion residents remains low, reaching 54.2 percent in December 2019,3 though that was up from 46 percent in December 2018.4 Mobile penetration was much higher, at almost 87 percent by December 2019.5
India’s average connection speed as of May 2020 was among the lowest in the world, at 11.37 Mbps for mobile internet and at 35.96 Mbps for broadband.6 In March 2020, India experienced its slowest internet speed since 2018,7 possibly due to increased strain on networks as the country went into lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the midst of the pandemic, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) requested that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) direct video streaming services, primarily Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime, and Hotstar, to adopt measures to ease pressure on the internet infrastructure.8 Subsequently, the major video streaming service providers suspended HD and UHD streaming on cellular networks.9
The share of broadband subscribers has significantly increased, from 57.3 percent in September 201610 to 92.1 percent in December 2019.11 Despite overall growth, India has a relatively low adoption rate for high-speed broadband (faster than 10 Mbps), at just 19 percent as of 2017.12 The minimum speed required to qualify as broadband in India has been 512 Kbps since 2012,13 though the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recommended raising the threshold to 2 Mbps as far back as 2016.14
The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Inclusive Internet Index 2020 ranks India 68 out of 100 in terms of availability, as determined by quality and breadth of available infrastructure.15 Similarly, the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index ranked India 70 out of 141 countries for infrastructure in 2019,16 down from 63 the previous year.17 India ranked a low 103 for electricity supply18 and 120 for ICT adoption, down from 117 in 2018. These rankings suggest that poor infrastructure is still an obstacle to access in India.
A number of ambitious public- and private-sector initiatives to improve access continue. The government is developing free public Wi-Fi zones in major cities. By one count, there were around 300,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in India in mid-2019,19 with a goal of 10 million by 2022.20 In 2016, the public-sector company RailTel launched a project, with technical support from Google, to provide free Wi-Fi services at a minimum of 100 railway stations.21 In February 2020, after making 415 railway stations internet accessible, Google announced its exit from the project; RailTel plans to continue providing free Wi-Fi services at more than 5,600 railway stations.22 In December 2019, the Delhi Government launched a free Wi-Fi hotspots scheme,23 with an initial launch of 100 hotspots. The project aims to provide each user with 15 gigabytes of free data per month via 11,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in order to ensure better and wider internet access in the city.24
- 1. Megha Mandavia, “India has second highest number of Internet users after China: Report,” The Economic Times, September 26, 2019, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/internet/india-has-second-hig…; Ajai Sreevatsan, “EmTech 2018: India to account for half of new Internet users in few years: Akamai’s Beardsell,” Live Mint, March 8, 2018, http://www.livemint.com/Technology/gaxdxNnR3o72YkZXICk1JJ/EmTech-2018-I…; Harriet Taylor, “Mary Meeker: India now has more internet users than US,” CNBC, June 1, 2016, http://www.cnbc.com/2016/06/01/mary-meeker-india-now-has-more-internet-…; Vlad Savov, “India rises past the US to become the internet’s second biggest user,” The Verge, June 2, 2016, https://www.theverge.com/2016/6/2/11837898/india-internet-user-populati…; Vyas Mohan, “India Pips US in Number of Internet Users,” Huffington Post India, June 2, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2016/06/02/india-internet-usage_n_10259450….
- 2. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators October – December 2019,” June 30, 2020, iii, https://www.trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/PIR_30062020.pdf.
- 3. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators October – December 2019,” iii.
- 4. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators January – March 2018,” June 27, 2018, ii, https://www.trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/PIReport27062018_0.pdf.
- 5. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators October – December 2019,” iii.
- 6. Yogesh, “India gains 5 places in mobile broadband speeds, still behind Pakistan and Nepal,” Telecom Talk, June 16, 2020, https://telecomtalk.info/india-mobile-broadband-speeds-may-2020/278287/.
- 7. Vijdan Mohammad Kawoosa, “Internet speed falls to lowest in 2 years,” Hindustan Times, April 29, 2020, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/internet-speeds-fall-to-lowes….
- 8. Gaurav Laghate and Kalyan Parbat, “Coronavirus outbreak: Telcos want Amazon, Netflix, YouTube to ease pressure on network infrastructure,” The Economic Times, March 23, 2020, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/internet/coronavirus-outbreak….
- 9. Saurabh Singh, “Netflix, Hotstar, others suspend HD streaming on cellular networks as India goes under 21-day coronavirus lockdown,” The Financial Express, 25 March 2020, https://www.financialexpress.com/industry/technology/netflix-hotstar-ot…; “Netflix India to reduce traffic on telecom networks to manage congestion,” The Hindu, March 24, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/coronavirus-netflix-india….
- 10. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators July – September 2016,” December 30, 2016, 29, http://www.trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/Indicator_Reports_Ending_Sep….
- 11. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators October – December 2019,” 35.
- 12. Akamai, “State of the Internet: Q1 2017 Report,” May 31, 2017, 29, https://www.akamai.com/us/en/multimedia/documents/state-of-the-internet….
- 13. Preethi, J, “Govt To Up Definition Of Broadband Speed To 2 Mbps From January 2015,” Tech Circle, August 3, 2011, https://www.techcircle.in/2011/08/03/govt-to-up-definition-of-broadband….
- 14. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “Report on Need for Reviewing Definition of Broadband,” May 24, 2016, https://trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/Letter_to_Secretary_DOT_24_may_….
- 15. The Economist Intelligence Unit, “The Inclusive Internet Index 2020: Availability,” accessed October 6, 2020, https://theinclusiveinternet.eiu.com/explore/countries/performance?cate….
- 16. Klaus Schwab, “The Global Competitiveness Report 2019,” World Economic Forum, 2019, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_TheGlobalCompetitivenessReport2019.pdf.
- 17. Klaus Schwab, “The Global Competitiveness Report 2018,” World Economic Forum, 2018, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/GCR2018/05FullReport/TheGlobalCompetitiven….
- 18. Klaus Schwab, “The Global Competitiveness Report 2019.”
- 19. “Public WiFi hotspots in India to reach 21 lakh by 2021: DigiAnalysys,” The Economic Times, August 22, 2019, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/telecom/telecom-news/publ…
- 20. Navadha Pandey, “Govt to launch app for access to public Wi-Fi hotspots,” Live Mint, October 24, 2018, https://www.livemint.com/Industry/UWbfdcZzE6wn48LudjXYON/Govt-to-launch….
- 21. Shruti Dhapola, “Explained: What is Google’s Wi-Fi at 100 railway station project and how will it work”, The Indian Express, December 17, 2015, https://indianexpress.com/article/technology/tech-news-technology/expla….
- 22. Danny Cyril D Cruze, “RailTel to continue free WiFi service at railway stations after Google will stop Project Station,” Live Mint, February 18, 2020, https://www.livemint.com/technology/tech-news/no-more-free-wifi-from-go….
- 23. “Arvind Kejriwal launches free WiFi hotspots while Delhi faces internet shutdown,” Live Mint, December 2019, https://www.livemint.com/news/india/arvind-kejriwal-launches-free-wifi-….
- 24. “Arvind Kejriwal launches free WiFi hotspots while Delhi faces internet shutdown”, Live Mint, December 19, 2019, https://www.livemint.com/news/india/arvind-kejriwal-leeaunches-free-wif….
|Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons?||1.001 3.003|
While mobile data plans in India are quite cheap, digital divides remain across geography, language, and gender.
According to a 2018 report from the British-based company Cable, India has the cheapest mobile data pricing in the world, with an average cost of $0.26 for one gigabyte of data.1 According to the Inclusive Internet Index 2020, India slipped eight spots from the previous year and currently ranks 18 out of 100 countries surveyed in the affordability index, defined by cost of access relative to income and the level of competition in the internet marketplace.2 Similarly, the 2019 Affordability Report released by the Alliance for Affordable Internet ranked India 9 out of 61 low and middle-income countries for affordable and meaningful access, which includes factors like cost, market competition and public access to the internet.3 The report suggests that although India’s position on the access sub-index (measuring broadband availability and the policy environment) is advancing, this movement is offset by the rapidly consolidating market (see A4).
Internet penetration in rural areas is significantly lower than in urban areas, with only 30 internet subscribers per 100 population, compared with 106 per 100 in urban areas.4 A number of public and private initiatives aim to narrow the urban-rural divide. The government’s ongoing Digital India Programme, launched in 2014,5 aims to extend fiber-optic cables to more rural areas, establish internet-connected common service centers (CSCs),6 and provide residents with e-literacy programs.7 The Digital India Programme has also proposed using satellites, balloons, or drones to bring faster digital connections to remote parts of the country.8
CSCs continued to provide free internet services in 120,000 locations using a countrywide fiber-optic network under the government-led BharatNet project until March 2020.9 After March 2020, the government began charging a fee;10 more broadly, the implementation of BharatNet has faced delays and uneven progress among states.11 In July 2020, CSC revealed plans to deploy 5 lakh fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) connections to facilitate high-speed internet in villages by the end of 2020.12 In December 2019, the government launched another program, the National Broadband Mission, intended to achieve equitable access to internet and broadband services across India, especially in rural areas, via an investment of $100 billion.13
Language also remains a barrier to access. With 22 official languages, only about 12 percent of the population of India speaks English,14 yet a significant proportion of news and other material available to users in India is in English (see B7).15 Projects to encourage local language usage online are underway. In 2014, the National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI), which operates and manages Indian domain names, launched the Dot Bharat domain for local language URLs.16 By April 2017, the number of local language users in India had overtaken the number who rely on English.17 In July 2018, there were 234 million Indian language users online,18 and with 90 percent of new internet users consuming local language content,19 this number is expected to grow to 536 million by 2021.20
There is also a significant gender divide in access to internet, with studies conducted by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) in 2017, 2018, and 201921 finding that only about a third of Indian internet users are women.22 The divide is particularly stark in rural areas, with women accounting for only 28 percent of internet users.23 However, the GSMA, a trade body that represents mobile network operators worldwide, noted in its Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020 that the percentage of women who were aware of mobile internet rose from 19 percent in 2017 to 50 percent in 2020.24 Internet Saathi, a partnership between Google and Tata Trusts to promote digital literacy among rural women, trains hundreds of women per week in villages across the country, 25 and by July 2019 had reached some 70,000 participants.26
- 1. “Worldwide mobile data pricing: The cost of 1GB of mobile data in 230 countries,” Cable, accessed October 6, 2020, https://www.cable.co.uk/mobiles/worldwide-data-pricing/; Niall McCarthy, “The Cost of Mobile Internet Around the World [Infographic]” Forbes, March 5, 2019, https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2019/03/05/the-cost-of-mobil….
- 2. The Economist Intelligence Unit, “The Inclusive Internet Index 2020: Affordability,” https://theinclusiveinternet.eiu.com/explore/countries/IN/performance/i….
- 3. Alliance for Affordable Internet, “The 2019 Affordability Report,” accessed October 6, 2020, https://a4ai.org/affordability-report/report/2019/#welcome.
- 4. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators October – December 2019,” 40.
- 5. “Digital India – About,” Digital India, accessed October 6, 2020, https://digitalindia.gov.in/.
- 6. “Welcome to CSC,” Common Service Centres Scheme (CSC), Digital India, March 25, 2018, https://web.archive.org/web/20180325055830/http:/csc.gov.in/.
- 7. “National Optic Fibre Network (NOFN),” Bharat Broadband Network Limited, accessed October 6, 2020, http://bbnl.nic.in/index1.aspx?lsid=249&lev=2&lid=21&langid=1.
- 8. “Centre ready to use satellites, drones to connect to rural India: Ravi Shankar Prasad,” The Economic Times, February 4, 2015, https://web.archive.org/web/20171125222428/https://economictimes.indiat… .
- 9. Surabhi Agarwal, “CSCs to offer free Wifi till March 2020,” The Economic Times, December 26, 2019, https://tech.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/internet/cscs-to-offer-f….
- 10. Amit Raja Naik, “Govt To Stop Free Rural Internet After March 2020,” Inc42, December 26, 2019, https://inc42.com/buzz/govt-to-stop-free-rural-internet-after-march-202…; “Services We Provide,” CSC WifiChoupal, accessed October 6, 2020, https://www.wifichoupal.in/service-details.php?S_ID=6; Aashish Aaryan, “CSC, private contractors spar over BharatNet costs; contractors allege CSC exercising monopoly,” The Indian Express, July 12, 2020, https://indianexpress.com/article/business/companies/csc-private-contra….
- 11. Aashish Aryan, “Panchayat net connectivity project set to miss deadline: Only over half service ready,” The Indian Express, February 26, 2020, https://indianexpress.com/article/business/panchayat-net-connectivity-p….
- 12. Muntazir Abbas, “Digital India: CSC aims 5 lakh rural Internet connections by September,” The Economic Times, July 2, 2020, https://telecom.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/digital-india-csc-aim….
- 13. “Government promises broadband access in all villages by 2022; launches National Broadband Mission,” The Economic Times, December 17, 2019, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/internet/government-promises-…?; see also Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications, “National Broadband Mission (Booklet),” December 17, 2019, https://dot.gov.in/sites/default/files/National%20Broadband%20Mission%2….
- 14. Internet and Mobile Association of India, “Internet in India 2014,” October 2014, 14, (paywall) https://www.iamai.in/KnowledgeCentre; “Local language content to boost India’s internet penetration: IAMAI,” The Times of India, August 4, 2015, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/tech/tech-news/Local-language-conten….
- 15. W3Techs, “Usage statistics of content languages for websites,” November 25, 2019, http://w3techs.com/technologies/overview/content_language/all; W3Techs, “Technologies Overview,” accessed October 6, 2020, http://w3techs.com/technologies.
- 16. Anoop Verma, “Internet domain names in Indian languages,” Express Computer, July 25, 2018, https://www.expresscomputer.in/magazine/internet-domain-names-in-indian….
- 17. KPMG in India and Google, “Indian Languages – Defining India’s Internet,” April 2017, 7, https://assets.kpmg.com/content/dam/kpmg/in/pdf/2017/04/Indian-language…; Pankaj Dovali, “’90% of new net users non-English’,” The Times of India, April 26, 2017, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/90-of-new-n….
- 18. Mohd Ujaley, “Indian Languages Are Storming The Internet In India, 9 Out Of 10 New Users To Be An Indian Language User,” Express Computer, July 25, 2018, https://www.expresscomputer.in/news/indian-languages-are-storming-the-i….
- 19. Jitendra Singh, “About 90% of India’s new Internet users consume content in local languages,” ENTRACKR, December 4, 2019, https://entrackr.com/2019/12/ninety-percent-of-new-internet-users-consu….
- 20. Arvind Pani, “Overcoming India's Language Barrier Is A Multi-Billion Dollar Opportunity For Startups,” India Times Technology, March 1, 2020, https://www.indiatimes.com/technology/science-and-future/overcoming-ind…; “Indian Language Internet Users to Reach 536 Million by 2021: Google,” Gadgets 360, June 27, 2018, https://gadgets.ndtv.com/internet/news/indian-language-internet-users-t….
- 21. Internet and Mobile Association of India, “India Internet 2019,” September 26, 2019, 6, https://cms.iamai.in/Content/ResearchPapers/d3654bcc-002f-4fc7-ab39-e1f…; Rishi Ranjan Kala, “High gender disparity among internet users in India,” Financial Express, September 27, 2019, https://www.financialexpress.com/industry/high-gender-disparity-among-i….
- 22. “Only 30% of internet users in India are women: Report,” The Economic Times, February 21, 2018, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/small-biz/startups/newsbuzz/only-3…; “Only One-Third of India’s Total Internet Users are Female: UNICEF Report”, The Wire, December 12, 2017, https://thewire.in/204143/one-third-indias-total-internet-users-female-….
- 23. Internet and Mobile Association of India, “India Internet 2019,” 6; Rishi Ranjan Kala, “High gender disparity among internet users in India.”
- 24. GSM Association, “The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020,” 2020, https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/GS….
- 25. “Google, Tata Trusts to expand Internet Saathi programme”, The Hindu BusinessLine, January 9, 2018, https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/info-tech/google-tata-trusts-to-ex…; Nandini Rathi, “Google’s Internet Saathi programme: How rural women are transforming communities,” The Indian Express, March 13, 2017, https://indianexpress.com/article/technology/tech-news-technology/rural….
- 26. Nandita Mathur, “Google, Tata Trusts’ Internet Saathi programme now live in 2.6 lakh villages,” Live Mint, July 16, 2019, https://www.livemint.com/technology/tech-news/google-tata-trusts-intern….
|Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity?||2.002 6.006|
India is a global leader in the number of internet shutdowns imposed,1 with shutdowns regulated by broad rules instituted in August 2017. The government does not routinely block the protocols or tools that allow for instant, person-to-person communication.
Local authorities around India have restricted ICT connectivity and usage during times of perceived unrest since at least 2010.2 Authorities typically justify shutdowns as cautionary measures required for the maintenance of law and order, to quell potential violence or communal tensions, restrict protests, prevent the spread of disinformation, or to stop cheating on school exams.3
The frequency, geographic distribution, and duration of these shutdowns have increased significantly in the past five years. In 2019, restrictions to connectivity were implemented in at least 16 states at least 121 times,4 and by July 2020 had occurred in at least 8 states at least 55 times.5 States and areas affected include parts of Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and the National Capital Region (which includes Delhi).6 Outside the Jammu and Kashmir region, which is excluded from this report’s scoring criteria (see Overview), Rajasthan had the highest number of internet shutdowns in 2019, with at least 68 reported incidents. These shutdowns affect both mobile and fixed-line connections,7 and the majority are short-term restrictions lasting from a few hours up to a week.8
During the course of large-scale protests against the controversial and discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in late 2019 and early 2020, a number of network shutdowns were imposed across the country, including the first such instance in Delhi (see B8).9 In November 2019, stoppages of internet services were imposed in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana in anticipation of potential violence after a Supreme Court judgment in the Ayodhya case, a religious dispute that has previously caused large-scale communal violence.10 The duration of the shutdowns varied from 24 hours in some parts of Uttar Pradesh to 48 hours in the city of Jaipur in Rajasthan.11 Similarly, on January 1, 2020, restrictions to mobile and fixed-line internet connections occurred for 15 hours in Koregaon Bhima and neighboring villages in anticipation of potential violence on the anniversary of the Anglo-Maratha Battle of Koregaon.12 In July 2019, authorities temporarily restricted internet services in 10 towns in Rajasthan’s Udaipur district, claiming the need to stop the spread of misinformation after a local man was murdered.13
In the Jammu and Kashmir region, which is excluded from this report’s scoring criteria (see Overview), the state administration ordered restrictions on internet services on approximately 55 occasions in 2019.14 Between August 2019 and January 2020, the region, by the orders of the government of Jammu and Kashmir, was subject to the longest internet shutdown in India—a total of 213 days—in the wake of the central government’s abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which provides special status to the state.15 Access to 2G networks was restored in the state in January 2020, but 3G and 4G networks remained restricted as of August 2020,16 except for in two districts of Ganderbal and Udhampur.17
Authorities use legal and policy frameworks to order connectivity restrictions, as the government does not exert much control over the internet infrastructure (see C4). Orders to restrict connectivity have usually been justified under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC), which permits broad state action to curb any violation of law and order.18 The Gujarat High Court upheld the use of this general law to order shutdowns in September 2015,19 and the Supreme Court refused a petition challenging it in early 2016.20 Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act) permits the central government to order website blocks, while Section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 (Telegraph Act) allows state and central authorities to order that any message not be transmitted in public emergencies, and has been cited in support of service disruptions (see B3).21
In August 2017, the DoT issued new rules, called the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, under the Telegraph Act to regulate the temporary suspension of telecom services.22 The broad rules authorize only national or state-level officials of a certain rank to issue temporary suspension orders to shut down telecom services in times of public emergency or threats to public safety. These rules mandate that each order should contain reasons for shutdowns of telecom services and should be forwarded to a review committee for assessment. However, several internet shutdown orders imposed since 2017 were issued under Section 144 of the CrPC by officials not designated under the Telegraph Act rules.23 Civil society groups have raised concerns that some internet shutdown orders were therefore not issued by authorized officials and lacked necessary procedural safeguards and checks.24
During the coverage period, courts directly ruled on the legality of connectivity restrictions. The Gauhati High Court ordered the government of the state of Assam to restore mobile internet connectivity eight days after the state administration had indefinitely shut down the internet during CAA protests in December 2019.25 As of July 2020, another case, involving a 5-day shutdown in May 2020 that affected some districts of West Bengal, remained under challenge at the Calcutta High Court for being issued under Section 144 of the CrPC rather than the 2017 Act rules.26
In January 2020, the Supreme Court responded directly to the months-long internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir, ruling that the state must review existing shutdown orders in the region,27 and that connectivity restrictions across the country should be well reasoned, proportionate, temporary, made publicly available, and present the least restrictive alternative (see C1).28 However, the court did not order the restoration of connectivity in Jammu and Kashmir in full, and critics argued that the ruling failed to address the fundamental question of deprivation of essential access to internet services.29 A related decision in May30 reiterated the mandate that a special committee comprised of state and central government officials review the orders,31 but a suit filed with the court in June alleged that the government had failed to implement the ruling.32
- 1. “How India became the global leader in internet shutdowns,” The Times of India, January 8, 2020, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/how-india-became-the-global-l…; “Government data shows internet shutdowns in India could be the worst in the world,” IFEX, July 18, 2018, https://www.ifex.org/india/2018/07/18/internet_shutdown_worst/.
- 2. Centre for Communication Governance at National Law University, Delhi, “Incidents of Internet Shutdowns in India (2010 onwards),” May 29, 2017, https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BycAZd9M5_7NOExCRnQ3Q1pqcm8/view.
- 3. Rajib Chowduri, “West Bengal: internet services to be suspended for exams,” The Asian Age, February 18, 2020, https://www.asianage.com/india/all-india/180220/west-bengal-internet-se…; “Net curb in 7 districts for Madhyamik,” The Telegraph, February 17, 2020, https://www.telegraphindia.com/west-bengal/net-curb-in-7-districts-for-….
- 4. Access Now, “Targeted, Cut Off and Left in the Dark: The #KeepItOn report on internet shutdowns in 2019,” 2019 https://www.accessnow.org/cms/assets/uploads/2020/02/KeepItOn-2019-repo….
- 5. Software Freedom Law Centre, “Internet shutdowns: India,” accessed October 6, 2020, https://internetshutdowns.in/.
- 6. Shadab Nazmi, “Why India shuts down the internet more than any other democracy,” BBC News, December 19, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-50819905; Software Freedom Law Centre, “Internet shutdowns: India.”
- 7. Software Freedom Law Centre, “Internet shutdowns: India.”
- 8. Karishma Mehrotra, “Shutting down the internet- how, when, where it has been happening in India,” The Indian Express, December 18, 2019, https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/shutting-down-the-internet-….
- 9. Software Freedom Law Centre, “Internet shutdowns: India”; “Anti-CAA stir: Internet services suspended in UP’s Prayagraj Firozabad,” Business Standard, December 22, 2019, https://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ani/anti-caa-stir-intern…; Aalok Sensharma, “CAA Protest: Internet suspended in 18 UP districts, Karnataka’s Mangaluru | Here’s all you need to know,” MSN News, December 20, 2019, https://www.msn.com/en-in/news/other/caa-protest-internet-suspended-in-…; “Several UP cities face internet shutdown,” Outlook India, December 20, 2019, https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/several-up-cities-face-internet….
- 10. Thejaswi Udupa, “Ayodhya verdict: Internet Suspended in Parts of India,” The Wire, November 9, 2019, https://thewire.in/tech/ayodhya-verdict-internet-suspended-in-parts-of-….
- 11. Trisha Jalan, “Internet shutdown in parts of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh during Ayodhya verdict,” Medianama, November 11, 2019, https://www.medianama.com/2019/11/223-ayodhya-internet-shutdowns/; “Ayodhya verdict: Section 144 imposed in Mumbai, internet shutdown in parts of UP and Rajasthan,” Scroll, November 9, 2019, https://scroll.in/latest/943156/ayodhya-verdict-section-144-imposed-in-…; Rinie Wilson, “How India saw ‘rapid shutdowns’ in the last few years,” Marketing Mind, December 14, 2019, https://www.marketingmind.in/how-india-saw-rapid-internet-shutdowns-in-….
- 12. “Internet Shut Down As Lakhs Gather For 202nd Anniversary Of Koregaon Bhima Battle,” Huffington Post India, January 1, 2020, https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/bhima-koregaon-anniversary-internet…; Sandeep Dighe and Gitesh Shelke, “Amid tight security 10 lakh people pay tribute at Koregaon Bhima,” The Times of India, January 2, 2020, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/pune/amid-tight-security-10-la….
- 13. “Rumours not getting stopped in Udaipur, Internet service shut down for 48 hours,” News Track Live, July 18, 2019, https://english.newstracklive.com/news/rumours-not-getting-stopped-in-u….
- 14. Software Freedom Law Centre, “Internet shutdowns: India,” Jammu and Kashmir.
- 15. Software Freedom Law Centre, “Internet shutdowns: India,” Jammu and Kashmir.
- 16. Government Order No Home-03 (TSTS) of 2020 dated 14 January 2020.
- 17. Peerzada Ashiq, “4G Internet restored in J&K’s Ganderbal, Udhampur on ‘trial basis’,” The Hindu, August 16, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/4g-internet-restored-in-jks-gand…
- 18. Nakul Nayak, “The Anatomy of Internet Shutdowns – II (Gujarat & Constitutional Questions),” The CCG Blog, September 1, 2015, https://ccgnludelhi.wordpress.com/2015/09/01/the-anatomy-of-internet-sh…; Nakul Nayak, “The Anatomy of Internet Shutdowns – III (Post Script: Gujarat High Court Verdict),” The CCG Blog, September 19, 2015, https://ccgnludelhi.wordpress.com/2015/09/19/the-anatomy-of-internet-sh…; Chinmayi Arun, “Demarcating a safe threshold,” The Indian Express, February 24, 2016 http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/demarcating-a-safe-thr….
- 19. Nakul Nayak, “The Anatomy of Internet Shutdowns – III (Post Script: Gujarat High Court Verdict).”
- 20. Chinmayi Arun, “Demarcating a safe threshold”; Raman Jit Singh Chima and Apar Gupta, “The cost of internet shutdowns,” The Indian Express, October 26, 2016, https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/internet-access-gover….
- 21. Nakul Nayak, “The Anatomy of Internet Shutdowns – I (Of Kill Switches and Legal Vacuums),” The CCG Blog, August 29, 2015, https://ccgnludelhi.wordpress.com/2015/08/29/the-anatomy-of-internet-sh…; Apar Gupta, “Section 144 and the power to impose an internet curfew,” The Economic Times, September 19, 2015, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/section-1….
- 22. Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications, “Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017,” August 7, 2017, http://www.dot.gov.in/sites/default/files/Suspension%20Rules.pdf?downlo….
- 23. Apurva Vishwanath, “Explained: The laws being used to suspend internet, and what the SC laid down,” The Indian Express, January 11, 2020, https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/kashmir-supreme-court-inter…; Trisha Jalan, “Internet shutdown in parts of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh during Ayodhya verdict,” Medianama, November 11, 2019, https://www.medianama.com/2019/11/223-ayodhya-internet-shutdowns/.
- 24. Yaqoob Alam, “Rajasthan internet shutdown orders continue to be issued by unauthorised officials,” Internet Freedom Foundation, December 9, 2019, https://internetfreedom.in/rajasthan-internet-shutdown-orders-continue-….
- 25. Sumir Karmakar, “High Court order to restore mobile internet in Assam,” Deccan Herald, December 19, 2019, https://www.deccanherald.com/national/east-and-northeast/high-court-ord…; Banashree Gogoi v. Union of India, December 19, 2019, Gauhati High Court, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/175955438/.
- 26. Trisha Jalan, “‘Hooghly district magistrate is at level of additional secretary, can order internet shutdown,’ West Bengal govt in Calcutta HC,” Medianama, May 18, 2020, https://www.medianama.com/2020/05/223-west-bengal-govt-hooghly-internet….
- 27. Nilashish Chaudhary and Radhika Roy, “[Kashmir Lockdown] 'Indefinite Internet Suspension Not Permissible' : SC Asks J&K Administration To Review All Restrictive Orders Within A Week [Read Judgment],” Live Law, January 10, 2020, https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/kashmir-lockdown-sc-asks-jk-administ….
- 28. Anuradha Bhasin v Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) No 1031 of 2019, Supreme Court of India, https://main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2019/28817/28817_2019_2_1501_19350…; Nilashish Chaudhary and Radhika Roy, “[Kashmir Lockdown] 'Indefinite Internet Suspension Not Permissible' : SC Asks J&K Administration To Review All Restrictive Orders Within A Week [Read Judgment].”
- 29. Gautam Bhatia, “The value of the SC’s Kashmir order,” The Hindustan Times, January 12, 2020, https://www.hindustantimes.com/columns/the-value-of-the-sc-s-kashmir-or….
- 30. “Plea In Supreme Court To Restore 4G Internet Services In Jammu & Kashmir Amid COVID-19 Pandemic [Read Petition]m” Live Law, April 2, 2020, https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/plea-in-supreme-court-to-restore-4g-….
- 31. Sarvjeet Singh, “Supreme court’s order on Kashmir internet shutdown: Judicial abdication or judicial restraint?” The Times of India, May 12, 2020, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/voices/supreme-courts-order-o….
- 32. Ashish Tripathi, “4G in J&K: Plea filed in SC for contempt action on failure to comply with court order,” Deccan Herald, June 9, 2020, https://www.deccanherald.com/national/4g-in-jk-plea-filed-in-sc-for-con….
|Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers?||4.004 6.006|
Internet users have a range of choices for mobile and internet connections, but fees to enter the market have served as an economic barrier for some providers. As of December 2019, there were 358 operational ISPs in India,1 up from 326 in 2018.2 While there is no legal monopoly, Reliance Jio has almost 52 percent of the market, and the top three ISPs together control nearly 95 percent of the market.3 There are seven mobile operators,4 with Reliance Jio controlling nearly 32 percent of the market and the top three operators controlling over 88 percent of the market.5 In April 2020, Facebook invested $5.7 billion in a 9.9 percent stake in Reliance Jio, raising concerns regarding potential anticompetitive practices.6 In July 2020, Google announced that it will invest $4.5 billion in Jio Platforms (the owner of Reliance Jio), buying a 7.7 percent stake in the company, pending regulatory approval.7
A universal license framework, for which guidelines were published in November 2014,8 reduced legal and regulatory obstacles by combining mobile phone and ISP licenses. Licensees pay a high one-time entry fee, a performance bank guarantee,9 and annual license fees adjusted for revenue.10
In October 2019, a Supreme Court order provided clarity on the percentage of revenue that license holders are required to pay the government—an issue that has been contested by the telecom industry for several years. The order mandates that the percentage is calculated on the basis of the entire revenue of the license holder, and not just revenue from telecom services.11 As a result, the cost of operation for telecom service providers will rise considerably.12 While the court has rejected petitions from telecom operators requesting a review of the order,13 as of July 2020 it was considering requests to allow operators to pay the fees over 15 to 20 years.14 Both Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel are expected to pay millions in overdue fees, raising concerns over their financial stability and the impact on the telecom market.15
In 2017, the Cybercafé Association of India said that over 70 percent of cybercafés had closed over the previous year.16 In 2011, the Indian government introduced rules under Section 79 of the IT Act that imposed multiple licensing and monitoring requirements on cybercafés.17 Critics said the rules were “poorly framed”18 amid unclear noncompliance penalties and patchy enforcement. CSCs are exempt and operate under separate guidelines.19
Roughly 15 submarine cables connect India to the global internet,20 most of which are consortium-owned.21 There are at least 15 landing stations where the cables meet the mainland, spread across 5 cities.22 Tata Communications owns five cable landing stations, Reliance Jio owns two, Bharti Airtel owns three, the state-run telecom operator BSNL owns three landing stations, with Vodafone, Sify, and Global Cloud Exchange owning one each.23
- 1. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators October – December 2019,” 33.
- 2. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators October – December 2018,” April 4, 2019, 99, https://www.trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/PIR_04042019_0.pdf.
- 3. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators October – December 2019,” 37.
- 4. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators r October – December 2019,” 12.
- 5. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators October – December 2019,” 11.
- 6. “Reliance Jio-Facebook deal: JioMart, WhatsApp to operate together to connect consumers with local kiranas,” MoneyControl, April 22, 2020, https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/business/reliance-retail-jio-whatsapp….
- 7. Ashok Kumar, “Google to invest $4.5 billion in India's Jio digital company,” Business Insider, July 16, 2020, https://www.businessinsider.com/google-to-invest-45-billion-in-indias-j…; “Google to approach CCI for approval on ₹33,737-cr deal with Jio Platforms,” Live Mint, July 22, 2020, https://www.livemint.com/companies/news/google-to-approach-cci-for-appr….
- 8. Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Guidelines for Grant of Unified License,” November 13, 2014, http://www.dot.gov.in/sites/default/files/Amended%20UL%20Guidelines%201…; Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Internet Services: Licensing of Internet Services,” June 11, 2013, https://web.archive.org/web/20130611231210/https://dot.gov.in/data-serv….
- 9. Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Draft License Agreement for Unified License,” accessed October 6, 2020, 22, http://dot.gov.in/sites/default/files/Unified%20Licence_0.pdf.
- 10. Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Draft License Agreement for Unified License,” 22; Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Guidelines for Grant of Unified License.” The TRAI has recommended steps so as to incentivize telecommunications operators to expand their operations, suggesting that revenue generated by these companies from their non-telecommunications activities be excluded while calculating their annual gross revenue. This would help to reduce the revenue share that these companies would have to pay to the government, as well as their license fees and spectrum charges. Shauvik Ghosh, “Trai recommends non-telecom activity be excluded from AGR,” Live Mint, January 7, 2015, https://www.livemint.com/Industry/7ivGrxiayiOsumswo1KMlN/Trai-recommend….
- 11. “SC Allows Centre's Plea To Recover Adjusted Gross Revenue Of Rs 92k cr From Telecom Companies [Read Judgment],” Live Law, October 24, 2019, https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/sc-allows-centres-plea-to-recover-ad….
- 12. Navada Pandey, “Non-telecom firms hit by top court’s ruling on AGR,” Live Mint, January 9, 2020. https://www.livemint.com/companies/news/non-telecom-firms-hit-by-top-co…; Mahesh Uppal, “Why the SC Verdict on Adjusted Gross Revenue does not validate Indian Telecom Licensing Regime” The Wire, October 25, 2019, https://thewire.in/business/sc-verdict-agr-telecom-licensing-regime.
- 13. Arpan Chaturvedi and Sai Ishwarbharat, “Supreme Court rejects Telecom Firms’ Review Petitions against AGR Verdict,” Bloomberg Quint, January 17, 2020, https://www.bloombergquint.com/law-and-policy/supreme-court-rejects-tel….
- 14. Samanwaya Rautray, “Govt backs 20 years to pay AGR dues, Airtel, Voda Idea seek 15 years, SC reserves order,” The Economic Times, July 21, 2020, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/telecom/telecom-news/govt….
- 15. Arpan Chaturvedi and Sai Ishwarbharat, “Supreme Court rejects Telecom Firms’ Review Petitions against AGR Verdict.”
- 16. Aritra Sarkhel, “The last cyber cafes of India”, Economic Times Tech, October 25, 2017, https://tech.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/technology/the-last-cybe….
- 17. Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Information Technology (Guidelines for Cyber Cafe) Rules, 2011,” April 11, 2011, https://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/en/in/in100en.pdf.
- 18. Bhairav Acharya, “Comments on the Information Technology (Guidelines for Cyber Cafe) Rules, 2011,” Center for Information and Society, March 31, 2013, https://cis-india.org/internet-governance/blog/comments-on-the-it-guide….
- 19. Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Guidelines for the Implementation of the Common Service Centres (CSC) Scheme in States,” October 9, 2006, https://meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/CSC%20Guidelines%20May%202007%….
- 20. Suvesh Chattopadhyaya, “Questionable State of Submarine Cables that globalizes India,” Submarine Cable Networks, April 9, 2019. https://www.submarinenetworks.com/en/insights/questionable-state-of-sub…; “Cable Landing Stations in India,” Submarine Cable Networks, accessed October 6, 2020, https://www.submarinenetworks.com/stations/asia/india.
- 21. The ten are: SeameWe-3; SeaMeWe-4; SeaMeWe-5; Asia-Africa Europe-1; Bay of Bengal Gateway; SAFE; Bharat Lanka Cable System; SEACOM/Tata TGN-Eurasia; IMEWE; and Europe India Gateway. See “Submarine Cable Map,” TeleGeography, accessed October 6, 2020, http://www.submarinecablemap.com/#/country/india; “Cable Landing Stations in India,” Submarine Cable Networks; “Peer in India, Connect to Largest Internet Exchange in Mumbai,” DE-CIX, accessed October 6, 2020, https://www.de-cix.net/en/about-de-cix/academy/white-papers/subsea-cabl….
- 22. Suvesh Chattopadhyaya, “Questionable State of Submarine Cables that globalizes India”; “Cable Landing Stations in India,” Submarine Cable Networks.
- 23. Suvesh Chattopadhyaya, “Questionable State of Submarine Cables that globalizes India”; “Cable Landing Stations in India,” Submarine Cable Networks.
|Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner?||2.002 4.004|
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) formulates policy relating to information technology, electronics, and the internet.1 The DoT, under the Ministry of Communications, manages the overall development of the telecommunications sector, licenses internet and mobile service providers, and manages spectrum allocation.2
Internet protocol (IP) addresses are regulated by the Indian Registry for Internet Names and Numbers (IRINN).3 Since 2005, the registry has functioned as an autonomous body within the nonprofit National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI).4
The TRAI was created in 1997 to regulate the telecommunications, broadcast, and cable television sectors.5 The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act (TRAI Act) mandates transparency in the exercise of its operations, which includes monitoring licensing terms, compliance, and service quality.6 Its reports are published online, usually preceded by a multi-stakeholder consultation.7 An amendment to the TRAI Act in 2000 established a three-member Telecommunications Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal chaired by a former senior judge.8
There are some reservations about the TRAI’s independence.9 Appointment and salary decisions for members remain in the hands of the central government. The TRAI Act initially barred members who had previously held central or state government office, but 2014 amendments allowed them to join the regulator two years after resigning from office or earlier with government permission.
TRAI opinions, however, are generally perceived as free of official influence.10 In January 2020, the TRAI released a consultation paper on “Traffic Management Practices (TMPs) and Multi-Stakeholder Body for Net Neutrality”11 and sought comments from the public on the rules and composition of a multi-stakeholder governing body for net neutrality.12 It was also involved in framing net neutrality regulations in 2016,13 has recommended a reduction in charges levied for use of cable landing stations,14 and has pitched for lower taxes on telecom services.15
- 1. “Functions of Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology,” Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, accessed October 6, 2020, https://www.meity.gov.in/about-meity/functions-of-meity.
- 2. “Start Page,” Department of Telecommunications, accessed October 6, 2020, http://dot.gov.in/#.
- 3. Internet Registry for Internet Names and Numbers (IRINN), “IRINN Policy Version 1.1,” accessed October 6, 2020, http://www.irinn.in/pages/static/IRINN_V1.pdf.
- 4. “About Us,” Indian Registry for Internet Names and Numbers, accessed October 6, 2020, http://www.irinn.in/pages/static/about_us.html.
- 5. “About Us: History,” Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, accessed October 6, 2020, https://www.trai.gov.in/about-us/history.
- 6. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997,” Section 11 (4), accessed October 6, 2020, https://dot.gov.in/act-rules-content/2426.
- 7. “DTH operators should provide inter-operability of STBs, says TRAI Chairman”, The Economic Times, December 10, 2013, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/media/entertainment/media…. The TRAI released the draft of an amendment for comments from stakeholders on January 29, 2014: Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference (Fifteenth Amendment) regulations, 2014,” February 14, 2014, https://web.archive.org/web/20140214182154/https://www.trai.gov.in/Writ….
- 8. Section 14 of The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997, empowers the tribunal to adjudicate between the licensor (DoT) and the licensee; between two or more service providers; between a service provider and a group of consumers; and to hear appeals against TRAI decisions.
- 9. Arun Sukumar, “Another Blow to Autonomy of Telecom Regulator,” The Wire, July 30, 2015, https://thewire.in/politics/nda-appoints-one-of-its-own-as-new-trai-cha….
- 10. “Trai wants Auction of 3G Spectrum after Formation of New Govt,” The Indian Express, February 12, 2014, http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/trai-wants-auction-of-3g-spectrum….
- 11. Yatti Soni, “TRAI Releases Consultation Paper On Internet Traffic Management, Net Neutrality,” Inc42, January 3, 2020 https://inc42.com/buzz/trai-releases-consultation-paper-on-internet-tra….
- 12. Megha Manchanda, “Trai seeks views on setting up multi-stakeholder body for net neutrality,” Business Standard, January 3, 2020 https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/trai-seeks-vie….
- 13. “TRAI Lays down Historic Order Protecting Net Neutrality,” The Wire, February 8, 2016, https://thewire.in/politics/trai-lays-down-historic-order-protecting-ne….
- 14. “HC Reserves Order On Petitions Challenging TRAI Regulations,” Business World, November 9, 2017, http://businessworld.in/article/Madras-High-Court-Reserves-Orders-On-Pe….
- 15. “TRAI pitches for lower GST”, The Hindu, June 30, 2017, http://www.thehindu.com/business/trai-pitches-for-lower-gst/article1918….
Blocks of websites and the forcible removal of content continued to affect political and social information during the coverage period. While the digital media landscape remained lively, disinformation and manipulated content plagued the online environment, notably during tense moments such as elections and protests. In a troubling development, local authorities escalated suspensions of internet access during protests, undermining people’s ability to use digital tools to mobilize around important issues.
|Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content?||3.003 6.006|
Political and social information has been blocked by court or government orders in India. Since such orders are not often made public, it is difficult to assess the extent of the blocking. In its 2017 response to a Right to Information (RTI) request, the MeitY confirmed that as many as 23,030 websites or URLs had been blocked.1 In another acknowledgement that reflects the scale of government blocking, the DoT confirmed in August 2018 that it had requested that 11,045 websites, webpages, and URLs be blocked since 2016.2 The content said to have been blocked includes social media networking groups and websites allegedly seeking to stoke anti-India sentiment and damage public order, the security of the state, and the interest and defense of India’s sovereignty and integrity.3
Authorities provided conflicting information about the number of websites newly blocked over the coverage period. In response to an RTI request from the civil society group SFLC.in, the MeitY claimed to have blocked only 20 websites in 2019, but refused to identify them, citing the need to maintain “strict confidentiality” under Rule 16 of the Information and Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access to Information to Public) Rules, 2009 (or simply, the Blocking Rules).4 However, in November 2019, in response to a question in the lower house of Parliament, the minister for electronics and information technology revealed that 3,433 websites had been blocked as of October 2019.5 In March 2020, the MeitY pegged the number of blocked websites in 2019 at 3,635,6 a significant increase from the 633, 1,385, and 2,799 in 2016, 2017, and 2018, respectively.7
In May 2020, the DoT ordered ISPs to block the web-based file-sharing website WeTransfer, citing public interest and national security.8 An initial block on two specific URLs on the site was replaced by an order applying to the entire WeTransfer website.9
A number of users have reported difficulty in accessing popular websites and platforms. DuckDuckGo, a privacy-focused search engine, was blocked by some ISPs for several days in July 2020.10 In previous years, other websites users have reported as blocked included Reddit; India’s biggest free legal database, Indian Kanoon; the website of Telegram; SoundCloud; and various virtual private networks (VPNs).11 The blocking of these websites varied depending upon the ISP and location of the user.12 There is a lack of clarity on whose orders and under what laws these pages were blocked.
In June 2020, after the reporting period and following military clashes along the Indian-Chinese border, the MeitY banned 59 mobile applications owned by China-based companies or otherwise linked to the country, including the social media and communications platforms TikTok, WeChat, and Helo, citing Section 69A of the IT Act. The ministry also claimed that the apps were detrimental to the sovereignty and integrity, defense, and security of India, as well as public order (see B2).13 Immediately after the ban, the DoT issued orders to ISPs and telecom companies to block the applications on the banned list.14 In July, the government banned 47 additional mobile applications that were clones of those banned the previous month.15
The Delhi High Court in August 2019 ordered the blocking of websites streaming pirated content, including Trailbreakers, EZTV, Katmovies, and LimeTorrents (see B3).16 Courts have also ordered the blocking of pornographic content. In compliance with an Uttarakhand High Court ruling,17 the DoT issued blocking orders in October 2018 for 827 sites hosting pornographic content.18 In July 2019, the MeitY sent a request to the DoT to enforce compliance by ordering the relevant ISPs to restrict access to pornographic websites.19 In April 2019, the Madras High Court issued an order to ban TikTok, which has 120 million monthly active users in India, also on grounds of “encouraging pornography” (see B2);20 the ban was lifted after two weeks.21
In April 2018, research by Citizen Lab found that India was using internet-filtering technology from the Canadian-based company Netsweeper.22 The group identified 1,158 unique URLs blocked, including content related to the Rohingya refugee crisis and websites documenting fatal violence against Muslims in Myanmar and India.23 Some URLs on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube dedicated to religious minorities were also blocked, but remained available for those accessing the pages through HTTPS.
Following the January 2020 Supreme Court order responding to the internet shutdown in Kashmir (see A3),24 which is not assessed in this report (see Overview), the government ordered ISPs to only permit access to 153 white-listed websites within Jammu and Kashmir.25 To do so, ISPs set up firewalls to permit online content deemed “essential,” such as banking services and government websites, while filtering out many social media platforms and news outlets.26 Access to social media websites was restored in March 2020.27
- 1. “Website URLS currently blocked in India,” SFLC, October 9, 2017, https://sflc.in/rti-23030-websitesurls-currently-blocked-in-india.
- 2. “Direction to block over 11,000 websites issued since Jan 2016: Manoj Sinha,“ The Economic Times, August 8, 2018, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/internet/direction-to-block-o….
- 3. Lok Sabha, “Question No. 2829, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology,” http://188.8.131.52/Loksabha/Questions/qsearch15.aspx; Anam Ajmal “442% rise in the number of URLs blocked in India” The Times of India, November 22, 2019 timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/442-rise-in-the-number-of-urls-blocked-in-india/articleshow/72177348.cms; “Websites blocked by MeitY in 2019,” SFCL, October 25, 2019, sflc.in/websites-blocked-2019
- 4. “Websites blocked by MeitY in 2019,” SFCL; Apoorva Mandhani, “Govt has ordered blocking of 20 websites in 2019, down 99% from 2010-18 average,” The Print, October 29, 2019, theprint.in/tech/govt-blocking-20-websites-2019/312862/.
- 5. Lok Sabha, “Unstarred Question No. 471, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology,” November 11, 2019, http://184.108.40.206/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=6925&lsno=…; “3,635 URLs blocked by Indian government in 2019, Parliament told,” The Asian Age, March 12, 2020 www.asianage.com/technology/in-other-news/120320/3635-urls-blocked-by-i….
- 6. Lok Sabha, “Question No. 2843, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology,” March 11, 2020, http://220.127.116.11/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=14220&lsno….
- 7. Lok Sabha, “Question No. 2843, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology”; Anam Ajmal “442% rise in the number of URLs blocked in India,” The Times of India, November 22, 2019, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/442-rise-in-the-number-of-url….
- 8. “India asks internet service providers to block WeTransfer,” Reuters, June 1, 2020 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-ban-wetransfer/india-asks-inte….
- 9. Cyrus John and Roshun Povaiah, “Shooting the Messenger: India Blocks WeTransfer File-Sharing Site,” The Quint, May 30, 2020 www.thequint.com/tech-and-auto/govt-bans-wetransfer-file-sharing-site-i….
- 10. “DuckDuckGo is back online for users in India after brief blockage,” The Hindustan Times, July 5, 2020, https://tech.hindustantimes.com/tech/news/duckduckgo-is-back-online-for…; Manuel Vonau, “DuckDuckGo coming back online in India following country-wide block,” Android Police, July 4, 2020, https://www.androidpolice.com/2020/07/04/duckduckgo-has-been-blocked-by….
- 11. Sai Sachin Ravikumar, “Reddit, Telegram among websites blocked in India: internet groups,“ Reuters, April 3, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-internet/reddit-telegram-among…; Aria Thaker, “Not just porn, Indian telecom firms are blocking other websites, too,“ Quartz India, February 11, 2019, https://qz.com/india/1547142/not-just-porn-indian-telecom-firms-are-blo…; “More than 100 people report violations of net neutrality all over India. We need enforcement action. #SaveTheInternet,” Internet Freedom Foundation, February 6, 2019, https://internetfreedom.in/more-than-100-people-report-violations-of-ne….
- 12. “Reddit, Telegram among websites blocked in India, internet groups claim,“ The Hindustan Times, April 27, 2020, https://www.hindustantimes.com/tech/reddit-telegram-among-websites-bloc…; Aria Thaker, “Not just porn, Indian telecom firms are blocking other websites, too“; Aria Thaker, “Reliance Jio may be blocking VPN and proxy websites in India,” Quartz India, January 7, 2019, https://qz.com/india/1516366/is-jio-helping-indias-porn-ban-by-blocking…; Sai Sachin Ravikumar, “Reddit, Telegram among websites blocked in India: internet groups.”
- 13. “Government Bans 59 mobile apps which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order,” Government of India Press Information Bureau, June 29, 2020, https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1635206; K Bharat Kumar, “The Hindu Explains | What will be the impact of Chinese apps ban,” The Hindu, July 5, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/the-hindu-explains-what-will-be-….
- 14. Devina Sengupta, “DoT orders telecos, ISPs to block 59 Chinese apps with immediate effect,” The Economic Times, July 1, 2020, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/telecom/telecom-news/dot-…; Jagmeet Singh, “Department of Telecom Orders ISPs, Telcos to Block Access to 59 Apps Including TikTok, UC Browser, SHAREit, and Others,” Gadgets 360, July 1, 2020, https://gadgets.ndtv.com/apps/news/apps-ban-india-ministry-dot-order-is….
- 15. Jagmeet Singh, “Government Bans 47 More Chinese Apps in India After TikTok, 58 Others Banned in June: Report,” Gadgets 360, July 28, 2020, https://gadgets.ndtv.com/apps/news/chinese-47-apps-ban-india-government…,
- 16. “Block access to websites such as tamilrockers: HC,” The Hindu, August 13, 2019, https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/block-access-to-websites-suc….
- 17. Apoorva Mandhani, “Uttarakhand HC Directs Ban On Porn Websites, Suspension Of Internet Service Licence On Non-Compliance [Read Order],” Live Law, September 29, 2018, https://www.livelaw.in/uttarakhand-hc-directs-ban-on-porn-websites-susp….
- 18. “Here is the full list of 827 porn websites blocked by DoT,” The Indian Express, October 29, 2018, https://indianexpress.com/article/technology/tech-news-technology/here-…; Kuwar Singh, “After India ban on more than 800 porn sites, crackdown intensifies,” Scroll, April 23, 2019, https://scroll.in/article/920918/after-india-ban-on-more-than-800-porn-….
- 19. RTI response received from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, July 8, 2019 https://drive.google.com/file/d/11ZjE4Rzzf-EquweK7WkUYvR6FrfR1CGD/view; “Why is porn being blocked in India? #WhatTheBlock,” Internet Freedom Foundation, July 25, 2019 https://internetfreedom.in/why-is-porn-being-blocked-in-india-whatthebl….
- 20. “TikTok now has 120 million monthly active users in India,” Musically, June 11, 2019, https://musically.com/2019/06/11/tiktok-now-has-120-million-monthly-act…; “Ban TikTok: Madras High Court to Centre,” The Hindu BusinessLine, April 4, 2019, https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/info-tech/madras-hc-asks-centre-to…; Kuwar Singh, “A timeline of how things went downhill for TikTok in India,” Quartz India, April 17, 2019, https://qz.com/india/1598153/heres-why-tiktok-is-getting-banned-in-indi….
- 21. Aditya Kalra and Sudarshan Varadhan, “Indian court moves to lift ban on Chinese video app TikTok,” Reuters, April 24, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tiktok-india/indian-court-moves-to-l….
- 22. The Citizen Lab, “Planet Netsweeper,” April 25, 2018, https://citizenlab.ca/2018/04/planet-netsweeper/.
- 23. The Citizen Lab, “Planet Netsweeper,” Section 2 – Country Case Studies.
- 24. Supreme Court of India, “Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India and Ors., WP (Civil) No. 1031 of 2019,” January 10, 2020, https://main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2019/28817/28817_2019_2_1501_19350….
- 25. Nikhil Pahwa, “The beginnings of the Great Firewall of India?” Medianama, January 15, 2020 https://www.medianama.com/2020/01/223-the-great-indian-firewall/; “No Mainstream News in List of 153 Whitelisted Websites Under Kashmir’s First Govt Firewall,” The Wire, January 18, 2020, https://thewire.in/government/kashmir-internet-whitelisted-websites.
- 26. “VPNs fail to connect as telecom companies succeed in installing firewall,” The Kashmir Walla, February 15, 2020, https://thekashmirwalla.com/2020/02/vpns-fail-to-connect-as-telecom-com….
- 27. Prashasti Awasthi, “Jammu and Kashmir administration lifts ban on social media sites,” The Hindu BusinessLine, March 4, 2020, https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/jammu-and-kashmir-administrat…; Trisha Jalan, “2G restrictions extended once again in Jammu & Kashmir, multiple shutdowns in June,” Medianama, July 9, 2020, https://www.medianama.com/2020/07/223-jammu-kahsmir-2g-speeds/.
|Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content?||2.002 4.004|
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 due to increased removals of political, social, and cultural content, including Kashmir-specific content on Twitter and government criticism on streaming platforms.
The legal framework for intermediary liability improved following a landmark Supreme Court decision in 2015. However, the coverage period was characterized by an increase in takedowns of political, social, and allegedly defamatory content, as well as a far-reaching court decision that ordered platforms to remove content globally.
Following the August 2019 revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which gave special status to the Jammu and Kashmir region, certain Kashmir-specific content on social media platforms was removed or blocked for India-based users. Citing the spread of “misinformation and rumors to disturb peace and calm,”1 the government issued nine orders to Twitter to block or suspend accounts that shared Jammu and Kashmir-related content.2 The Committee to Protect Journalists identified 93 Twitter accounts being “withheld,” and thus not accessible to India-based users, in September and October 2019. The majority of these accounts mentioned Kashmir in their handle or bio or shared Jammu and Kashmir-related content.3 The account @Kashmirnarrator, for example, shared a mix of political opinions, links to news articles, and local information. In August and September 2019, Facebook and Twitter reportedly complied with government takedown requests at record-high rates of 90 percent and more than 60 percent, respectively.4
Streaming platforms also removed political content during the coverage period. In February 2020, Hotstar, a platform run by Disney, did not air an episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” in India that criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his role in escalating persecution of marginalized religious groups, notably Muslims.5 In November 2019, Amazon Prime India removed an episode of “Madam Secretary” due to its references to Hindu extremism, violence against marginalized communities, and Kashmir.6 Netflix has also censored content on its platform for India-based audiences.7
After the government banned 59 mobile applications with links to China in June 2020, after the coverage period, Google and Apple removed the apps from their respective app stores (see B1).8 Following reports that some of the banned applications were still accessible in July 2020,9 the government reportedly directed all companies that owned the applications to comply with its orders, while warning that continued availability and operation of the applications would constitute a legal offense.10 In September, the MeitY again banned additional apps with links to China.11
The reporting period also saw several high-profile defamation suits leading to court-ordered content removals.12 In October 2019, for instance, the Delhi High Court ordered Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter, and other unidentified internet intermediaries to take down videos relating to popular religious leader BabaRamdev and his business due to alleged defamatory content. Although only an interim injunction, the far-reaching order required the platforms to remove the content globally if it was uploaded from India, as well as geolocation block content to make it inaccessible in India.13 As of July 2020, the order remained under appeal in the same court.14 In January 2020, the Bombay High Court, in a preliminary injunction, ordered a social media influencer to remove content that it deemed disparaging to a corporation’s product, arguing that users with larger followings have a responsibility to ensure that their content is not misleading or false.15
Reports also suggest that officials have pressured internet users to remove content. Indranil Khan, an oncologist in Kolkata, for example, was released following a 16-hour detention in March after he deleted posts from his Twitter account about doctors using raincoats as protective health gear during the COVID-19 pandemic.16 He also stated that he had to post online that state authorities were "working hard for doctors.”17
Following the 2015 Shreya Singhal v. Union of India ruling—in which the Supreme Court ruled that intermediaries were only obligated to take down content upon receiving an order from a court or government authority—Facebook said it would require more formal notifications to restrict content (see C3).18 Facebook restricted 841 items from July to December 2019, down from 1,300 total restrictions during the previous six-month period. The restrictions were primarily for hate speech, anti-religious content constituting incitement to violence, extremism, and anti-government and anti-state content. Access was restricted to 358 items in response to private reports of defamation.19
A 2008 IT Act amendment protected technology companies from legal liability for content posted to their platforms, with reasonable exceptions to prevent criminal acts or privacy violations.20 Intermediary guidelines issued in 2011 under Section 79 of the IT Act required intermediaries to remove access to certain content within 36 hours of a user complaint.21 The government later clarified this rule.22 In the Shreya Singhal case, the Supreme Court reduced the scope of Section 79 and the intermediary guidelines, and companies are no longer required to act on user complaints. Court and government takedown orders, furthermore, are only legitimate if they fall within the reasonable restrictions provided for under Article 19(2) of the constitution. Unlawful content beyond the ambit of Article 19(2) cannot be restricted.23
In December 2018, the MeitY released new draft intermediary guidelines intended to replace the 2011 rules under Section 79 of the IT Act (see C4 and C6).24 Purportedly intended to curb the spread of disinformation and misinformation, the rules mandate that intermediaries deploy automated tools to proactively identify and remove illegal content, including that which harms “public health or safety.” Intermediaries—defined broadly to include ISPs, social media platforms, email providers, and cloud services, among others—would have 24 hours to comply with a government removal order.25 Civil society groups and internet experts urged the government to withdraw the proposal, noting that it conflicts with the Shreya Singhal ruling and would be ineffective at limiting disinformation.26 The MeitY indicated that it would revise the intermediary guidelines in February 2020;27 however, the move was delayed in order to make the guidelines compatible with the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 (see C6).28
Intermediaries can separately be held liable for infringing the Copyright Act 195729 under the law and licensing agreements.30 The Shreya Singhal decision has had no impact on the legal framework on intermediary liability for copyright infringement. A 2012 amendment limited liability for intermediaries such as search engines that link users to material copied illegally, but mandated that they disable public access for 21 days within 36 hours of receiving written notice from the copyright holder, pending a court order to remove the link.31 Rules clarifying the amendment in 2013 gave intermediaries power to assess the legitimacy of the notice from the copyright holder and refuse to comply.32 However, critics said the language was vague.33
- 1. Trisha Jalan, “2G restrictions extended once again in Jammu & Kashmir, multiple shutdowns in June”; Himanshu Mishfra, “Centre writes to Twitter, wants some Kashmir-based handles to be suspended for spreading fake news,” India Today, August 12, 2019, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/jammu-kashmir-home-ministry-suspe….
- 2. Anuj Srivas, “Kashmir: Modi Govt's Blocking Orders to Twitter Raise Questions Over Transparency,” The Wire, September 12, 2019 https://thewire.in/tech/kashmir-twitter-modi-government-takedown-orders….
- 3. Avi Asher-Schapiro and Ahmed Zidan, “India uses opaque legal process to suppress Kashmiri journalism, commentary on Twitter,” Committee to Protect Journalists, October 24, 2019, https://cpj.org/2019/10/india-opaque-legal-process-suppress-kashmir-twi….
- 4. Anumeha Chaturvedi and Anandita Singh Mankotia, “Social media compliance with govt requests shoots up after Jammu & Kashmir move,” The Economic Times, September 11, 2019, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/internet/social-media-complia….
- 5. P R Sanjai, “Disney India Blocks John Oliver Show Critical of Narendra Modi,” Bloomberg Quint, February 25, 2019, www.bloombergquint.com/business/walt-disney-in-india-blocks-john-oliver….
- 6. “Madam Secretary Episode on Hindu Nationalism Unavailable on Amazon,” The Quint, November 19, 2019, https://www.thequint.com/entertainment/hot-on-web/madam-secretary-episo…; Preeti Soni, “From cuts to deleting an entire episode, here’s how Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming services are censoring its own content,” Business Insider, November 26, 2019, www.businessinsider.in/policy/news/from-cuts-to-deleting-an-entire-epis….
- 7. Alex Marshall, “Netflix Expands Into a World Full of Censors,” The New York Times, October 31, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/31/arts/television/netflix-censorship-t…; Aroon Deep, “Neflix censors Vikings in India, blurs nudity and meat,” Medianama, June 1, 2020, https://www.medianama.com/2020/06/223-netflix-censors-vikings-india-nud….
- 8. “59 Chinese apps India banned deleted from Google Play store, App store,” The Indian Express, July 3, 2020, https://indianexpress.com/article/technology/tech-news-technology/58-ch….
- 9. Anam Ajmal, “Research shows 9 of 59 banned Chinese apps ‘fully functional,’ via websites,” The Times of India, July 15, 2020, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/research-sh….
- 10. Aloke Tikku, “Govt asks 59 Chinese apps to ensure strict compliance to ban order,” Hindustan Times, July 21, 2020, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/govt-tells-59-chinese-apps-to….
- 11. Manish Singh, “India bans PUBG Mobile, and over 100 other Chinese apps,” Tech Crunch, September 2, 2020, https://techcrunch.com/2020/09/02/india-bans-pubg-and-over-100-addition….
- 12. “HC takes serious view of defamatory comments on social media, seeks report from police” The New Indian Express, January 24, 2020, https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2020/jan/24/hc-takes-serious-vi…; Trisha Jalan, “Right to be Forgotten: Delhi HC orders Google, Facebook to remove sexual harassment allegations against Subodh Gupta from search results,” Medianama, October 1, 2019, https://www.medianama.com/2019/10/223-right-to-be-forgotten-delhi-hc/.
- 13. “Swami Ramdev v. Facebook & Ors. (CS (OS) 27/2019),” Global Freedom of Expression, October 23, 2019, https://globalfreedomofexpression.columbia.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/…; “An Analysis of Swami Ramdev v Facebook- The Existential Risk of Global Take Down Orders,” Medianama, November 20, 2019, https://www.medianama.com/2019/11/223-ramdev-facebook-global-takedown/; Apoorva Mandhani, “Why Baba Ramdev’s win against Facebook, Google in Delhi HC only adds to judicial confusion” The Print, October 29, 2019, https://theprint.in/judiciary/why-baba-ramdevs-win-against-facebook-goo….
- 14. Meghna Mandavia, “Delhi HC admits Facebook appeal against global takedown of content on Baba Ramdev,” The Economic Times, November 1, 2019, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/hc-agrees….
- 15. Bombay High Court, “Marico Limited vs Abhijeet Bhansali (COMIP NO. 596 OF 2019),” Indian Kanoon, January 15, 2020, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/79649288/; Vakasha Sachdev, “Bombay HC Order could spell trouble for Social Media Influencers” The Quint, January 20, 2020, https://www.thequint.com/news/law/bombay-high-court-social-media-influe….
- 16. Pragya Tiwari, “Amid the pandemic, censorship in India can be dangerous,” Al Jazeera, April 17, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2020/4/17/amid-the-pandemic-censorsh….
- 17. Sonia Sarkar, “Indian doctors face censorship, attacks as they fight coronavirus,” Al Jazeera, April 13, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/13/indian-doctors-face-censorshi….
- 18. Facebook’s statement: “In 2016, informed by the decision of the Supreme Court of India last year amending the proper interpretation of the Information Technology Act 2000, we ceased acting upon legal requests to remove access to content unless received by way of a binding court order and/or a notification by an authorised agency which conforms to the constitutional safeguards as directed by the Supreme Court.” Facebook Transparency, “Government Requests for User Data,” accessed October 6, 2020, https://govtrequests.facebook.com/country/India/2016-H1/.
- 19. Facebook Transparency, “India,” accessed October 6, 2020, https://transparency.facebook.com/content-restrictions/country/IN.
- 20. Ministry of Law and Justice, “The Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008,” February 5, 2009, see Sections 72A and 79, https://eprocure.gov.in/cppp/rulesandprocs/kbadqkdlcswfjdelrquehwuxcfmi….
- 21. Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011,” April 11, 2011, Rule 3, https://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/en/in/in099en.pdf; Pritika Rai Advani, “Intermediary Liability in India,” Economic and Political Weekly, December 14, 2013, https://www.epw.in/author/pritika-rai-advani or https://www.jstor.org/stable/24479053?seq=1.
- 22. “Liability of Online Intermediaries: New Study by the Global Network of Internet and Society Centers,” Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, February 18, 2015, https://cyber.harvard.edu/node/98684.
- 23. Supreme Court of India, “Shreya Singhal v Union of India, Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 167 of 2012,” Indian Kanoon, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/110813550/.
- 24. “Comments/suggestions invited on Draft of “The Information Technology [Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules] 2018,” Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, February 4, 2019, https://meity.gov.in/content/comments-suggestions-invited-draft-“-information-technology-intermediary-guidelines.
- 25. Global Network Initiative, “GNI Submission on Draft Amendments to Intermediary Guidelines in India,” January 31, 2019, https://globalnetworkinitiative.org/gni-submission-draft-amendments-int…; “Global coalition urges India to withdraw proposed amendments to Intermediary Guidelines,” Access Now, March 15, 2019, https://www.accessnow.org/global-coalition-urges-india-to-withdraw-prop….
- 26. “Letter to Ravi Shankar Prasad, Hon’ble Union Minister for Law and Justice, and Electronics and Information Technology,” Access Now, March 15, 2019, https://www.accessnow.org/cms/assets/uploads/2019/03/Coalition-Letter-f….
- 27. Surabhi Agarwal, “Revised IT intermediary rules in 2 weeks after law ministry’s nod” The Economic Times, February 4, 2020, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/internet/revised-it-intermedi….
- 28. S Ronendra Singh, “Intermediary Guidelines for Net Platforms likely to be delayed,” The Hindu BusinessLine, February 14, 2020, https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/info-tech/intermediary-guidelines-….
- 29. In the Copyright Act, 1957, Section 51(a)(ii) read with Section 63 of Act the criminalizes use of any place for profit for the communication of the work to the public where such communication constitutes an infringement of the copyright, exempting only those who are unaware or have no reasonable grounds for believing that such communication would constitute infringement of copyright. Moreover, Section 51(b) read with Section 63 also prohibits sale, hire, or distribution to the prejudice of the copyright owner, as well as exhibition in public and import to India of infringing copies also amount to infringement of copyright, with no exemptions. See, Pritika Rai Advani, “Intermediary Liability in India,”122.
- 30. The guidelines and license requirements for intermediaries also prohibit the carrying of communication that infringes copyright or other intellectual property rights. Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Guidelines for Grant of Unified License,” Guideline 1.3(27); Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Unified License Agreement,” accessed October 6, 2020, Rule 38, http://dot.gov.in/sites/default/files/Unified%20Licence_0.pdf.
- 31. Specifically, any providers offering “transient or incidental storage of a work or performance purely in the technical process of electronic transmission or communication to the public” through “links, access or integration.” See, Pranesh Prakash, “Analysis of the Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2012,” Center for Internet and Society, May 23, 2012, https://cis-india.org/a2k/blogs/analysis-copyright-amendment-bill-2012; Ministry of Law and Justice, “Copyright (Amendment) Act 2012”, June 7, 2012, http://copyright.gov.in/Documents/CRACT_AMNDMNT_2012.pdf.
- 32. Ministry of Human Resource Development, “Copyright Rules 2013”, March 14, 2013, https://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Copyright%20rules,%202013/Copy%2….
- 33. Chaitanya Ramachandran, “Guest Post: A Look at the New Notice and Takedown Regime Under the Copyright Rules, 2013,” Spicy IP, April 29, 2013, https://spicyip.com/2013/04/guest-post-look-at-new-notice-and.html.
|Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process?||2.002 4.004|
The restrictions on digital content are opaque, and there are limited avenues for appeal.
Blocking of websites takes place under Section 69A of the IT Act and the 2009 Blocking Rules,1 which empower the central government to direct any agency or intermediary to block access to information when satisfied that it is “necessary or expedient” in the interest of the “sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or public order, or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above.”2 Intermediaries’ failure to comply is punishable with fines and prison terms of up to seven years.3
The Blocking Rules apply to orders issued by government agencies, who must appoint a “nodal officer” to send in requests and demonstrate that they are necessary or expedient under Section 69A.4 These requests are reviewed by a committee that includes senior representatives of the law, home affairs, and information ministries, and the nodal agency for cybersecurity, the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In).5 The “designated officer,” who chairs the committee, issues approved orders to service providers; the committee must also notify the source or intermediary hosting the content, who may respond to defend it within 48 hours.6 In emergencies, the secretary of the MeitY may issue blocking orders directly under written instruction from the designated officer, but the content must be unblocked if the review committee does not approve them within 48 hours.7
Indian courts can order content blocks without government approval. The designated officer is required to implement the court order after submitting it to the secretary of the MeitY. Court orders can be challenged in a higher court, but internet users are not consistently notified of their implementation.8
ISPs are not legally required to inform the public of blocks, and the Blocking Rules mandate that executive blocking orders be kept confidential.9 In the landmark 2015 Shreya Singhal case, the petitioners challenged the constitutionality of Section 69A, citing opaque procedures, among other issues.10 The Supreme Court upheld Section 69A and the Blocking Rules,11 saying safeguards were adequate, narrowly constructed, and constitutional.12 However, the court read the Blocking Rules to include both the right to be heard and the right to appeal. Blocking orders must now provide a written explanation, allowing them to be challenged by writ petition, and allow for reasonable efforts to contact the originator of the content for a pre-decisional hearing.13 However, the rules continue to require that the orders and actions based on them be kept confidential;14 it is difficult to know the extent of compliance with the judgment.
In September 2018, the MeitY ordered the blocking of DowryCalculator.com, a website using satire to criticize the practice of dowry.15 The owner of the website was not provided with a hearing or the right to appeal, in contravention of the safeguards laid down by the Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal.16 However, in December 2019, a division bench of the Delhi High Court issued a notice to the DoT, the MeitY, and the Ministry of Women and Child Development in a petition challenging the blocking of the website without complying with the mandated safeguards.17 As of July 2020, the case was pending before the Delhi High Court.
Judges sought to improve the framework for blocking content under copyright injunctions in 2016, but broad restrictions continued to be observed. Since 2011, courts have blocked content relating to copyright violations through broad John Doe orders, which can be issued preemptively and do not name a defendant.18 In April 2019, the Delhi High Court again allowed copyright holders to seek dynamic injunctions (injunctions against unidentified intermediaries).19 ISPs have occasionally implemented such orders by blocking entire websites instead of individual URLs, irrespective of whether the websites were hosting pirated material.20 The judiciary has noted that John Doe orders can lead to excessive blocking,21 and activists have called for greater transparency.22 In August 2019, the Delhi High Court, while directing ISPs to block several piracy websites (see B1), also granted dynamic injunctions allowing the plaintiffs in the case to request that ISPs block mirror or redirect websites from the originally blocked sites without further judicial orders.23
In July 2016, a ruling by the Bombay High Court laid down rules for seeking John Doe orders, limiting blocks to URLs, not entire domains, and allowing all affected content to be unblocked after 21 days if a court order is not obtained.24 The court also dictated an unambiguous block message and suggested the appointment of an independent ombudsman to oversee implementation.25 Observers hailed this as a progressive and nuanced approach,26 but the same month, the Delhi High Court separately ruled that John Doe orders could continue to be used to block websites if more than one page on the site was identified as a potential source of copyright violations. 27
In October 2019, a single-judge bench at the Delhi High Court issued a global takedown order in a defamation suit (see B2). The injunction was issued against Facebook, YouTube, Google, and Twitter as well as other John Doe internet intermediaries.
The IT Act and the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) prohibit the production and transmission of “obscene material,”28 but there is no specific law against viewing pornography in India. Child sexual abuse imagery is prohibited under the IT Act (see C2).29 Extreme child sexual abuse is blocked based on guidance from Interpol,30 but other restrictions threaten content that has not been found to break the law. In the Kamlesh Vaswani v. Union of India case, the petitioner asked the Supreme Court to direct the government to block all online pornography.31 The government informed the Supreme Court that blocking pornography entirely was infeasible and unconstitutional.32 The case remained pending as of July 2020, amid additional attempts to block websites carrying pornographic content based on orders issued by different state courts (see B1).
In August 2019, Parliament amended the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 (POCSO Act). The amended law redefined “child pornography” and enhanced penalties for defendants found guilty of a range of acts, including sharing child sexual abuse imagery online.33
An2016 interim order by the Supreme Court had implications for content removal by private companies. The court ordered search engines operated by Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo to “auto-block” advertisements offering services to determine the sex of a child before birth, which contravened a 1994 law in an attempt to stop female feticide. The ruling went further than delisting specific content, asking search engines to block results for specific search terms and ordering the creation of a nodal agency to oversee the process.34 Critics feared the ruling would restrict related information and breach the Shreya Singhal judgment.35 A subsequent order in April 2017 also directed the search engines to set up an in-house expert body to monitor and block content that would contravene the law; however, this order was reversed in December 2017, with the court reaffirming its previous directions.36
Regulations related to content on streaming platforms have been of increasing interest in recent years (see B2). Since May 2019, a petition regarding such regulation has been pending before the Supreme Court.37 In early 2020, four video-streaming platforms (Hotstar, Voot, Jio, and Sonyliv) signed a Code for Self-Regulation of Online Curated Content Providers, but other widely used streaming platforms did not sign on.38
- 1. “Liability of Online Intermediaries: New Study by the Global Network of Internet and Society Centers,” Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.
- 2. Ministry of Law and Justice, “The Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008,” Section 69A(1).
- 3. Ministry of Law and Justice, “The Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008,” Section 69A(3).
- 4. Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology “Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009,” accessed October 6, 2020, Rule68, https://cis-india.org/internet-governance/resources/information-technol….
- 5. Members must be of the rank of joint secretary or above, see Rule 7, Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009.
- 6. Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology “Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009,” Rule 8.
- 7. Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology “Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009,” Rule 9.
- 8. Melody Patry, “Index on censorship digital freedom India: Digital freedom under threat?” Xindex, November 21, 2013, 9, http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2013/11/india-online-report-freedom-ex…; See also Jyoti Panday, “The Internet Has a New Standard for Censorship,” The Wire, January 29, 2016, http://thewire.in/20386/the-internet-has-a-new-standard-for-censorship/.
- 9. Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology “Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009,” Rule 16.
- 10. Common Cause v. Union of India [W.P.(C) No. 21 of 2013]; PUCL v. Union of India [W.P.(Crl) No. 199 of 2013].
- 11. Supreme Court of India, “Shreya Singhal v U.O.I on 24 March 2015, (2015) 5 SCC 1.”
- 12. Supreme Court of India, “Shreya Singhal v U.O.I on 24 March 2015, (2015) 5 SCC 1.”
- 13. Chinmayi Arun, “The Case of the Online Intermediary,” The Hindu, April 7, 2015, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/shreya-singhal-case-of-the-online….
- 14. Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology “Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009,” Rule 16.
- 15. “Delhi HC issues notice to the government for blocking satirical Dowry Calculator website,” Internet Freedom Foundation, December 16, 2019, https://internetfreedom.in/delhi-hc-issues-notice-to-the-government-for….
- 16. “Delhi HC issues notice to the government for blocking satirical Dowry Calculator website,” Internet Freedom Foundation.
- 17. High Court of Delhi, “Tanul Thakur v. Union of India, WP (C) 13037 of 2019.”
- 18. Kian Ganz, “Update: Bombay HC Passes First Anti-piracy John Doe Order, as Law Firms Commoditise the New Vertical,” Legally India, June 15, 2012, https://www.legallyindia.com/litigation-arbitration-disputes/bombay-hc-…. These orders are passed by virtue of the inherent powers of the court under Section 151 of the Civil Procedure Code read with Rule 1 and Rule 2 of Order 39 of the Civil Procedure Code which deal with temporary injunctions.
- 19. High Court of Delhi, “UTV Software Communications Ltd and ors v 1337X.To and ors, CS (Comm) 724/2017.”
- 20. Ananth Padmanabhan, “Can Judges Order ISPs to block websites for Copyright Infringement,” Centre for Internet and Society, January 30, 2014, http://cis-india.org/a2k/blog/john-doe-orders-isp-blocking-websites-cop….
- 21. Kartik Chawla, “The Trend and Tumour that is a John Doe Order,” Spicy IP, July 30, 2015, https://spicyip.com/2015/07/the-trend-and-tumour-that-is-a-john-doe-ord….
- 22. Shamnad Basheer, “In Bollywood’s Battle Against Piracy, A Neutral Ombudsman Might Be the Answer,” The Wire, August 23, 2016, https://thewire.in/61034/of-bollywood-blocks-and-john-does-towards-a-ne….
- 23. Divij Joshi, “Delhi HC Issues Dozens of Blocking Injunctions under the New ‘Dynamic Injunction’ Process, Asks Government to ‘Suspend Domain Name Registrations’,” Spicy IP, August 21, 2019, https://spicyip.com/2019/08/delhi-hc-issues-dozens-of-blocking-injuncti….
- 24. High Court of Bombay, “Eros International Media Ltd. & Another v. Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd., and 49 Others, SUIT (L) NO. 751 OF 2016 Order dated July 26, 2016,” August 30, 2016, https://spicyip.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Bom-HC-order-in-Dishoom_….
- 25. High Court of Bombay, “Eros International Media Ltd. & Another versus Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd., and 49 Others, SUIT (L) NO. 751 OF 2016 Order dated July 26, 2016.”
- 26. Rajul Bajaj, “Bombay HC Effectively Transforms John Does from Swords to Shields – Delineates Most Robust Safeguards to Date,” Spicy IP, July 28, 2016, https://spicyip.com/2016/07/bombay-hc-effectively-transforms-john-does-…; High Court of Bombay, “Eros International Media Ltd. & Another versus Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd., and 49 Others”; Balaji Subramanian, “Bombay HC pulls no punches, orders ISP to comply with John Doe,” Spicy IP, August 10, 2016, https://spicyip.com/2016/08/bombay-hc-pulls-no-punches-orders-isp-to-co…; Swapnil Mathur, “Kickass torrent storm: In fight against global piracy, India sets the right examples,” The Indian Express, August 3, 2016, https://indianexpress.com/article/technology/in-fight-against-global-pi…; Kian Ganz, “The messy battle against online piracy,” Live Mint, August 2, 2016, http://www.livemint.com/Consumer/YtbRN9fv6ZgZCZOexcsWMI/The-messy-battl…; Salman SH, “ISPs block torrents via a John Doe order; lapses in order compliance,” Medianama, August 22, 2016, http://www.medianama.com/2016/08/223-isps-block-torrent-sites/.
- 27. Parul Sharma, “John Doe orders: The Balancing Act between Over-Blocking and Curbing Online Piracy,” The CCG Blog, August 11, 2016, https://ccgnludelhi.wordpress.com/2016/08/11/john-doe-orders-the-balanc….
- 28. “The Information Technology Act 2000,” Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, accessed October 7, 2020, Section 67, https://www.meity.gov.in/content/information-technology-act-2000-0.
- 29. “The Information Technology Act 2000,” Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Section 67(B).
- 30. Lok Sabha, “Question no. 4468, Ministry of Electronic and Information Technology”; Harish V Nair, “Narendra Modi govt takes Interpol help to crack down on online child pornography,” India Today, July 15, 2017, https://www.indiatoday.in/mail-today/story/narendra-modi-govt-interpol-….
- 31. Kamlesh Vaswani v. UoI W.P.(C). No. 177 of 2013.
- 32. “Liability of Online Intermediaries: New Study by the Global Network of Internet and Society Centers,” Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.
- 33. Ministry of Law and Justice, “The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act, 2019,” August 5, 2019, https://wcd.nic.in/sites/default/files/Protection%20of%20Children%20Fro….
- 34. Arpita Biswas, “Roundup of Sabu Mathew George vs. Union of India: Intermediary liability and the doctrine of auto-block”, February 3, 2017, The CCG Blog, https://ccgnludelhi.wordpress.com/2017/02/03/roundup-of-sabu-mathew-geo…; Supreme Court of India, “Sabu Mathew George v. Union of India, WP(C) No. 341 of 2008,” December 13, 2017, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/192654466/.
- 35. Kritika Bhardwaj, “The Supreme Court Hears Sabu Mathew George v. Union of India – Another Blow for Intermediary Liability,” The CCG Blog, February 16, 2017, https://ccgnludelhi.wordpress.com/2017/02/16/the-supreme-court-hears-sa…; Arpita Biswas, “Roundup of Sabu Mathew George vs. Union of India: Intermediary liability and the doctrine of auto-block,” The CCG Blog, February 3, 2017, https://ccgnludelhi.wordpress.com/2017/02/03/roundup-of-sabu-mathew-geo…; “Statement of concern on the Sabu Mathew George Case: Don’t ‘auto-block’ online expression,” Internet Freedom Foundation, February 20, 2017, https://internetfreedom.in/statement-of-concern-on-the-sabu-mathew-geor….
- 36. Arpita Biswas, “Update from the Supreme Court – Aadhaar linking and Sabu Mathew George vs. Union of India,” The CCG Blog, December 13, 2017, https://ccgnludelhi.wordpress.com/2017/12/13/update-from-the-supreme-co….
- 37. Shruti Mahajan, “SC issues notice in plea seeking regulation of content on online streaming platforms,” Bar and Bench, May 10, 2019, https://www.barandbench.com/news/supreme-court-issues-notice-in-a-plea-…; Abhijit Ahaskar, ‘Supreme Court asks Centre to regulate online video streaming services,” Live Mint, May 10, 2019, https://www.livemint.com/news/india/supreme-court-asks-centre-to-regula…; Kritti Bhalla, “Netflix, Amazon Prime, MX Player Reject OTT Council to Regulate Streaming Content,” Inc42, February 29, 2020, https://inc42.com/buzz/netflix-amazon-prime-mx-player-reject-ott-counci….
- 38. Sidharth Deb, “Latest Self-Regulation Code for Streaming Services in India Raises Troubling Questions,” The Wire, February 26, 2020, https://thewire.in/government/online-video-streaming-self-regulation-co…; Amrita Nayak Dutta, “Netflix differs with Hotstar & SonyLIV as self-regulation body divides streaming industry,” The Print, March 17, 2020, https://theprint.in/india/netflix-differs-with-hotstar-sonyliv-as-self-….
|Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship?||3.003 4.004|
While self-censorship is generally not widespread, threats of violence have resulted in people as well as news outlets censoring online content. Over the past six years, threats to press freedom, the growing influence of the ruling BJP, and increased online harassment have contributed to more self-censorship.1 In December 2017, for example, threats by right-wing trolls prompted the administrator of the political satire Humans of Hindutva to take down its Facebook page;2 a few months later he declared he would not be intimidated and reactivated the page.3 The significant political unrest and associated government restrictions during the reporting period, including the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, the CAA protests, and the COVID-19 pandemic, resulted in a growing perception of self-censorship among the media as well as citizens.4
However, many independent online media platforms, individual journalists, and ordinary users, including those belonging to marginalized communities, continue to report on and speak publicly about controversial political topics.
- 1. Sevanti Ninan, “How India’s news media have changed since 2014: Greater self-censorship, dogged digital resistance,” Scroll, July 5, 2019, https://scroll.in/article/929461/greater-self-censorship-dogged-digital….
- 2. Karnika Kohil, “No, Facebook Didn’t Take Down Humans of Hindutva,” The Wire, December 29, 2017, https://thewire.in/209016/humans-of-hindutva-facebook-death-threats-adm….
- 3. Humans of Hindutva, Facebook post, January 23, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/humansofhindutva/posts/335705483600987.
- 4. Meera Emmanuel, “’Self-censorship has become the norm’, Senior Advocate Navroz Seervai on the modern-day threats to Freedom of Speech and Expression,” Bar and Bench, April 26, 2020, https://www.barandbench.com/news/self-censorship-has-become-the-norm-se…; Kunal Majumder, “Mission Journal: Journalists in India’s Uttar Pradesh say threat of attack or prosecution looms large,” Committee to Protect Journalists, April 23, 2020, https://cpj.org/blog/2020/04/journalists-in-indias-uttar-pradesh-say-th….
|Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest?||2.002 4.004|
Manipulated content, disinformation, and misinformation from domestic actors, including political parties and leaders, plague the online environment in India.
A report from the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) released in September 2019 identified India as having coordinated cybertroop teams that manipulate information on Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp to amplify their messaging, attack the opposition, and create division.1 The report found evidence that Indian teams range in size from 50 to 300 people. Both of the leading political parties in India, the BJP and Indian National Congress, have IT cells that have used automation, trolling, and disinformation techniques as a part of political campaigning on social media.2 Prior to their successful 2014 campaign, BJP politicians were accused of paying citizens and specialized companies to post messages of support and artificially boost their popularity on social media.3 During the 2019 election period,4 Amit Malviya, the national head of the BJP information technology unit, was an administrator of a BJP WhatsApp group that described itself as a league of “Hindu warriors working to save nation from break India forces led politically by congress, communist and religiously by Islam and Christianity [sic].”5
An anonymous coder’s report published in December 2019 found that although both the BJP and Congress engage in coordinated activity on Twitter, the BJP’s efforts are more sophisticated and more frequent, with nearly 18,000 accounts that act as “seeds” seeking to hijack Twitter trends, compared to only 147 linked to Congress.6 Reports noted that the BJP seed accounts—which were often linked to ministers but were also decentralized, meaning that removal of individual accounts inflicted minimal damage on the larger operation—appeared to be generate more abusive content than the Congress ones. The structure followed by Congress, in contrast, was highly centralized, and did not appear to be associated with ministers or Congress leaders.7
Disinformation spread rapidly amid nationwide protests against the CAA, including from members of political parties.8 For instance, unsupported claims by Amit Malviya circulated widely that protesters were paid to participate.9 In January 2020, a BJP member of parliament claimed online that Hindu families in Malappuram were not given water because they supported the CAA.10 Earlier, in July 2019, false claims that a local temple in Old Delhi had been vandalized quickly generated nearly 80,000 tweets and were trending on Twitter, with BJP party leaders sharing the associated hashtag as well.11 Misleading and inflammatory content appears frequently on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s NaMo app, which has been marketed to all Indians as a way to keep up with official government news.12
Government officials and state institutions attempted to control the online narrative about the COVID-19 pandemic. Citing the danger of “fake and inaccurate” news, the government in March 2020 unsuccessfully requested that the Supreme Court allow it to exercise prior restraint over coronavirus-related media content. The court did state that the press should ensure coverage of government-issued daily news bulletins (see C1).13
The government also focused on curbing coverage that cast India’s pandemic response in a negative light, including by limiting journalists’ ability to attend health-related press briefings.14 In several regions including Delhi, government orders barred doctors and healthcare workers in state hospitals, as well as employees of state-owned banks, from posting critical information to social media or communicating with media outlets.15
Disinformation and doctored videos have led to offline violence, with at least 35 people killed in apparent connection with online activity or content in 2018 alone.16 Specifically, rumors of child kidnappings and murder have proliferated across the internet, such as a video featuring images of corpses—actually showing children killed in Syria—while audio warns Indian parents to be vigilant of kidnappers in the area.17 In April 2020, three people were killed in the state of Maharashtra18 after a mob attacked them, reportedly after the spread of rumors across online platforms about thieves and child kidnappers coming into the village.19 In May 2018, a transgender woman was killed in Hyderabad after a WhatsApp message claimed that transgender women were planning to kidnap children.20 WhatsApp has taken action by restricting the number of times a message can be forwarded in the country.21
The government has actively discussed regulating and monitoring social media. In the lead-up to the 2019 elections, the Election Commission of India (ECI) established a panel to help curb misinformation on Facebook, WhatsApp, and YouTube (see B2).22 Steps included a Voluntary Code of Ethics that established a communications channel between platforms and ECI officials. The code also aimed to provide more transparency regarding the sources and legitimacy of political advertising,23 but observers suggested it would be ineffective, in part because development and launch were undertaken too close to the election.24
Reporters without Borders ranks India as medium-to-high risk with respect to political affiliations and control over online and offline media distribution networks,25 citing concerns about media outlets that are majority owned or controlled by political officials and factions, or by a politically-connected owner.26
- 1. Samantha Bradshaw and Philip N. Howard, “The Global Disinformation Order: 2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation,” The Computational Propaganda Project, September 26, 2019, https://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/research/cybertroops2019/.
- 2. Samantha Bradshaw and Ualan Campbell-Smith, “Global Cyber Troops Country Profile: India,” Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, May 2019, 2, https://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/93/2019/05/India-….
- 3. Kunal Pradhan, “Election #2014: As cyber war rooms get battle ready, BJP and Congress are reaching out to a new constituency spread across social media,” India Today, April 10, 2013, https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/special-report/story/20130218-2014-l…; Karnika Kohli, “Congress vs BJP: The curious case of trolls and politics,” The Times of India, October 11, 2013, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Congress‐vs‐BJP‐The‐curious‐case‐of‐trolls‐and‐politics/articleshow/23970818.cms.
- 4. Arjun Sidhart, “How misinformation was weaponized in 2019 Lok Sabha election – A compilation,” Alt News, May 18, 2019, https://www.altnews.in/how-misinformation-was-weaponized-in-2019-lok-sa….
- 5. Samarth Bansal and Singhania Poonam, “Misinformation Is Endangering India’s Election,” The Atlantic, April 1, 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/04/india-misinfo….
- 6. Neerad Pandharipande, “Massive tweet volumes, complex hierarchies, coordinated attacks: Hacker reveals how BJP, Congress IT cells wage war on social media,” Firstpost, January 29, 2020, https://www.firstpost.com/india/massive-tweet-volumes-complex-hierarchi…; Venkat Ananth, Vasudha Venugopal, “The fierce digital battle over CAA” The Economic Times, January 20, 2020, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/the-fierc…; Aditi Chattopadhyay, “Killing Democracy Tweet by Tweet: How IT Cells of Political Parties Wage Propaganda War,” The Logical Indian, February 13, 2020, https://thelogicalindian.com/exclusive/bjp-it-cell-amit-malviya-congres…; “UrbanNazi.com – Uncovering the Nexus of Congress & BJP IT Cell,” Notion.so, accessed October 7, 2020, https://www.notion.so/UrbanNazi-com-Uncovering-the-Nexus-of-Congress-BJ….
- 7. Aditi Chattopadhyay, “Killing Democracy Tweet by Tweet: How IT Cells of Political Parties Wage Propaganda War.”
- 8. Pooja Chaudhuri, “Amit Malviya: How the ringmaster of BJP’s propaganda machinery weaponises misinformation,” Alt News, February 10, 2020, https://www.altnews.in/amit-malviya-how-ringmaster-of-bjps-propaganda-m…; Pooja Chaudhuri, “18 Times BJP Spokesperson Sambit Patra Shared Propaganda-Fuelled Misinformation,” The Wire, June 17, 2020, https://thewire.in/politics/bjp-sambit-patra-fake-news-propaganda; Pooja Chaudhuri, Priyanka Jha, and Pratik Sinha, “No, anti-CAA protestors did not chant Pakistan Zindabad in Lucknow Rally,” The Wire, December 30, 2019, https://thewire.in/media/no-anti-caa-protesters-did-not-chant-pakistan-….
- 9. Jignesh Patel and Ayush Tiwari, “Truth about ‘sting’ claiming Shaheen Bagh women were paid Rs 500: Alt News-Newslaundry joint investigation,” Alt News, February 4, 2020, https://www.altnews.in/truth-about-sting-claiming-shaheen-bagh-women-we….
- 10. P S Gopikrishnan Unnithan, “Kerala: BJP MP claims panchayat denied drinking water to people for supporting CAA, booked for spreading fake news,” India Today, January 24, 2020, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/kerala-bjp-mp-tweet-no-water-caa-….
- 11. “How BJP Supporters turned a fight over parking into a ‘Terror Attack’” Huffington Post India, July 2, 2019, https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/bjp-rw-twitter-trolls-temple-terror….
- 12. Aria Thaker, “There’s no stopping fake news in India when the prime minister’s own app spreads it,” Quartz India, January 27, 2019, https://qz.com/india/1534754/modis-namo-app-spreads-pro-bjp-fake-news-b….
- 13. Krishnadas Rajagopal, “Supreme Court order to media in consonance with Disaster Management Act,” The Hindu, April 2, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/coronavirus-supreme….
- 14. Vidya Krishnan, “Centre places restrictions on media in COVID press briefings; shifts focus to Tablighi Jamaat,” The Caravan, April 6, 2020, https://caravanmagazine.in/health/centre-places-restrictions-media-covi….
- 15. Ashlin Mathew, “COVID-19: Delhi government issues order to gag health staff from speaking to media, airing grievances online,” National Herald, April 22, 2020, https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/india/covid-19-delhi-government-iss…; Sonia Sarkar “Indian doctors face censorship, attacks as they fight coronavirus,” Al Jazeera, April 13, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/indian-doctors-face-censorship-a…; Manzoor ul-Hassan, “J&K Health department issues gag order on coronavirus,” Kashmir Reader, April 3, 2020, https://kashmirreader.com/2020/04/03/jk-health-department-issues-gag-or…; Nupur Anand, “Indian banks issue gag orders to employees over branch overcrowding: documents, sources,” Reuters, April 14, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-india-banks/india….
- 16. Sarvjeet Singh, “WhatsApp’s message limit isn’t enough to halt the spread of fake news,” New Scientist, February 7, 2019, https://www.newscientist.com/article/2193052-whatsapps-message-limit-is….
- 17. Timothy Mclaughlin, “How WhatsApp Fuels Fake News and Violence in India,” Wired, December 12, 2018, https://www.wired.com/story/how-whatsapp-fuels-fake-news-and-violence-i….
- 18. Prateek Goyal, “How fear, suspicion and WhatsApp rumours led to the Palghar lynching,” Newslaundry, April 23, 2020, https://www.newslaundry.com/amp/story/2020%2F04%2F23%2Fhow-fear-suspici….
- 19. Jignesh Patel, “How the Palghar Lynching Was Relentlessly Communalised on Social Media,” The Wire, April 21, 2020, https://thewire.in/communalism/palghar-lynching-communal-social-media.
- 20. James Griffiths and Sugam Pokharel, “India WhatsApp rumors: Mob kills man in latest attack, 30 arrested,” CNN, July 16, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/16/asia/india-whatsapp-lynching-intl/index….
- 21. “WhatsApp to restrict message forwarding after India mob lynchings,” by Alex Hern, The Guardian, July 20, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jul/20/whatsapp-to-limit-me….
- 22. Vrishti Beniwal and Bibhudatta Pradhan, “Tackling Rising Hate Speech in the World's Biggest Election,“ Bloomberg, August 12, 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-08-12/india-gears-up-to-ta….
- 23. Internet and Mobile Association of India, “Voluntary Code of Ethics for the General Elections 2019,” March 20, 2019, https://www.medianama.com/wp-content/uploads/Voluntary-Code-of-Ethics-2….
- 24. Aria Thaker, “Are WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter ready for the Indian election?” Quartz India, February 8, 2019, https://qz.com/india/1545204/are-whatsapp-facebook-and-twitter-ready-fo…; “Election Commission Of India Wants Pre-Approval Of Political Ads On Facebook, Twitter,” Huffington Post, February 13, 2019, https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/election-commission-of-india-wants-…; “Elections 2019: The digital challenge to ECI's model code of conduct,” Live Mint, March 19, 2019, https://www.livemint.com/elections/lok-sabha-elections/elections-2019-t….
- 25. “Media Ownership Monitor India,” Reporters without Borders, accessed September 28, 2020, http://india.mom-rsf.org/en/.
- 26. “Media Ownership Monitor India,” Reporters without Borders.
|Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online?||2.002 3.003|
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 due to new limits to foreign investment in digital media outlets and government approval requirements that impose economic and regulatory constraints on the ability to publish content online.
Online news outlets, blogs, and other publishing platforms are not required to register or obtain licenses. However, in August 2019, the Indian government introduced amendments to the Foreign Direct Investment Policy (FDI Policy) imposing new limits on foreign investment in digital media, which could serve as an economic barrier to publishing for some outlets.
The FDI Policy mandates caps on the percentage of foreign control for Indian companies, and is distinct across sectors. The August 2019 amendments introduced a new cap of 26 percent on foreign investment in digital media companies—defined as companies “Uploading/Streaming of News & Current Affairs through Digital Media”—in comparison to 49 percent and 26 percent caps for television and print media, respectively.1 Such foreign investment must also be specifically approved by the government. This policy change has been criticized as an effort to enhance control over India’s increasingly popular digital outlets, which have sought to raise money from foreign investors due to constraints in the Indian market.2
In July 2018, India adopted new net neutrality rules proposed in November 2017 by the TRAI.3 The rules, with only some exceptions, prevent internet providers from interfering with content, including prohibiting blocking, throttling, and zero-rating.4 Breaking the rules could result in operators losing their licenses in the country. By some accounts, the new rules make India the strongest backer of net neutrality in the world.5 In early 2020, the TRAI published a policy document that discussed the governing structure of a multi-stakeholder body to ensure that net neutrality rules are enforced.6 The TRAI called for comments on the paper and is expected to issue recommendations.7
- 1. “Press Note 4 (2019 Series),” Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, September 18, 2019, https://dipp.gov.in/sites/default/files/pn4_2019.pdf; “Cabinet approves proposal for Review of FDI policy on various sectors,” Press Information Bureau, Government of India, August 28, 2019, https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1583294.
- 2. Soumyarendra Barik, “Watch: Why new FDI rules for digital media companies are regressive for the internet space in India,” Medianama, September 5, 2019, https://www.medianama.com/2019/09/223-fdi-in-digital-media-regressive/.
- 3. Prasanto K Roy, “India net neutrality rules could be world's strongest,” BBC, November 30, 2017, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-42162979.
- 4. Kalyan Parbat, “DoT amends license conditions to incorporate net neutrality rules,” The Economic Times, August 6, 2018 https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/telecom/telecom-news/dot-….
- 5. Rishi Iyengar, “India now has the 'world's strongest' net neutrality rules,” CNN Business, July 12, 2018, https://money.cnn.com/2018/07/12/technology/india-net-neutrality-rules-…; “India adopts 'world's strongest' net neutrality norms,” BBC, July 12, 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-44796436.
- 6. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “Consultation Paper on Traffic Management Practices (TMPs) and Multi-Stakeholder Body for Net Neutrality,” January 2, 2020, https://trai.gov.in/consultation-paper-traffic-management-practices-tmp….
- 7. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “Consultation Paper on Traffic Management Practices (TMPs) and Multi-Stakeholder Body for Net Neutrality.”
|Does the online information landscape lack diversity?||3.003 4.004|
Online media content is diverse and lively. The internet has given voice to people in remote areas, helping them become part of the public discourse. The Delhi-based company Gram Vaani operates a Mobile Vaani initiative, using an interactive voice response (IVR) system to disseminate reports by mobile phone users to different audiences and stakeholders. It enables over 80,000 households across 12 states to create their own media.1 However, increased online harassment, disinformation, and disparities in access, among other things, continue to restrict the diversity of the online information landscape.
A lack of content in local languages continues to limit diversity. However, the 2019 general elections resulted in an increase in news reports in local or vernacular language.2 In May 2020, the first online magazine in Santali was published by Santali-language activists from the state of Odisha.3
Issues regarding the lack of online representation of minority caste communities were particularly salient in the reporting period. An August 2019 report by Oxfam India stated that even when caste-related issues were covered in the news, the majority of those writing on the issues in Hindi and English newspapers, including in their online versions, were authors from upper-caste communities4 rather than people from scheduled caste, scheduled tribe, or other backward classes communities.5
- 1. “How Mobile Vaani Works,” Gram Vaani, accessed October 7, 2020, https://gramvaani.org/?page_id=15.
- 2. Silvia Majó-Vázquez, Subhayan Mukerjee, Taberez Ahmed Neyazi, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, “FACTSHEET – Online Audience Engagement with Legacy and Digital-Born News Media in the 2019 Indian Elections,” Digital News Publication – Reuters, June 2019, http://www.digitalnewsreport.org/publications/2019/factsheet-online-aud….
- 3. Subhashish Panigrahi, “Indian activists publish the first online magazine in the Santali language,” Global Voices, July 9, 2020, https://globalvoices.org/2020/07/09/indian-activists-publish-the-first-….
- 4. Oxfam India, “Who tells our Stories Matters; Representation of Marginialised Caste Groups in Indian Newsrooms,” August 2, 2019, https://www.oxfamindia.org/press-release/who-tells-our-stories-matters-…; Ayush Tiwari, “Indian media is an upper-caste fortress, suggests report on caste representation,” Newslaundry, August 2, 2019, https://www.newslaundry.com/2019/08/02/caste-representation-indian-news….
- 5. Sudipto Mondal, “Indian media wants Dalit News but not Dalit Reporters,” Al Jazeera, June 2, 2017, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/05/indian-media-dalit-ne….
|Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues?||4.004 6.006|
Score Change: The score declined from 5 to 4 due to government authorities restricting connectivity across the country and other harsh actions taken to quell nationwide protests against the Citizenship Amendments Act.
Digital activism is popular and has driven important social debates, and at times has helped usher in policy changes. However, while online tools used to mobilize generally remain available in the country, local authorities have increasingly imposed internet shutdowns to restrict protests.
Online tools were used extensively to organize and raise support for the nationwide protests against the CAA in December 2019, even as government authorities escalated network shutdowns across the country, imposing restrictions in at least nine different states to undermine people’s ability to use digital technology (see A3).1 In one instance, the government ordered service providers to suspend internet services in parts of Delhi for around four hours as protesters were planning to organize at the historic Red Fort.
The government’s repression of CAA protests also featured surveillance, arrests and other penalties, and in some cases, violence related to online activity (see C3, C5, and C7). For instance, authorities announced they were monitoring social media for “misinformation,” reporting content to social media platforms, and conducting other forms of surveillance.2 The Union Ministry of Human Resources (which governs higher education) reportedly requested that government-funded universities monitor the social media accounts of teachers and students in order to keep tabs on any involvement in the protests,3 although the ministry denied the report’s authenticity.4 Separately, the state government of Assam reportedly issued a circular indicating that public officials could face disciplinary action for sharing political opinions online.5 In Uttar Pradesh, police arrested 124 people in December for allegedly posting content that could incite violence (see C3).6
In addition to CAA mobilization, state authorities imposed temporary internet shutdowns in response to other protests and political actions during the coverage period. For instance, in November 2019, internet services were temporarily restricted in four districts in Madhya Pradesh as residents attempted to mark the Islamic holiday Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi with a procession, despite a local ban on such activity.7 Similarly, in July 2019, a five-day internet shutdown occurred in the Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh after members of the district’s Muslim community organized protests against the killing of a Muslim man accused of theft.8
The #MeToo movement has gained substantial online traction across the country, making the conversation on sexual and other forms of gender-based harassment much more mainstream.9 A range of allegations against prominent men surfaced online after a Bollywood actor shared her sexual harassment story in September 2018.
- 1. Access Now, “Targeted, Cut Off and Left in the Dark: The #KeepItOn report on internet shutdowns in 2019”; “CAA protests: Internet suspended in 21 UP districts,” Outlook India, December 27, 2019, https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/caa-protests-internet-suspended…; “Internet shutdown in many parts including Mangaluru following CAA protests,” The Hindustan Times, December 20, 2019 https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/internet-shutdown-continues-i…; Trisha Jalan, “Indian govt uses internet shutdowns to curb anti-CAA protests — in UP, Delhi, Assam, and 6 other states,” Medianama, January 2, 2020, https://www.medianama.com/2020/01/223-indian-govt-internet-shutdowns-ci….
- 2. “Anti-CAA protest: Police monitoring some social media handles to check spread of misinformation,” The Times of India, December 18, 2019, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/anti-caa-protest-police-monit…; “CAA protests: Delhi police tells social media platforms to remove objectionable content,” The Statesman, December 20, 2019, https://www.thestatesman.com/india/caa-protests-delhi-police-tells-soci…; Sejuti Das, “Govt Employs Drones To Monitor Situation Amidst CAA Protests: Should We Be Worried?” Analytics India Magazine, December 24, 2019, https://analyticsindiamag.com/govt-employs-drones-to-monitor-situation-….; “Delhi, UP Police use facial recognition tech at anti-CAA protests, others may soon catch up,” India Today, February 18, 2020, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/delhi-up-police-use-facial-recogn….
- 3. Kritika Sharma, “Modi govt asks IITs, IIMs, varsities to track student social media posts amid CAA protests” The Print, December 20, 2019, https://theprint.in/india/education/modi-govt-asks-iits-iims-varsities-….
- 4. Kritika Sharma, “Modi govt asks IITs, IIMs varsities to track student social media posts amid CAA protests.”
- 5. India Today Web Desk, “Assam government employees to face disciplinary for ‘indulging in political activities’ on social media,” India Today, December 25, 2019, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/social-media-restriction-action-a….
- 6. Shylaja Varma, “124 Arrested By UP Cops For ‘Inciting Content’, 19,000 Social Media Accounts Reported,” NDTV, December 27, 2019, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/uttar-pradesh-cops-arrest-124-in-a-week….
- 7. “Internet services suspended in 4 MP districts,” Business Standard, November 10, 2019, https://wap.business-standard.com/article-amp/pti-stories/internet-serv….
- 8. “Meerut: Tensions High After Lathi Charge on Lynching Protesters, 50+ Arrested,” The Wire, July 6, 2019, https://thewire.in/rights/meerut-tensions-high-after-lathi-charge-on-ly….
- 9. Sruthi Radhakrishnan, “India glows with #MeToo,” The Hindu, October 16, 2018, https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/internet/india-glows-with-…; Raksha Kumar, “Why the ‘Me Too’ movement in India is succeeding at last,” Open Democracy, December 7, 2018, https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/me-too-india-succeeding-at-last/; Anindita Ghose, “#MeToo: Six characters and a movement,” Live Mint, December 22, 2018, https://www.livemint.com/Companies/FubviKWvPplIsfzYv9w4iP/MeToo-Six-cha….
Arrests for online activity increased during the coverage period, especially in the context of CAA protests and the COVID-19 pandemic, including political speech that local authorities deemed derogatory or objectionable. The Personal Data Protection Bill introduced in Parliament contains provisions that allow government surveillance, create new criminal liabilities, and establish a data protection agency that was seen as susceptible to politicization; the legislation, which was pending at the end of the coverage period, prompted concern among civil society groups and tech companies. Concerningly, two separate revelations point to coordinated spyware campaigns against human rights defenders.
|Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence?||4.004 6.006|
The Constitution of India grants citizens the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression,1 including the right to gather information and exchange thoughts within and outside India.2 Press freedom has been read into the freedom of speech and expression.3 However, these freedoms are subject to certain restrictions in the interests of state security, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency and morality, contempt of court, defamation, incitement to an offense, and the sovereignty and integrity of India. These restrictions may only be imposed under a law, not by executive action.4
A 2015 Supreme Court ruling struck down a problematic provision of Section 66A of the IT Act, which had criminalized information causing "annoyance,” “inconvenience,” or “danger,” among other ill-defined categories, and had led to several arrests for social media posts from 2012 through early 2015. The court in the Shreya Singhal judgment5 affirmed that freedom of speech online is equal to freedom of speech offline and held that Section 66A went beyond reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech specified in Article 19(2) of the constitution.6
The reporting period also saw some movement toward legal recognition of the right to internet access. In September 2019, a single-judge bench of the Kerala High Court found that freedom of expression includes access to internet and internet infrastructure.7 The court also held that the right to education includes the right to access to the internet, as well as the right to privacy under Article 21 of the constitution.8
In January 2020, the Supreme Court examined the legality of internet shutdowns for the first time in the context of the complete shutdown of services in Jammu and Kashmir (see A3).9 A three-judge bench of the court observed that any internet shutdown order in the country must be well reasoned, proportionate, and present the least restrictive alternative.10 However, the court did not specifically address the question of whether there is a fundamental right to access to internet services.11
During the nationwide lockdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of attempts were made to limit the reporting of information perceived to be detrimental to the country or the government (see B5). The Supreme Court rejected a gag order or other harsh measures, but suggested that the media is responsible to ensure that all reports are verified, and should rely on government sources of information by including government bulletins in their reporting on the issue.12
- 1. “The Constitution of India,” Government of India, accessed October 7, 2020, Article 19(1)(a), https://www.india.gov.in/my-government/constitution-india/constitution-….
- 2. Supreme Court of India, “Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India on 25 January 1978.”
- 3. “Report of the Press Commission, Part I, 1954,” Government of India, accessed October 7, 2020, 357, https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.52061/2015.52061.Report-Of….
- 4. “The Constitution of India,” Government of India, Article 19(2); Supreme Court of India, “Bijoe Emmanuel & Ors v. State of Kerala & Ors on 11 August, 1986.”
- 5. Supreme Court of India, “Shreya Singhal v U.O.I on 24 March 2015, (2015) 5 SCC 1.”
- 6. Sarvjeet Singh and Ujwala Uppaluri, “Supreme Court ruling on Section 66A: As much online as offline,” Blogs of The Economic Times, March 25, 2015, http://blogs.economictimes.indiatimes.com/et-commentary/supreme-court-r….
- 7. Kerala High Court, “Faheema Shirin.R.K v State of Kerala on 19 September, 2019,” Indian Kanoon, September 19, 2019, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/188439981/.
- 8. Kerala High Court, “Faheema Shirin.R.K v State of Kerala on 19 September, 2019.”
- 9. Nilashish Chaudhary and Radhika Roy, “[Kashmir Lockdown] 'Indefinite Internet Suspension Not Permissible' : SC Asks J&K Administration To Review All Restrictive Orders Within A Week [Read Judgment],” Live Law, January 10, 2020, https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/kashmir-lockdown-sc-asks-jk-administ….
- 10. Supreme Court of India, Anuradha Bhasin v Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) No 1031 of 2019,” January 10, 2020, https://main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2019/28817/28817_2019_2_1501_19350…; Nilashish Chaudhary and Radhika Roy, “[Kashmir Lockdown] 'Indefinite Internet Suspension Not Permissible' : SC Asks J&K Administration To Review All Restrictive Orders Within A Week [Read Judgment].”
- 11. Gautam Bhatia, “The value of the SC’s Kashmir order,” The Hindustan Times, January 12, 2020, https://www.hindustantimes.com/columns/the-value-of-the-sc-s-kashmir-or….
- 12. Krishnadas Rajagopal, “Supreme Court orders to media in consonance with Disaster Management Act,”; Arpan Chaturvedi, “Government Effort to Restrain Media Coverage of Pandemic met with Supreme Court Caution” Bloomberg Quint, April 1, 2020, https://www.bloombergquint.com/law-and-policy/government-effort-to-rest…; Japnam Bindra, “SC tells media to stick to official version on virus developments,” Live Mint, April 1, 2020, https://www.livemint.com/news/india/sc-tells-media-to-stick-to-official….
|Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities?||2.002 4.004|
The IPC criminalizes several kinds of speech and applies to online content. Individuals can be sentenced to between two and seven years in prison for speech that is found to be seditious,1 obscene,2 defamatory,3 “promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language,”4 committing acts “prejudicial to maintenance of harmony,”5 or consisting of statements, rumors, or reports that may cause fear, alarm, disturb public tranquility, or promote enmity or ill will.6 Internet users are also subject to criminal punishment under the Official Secrets Act for wrongful communication of information that may have an adverse effect on the sovereignty and integrity of India.7
Section 67 of the IT Act bans the publication or transmission of obscene or sexually explicit content in electronic form, and Section 66D punishes the use of computer resources to impersonate someone else to commit fraud. The Supreme Court in 2015 struck down Section 66A, which criminalized speech that, among other things, is grossly offensive or causes annoyance or inconvenience. However, similar complaints continue to be registered under 66A despite the ruling, as well as under Sections 67, 66D, or the IPC (see C3).8
A 2016 Supreme Court judgment upheld laws criminalizing defamation (Sections 499 and 500 of the IPC and Section 119 of the CrPC) as consistent with the Indian constitution.9 The sections have been used against online speech in the past.10
In October 2019, the Andhra Pradesh state government issued an order permitting certain government officials to file defamation suits against journalists. The order was intended to prevent the spreading on electronic and social media of “false, baseless and defamatory news with malafide interest” that can damage the image of government and government officials.11
- 1. “The Indian Penal Code, 1860,” Indian Kanoon, accessed October 7, 2020, Section 124A https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1569253/.
- 2. “The Indian Penal Code, 1860,” Indian Kanoon, Sections 292 and 293.
- 3. “The Indian Penal Code, 1860,” Indian Kanoon, Section 499.
- 4. “The Indian Penal Code, 1860,” Indian Kanoon, Section 153A.
- 5. “The Indian Penal Code, 1860,” Indian Kanoon, Section 153B.
- 6. “The Indian Penal Code, 1860,” Indian Kanoon, Section 505.
- 7. “Official Secrets Act, 1923,” Indian Kanoon, accessed October 7, 2020, Section 5, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/61492784/.
- 8. Supreme Court of India, “Shreya Singhal v Union of India, Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 167 of 2012”; “What next: What happens to Section 66A now,” The Indian Express, March 26, 2015, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/what-next-what-happ….
- 9. Supreme Court of India, “Subramaniam Swamy v Union of India (2016),” accessed October 7, 2020, http://supremecourtofindia.nic.in/FileServer/2016-05-13_1463126071.pdf; Nakul Nayak, “Supreme Court finds Criminal Defamation Constitutional,” The CCG Blog, May 13, 2016, https://ccgnludelhi.wordpress.com/2016/05/13/supreme-court-finds-crimin…; Nakul Nayak, “Criminal defamation survives: a blot on free speech,” Live Mint, May 22, 2016, https://www.livemint.com/Opinion/Zx8Qs60DFFqJ7bjYBoaGjO/Criminal-defama….
- 10. Chinmayi Arun, “A question of power,” The Indian Express, May 25, 2016, http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/criminal-defamation-la…; “SC upholds law on criminal defamation,” The Hindu, May 13, 2016, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/criminal-defamation-does-not-have…; Freedom House, “Freedom on the Net 2016: India,” 2016, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2016/india.
- 11. Andhra Pradesh and Malini Subramaniam, “Press Council of India questions media gag order, seeks state government’s response,” Scroll, November 3, 2019, https://scroll.in/latest/942524/andhra-pradesh-press-council-of-india-q….
|Are individuals penalized for online activities?||2.002 6.006|
Journalists, activists, artists, and members of the public are arrested and detained for political, social, and religious speech or other forms of content authorities deem objectionable or derogatory. Notably, arrests for online activities were frequent during major political events and other crises during the coverage period, including the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, nationwide protests against the CAA, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
In September 2019, activist Shehla Rashid was charged with sedition for her tweets raising concerns about developments in Kashmir and alleging human rights violations by the Indian Army.1 In February 2020, poet Siraj Bisaralli and journalist Rajabaxi HV were charged and later released on bail under Section 505 of the penal code after a BJP member filed a complaint with police.2 The complaint stemmed from Bisaralli’s recitation of a poem critical of the CAA and the India National Register in January in Karnataka , video of which was posted to social media by Rajabaxi. In July 2019, police in the state of Assam charged 10 poets for uploading a poem that mentioned allegedly discriminatory practices related to the National Register of Citizens in Assam. The poets were accused of criminal conspiracy, sedition, and inciting disharmony and violence.3 In December 2019, amid the CAA protests, Uttar Pradesh Police arrested 124 people for allegedly posting objectionable content on social media that “incited” violence.4
In April 2020, Zafarul Islam Khan, a journalist who is also the chair of the Delhi Minorities Commission, was charged with sedition and promoting enmity between groups following a complaint alleging that his social media posts referring to discrimination against Muslims in India and the reactions in Middle Eastern countries were causing disharmony and creating a rift in the society.5 Separately, in November 2019, after the Supreme Court announced the Ayodhya verdict (see A3), authorities arrested around 90 people in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh for posting allegedly objectionable content on social media.6
In June 2019, police in Uttar Pradesh detained four journalists for posting and sharing a video on social media that allegedly contained objectionable content regarding the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, and charged them under Section 66A of the IT Act and Sections 500 and 505 of the IPC.7 Days later, the Supreme Court ordered the immediate release on bail of one of the prominent journalists, Prashant Kanojia;8 another journalist was granted bail by the Allahabad High Court in July 2019.9 Kanojia was again charged in April 2020 for allegedly making derogatory remarks on social media against Prime Minister Modi and the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.10
In April 2020, Siddharth Vardarajan, founding editor of the news website Wire, was charged under Sections 188 and 505(2) of the IPC, which sanction charges for disobedience of an order issued by a public servant and promoting enmity or hatred, respectively.11 The charge stemmed from a Wire article criticizing an event related to the Hindu festival Ram Navmi held during lockdown, in which a sentence of the article wrongly attributed a quote to the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.12 Vardarajan had also posted the quote while sharing the article on Twitter. Vardarajan later issued a clarification, and the article was also edited to reflect the correct information. Civil society groups condemned the charges as an attack on press freedom.13
During the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous people, including journalists and healthcare workers, were arrested, charged, or threatened with criminal charges in relation to online speech, including content criticizing or questioning government authorities (see B2).14 At least 55 reporters had been arrested, booked, or threatened for reporting on the pandemic during the lockdown period between March 25 and May 31, 2020, although not all arrests were linked to online activity.15 In May 2020, journalist Dhaval Patel was arrested and charged with sedition after he claimed in an online article that Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani might be replaced for mishandling the COVID-19 crisis in the state.16 He was granted bail by the Sessions Court after nearly three weeks in detention. In April 2020, freelance journalist Zubair Ahmed was arrested for allegedly spreading false information and obstructing virus containment efforts by the government after he posted a query on Twitter asking why families who had spoken with confirmed patients on the phone were being forced to quarantine;17 he was later released on bail. Also in April 2020, Andrew Sam Raja Pandian, the founder and chief executive of the news portal SimpliiCity, was arrested for violating the Epidemic Diseases Act and the penal code after a story accused the government of corruption in food distribution.18
People continued to be subjected to criminal penalties for acts of online expression during the coverage period, in many cases for spreading misinformation.19 In March 2020, police in Kolkata arrested a woman under Section 66C of the IT Act for allegedly spreading false information about a doctor contracting the virus.20 Similar arrests occurred in Uttar Pradesh,21 Karnataka,22 and Mizoram.23 In Rajasthan, a health worker was arrested for posting false information on social media regarding the number of positive COVID-19 cases.24
The National Security Act allows the police to detain an accused person for up to one year without any charge. Between November 2018 and May 2019 journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem was held in detention after being charged under the Act for social media posts containing vociferous and somewhat incendiary criticism of Manipur state BJP officials and Prime Minister Modi.25 Wangkhem had already been arrested and charged with sedition under the IPC, but a court later ruled that his critical posts were legitimate expressions of opinion and not seditious, and ordered his release.
Despite the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision striking down Section 66A of the IT Act, there were 45 arrests under it between January and September 2018, most likely due to police being unaware of the ruling.26 For example, one user in Assam was arrested in November 2018, in part under section 66A, for allegedly posting “derogatory” comments about a local government official on social media.27
There have been several cases of arrests of people in Jammu and Kashmir, which is excluded from this report’s scoring criteria, for their online activity.28
- 1. Saurabh Trivedi, “Activist Shehla Rashid booked on sedition charge, ‘promoting enmity’,” The Hindu, September 8, 2019 https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/shehla-rashid-booked-for-sed….
- 2. “Karnataka: Poet and journalist arrested because of anti-CAA poem,” Scroll, February 19, 2020, https://scroll.in/latest/953668/karnataka-poet-and-journalist-arrested-….
- 3. Snigdha Choudhury, “Miya Poetry: Why is it creating noise in Assam now | Explained,” India Today, July 16, 2019, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/miya-poetry-why-is-it-creating-no….
- 4. Shylaja Varma, “124 Arrested By UP Cops For ‘Inciting Content’, 19,000 Social Media Accounts Reported.”
- 5. Aneesha Bedi, “Delhi Minorities Commission chief charged with sedition for ‘provocative’ social media post,” The Print, May 2, 2020, https://theprint.in/india/delhi-minorities-commission-chief-charged-wit….
- 6. “90 Arrested and Action Taken Against Thousands of Social Media Posts a Day After Ayodhya Verdict,” The Wire, November 11, 2019, https://thewire.in/government/90-arrested-and-action-taken-against-thou….
- 7. “Eight people have been arrested in four states over social media posts in India this week,” Scroll, June 14, 2019, https://scroll.in/latest/927004/in-india-this-week-at-least-eight-peopl…; “Journalist Prashant Kanojia granted bail, five still in jail; two others booked,” India Today, June 12, 2019, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/journalist-prashant-kanojia-grant….
- 8. Supreme Court of India, “Jagisha Arora vs The State of Uttar Pradesh on 11 June, 2019,” Indian Kanoon, June 11, 2019, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/26207666/.
- 9. “UP: Bail granted to editor of news channel that aired alleged defamatory content about Adityanath,” Scroll, July 24, 2019, https://scroll.in/latest/931569/up-bail-granted-to-editor-of-news-chann….
- 10. “UP: FIR against journalist for online post against PM, CM,” The Indian Express, April 8, 2020, https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/lucknow/up-fir-against-journal….
- 11. “UP Police FIR Against The Wire an ‘Attack on Freedom of the Press’,” The Wire, April 1, 2020, https://thewire.in/media/up-police-fir-against-the-wire-an-attack-on-fr….
- 12. Omar Rashid, “Uttar Pradesh police lodge FIR against the editor of The Wire for ‘objectionable article’ against Yogi Adityanath,” The Hindu, April 2, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/uttar-pradesh-polic….
- 13. Omar Rashid, “Uttar Pradesh police lodge FIR against the editor of The Wire for ‘objectionable article’ against Yogi Adityanath”; “’Charges Smack of Vindictiveness’: Journalists' Union Condemns FIRs Against The Wire,” The Wire, April 13, 2020, https://thewire.in/media/indian-journalists-union-up-wire-fir.
- 14. Nileena M S, “The administration of Andaman and Nicobar is muzzling the media: Local Journalists,” The Caravan, May 7, 2020, https://caravanmagazine.in/media/the-administration-of-andaman-and-nico…; Ashutosh Bhardwaj, @ashubh, “Chhattisgarh govt issues show cause notice to a journalist, threatens with an FIR because his report has ‘damaged the image of the administration’, says his act amounts to a ‘punishable offence’,” post with image, April 27, 2020, https://twitter.com/ashubh/status/1254756466755428354.
- 15. Rights and Risks Analysis Group, “India: Media’s Crackdown During COVID19 Lockdown,” June 15, 2020, http://www.rightsrisks.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/MediaCrackdown.pdf.
- 16. “Bail For Gujarat Editor Charged With Sedition For Reporting CM Rupani May Be Replaced,” The Wire, May 28, 2020, https://thewire.in/media/gujarat-covid-dhaval-patel-sedition-bail; Nandini Oza, “Gujarat: Editor of news portal arrested for sedition over article on BJP changing CM,” The Week, May 12, 2020, https://www.theweek.in/news/india/2020/05/12/gujarat-editor-of-news-por….
- 17. “Andaman journalist arrested for posting question on quarantine policy released on bail,” The Wire, April 29, 2020, https://thewire.in/media/andaman-journalist-arrested-for-tweet-accused-….
- 18. “Police in India’s Tamil Nadu state arrest journalist over COVID-19 coverage,” Committee to Protect Journalists, April 24, 2020, https://cpj.org/2020/04/police-in-indias-tamil-nadu-state-arrest-journa….
- 19. “Mumbai Man claims coronavirus a govt conspiracy; arrested,” The New Indian Express, April 5, 2020, https://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/mumbai/2020/apr/05/mumbai-man-c…; Divya Goyal, “Local BJP leader whose FB post said 'no ventilators in Ludhiana hospitals' booked for sedition,” The Indian Express, April 6, 2020, https://www.google.com/amp/s/indianexpress.com/article/india/covid-19-m….
- 20. “In Kolkata, woman arrested for spreading coronavirus rumours on social media,” The Hindustan Times, March 28, 2020, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/woman-arrested-in-kolkata-for….
- 21. “Two people arrested who spread rumours on social media regarding coronavirus infection” [in Hindi], Amar Ujala, April 3, 2020, https://www.amarujala.com/uttar-pradesh/bhadohi/two-people-arrested-who….
- 22. Rohini Swamy, “Infosys employee arrested for social media post urging people to ‘spread the virus’,” The Print, March 28, 2020, https://theprint.in/india/infosys-employee-arrested-for-social-media-po….
- 23. “11 arrested in Mizoram for spreading fake news on coronavirus,” The Times of India, March 11, 2020, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/11-arrested-in-mizoram-for-sp….
- 24. “Rajasthan: Health worker arrested for spreading fake news about coronavirus,” India Today, March 16, 2020, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/rajasthan-health-worker-arrested-….
- 25. Soutik Biswas, “The Indian journalist jailed for a year for Facebook posts,” BBC News, December 22, 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-46631911; “Update: Kishorechandra Wangkhem is Released,” American Bar Association, May 24, 2019, https://www.americanbar.org/groups/human_rights/reports/wangkhem-releas…; Jimmy Jacob, “Manipur Journalist Jailed For A Year, Called Chief Minister PM’s ‘Puppet,’” NDTV, December 19, 2018, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/manipur-journalist-in-12-month-custody-….
- 26. Charu Bahri, “Police using Section 66A of IT Act to make arrests despite SC’s ruling,” Business Standard, December 3, 2018, https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/police-using-…; Gopal Sathe, “The Supreme Court Struck Down Section 66A of the IT Act in 2015, Why Are Cops Still Using It to Make Arrests?” October 16, 2018, https://www.huffingtonpost.in/2018/10/15/the-supreme-court-struck-down-…; Charu Bahri, “Interview: Why police still make arrests under IT Act Section 66A, years after it was struck down,” Scroll, December 3, 2018, https://scroll.in/article/904317/interview-why-police-still-make-arrest….
- 27. “Assam | 23-yr-old held for making derogatory comments against CM Sarbananda Sonowal,” The Northeast Today, November 22, 2018, https://www.thenortheasttoday.com/current-affairs/states/assam-23-yr-ol….
- 28. Government Order No Home-03 (TSTS) of 2020 dated 14 January 2020; Kamaljit Kaur Sandhu, “Govt slaps UAPA on those 'misusing' social media in Kashmir, Owaisi says new records of cruelty,” India Today, February 18, 2020, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/govt-slaps-uapa-on-those-misusing…; Ashiq Hussain, “Another man arrested in Kashmir for spreading rumours on social media,” The Hindustan Times, February 22, 2020, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/another-man-arrested-in-kashm….
|Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption?||3.003 4.004|
Some restrictions limit anonymity on the internet in India, although users can freely use encrypted technology.
Prepaid and postpaid mobile customers have their identification verified before connections are activated.1 There is a legal requirement to submit identification at cybercafés2 and when subscribing to internet connections.
The government has ramped up efforts to work around encryption, citing a number of deaths based on the spread of misinformation through WhatsApp. Proposed in December 2018, draft intermediary guidelines under Section 79 of the IT Act could undermine encryption (see B2 and C6).3 The rules would require “traceability,” which would force intermediaries such as encrypted platforms to provide the originator of content if requested by the government.4 In order to provide this information, intermediaries may have to break encryption on their platforms.5
In June 2019, the government reportedly asked WhatsApp to digitally fingerprint messages sent on the platform in order to trace the sender of a message.6 Anonymous government officials clarified that requests for such tracing would be limited.7 In response, WhatsApp maintained its earlier stance that any technological solution to trace the origin of messages would fundamentally compromise end-to-end encryption.8
In 2019, the debate over traceability and encryption became intertwined with a petition before the Madras High Court, in the state of Tamil Nadu, demanding that in order to verify users social media accounts should be linked with Aadhaar, the unique identification project that collects and stores biometric and other data including fingerprints, iris scans, and photos of over one billion Indians (see C5).9 In late 2019, Facebook filed a petition before the Supreme Court requesting that the Madras case be bundled with several petitions before different courts addressing similar issues and heard by the Supreme Court in order to avoid conflicting orders. In January 2020, the Supreme Court approved the request, and ordered the Madras High Court, among others, to transfer all files to the Supreme Court.10 The case was pending as of July 2020.
- 1. Press Information Bureau, Government of India, “Guidelines for New Mobile Connections,” March 13, 2013, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=93584.
- 2. Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Information Technology (Guidelines for Cyber Cafe) Rules, 2011,” Rule 4.
- 3. Ministry of Economic and Information Technology, “The Information Technology [Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules] 2018,” December 24, 2018, https://www.meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/Draft_Intermediary_Amendme….
- 4. “Table of submissions by Civil Society and Research Organisations to the Ministry of Electronics and IT on the proposed changes to the Information Technology Intermediary Guidelines Rules, 2011,” https://drive.google.com/file/d/1peFYrzfHwa5QoFMUFFtesdmMTdqEuDLi/view; Zaheer Merchant, “Proposed Intermediary Liability Rules threat to privacy and free speech, global coalition tells MeitY,” Medianama, March 18, 2019, https://www.medianama.com/2019/03/223-proposed-intermediary-liability-r…; Rohan Venkataramakrishnan, “Scroll explainer: Why are India’s new internet rules being called ‘Chinese-style censorship’?” Scroll, February 22, 2019, https://scroll.in/article/913631/scroll-explainer-why-are-indias-new-in….
- 5. “Letter to Ravi Shankar Prasad, Hon’ble Union Minister for Law and Justice, and Electronics and Information Technology,” Access Now.
- 6. Megha Mandavia, “India asks WhatsApp to fingerprint messages to ensure traceability,” The Economic Times, June 18, 2019, https://tech.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/mobile/india-asks-whatsa….
- 7. Megha Mandavia, “India asks WhatsApp to fingerprint messages to ensure traceability.”
- 8. Shweta Ganjoo, “WhatsApp maintains its stand on govt’s request for message traceability in India,” India Today, June 18, 2019, https://www.indiatoday.in/technology/news/story/whatsapp-maintains-its-….
- 9. Aditi Agrawal, “Madras HC says that Aadhaar-Social Media linkage is not possible,” Medianama, August 22, 2019, https://www.medianama.com/2019/08/223-madras-hc-says-that-aadhaar-socia…; Aditi Agrawal, “End-to-end encryption not essential to WhatsApp as a platform: Tamil Nadu Advocate General,” Medianama, September 26, 2019, https://www.medianama.com/2019/08/223-end-to-end-encryption-not-essenti….
- 10. Aditi Agrawal, “Supreme Court directs Madras HC to transfer all files in the WhatsApp traceability case,” Medianama, January 31, 2020, https://www.medianama.com/2020/01/223-supreme-court-to-madras-hc-transf….
|Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy?||1.001 6.006|
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 due to two separate coordinated spyware campaigns targeting activists, journalists, lawyers, and other human rights defenders.
Significant state surveillance of online content and activity infringes on users’ right to privacy. Reports during the coverage period uncovered two separate coordinated spyware campaigns against journalists, activists, lawyers, and other human rights defenders.
In October 2019, WhatsApp revealed that its security had been compromised and accused the Israeli company NSO Group of helping governments deploy its spying software Pegasus on the platform. WhatsApp reported that Pegasus was used to spy on at least two dozen activists, lawyers, academics, and journalists in India in May 2019.1 While NSO claims to only work with government agencies, the Ministry of Home Affairs, in response to a RTI request, denied that it purchased software from NSO Group.2 However, when questioned in Parliament about the role of government in the Pegasus case, the minister of state in the Ministry of Home Affairs did not respond directly, instead referring to Section 69 of the IT Act and Section 5 of the Telegraph Act and saying that “authorized agencies as per due process of law, and subject to safeguards as provided in the rules” can intercept, monitor, or decrypt “any information from any computer resource” in the country.3
Separately, Citizen Lab and Amnesty International revealed in June 2020 that at least nine academics, lawyers, writers, and activists were targeted between January and October 2019 with a campaign using spearphishing emails that, if opened, would have installed the spyware NetWire, allowing the sender to monitor communications and other activity.4 Eight of the targeted human rights defenders were demanding the release of activists arrested in 2018 for allegedly participating in protests and violence in the state of Maharashtra. The other person targeted was a vocal proponent of the release of a jailed academic with disabilities, GN Saibaba.
One activist targeted by both spyware campaigns, Anand Teltumbde, was arrested in April 2020 for allegedly instigating violence in public speeches in 2017.5 Amnesty International reports that the case relies heavily on information pulled from the activist’s electronic devices.6
In August 2017, a landmark Supreme Court ruling in the context of Aadhaar recognized privacy as a fundamental right embedded in the right to life, liberty, and freedom of expression.7 In October 2019, the Bombay High Court reiterated the applicability of the right to privacy in the context of wiretapping.8 The court held that interception orders contested in a bribery case were illegal, and the evidence obtained inadmissible, as the orders were not issued in situations of “public emergency” or “public safety” as required under Section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act.9
Communications surveillance may be conducted under the Telegraph Act,10 as well as the IT Act,11 to protect defense, national security, sovereignty, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, and to prevent incitement to a cognizable offense. Section 69 of the IT Act appears to add another broad category, allowing surveillance for “the investigation of any offence.”12
The home secretary at the central or state level issues interception orders based on procedural safeguards established by the Supreme Court and rules under the Telegraph Act,13 which are reviewed by committee of government officials.14 Interception orders, which are not reviewed by a court, are limited to 60 days, renewable for up to 180 days.15 In emergencies, phone tapping may take place for up to 72 hours without clearance; records must be destroyed if the home secretary subsequently denies permission.16
Besides retrieving data from intermediaries, the government’s own surveillance equipment is becoming more sophisticated. The Central Monitoring System (CMS) allows government agencies to intercept any online activities directly, including phone calls, text messages, and VoIP communication, using Lawful Intercept and Monitoring (LIM) systems on intermediary premises.17 In May 2016, the minister for communications and IT stated that the monitoring centers were already operational in Delhi and Mumbai.18 More centers were due to be rolled out across the country, but no updates were available in mid-2020.
The government uses Aadhaar enrollment for the provision of multiple public services, including food stamps and cell phone connection.19 The scheme raises serious concerns regarding data privacy, security, and usage,20 as well as the relationship between the project and private companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Google (see C6).21 In 2017, it was reported that millions of Aadhaar records had been treated as publicly shareable data by different government departments.22 A national government-administered rural employment scheme was among several initiatives or agencies reported to have accidentally revealed Aadhaar numbers.23 Additional breaches were reported in 201824 and 2019.25
In September 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that Aadhaar is constitutional, but set important limits on the program’s use.26 The ruling held that the program is mandatory for government welfare schemes and that Indians must link their Aadhaar number to income tax filings and permanent account numbers. The court also ruled that there were sufficient existing safeguards against security and data breaches. However, Aadhaar numbers cannot be required for services such as obtaining a SIM card, opening a bank account, and receiving educational grants and admissions. It is unclear how the government and private companies utilizing Aadhaar data will implement the ruling, and what they will do with the Aadhaar user data they have.
Despite the court’s restrictions on permissible uses of Aadhaar, the government promulgated the Aadhaar Ordinance in March 2019. The temporary ordinance allowed for the voluntary use of Aadhaar as proof of identity for bank accounts and mobile SIM connections,27 and gave private companies access to some Aadhaar information they had been barred from after the Supreme Court judgment. In July 2019, Parliament passed the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill,28 a similar law that supersedes the March 2019 ordinance.29 Civil society groups have expressed serious concerns, arguing the bill ignores the 2018 Supreme Court ruling.30 The law was challenged in the Supreme Court on the basis of provisions that allow private entities to use Aadhaar data provided voluntarily by customers for identity authentication.31 As of July 2020, the case was pending.
In July 2018, the Srikrishna Committee, established in 2017 to create a data protection framework,32 submitted a draft privacy framework for the Personal Data Protection Bill33 and a report34 to the MeitY. India’s IT minister had stated that there would be consultations on the law35 and that the cabinet and Parliament will further review the recommendations.36 The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 was introduced in the lower house of Parliament in late 2019, with the bill referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee.37 As of July 2020, the bill remained pending.
The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 has been criticized widely, especially in relation to the extensive powers it gives to the central government, as well as its limited restrictions on surveillance activities by the government (see C6).38 Claus 35 gives state agencies an exemption from complying with limitations if surveillance is “necessary and expedient” or “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, [and] public order.” The bill provides for the establishment of a Data Protection Authority of India, but observers have raised issues regarding the prospective entity’s independence, transparency, and accountability, given its composition, structure, and functions.39
In March 2020, it was reported that the government planned to build a large database called the National Social Registry that could track every Indian and allegedly capture a 360-degree view of their lives. The registry will include data captured in relation to any government services and benefits, including Aadhaar, and is expected to be functional by 2021.40
There has been a lack of transparency and oversight, and in some cases an insufficient legal framework, to ensure that the use of technology for disease surveillance and enforcement of quarantine measures does not undermine privacy and other fundamental freedoms.41 Government measures to counter the COVID-19 pandemic included the Aarogya Setu, a closed-source contact-tracing app, which was made mandatory for large sections of the population.42 The app tracks potential coronavirus exposure and rates each user’s risk of infection, using data gleaned from Global Positioning System (GPS) and Bluetooth technology. Government agencies are permitted access to the centralized database that stores the data. The closed-source Quarantine Watch app, a Karnataka state government project, facilitates the enforcement of mandatory isolation by collecting detailed personal data, including GPS data and metadata linked to photographs users provide to prove their location. In addition, state and local authorities have rolled out a range of monitoring efforts during the pandemic, including drone surveillance, the publication of names and addresses of individuals under quarantine, and other smartphone apps.43
MeitY officials indicated that security agencies could access messaging services such as WhatsApp in 2017, though they are unable to view encrypted content. In response to a question in the lower house of Parliament, the IT minister stated that “security agencies are able to intercept these encrypted communication services through the lawful interception facilities provided by the Telecom Service Providers, but they are not able to decrypt some of encrypted intercepted communication to readable format.”44
Evidence suggests that government and state agencies, including law enforcement, proactively monitor social media for signs of wrongdoing, although the legal grounds for doing so are unclear. In December 2018, a RTI request revealed that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had used a private firm to monitor social media for two years.45 In another report from September 2018, both state and central government agencies were reported to be using Advanced Application for Social Media Analytics.46 While detailed information about the sophistication of this technology is unclear, documents suggest that it uses sentiment analysis to categorize online content—such as “sensitive” information like protests (see B8)—as positive or negative, and can aggregate and analyze content and other data on social media platforms in real time. In April 2018, the government announced plans to set up a Social Media Communication Hub and released a tender to purchase sophisticated monitoring technology. That August, the government withdrew the plans after the Supreme Court raised significant surveillance concerns over the monitoring.47 In May 2020, the publicly operated Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Ltd released a tender for a project that uses machine learning, link analysis, and other forms of artificial intelligence to monitor social media and detect disinformation and other types of false content.48 The tender also requests the establishment of an archive for long-term data retention.
A special social media branch of the Mumbai police reportedly utilized an app to track behavioral patterns, analyze sentiments, and examine upticks in online chatter and conversation in order to generate real-time warnings and alerts.49 In 2019, the Mumbai Police reported that they utilized the technique and worked with service providers and platforms to remove 12,537 objectionable posts from social media (see B2).50
- 1. Seema Chisti, “WhatsApp confirms: Israeli Spyware used to snoop on Indian Journalists, Activists” The Indian Express, November 1, 2019, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/whatsapp-confirms-israeli-spywa….
- 2. Sandhya Sharma, “Who is spying on Indians? WhatsApp, Pegasus spyware maker, the government are caught in a blame game,” The Economic Times, December 13, 2019, https://prime.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/72498345/technology-and…; Aishwarya Paliwal, “Government denies purchasing Pegasus spyware from NSO Group,” India Today, November 1, 2019, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/government-pegasus-spyware-nso-gr…; “Pegasus breach: India denies WhatsApp hack amid outrage” BBC News, November 1, 2019, https://perma.cc/G57R-J9GE.
- 3. Lok Sabha, “Question No. 351, Ministry of Home Affairs,” November 11, 2019, http://loksabhaph.nic.in/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=6696&lsno=17; Manish Singh, “India says law permits agencies to snoop on citizen’s devices,” Tech Crunch, November 19, 2019, https://techcrunch.com/2019/11/19/india-intercept-monitor-citizen-compu….
- 4. “India: Human Rights Defenders Targeted by a Coordinated Spyware Operation,” Amnesty International, June 15, 2020, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/research/2020/06/india-human-rights-d….
- 5. Basant Kumar Mohanty, “Ambedkar kin arrest on anniversary,” The Telegraph, April 15, 2020, https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/ambedkar-kin-anand-teltumbde-arres….
- 6. “India: Human Rights Defenders Targeted by a Coordinated Spyware Operation,” Amnesty International.
- 7. Supreme Court of India, “Justice K S Puttaswamy (Retd.) v. Union of India, W.P.(C) 494/2012,” August 24, 2017, https://ccgnludelhi.files.wordpress.com/2017/08/all-wpc-no-494-of-2012-…; Chinmayi Arun, “The Implications of India’s Right to Privacy Decision,” Council on Foreign Relations, September 13, 2017, https://www.cfr.org/blog/implications-indias-right-privacy-decision.
- 8. Bombay High Court, “Vineet Kumar v. Central Bureau of Investigations and Ors (Bom HC, 2019), WP 2367 of 2019,” Indian Kanoon, October 22, 2019, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/107953018/; Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, “Right To Privacy: Surveillance In The Post-Puttaswamy Era,” Bloomberg Quint, November 12, 2019, https://www.bloombergquint.com/law-and-policy/right-to-privacy-surveill….
- 9. Bombay High Court, “Vineet Kumar v. Central Bureau of Investigations and Ors (Bom HC, 2019), WP 2367 of 2019.”
- 10. Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications, “Indian Telegraph Act, 1885,” accessed October 7, 2020, Section 5(2), https://dot.gov.in/act-rules-content/2442.
- 11. Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, “The Information Technology Act 2000,” Section 69.
- 12. Ministry of Law and Justice, “The Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008,” Section 69.
- 13. Government of India, “Rule 419A of the Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951,” Centre for Internet and Society, accessed October 7, 2020, https://cis-india.org/internet-governance/resources/rule-419-a-indian-t….
- 14. Government of India, “Rule 419A of the Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951”; Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, “The Information Technology Act 2000,” Section 69.
- 15. Government of India, “Rule 419A of the Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951”; Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, “The Information Technology Act 2000,” Section 69.
- 16. Privacy International, “India Telecommunications Privacy Report,” October 22, 2012, Chapter III: Privacy Issues, https://web.archive.org/web/20121202224337/https://www.privacyinternati….
- 17. Melody Patry, “India: Digital freedom under threat? Surveillance, privacy and government’s access to individuals’ online data,” Xindex, November 21, 2013, http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2013/11/india-online-report-freedom-ex….
- 18. “Government setting up centralised monitoring system for lawful interception: Ravi Shankar Prasad,” The Economic Times, May 4, 2016, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/policy/government-set….
- 19. Usha Ramanathan, “Without Supreme Court Interference, the Aadhaar Project is a Ticking Time Bomb,” The Wire, April 4, 2017, https://thewire.in/120922/aadhaar-supreme-court-uid/.
- 20. Sunil Abraham, “Surveillance project,” Frontline, April 15, 2016, http://www.frontline.in/cover-story/surveillance-project/article8408866…; Kritika Bhardwaj, “The Mission Creep Behind the Aadhaar Project,” The Wire, September 2, 2016, https://thewire.in/government/the-mission-creep-behind-the-uidais-centr…; Chinmayi Arun, “Towards a database nation,” The Hindu, September 27, 2016, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/Towards-a-database-nation/article…; Kritika Bhardwaj, “Explainer: Aadhaar is vulnerable to identity theft because of its design and the way it is used,” Scroll, April 2, 2017, https://scroll.in/article/833230/explainer-aadhaar-is-vulnerable-to-ide….
- 21. Paul Blumenthal and Gopal Sathe, “India’s Biometric Database Is Creating A Perfect Surveillance State – And U.S. Tech Companies Are On Board,” Huffington Post, August 25, 2018, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/india-aadhuar-tech-companies_us_5b….
- 22. Srinivas Kodali and Amber Sinha, “(Updated) Information Security Practices of Aadhaar (or lack thereof): A documentation of public availability of Aadhaar Numbers with sensitive personal financial information,” The Centre for Internet and Society, May 1, 2017, https://cis-india.org/internet-governance/information-security-practice… .
- 23. Krishnadas Rajagopal, “Aadhaar data leaks not from UIDAI: Centre,” The Hindu, May 3, 2017, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/aadhaar-data-leaks-not-from-uidai….
- 24. Vidhi Doshi, “A security breach in India has left a billion people at risk of identity theft,” Washington Post, January 4, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/01/04/a-security….
- 25. Zack Whittaker, “Indian state government leaks thousands of Aadhaar numbers,” Tech Crunch, February 1, 2019, https://techcrunch.com/2019/01/31/aadhaar-data-leak/.
- 26. Anindita Sanyal, “Aadhaar Verdict Reserved By Supreme Court, 2nd Longest Case Ever,” NDTV, May 10, 2018, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/verdict-on-validity-of-aadhaar-reserved…; Aria Thaker, “The world’s largest biometric ID programme isn’t going anywhere,” Quartz India, September 26, 2018, https://qz.com/india/1402264/aadhaar-is-here-to-stay-indias-supreme-cou…; Privacy International, “Initial analysis of Indian Supreme Court decision on Aadhaar,” September 26, 2018, https://privacyinternational.org/long-read/2299/initial-analysis-indian….
- 27. “Cabinet approves promulgation of Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2019,” Press Information Bureau Government of India, February 28, 2019, https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1574079; “Cabinet approves Aadhaar Ordinance to allow its use as ID proof for bank accounts, SIM connection,” The Economic Times, March 1, 2019, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/cabinet-a….
- 28. Lok Sabha, “The Aadhaar And Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2019,” June 18, 2019, Http://Www.Prsindia.Org/Sites/Default/Files/Bill_Files/Aadhaar%20and%20Other%20Laws%20%28Amendment%29%20Bill%2C%202019.Pdf; “Parliament passes Aadhaar amendment bill,” Business Today, July 8, 2019, https://www.businesstoday.in/current/economy-politics/parliament-passes….
- 29. “The Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2019,” PRS Legislative Research, accessed October 8, 2020, http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/aadhaar-and-other-laws-amendment-bill….
- 30. Naman M. Aggarwal and Raman Jit Singh Chima, “India’s update to Aadhaar — a failure to fix the world’s largest biometrics-based national digital ID programme,” Access Now, June 26, 2019, https://www.accessnow.org/indias-update-to-aadhaar-a-failure-to-fix-the….
- 31. “SC seeks Centre's reply on plea against changes in law allowing private firms to use Aadhaar data,” Business Standard, November 22, 2019, https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/sc-seeks-centre-s….
- 32. Komal Gupta and Priyanka Mittal, “Amid right to privacy debate, new data protection law on the anvil, says govt,” Live Mint, August 2, 2017, http://www.livemint.com/Politics/qyHLWh2nVaVC5ilvyybAbI/Right-to-Privac….
- 33. Ministry of Economy and Information Technology, “The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018,” accessed October 8, 2020, http://meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/Personal_Data_Protection_Bill%2….
- 34. Ministry of Economy and Information Technology, “A Free and Fair Digital Economy: Protecting Privacy, Empowering Indians: Committee of Experts under the Chairmanship of Justice B.N. Srikrishna,” accessed October 8, 2020, http://meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/Data_Protection_Committee_Repor….
- 35. Swathi Mathur, “Data protection law will have to strike a balance between availability, utility and privacy: IT Minister,” The Times of India, August 1, 2018, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/data-protection-law-will-have….
- 36. “Justice Srikrishna committee submits report on data protection. Here're its top 10 suggestions” The Economic Times, July 26, 2018, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/justice-b….
- 37. “Lok Sabha refers data protection bill to joint panel of parliament” The Economic Times, December 11, 2019, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/lok-sabha….
- 38. Vrinda Bhandari, “New data bill gives sweeping powers to govt,” The Telegraph, December 14, 2019, https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/new-data-bill-gives-sweeping-pow….
- 39. Smriti Parsheera, “Regulatory governance under the PDP Bill: A powerful ship with an unchecked captain?” Medianama, January 7, 2020, https://www.medianama.com/2020/01/223-pdp-bill-2019-data-protection-aut….
- 40. Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava, “EXCLUSIVE: Documents show Modi Govt Building 360 Degree Database to Track Every Indian,” Huffington Post, March 17, 2020, https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/aadhaar-national-social-registry-da…; Ivan Mehta, “India plans to build an al-seeing database to track citizens’ every move by 2021,” The Next Web, March 17, 2020, https://thenextweb.com/in/2020/03/17/india-plans-to-build-an-all-seeing…; Aditi Agrawal, “Understanding India’s plan to create a National Social Registry,” Medianama, March 18, 2020, https://www.medianama.com/2020/03/223-understanding-indias-plan-to-crea….
- 41. Divij Joshi and Amba Kak, “India’s digital response to COVID-19 risks inefficacy, exclusion and discrimination,” The Caravan, April 19, 2020, https://caravanmagazine.in/health/india-digitial-response-covid-19-risk….
- 42. Smitha Krishna Prasad, “Aarogya Setu app lacks clear legal backing and limits, tends towards surveillance,” Deccan Herald, May 10, 2020, https://www.deccanherald.com/specials/sunday-spotlight/aarogya-setu-app….
- 43. Kritika Bhardwaj and Smitha Krishna Prasad, “Surveillance Without Safeguards In The Pandemic,” Article 14, April 30, 2020, https://www.article-14.com/post/pandemic-in-india-spurs-surveillance-wi….
- 44. Lok Sabha, “Question No. 1084, Ministry of Electronic and Information Technology,” February 8, 2017, https://loksabha.nic.in/Members/QResult16.aspx?qref=47049.
- 45. “RTI Reveals Govt Tracked Citizens’ Social Media For 2 Yrs: Report,” The Quint, June 12, 2018, https://www.thequint.com/news/india/social-media-monitoring-government-…; Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava, “Govt monitoring social media accounts of citizens since 2016, reveals RTI,“ Business Standard, December 9, 2018, https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/govt-monitori….
- 46. Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava, “40 government departments are using a social media surveillance tool,” Medianama, September 5, 2018, https://www.medianama.com/2018/09/223-40-government-departments-are-usi….
- 47. Suchitra Mohanty, “India's social media monitoring plan worries Supreme Court,” Reuters, July 13, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-socialmedia-monitoring/indias-…; “Govt withdraws ‘social media hub’ plan after SC’s surveillance state remark,” The Indian Express, August 3, 2018, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/govt-withdraws-proposal-to-crea….
- 48. Trisha Jalan, “Indian government again proposes social media surveillance, this time in the name of fake news,” Medianama, June 11, 2020, https://www.medianama.com/2020/06/223-india-social-media-surveillance-p…; “Surveillance of social media users is not the solution for fake news #SaveOurPrivacy,” Internet Freedom Foundation, June 19, 2020, https://internetfreedom.in/legal-notice-becil-tender-social-media-monit…; Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Ltd, “Invitation for Expression of Interest for the empanelment of agencies for providing Solution and Services related to fact verification and disinformation detection,” May 13, 2020, https://www.medianama.com/wp-content/uploads/BECIL-May13-Social-media-t….
- 49. Amber Sinha, “Social Media Monitoring,” Centre for Internet and Society, January 13, 2017, https://cis-india.org/internet-governance/blog/social-media-monitoring.
- 50. Vijay Kumar Yadav, “Mumbai Police pulled down 12,537 objectionable posts in 2019,” The Hindustan Times, January 21, 2020, https://web.archive.org/web/20200121082535/https://www.hindustantimes.c….
|Are service providers and other technology companies required to aid the government in monitoring the communications of their users?||2.002 6.006|
Companies are required to collect extensive data on users, and a variety of government agencies may invoke a range of laws to access the information collected.
Eight separate intelligence bodies are authorized to issue surveillance orders to service providers.1 Online intermediaries are required by law to “intercept, monitor, or decrypt” or otherwise provide user information to officials.2 The Telegraph Act levies civil penalties or license revocation for noncompliance,3 and violations of the IT Act carry a possible seven-year jail term.4 Unlawful interception is punishable by just three years’ imprisonment.5
ISPs setting up cable landing stations are required to install infrastructure for surveillance and keyword scanning of all traffic passing through each gateway.6 The ISP license bars internet providers from deploying bulk encryption; restricts the level of encryption for individuals, groups, or organizations to a key length of 40 bits;7 and mandates prior approval from the DoT or a designated officer to install encryption equipment.8
In September 2018, the Supreme Court set new data retention requirements and called for the immediate passing of a “robust” data protection law.9 However, a Personal Data Protection Bill intended to better protect privacy includes concerning provisions that could enable government surveillance without legislative backing (see C5).10 The bill proposes a hybrid data localization model, raising concerns about surveillance and cybersecurity.11 The new, more stringent requirements would replace previous Indian policy, which applied a sectoral approach to data transfers and storage in sensitive industries such as telecoms, banking, and healthcare.
Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for Lawful Interception and Monitoring of Telecom Service Providers—regulations issued in 201412—restricted interception to a service provider’s “chief nodal officer,” and mandated that interception orders be in writing.13 Rules issued in 2011 under the IT Act provided for greater protection of personal data handled by companies,14 but do not apply to the government.
The draft intermediary guidelines under Section 79 of the IT Act, which are designed to replace 2011 rules, would require intermediaries to retain any content removed for at least 180 days, or longer upon request by a court or a government agency (see B2). In the meantime, many components of the legal framework surrounding data retention and lawful interception remain inconsistent with one another.
License agreements require service providers to guarantee the designated security agency or licensor remote access to information for monitoring;15 ensure that their equipment contains necessary software and hardware for centralized interception and monitoring; and provide the geographical location, such as the nearest Base Transceiver Station, of any subscriber at a given point in time.16 Under a 2011 Equipment Security Agreement that did not appear on the DoT website, telecom operators were separately told to develop the capacity to pinpoint any customer’s physical location within 50 meters.17 “Customers specified by security agencies” were prioritized for location monitoring, with “all customers, irrespective of whether they are the subject of legal intercept or not,” to be monitored by June 2014.18 The agreement apparently remains in effect.
In 2014, an amendment to licensing conditions mandated government testing for all telecom equipment prior to use, effective in 2015.19 Cybercafé owners are required to photograph their customers, arrange computer screens in plain sight, keep copies of client identification and their browsing histories for one year, and forward this data to the government each month.20
In January and February 2020, local offices of the DoT reportedly made mass requests for call detail records of subscribers in various parts of the country, including Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, and Punjab. These requests were reported after the COAI red-flagged the requests to the secretary of the DoT, noting that the requests did not conform to existing legal guidelines for such requests, including the required DoT rationale for seeking the information.21
The government also seeks user information from international tech platforms. Between July and December 2019, Google reported complying with 62 percent of the government’s record-high 10,891 user data disclosure requests and 25,896 account access requests.22 During the same time period, Facebook complied with 57 percent of the government’s 26,698 requests for user data.23 India made the second-highest number of such requests in the world, after only the United States.24 In the same period, Twitter reported that it complied with 1.7 percent of the government’s 789 requests for account information.25
- 1. Research and Analysis Wing, the Intelligence Bureau, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, the Enforcement Directorate, the Narcotics Control Bureau, the Central Bureau of Investigation, the National Technical Research Organization and the state police. Privacy International, “India Telecommunications Privacy Report,” Chapter III: Privacy Issues.
- 2. Ministry of Law and Justice, “The Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008,” Section 69(4).
- 3. Sunil Abraham and Elonnai Hickok, “Government Access to Private Sector Data in India,“ International Data Privacy Law, Vol. 2, No. 4, November 2012, 307, https://academic.oup.com/idpl/article/2/4/302/676984.
- 4. Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, “Information Technology Act, 2000,” Section 69(4).
- 5. Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications, “Indian Telegraph Act, 1885,” Section 26.
- 6. Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Guidelines for Grant of Unified License,” Guideline 42.
- 7. Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Guidelines for Grant of Unified License,” Guideline 13(d)(vii).
- 8. Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Guidelines for Grant of Unified License.”
- 9. Privacy International, “Initial analysis of Indian Supreme Court decision on Aadhaar.”
- 10. “New data bill gives sweeping powers to govt,” The Telegraph, December 13, 2019, https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/new-data-bill-gives-sweeping-pow….
- 11. Rishabh Bailey, “The issues around data localisation,” The Hindu, February 25, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-issues-around-data-localisat…; Arindrajit Basu and Justin Sherman, “Key Global Takeaways From India's Revised Personal Data Protection Bill,” Lawfare Blog, January 23, 2020, https://www.lawfareblog.com/key-global-takeaways-indias-revised-persona….
- 12. Shalini Singh, “Centre issues new guidelines for phone interception,” The Hindu, May 13, 2016, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/centre-issues-new-guidelines-for-….
- 13. Divij Joshi, “New Standard Operating Procedures for Lawful Interception and Monitoring,” Centre for Internet and Society, March 13, 2014, http://cis-india.org/internet-governance/blog/new-standard-operating-pr….
- 14. Bhairav Acharya, “Comments on the Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011,” Centre for Internet and Society, March 31, 2013, https://cis-india.org/internet-governance/blog/comments-on-the-it-reaso….
- 15. Saikat Datta, “A Fox On A Fishing Expedition,” Outlook India, May 3, 2010, http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?265192.
- 16. Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Guidelines for Grant of Unified License,” Guideline 8.
- 17. Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Amendment to the Unified Access Service License Agreement for security related concerns or expansion of Telecom Services in various zones of the country,” September 7, 2011, http://www.dot.gov.in/access-services/amendments-access-service-licences; Nikhil Pahwa, “New Telecom Equipment Policy Mandates Location Based Services Accuracy Of 50Mtrs: COAI,” Medianama, June 17, 2011, http://www.medianama.com/2011/06/223-new-telecom-equipment-policy-manda….
- 18. “Additional Cost Implication for the Telecom Industry,” IIFL Securities, June 16, 2011, http://www.indiainfoline.com/article/print/news/additional-cost-implica…; “Operators Implementing Location-based Services: Govt,” Gadgets 360, August 9, 2012, https://gadgets.ndtv.com/telecom/news/operators-implementing-location-b…. In June 2014, the DoT issued a letter to all cellular mobile telephone service licensees, unified access licensees and unified licensees, asking them to submit the status of implementation of location-based services within seven days of receipt. Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Implementation of Location Based Services with Time Frame and Accuracy as Mandated by License Amendment dated 31.05.2011 to UASL-reg,” June 19, 2014, http://dot.gov.in/accessservices/implementation-location-based-services….
- 19. “[Amended] Guidelines for Grant of Unified License,” November 13, 2014, http://www.dot.gov.in/sites/default/files/Amended%20UL%20Guidelines%201…; Sandeep Dixit, “Testing of Telecom Equipment in India Mandatory from next year,” The Hindu, July 13, 2016, https://perma.cc/R3Q5-CWM7.
- 20. Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Information Technology (Guidelines for Cyber Cafe) Rules, 2011,” Rule 4.
- 21. Pranav Mukul and Anil Sasi, “Cellphone operators red-flag surveillance after Govt wants call records of all users,” The Indian Express, March 18, 2020, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/call-data-records-government-su…; Pranav Mukul, “Explained: Why is DoT asking for call data records by the bulk?” The Indian Express, March 19, 2020, https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/dot-call-data-records-telec….
- 22. Google, “Global requests for user information: July to December 2019,” Transparency Report, accessed October 8, 2020, https://transparencyreport.google.com/user-data/overview?user_requests_….
- 23. Facebook Transparency, “India: July to December 2018,” accessed October 8, 2020, https://govtrequests.facebook.com/government-data-requests/country/IN.
- 24. Yuthika Bhargawa, “India’s request for Facebook user data second only to U.S.,” The Hindu, May 13, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/indias-request-for-facebook-user….
- 25. Twitter Transparency, “India: January to June 2019,” accessed October 8, 2020, https://transparency.twitter.com/en/countries/in.html.
|Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in retribution for their online activities?||2.002 5.005|
Trolling and violent threats for online activity are common, as is physical violence during detentions and in politically tense circumstances such as protests.
During the CAA protests, online journalists faced physical violence and other forms of abuse from police, although much of the violence against journalists during the demonstrations related to offline reporting. 1 For example, Delhi police beat journalist Shaheen Abdulla of the news website Maktoob Media, a video of which was widely viewed on social media.2 Journalists and activists have also faced physical violence and even alleged torture by authorities while in detention.3 Activist Sadaf Jafar was arrested while live streaming to Facebook during the CAA protests, and she claimed that she was severely beaten by police during her time in detention.4
In February 2019, during the previous coverage period, Suman Pandey and Vinod Dongre, reporters for the online outlet The Voices, were attacked by local BJP members and forced to delete video footage while reporting on a “scuffle” at a BJP meeting.5 In October 2018, Saritha Balan, from the online outlet the News Minute, was kicked by right-wing Hindu protestors while covering demonstrations against a Supreme Court ruling allowing women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala.6
Aggressive online commentators who self-identify as Hindu nationalists routinely abuse their opponents. Much trolling appears to align with the BJP governing agenda, but there is limited evidence that government actors are directly involved. Rather, officials’ tacit support of online abuse—evidenced, for example, by the prime minister following known troll accounts on Twitter, or the use of volunteers to pump out anti-Muslim content across WhatsApp ahead of the elections—contribute to a climate in which people who are perceived to oppose popular discourse face intimidation, even as robust political debate continues in many online forums.7
However, in some cases BJP officials have directly disseminated incendiary content or other violent threats online. The Wall Street Journal reported in August 2020, after the coverage period, that BJP politician T. Raja Singh’s violent and Islamophobic content on Facebook, including calls for Rohingya Muslims to be shot, violated the company’s policies.8 In another instance, Arfa Khanum Sherwani, a senior editor at the Wire, was subjected to online harassment, bullying, and death and rape threats on social media by BJP officials in January and February 2020.9
Reports suggest that these forms of abuse and trolling are heightened when the victim is a woman, a Muslim or member of another minority religion, is from a lower caste, or otherwise identifies within a marginalized group.10 Journalists are also targeted on social media irrespective of the medium they work in. For example, journalist Rana Ayyub has been the target of death and rape threats on social media.11
Hate speech against Muslims is rampant on Twitter, with Islamophobic hashtags frequently trending. In October 2019, a hashtag in Hindi that translated to “Total Boycott of Muslims” trended in the country.12 In April 2020, the hashtag “CoronavirusJihad” began trending on Twitter as false information claiming the Muslim community was spreading the disease circulated widely.13 Member of Parliament and BJP official Anantkumar Hedge reportedly shared similar content on Facebook.14
Women in politics commonly experience trolling.15 In June 2018, a barrage of users attacked, using misogynistic and hateful language, then Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj for helping an interfaith couple obtain a passport.16 Amnesty International and Amnesty India’s Troll Patrol project found that women politicians were subject to massive amounts of online trolling, hatred, and misogyny during the 2019 general elections.17 An Amnesty report states that one in seven tweets directed at women politicians were abusive in nature, amounting to an average of 113 abusive tweets per day per woman. Women from marginalized communities faced the brunt of the abuse: Muslim women faced 94 percent more ethnic and religious slurs, and women from Bahujan backgrounds received 59 percent more caste-based abuse compared to women from privileged upper-caste backgrounds.18
As newer platforms like TikTok gained in popularity in India, they become another source for online harassment of people from minority groups and particular castes.19 In some cases, this led to consequences such as suicide and physical violence. A Wired report in mid-2019 noted that across a two-month time period, 500 pieces of casteist content, in the form of hate speech and threats of violence and abuse, were identified on TikTok. Caste names of certain communities served as the hashtags under which large volumes of abusive content were generated.20
- 1. Human Rights Watch, “’Shoot the Traitors’: Discrimination Against Muslims under India’s New Citizenship Policy,” April 9, 2020 https://www.hrw.org/report/2020/04/09/shoot-traitors/discrimination-aga…; “Journalists beaten, detained while covering protests in cities across India,” Committee to Protect Journalists, January 21, 2020, https://cpj.org/2020/01/journalists-beaten-detained-while-covering-prot…; “CAA protests: Editors Guild slam police for 'violence' against journalists,” The Times of India, December 23, 2019, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/caa-protests-editors-guild-sl….
- 2. “Journalists beaten, detained while covering protests in cities across India,” Committee to Protect Journalists.
- 3. Jayshree Bajoria, “Deaths in Custody in India Highlight Police Torture,” Human Rights Watch, June 30, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/06/30/deaths-custody-india-highlight-poli….
- 4. Manish Sahu, “Anti-CAA protests: Out on bail, Sadaf Jafar says was tortured and called Pakistani,” The Indian Express, January 8, 2020, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/uttar-pradesh-caa-protests-out-….
- 5. “Indian reporters attacked by local BJP leaders at meeting,” Reporters Without Borders, February 4, 2019, https://rsf.org/en/news/indian-reporters-attacked-local-bjp-leaders-mee…; Saurab Sharma, “Scribe Beaten Up by BJP Office Bearers in Chhattisgarh,” News Click, February 4, 2019, https://www.newsclick.in/scribe-beaten-bjp-office-bearers-chhattisgarh.
- 6. “TNM reporter Saritha Balan attacked by anti-women Sabarimala mob near Nilakkal,” The News Minute, October 17, 2018. https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/tnm-reporter-saritha-balan-violen…; Shehab Khan, “Female Reporters attacks at Indian temple amid dispute over ban on women,” The Independent, October 17, 2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/female-journalist-attacke….
- 7. Samarth Bansal, “How the BJP Used Technology to Secure Modi's Second Win,” Cigi, June 12, 2019, https://www.cigionline.org/articles/how-bjp-used-technology-secure-modi…; David Gilbert, “Modi's trolls are ready to wreak havoc on India's marathon election,” Vice, April 11, 2019, https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/597mwk/modis-trolls-are-ready-to-wre….
- 8. Jeff Horwitz and Newley Purnell, “Facebook’s Hate Speech Rules Collide with Indian Politics,” Wall Street Journal, August 14, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-hate-speech-india-politics-muslim….
- 9. “Indian journalist Arfa Khanum Sherwani receives death threats after BJP officials share edited video,” Committee to Protect Journalists, February 24, 2020, https://cpj.org/2020/02/indian-journalist-arfa-khanum-sherwani-receives….
- 10. Mariya Salim, “Online Trolling of Indian Women Is Only an Extension of the Everyday Harassment They Face,” The Wire, July 8, 2018, https://thewire.in/women/online-trolling-of-indian-women-is-only-an-ext…; Shobita Dhar, “A made-in-India app for the LGBT community,” The Times of India, May 18, 2018, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/a-made-in-india-app-for-lgbt-….
- 11. Reporters without Borders, “20/2020 List of Press Freedom’s Digital Predators,” March 10, 2020, https://rsf.org/sites/default/files/a4_predateur-en-final.pdf.
- 12. Puja Bhattacharjee, “Trending hate against Muslims: Is Twitter Complicit?” News Central, October 21, 2019, https://newscentral24x7.com/kamlesh-tiwari-murder-hate-muslims-yogi-adi…; Nivedita Hazra, “#CasteistTwitter: Minorities in the Time of Social Media,” Feminism in India, November 15, 2019, https://feminisminindia.com/2019/11/15/casteisttwitter-minorities-time-….
- 13. Billy Perrigo, “It Was Already Dangerous to Be Muslim in India. Then Came the Coronavirus,” Time, April 3, 2020, https://time.com/5815264/coronavirus-india-islamophobia-coronajihad/.
- 14. Jeff Horwitz and Newley Purnell, “Facebook’s Hate Speech Rules Collide with Indian Politics.”
- 15. “Troll Patrol India,” Amnesty International, accessed October 8, 2020 https://web.archive.org/web/20200311161524/https://decoders.amnesty.org….
- 16. K. Deepalakshmi, “Sushma Swaraj becomes the latest victim of Internet trolling,” The Hindu, June 29, 2018, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/sushma-swaraj-becomes-the-latest….
- 17. Amnesty International, “Trolling Verified: Troll Patrol India’s Findings on Online Abuse,” accessed October 8, 2020, https://amnesty.org.in/trolling-verified-troll-patrol-indias-findings-o….
- 18. Amnesty International, “Trolling Verified: Troll Patrol India’s Findings on Online Abuse”; Swati Gupta and Eliza Mackintosh, “Troll armies, ‘deepfake’ porn videos and violent threats. How Twitter became so toxic for India’s women politicians” CNN News, January 22, 2020, https://edition.cnn.com/2020/01/22/india/india-women-politicians-trolli….
- 19. Nilesh Christopher, “TikTok is fuelling India's deadly hate speech epidemic,” WIRED, August 12, 2019, https://www.wired.co.uk/article/tiktok-india-hate-speech-caste.
- 20. Nilesh Christopher, “TikTok is fueling India’s deadly hate speech epidemic.”
|Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack?||2.002 3.003|
India remained a frequent target of cyberattacks during the coverage period. The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) reported nearly 395,000 cybersecurity incidents in 2019, almost double the figure from 2018.1 Over 305,000 of these attacks were network scanning, probing, or vulnerable services. Another 62,163 were incidents related to a virus or malicious code, while just over 24,366 were website defacements. CERT-In issues periodic advisories, and the government updates a crisis-management plan for central and state governments to respond to cybercrime on an annual basis.2 CERT-In also established that 35 percent of attacks against India were orchestrated by China.3
Reports suggest that cybersecurity attacks and breaches increased dramatically in India since the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020.4 In April 2020, amid the pandemic, hackers linked to Pakistan reportedly posed as government health advisors to send malware-containing emails to many Indian citizens in an attempt to gain access to personal information.5 In June 2020, CERT-In warned about a large-scale phishing campaign in which attackers targeted the personal and financial information of Indian citizens and businesses by impersonating government authorities conveying information regarding COVID-19.6
In June 2020, after the coverage period, hackers allegedly based in China reportedly attempted 40,300 cyberattacks across five days amid a spike in border dispute-related tensions between China and India.7 The attacks were aimed at hijacking internet protocols and phishing.
A report by the software solutions provider Subex said India suffered the world’s highest number of cyberattacks during the second quarter of 2019, with spikes coinciding with geopolitical tensions in the region.8 Critical infrastructure bore the brunt of these attacks, with sensitive sectors such as banking and defense also affected.
According to Symantec’s 2018 Internet Security Threat Report, India was subject to the second-highest number of targeted attacks in the world between 2015 and 2017.9 The UK-based Comparitech rated India as the 18th least cyber-secure nation in 2020, an improvement from the country’s rank of 15 in 2019.10
- 1. Indian Computer Emergency Response Team, Ministry of Electronic and Information Technology, “Annual Report 2019,” accessed October 8, 2020, https://www.cert-in.org.in/s2cMainServlet?pageid=PUBANULREPRT.
- 2. Lok Sabha, “Question no. 3652, Ministry of Electronic and Information Technology,” http://18.104.22.168/Loksabha/Questions/qsearch15.aspx.
- 3. Brendan Hanson, Salman Khalid, and Elizabeth Radziszewski, “India’s Response to China’s Cyber Attacks,” The Diplomat, July 3, 2019, https://thediplomat.com/2019/07/indias-response-to-chinas-cyber-attacks/; “35 per cent of attacks on Indian sites are from China: Here are the cyber laws that India should know,” India Today, August 23, 2018, https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/gk-current-affairs/story/35-p….
- 4. Devina Sengupta, “Cyber attacks in India surge since lockdown,” The Economic Times, June 25, 2020, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/internet/cyber-attacks-in-ind….
- 5. Regina Mihindukulasuriya, “Pakistan-linked hackers pose as Indian govt, carry out cyberattacks under Covid-19 cover,” The Print, April 23, 2020, https://theprint.in/tech/pakistan-linked-hackers-pose-as-indian-govt-ca….
- 6. “CERT-In warns of phishing campaign against citizens, businesses,” The Hindu, June 22, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/cert-in-warns-of-phishing-campai….
- 7. “Chinese hackers attempted 40,000 cyber attacks on Indian web, banking sector in 5 days,” India Today, June 24, 2020, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/chinese-hackers-attempted-40-000-….
- 8. Subex, “Global Threat Landscape Report 2019,” February 27, 2020, https://www.subexsecure.com/pdf/reports/Threat-Landscape-Report-2019.pdf?.
- 9. “Internet Security Threat Report: India third most vulnerable country to cyber threats,” [in Hindi] Current Affairs Today, April 5, 2019, https://currentaffairs.gktoday.in/internet-security-threat-report-india…; Symantec, “2018 Internet Security Threat Report,” accessed June 24, 2018, https://web.archive.org/web/20181218171511/https://resource.elq.symante….
- 10. Regina Mihindukulasuriya, “China pushes past India in cybersecurity ranking in 2020 after lagging behind last year,” The Print, March 3, 2020, https://theprint.in/tech/china-pushes-past-india-in-cybersecurity-ranki….
See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.See More
Global Freedom Score67 100 partly free
Internet Freedom Score51 100 partly free
Freedom in the World StatusFree