|A Obstacles to Access||13 25|
|B Limits on Content||21 35|
|C Violations of User Rights||17 40|
Internet freedom in India marginally improved over the last year, following four years of decline, as efforts to bridge the country’s digital divides expanded access to the internet. While the government continues to impose internet shutdowns, they have reduced in their frequency and intensity. Legal challenges to laws enabling the government to censor online content—including against the controversial Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021—have seen limits imposed on some powers. However, the state continues to block online content, and Indian internet users risk arrest for posts critical of the government. Misinformation and disinformation are frequently shared online, and journalists, nongovernmental organizations, and members of marginalized groups remain at risk of facing hate speech and online harassment.
India is a multiparty electoral democracy with frequent elections at the federal and state levels. The Indian constitution guarantees various fundamental rights including the freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion, rights to form associations, and the right to privacy. The government has presided over discriminatory policies and increased violence affecting the Muslim population. Muslims, scheduled castes (Dalits), and scheduled tribes (Adivasis) remain economically and socially marginalized.
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.
Editor's Note: Following the publication of this report, the Wire removed reporting on Tek Fog from its website pending an internal investigation. While described in this report, the outlet’s stories did not impact India’s score. References can be found in indicators B5 and C7, for which there was no score change in the 2022 report. These references have been updated to reflect the Wire’s modifications to its website.
- Government programs to expand internet infrastructure have improved access to the internet, particularly in rural areas (see A1 and A2).
- Officials imposed internet shutdowns throughout the coverage period, though they were primarily short-term, localized restrictions (see A3).
- In April 2022, the cybersecurity authority released new rules requiring virtual private network (VPN) providers to store information about their users for 5 years, prompting a few providers to remove their servers from the country (see A5 and C4).
- Government officials ordered websites blocked and content removed from social media platforms throughout the coverage period, including under the Intermediary Guidelines (see B1, B2, and B3).
- Courts paused contentious provisions of the IT Rules that undermine press freedom, ordered an evaluation of the repressive colonial-era sedition law, and launched an investigation into government use of the spyware Pegasus (see B3, C1, C2, and C5).
- Allegations emerged in the media that members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) used an app called Tek Fog to shape public narratives by manipulating social media and coordinating online harassment campaigns. After this report’s publication, the Wire removed their reporting on Tek Fog from their website pending an internal investigation. (see B5 and C7).
|Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections?||3.003 6.006|
While internet penetration among India’s nearly 1.4 billion population is relatively low, access to the internet continues to rise. According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), internet penetration stood at 60.46 percent as of December 2021, representing 829 million internet subscribers—an increase from 58.51 percent in the previous year.1 According to TRAI, 496 million are urban subscribers while 333 million are rural subscribers.2 The Department of Telecommunications has reported that over 558,500 of the more than 597,600 inhabited villages in India have wireless broadband coverage.3
By contrast, the digital analytics company Datareportal’s Digital 2022 analysis identified a national penetration rate of at least 47 percent as of January 2022.4
India’s median connection speed as of May 2022 was 14.28 Mbps for mobile internet and 47.19 Mbps for fixed broadband internet.5 Nearly 97 percent of subscribers accessed the internet through mobile devices as of December 2021, with only 26.58 million having wired internet connections, per TRAI data.6
Several public and private sector initiatives aim to improve internet access. The government has set up over 50,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots under the prime minister’s Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (PM-WANI) scheme, and is planning to set up around 2 million more.7 The finance minister announced in February 2022 that the government plans to launch fifth-generation (5G) mobile network spectrum by 2023, and aims to connect all villages in the country through optic fiber by 2025 to enable affordable broadband.8 Launched in 2011, the government’s BharatNet project has aimed to provide broadband connectivity to all the 250,000 gram panchayats (units of local self-governance at the village level) in India,9 but has faced several delays and challenges (see A2).10 As of February 2022, the initiative connects about 171,000 gram panchayats.11 RailTel, a public sector undertaking under the Ministry of Railways, aims to provide free Wi-Fi internet facilities at railway stations across the country, with 6,100 stations connected as of March 2022.12
The National Internet Exchange India (NIXI), a nonprofit organization set up to facilitate peering between ISPs and improve internet services, announced plans in March 2022 to establish 16 additional internet exchanges to improve internet access.13 In December 2021, 7 new internet exchange nodes were inaugurated in the state of Uttar Pradesh.14 Reliance Jio announced a joint venture with SES, a Luxembourg-based satellite solutions provider, in February, with the aim of providing affordable satellite-based communications services.15
- 1Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators October – December 2021” May 4 2022, https://www.trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/QPIR_05052022.pdf.
- 2Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators October – December 2021” May 4 2022, https://www.trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/QPIR_05052022.pdf.
- 3ibid; Government of India Ministry of Communications, “Answer to Unstarred Question No. 2868,” Lok Sabha, December 15, 2021, http://loksabhaph.nic.in/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=31120&lsno=17.
- 4We Are Social and Kepios, “Digital 2022: India,” February 15, 2022, https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2022-india.
- 5Speedtest, “Speedtest Global Index”, accessed September 2022, https://www.speedtest.net/global-index/india.
- 6Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators October – December 2021” May 4 2022, https://www.trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/QPIR_05052022.pdf
- 7Sudhir Chowdhary, “ PM-WANI: Building bridges for a connected Bharat” Financial Express, October 20, 2021, https://www.financialexpress.com/industry/technology/pm-wani-building-b…; “PM WANI’s public Wi-Fi proliferation to help local entrepreneurs like chaiwalas, kiranas earn more: Govt”, Financial Express, November 24, 2021, https://www.financialexpress.com/industry/sme/msme-eodb-pm-wanis-public…; PM-WANI Central Registry, https://pmwani.gov.in/wani.
- 8Aashish Aryan, “Budget 2022: Govt lays ground for 5G rollout; pushes rural broadband deadline to 2025,” The Indian Express, February 02, 2022, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/budget-2022-fm-announces-5g-auc….
- 9Government of India Ministry of Communications, “Answer to Unstarred Question No. 1425,” Lok Sabha, July 28, 2021, http://loksabhaph.nic.in/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=25718&lsno=17.
- 10S Ronendra Singh, “BharatNet loses speed; ‘2025 target doubtful”, The Economic Times, February 21, 2022, https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/info-tech/completion-of-bharatnet-…. .; Standing Committee on Information Technology, “Progress of Implementation of BharatNet”, August 07, 2018, http://184.108.40.206/lsscommittee/Information%20Technology/16_Informat….; Sumyesh Srivastava, “Bharatnet Implementation has Been Slow, Riddled with Shortcomings; Needs Urgent Remedial Action to Democratise Internet Access”, TECH 2, December 26, 2019, https://www.firstpost.com/tech/news-analysis/bharat-net-implementation-….
- 11ET Bureau, “BharatNet now connects 171,000 blocks”, The Economic Times, February 23, 2022 https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/telecom/telecom-news/bhar….
- 12Devanjana Nag, ‘ RailTel high-speed internet: Now enjoy fast & free Wi-Fi facility at Indian Railways’ 6,100 stations’, Financial Express, March 22, 2022, https://www.financialexpress.com/infrastructure/railways/railtel-high-s…; “High-speed free Wi-Fi now available at 6100 railway stations: RailTel”, CNBC TV18, March 22, 2022, https://www.cnbctv18.com/technology/high-speed-free-wi-fi-now-available….
- 13Ayushi Kar, “NIXI plans to add 16 more internet exchanges”, BusinessLine, August 01, 2021, https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/info-tech/nixi-plans-to-add-16-mor…
- 14Press Information Bureau, Government of India, “7 new Internet Exchanges launched by MoS (Electronics & IT) Shri Rajeev Chandrasekhar and MoS( Law & Justice) in Uttar Pradesh”, December 23, 2021, https://pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1784627.
- 15Tech Desk, “Reliance Jio partners with SES to announce satellite-based internet for India,” The Indian Express, February 14, 2022, https://indianexpress.com/article/technology/tech-news-technology/relia….
|Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons?||2.002 3.003|
Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 as government programs to expand access to affordable internet and address the urban-rural digital divide increased connectivity.
While mobile data plans in India are quite cheap, digital divides remain across geography, language, and gender. According to a 2022 report from the UK-based company Cable, the average cost of one month of broadband services in India is $15.59.1 The Inclusive Internet Index 2021 ranked India 13 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 Access to cheap mobile data has served to bridge the digital gender divide by allowing more women to access the internet to participate in markets, join community discourse, and build networks.3 The Indian government maintains its stance on net neutrality by barring differential pricing for data services.4
The rate of subscribers in rural areas is only 37.25 per 100 people, compared with 103.95 per 100 in urban areas.5 Several initiatives aim to narrow the urban-rural divide,6 such as the PM-WANI (see A1).7 The government’s Digital India Programme, launched in 2014,8 plans to extend fiber-optic cables to more rural areas,9 establish internet-connected common service centers (CSCs),10 and provide residents with e-literacy programs.11
Despite delays in implementation and uneven progress made among states,12 the government-led BharatNet project successfully connected almost 70 percent of gram panchayats as of February 2022.13 The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) reportedly found in July 2021 that the maintenance of cable and other infrastructure under the BharatNet project was inadequate in places, resulting in poor quality of service.14 CSCs initially provided free internet services under the project in 120,000 locations,15 and subsequently began charging users in March 2020 to reduce the project’s financial cost and extend the scope of the service.16 CSCs have trained 10,000 rural community members on the maintenance of the BharatNet telecom infrastructure as of January 2021, with 100,000 total planned, to enable public participation in digital governance.17 The deadline for completion of the BharatNet project has been extended to 2025.18
A significant gender divide persists, with women only making up about a third of Indian internet users.19 According to the 2019–21 National Family Health Survey, only 33 percent of adult women have access to the internet, as opposed to 57.1 percent of men in the country.20 The divide is particularly pronounced in rural areas, and rates of access also vary between states.21 However, the GSMA, a trade body that represents mobile network operators worldwide, noted that the percentage of women who were aware of mobile internet services rose from 19 percent in 2017 to 53 percent in 2021.22 In 2015, Google and Tata Trusts launched the Internet Saathi program to promote digital literacy and provide digital skills training among women.23
With 22 official languages, language remains a barrier to access in India. As of February 2021, the .bharat domain was available in all 22 official languages.24 In December 2020, Google introduced various capabilities to make it easier to use Google services in Indian languages.25 According to a study by Meta, 91 percent of online interaction by women is conducted in English, indicating that access to social media is limited to English-speaking women.26
- 1“Global broadband pricing league table 2022”, Cable, https://www.cable.co.uk/broadband/pricing/worldwide-comparison/#regions.
- 2The Economist Intelligence Unit, “The Inclusive Internet Index 2022:Affordability,” accessed June, 2022, https://impact.economist.com/projects/inclusive-internet-index/2022/aff…
- 3Yasaswini Sampathkumar, “In India, Smartphones and Cheap Data Are Giving Women a Voice,” Wired, January 04, 2021, https://www.wired.com/story/india-smartphones-cheap-data-giving-women-v….
- 4Aayush Soni, “India deals blow to Facebook in people-powered 'net neutrality' row” The Guardian, February 08, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/feb/08/india-facebook-free-…; Shruti Dhapola, “Net Neutrality rules approved by government; Internet to remain free and open in India”, The New Indian Express, July 12, 2018, https://indianexpress.com/article/technology/tech-news-technology/net-n….
- 5Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators October – December 2021” May 4 2022, https://www.trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/QPIR_05052022.pdf
- 6BSNL Selects NovelSat for satellite broadband, backhaul services”, ET Teleceom, March 19, 2021, https://telecom.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/bsnl-selects-novelsat…; “BSNL Selects NOVELSAT Hub System for Remote Islands Connectivity”, NOVELSAT, March 17, 2021, https://novelsat.com/bsnl-selects-novelsat-hub-system-for-remote-island…; “Chennai- Andaman and Nicobar undersea internet cable project: 6 facts”, India Today, August 10, 2020, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/chennai-andaman-and-nicobar-under… ct-6-facts-1709651-2020-08-10; “PM inaugurates undersea cable between Chennai and Andaman & Nicobar islands”. The Hindu BuissnessLine, August 10, 2020,https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/pm-inaugurates-undersea-ca….
- 7Satyam Damora, “PM Wani is key to affordable internet for all’ The Hindu Business Line, July 6, 2021. https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/pm-wani-is-key-to-affordab….
- 8Digital India, “Digital India – About,” March 14, 2021, https://digitalindia.gov.in/.
- 9“National Optic Fibre Network (NOFN),” Bharat Broadband Network Limited, http://bbnl.nic.in/index1.aspx?lsid=249&lev=2&lid=21&langid=1
- 10“Welcome to CSC,” Common Service Centres Scheme (CSC), Digital India, March 14, 2021,https://csc.gov.in/.
- 11“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.
- 12S Ronendra Singh, “BharatNet loses speed; ‘2025 target doubtful”, The Economic Times, February 21, 2022, https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/info-tech/completion-of-bharatnet-…; Prajwal Suvarna, “BharatNet: Digital India’s Biggest Miss”, Deccan Herald, August 1, 2021. https://www.deccanherald.com/specials/insight/bharatnet-digital-indias-….
- 13Bharat Broadband Network Ltd., “BharatNet Status”, March 14, 2022, http://bbnl.nic.in/BharatNet.pdf..
- 14Muntazir Abbas, “BharatNet quality poor despite payments to CSC: CAG” The Economic Times, July 17, 2021, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/telecom/telecom-news/bhar…;
- 15Surabhi 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….
- 16Amit 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…; “Free WiFi to all villages connected via BharatNet till March 2020: Ravi Shankar Prasad”, ET Government, December 26, 2019, https://government.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/digital-india/free… ;“Services We Provide,” CSC WifiChoupal, October 06, 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….
- 17“CSC partners Sterlite Technologies to train VLEs in telecom infra maintenance,” Economic Times Telecom, January 19, 2021, https://telecom.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/csc-partners-sterlite….
- 18Ayushi Kar, “Much delayed optic fibre project to be completed by 2025”, The Hindu Business Line, February 1, 2022. https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/info-tech/much-delayed-optical-fib…
- 19“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-….
- 20Aihik Sur, “Women In Bihar And AP Are The Worst Off When It Comes To Internet Access, A New Survey Finds”, MediaNama, December 01, 2021, https://www.medianama.com/2021/12/223-internet-access-gender-divide-ind…; National Family Health Survey, (NFHS5), “Compendium of Fact Sheets”, http://rchiips.org/nfhs/NFHS-5_FCTS/Final%20Compendium%20of%20fact%20sh….
- 21National Family Health Survey, (NFHS5), “Compendium of Fact Sheets”, http://rchiips.org/nfhs/NFHS-5_FCTS/Final%20Compendium%20of%20fact%20sh…; 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….; Kaunain Sheriff M, “NFHS data shows urban-rural, gender gaps in Internet use”, The Indian Express, December 14, 2020, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/nfhs-data-shows-urban-rural-gen….
- 22GSM Association, “The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2021,” June 2021, https://www.gsma.com/r/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/The-Mobile-Gender-Gap….
- 23Priya Sundarajan,“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… Ankita Chakravarti, “Google Internet Saathi programme turns messiah for unemployed women in rural areas”, India Today, March 08, 2021,; Shruti Dhapola, https://www.indiatoday.in/technology/features/story/google-internet-saa…; “Women’s Day: Google’s ‘Internet Saathi’ to now lend helping hand to rural women entrepreneurs”, The Indian Express, March 08, 2021, https://indianexpress.com/article/technology/tech-news-technology/women…
- 24Muntazir Abbas, “Now bharat domain available in 22 languages”, ET Telecom, February 17, 2021, https://telecom.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/now-bharat-domain-ava…; Megha Mandavia,” Google announces new India specific product features for local language access”, The Economic Times, November 18 2021. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/technology/google-announces-n….
- 25Press Trust of India, “Google to add language capabilities to drive internet adoption in India”, Hindustan Times, December 17, 2020, https://www.hindustantimes.com/business-news/google-to-add-language-cap…; Jagmeet Singh, “Google Will Let You Search in More Indian Languages, Google Maps Gets Native Language Support in India”, Gadgets 360, December 17, 2020, https://gadgets.ndtv.com/internet/news/google-search-maps-indian-langua…
- 26Regina Mihindukulasuriya, “English India’s most used social media language, but it’s shutting out rural women: Meta paper”, The Print, December 9, 2021, https://theprint.in/tech/english-indias-most-used-social-media-language….
|Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity?||2.002 6.006|
Score Change: The score increased from 1 to 2 because the government imposed no severe internet shutdowns during the coverage period—though shutdowns remain common, usually at the local level and for a short term.
India is a global leader in the number of internet shutdowns imposed,1 and local authorities have restricted connectivity since at least 2010.2 While the frequency, geographic distribution, and duration of internet shutdowns had previously been increasing, the number of internet shutdowns has reduced in recent years: 132 internet shutdowns were recorded in 2020, 101 in 2021, and 67 between January and August 2022, according to the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC). 3 Because the government does not track internet shutdowns across the country, they are monitored by civil society organizations using newspaper reports, right to information requests, and anecdotal evidence.4 Authorities typically justify shutdowns as cautionary measures to maintain law and order, quell potential violence or communal tensions,5 restrict protests,6 prevent the spread of disinformation, or stop cheating on school exams.7 According to a TopVPN report, the Indian government imposed a total of 1,157 hours of connectivity restrictions in 2021, comprising 317.5 hours of total internet blackouts and 840 hours of bandwidth throttling.8
In January and February 2021, during the previous coverage period, internet access was restricted repeatedly in and around Delhi as farmers protested against controversial agricultural bills. For example, on January 26, 2021, the internet was reportedly restricted for 12 hours in several of the city’s districts,9 to “maintain public safety and avert public emergency.”10 The shutdown affected more than 50 million mobile subscribers in the area.11 Previously, in late 2019 and early 2020, during large-scale protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a number of network shutdowns were also imposed across the country.12
In the Jammu and Kashmir region, which is excluded from this report’s scoring criteria (see Overview), the state administration repeatedly orders restrictions on internet services.13 Between August 2019 and January 2020, the government of Jammu and Kashmir ordered 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.14
Most of India’s internet infrastructure is privately owned by service providers, thus the government relies on legislative and statutory mechanisms to order shutdowns. Orders to restrict connectivity have been justified under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC), which permits state actions to maintain law and order.15 Though courts had previously upheld the use of this law to order shutdowns and had refused legal challenges on this basis, observations by the Supreme Court in 2020 have resulted in some experts suggesting that Section 144 should no longer be utilized to authorize shutdowns.16
The 2017 Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, under the Telegraph Act, 17 authorize only national- or state-level officials of a certain rank to order temporary suspensions in times of public emergency or threats to public safety,18 and mandate that each order must be justified and be forwarded to a review committee for assessment.19 However, several shutdown orders since 2017 were issued under Section 144 of the CrPC by officials not designated under the Telegraph Act rules,20 sparking concerns from civil society groups that procedural safeguards and checks were not followed.21 In November 2020, the government amended the rules to specify that a shutdown order could not be in effect for more than 15 days, but such orders could be renewed.22 Civil society criticized a lack of consultation and public participation in crafting the amendment, and condemned the provision allowing authorities to continually renew the order.23
Courts have directly ruled on the legality of restrictions and in some cases ordered restored services.24 In March 2022, for example, the Calcutta High Court stayed an internet shutdown order issued by the state of West Bengal to prevent cheating in school exams—only the second time an Indian court has stayed such an order, according to the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF).25 The judges held that in their preliminary view, the order was issued by an authority that was not empowered to do so under Section 144, and that it did not disclose why the internet would need to be suspended.26 High Courts in other states had proceedings relating to the validity of frequent internet shutdown orders pending as of the end of the coverage period.27
In response to the months-long shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir,28 the Supreme Court ruled in January 2021 that orders for connectivity restrictions must be publicly available and should be well reasoned, proportionate, temporary, and present the least-restrictive alternative.29 However, compliance with the ruling remains unclear.30 For example, in October 2020, the Gujarat State government refused a right-to-information request from IFF to publish shutdown orders.31 In February 2022, the government stated in response to a query by a member of Parliament that records of internet shutdowns ordered by state governments are not maintained.32
The government has ordered the blocking of over 200 mobile apps since 2020,33 primarily apps owned by companies based in China, citing concerns related to national security, public order, and the country’s sovereignty (see B2).34 The government banned 54 such apps in February 2022.35 In January 2021, MeitY announced that blocks on 59 of the apps, including TikTok, would become permanent,36 stating that the companies’ responses to government complaints about legal compliance and privacy were unsatisfactory.37
- 1Access Now, “Shattered Dreams and Lost Opportunities” Access Now, March 03, 2021, https://www.accessnow.org/keepiton-report-a-year-in-the-fight/.
- 2Centre 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.
- 3Software Freedom Law Centre, ‘Internet Shutdowns: India.” accessed September 1, 2022, https://web.archive.org/web/20220901033845/https://internetshutdowns.in/.
- 4Software Freedom Law Centre, ‘Internet Shutdowns: India,” https://internetshutdowns.in/.
- 5Meenakshi Ray “Curfew clamped, internet shut down in Amravati after fresh violence” The Times of India, November 13, 2021, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/curfew-clamped-internet-shut-….
- 6ANI, “Rajasthan: Internet Services Suspended in Bharatpur in Wake of Gujjar Mahapanchayat”, Business World, October 17, 2020,http://www.businessworld.in/article/Rajasthan-Internet-services-suspend….; ANI, “Internet services temporarily suspended in parts of Rajasthan in view of Gurjar Protest”, Business World, November 03, 2020,http://www.businessworld.in/article/Internet-services-temporarily-suspe…
- 7Sharmita Kar, “No internet for 8 days in these districts of West Bengal”, Hindustan Times, March 6, 2022, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/no-internet-for-8-days-in-the…; 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-….; Umanand Jaiswal, “Arunachal Internet bar to curb cheating”, The Telegraph, October 30, 2020,https://www.telegraphindia.com/north-east/arunachal-internet-bar-to-cur….
- 8Zaheer Merchant, “India’s War on the Internet”, The Economic Times, February 19, 2022, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/newsletters/ettech-unwrapped/…
- 9Express Web Desk, “Farmers’ protests turns violent: Internet snapped in parts of Delhi-NCR” The Indian Express, January 26, 2021,https://indianexpress.com/article/india/farmers-protest-internet-shutdo…
- 10Aditi Agrawal, “Were the Republic Day internet shutdowns in Delhi, Haryana necessary?” Forbes, 27 January, 2021,https://www.forbesindia.com/article/special/were-the-republic-day-inter…
- 11India Today Web Desk, “Farmers protest: 50 million subscribers hit by internet shutdown in NCR” India Today, January 27, 2021,https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/farmers-protest-50-million-subscr….
- 12Software Freedom Law Centre, “Internet shutdowns: India”; “Anti-CAA stir: Internet services suspended in UP’s Prayagraj Firozabad,” Business Standard, December 22, 2019, Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.; 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, Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.;
- 13Software Freedom Law Centre, “Internet shutdowns: India,” Jammu and Kashmir, accessed August 31, 2021, https://internetshutdowns.in/.
- 14Software Freedom Law Centre, “Internet shutdowns: India,” Jammu and Kashmir, https://internetshutdowns.in/.
- 15Nakul 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….
- 16Internet Freedom Foundation, “RTI responses from Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat show compliance failure with the Anuradha Bhasin Internet Shutdown decision” IFF, November 10, 2020,https://internetfreedom.in/rti-responses-from-andhra-pradesh-and-gujara….; Nakul Nayak, “The Anatomy of Internet Shutdowns – III (Post Script: Gujarat High Court Verdict).”; Anuradha Bhasin v Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1031 of 2019, para 83, https://main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2019/28817/28817_2019_2_1501_19350…
- 17Department 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….; 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….
- 18Karishma Mehrotra, “Suspension of the Internet: What the Rules say, what the SC underlined” The Indian Express, January 17, 2020,https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/suspension-of-the-internet-….
- 19“Government frames rules for suspension of telecom services” The Indian Express, August 29, 2017,https://indianexpress.com/article/india/government-frames-rules-for-sus….
- 20Apurva 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/.
- 21Yaqoob 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-….
- 22Regina Mihindukulasuriya, “Modi govt amends telecom suspension rules, restricts internet shutdowns to 15 days” The Print, November 12, 2020,https://theprint.in/india/governance/modi-govt-amends-telecom-suspensio….
- 23Internet Freedom Foundation, “Amendment to the Telecom Suspension Rules offers little protection against arbitrary and prolonged internet shutdowns #KeepUsOnline” IFF, November 12, 2020, https://internetfreedom.in/telecom-suspension-rules-amendment-15-day-ti….
- 24Trisha 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….
- 25Anushka Jain, “West Bengal issues and internet shutdown which experts flag as deeply problematic”, Medianama, March 7, 2022, https://www.medianama.com/2022/03/223-west-bengal-internet-shutdown-ord…; Bishal Kalita, “Calcutta High Court Stays West Bengal Govt Order Suspending Internet During Madhyamik Exam”, NDTV, March 10, 2022, https://www.ndtv.com/education/calcutta-high-court-stays-west-bengal-go….
- 26Internet Freedom Foundation, “Calcutta HC stays internet shutdown issued by West Bengal government”, IFF, March 10, 2022, https://internetfreedom.in/calcutta-hc-stays-internet-shutdown-issued-b…
- 27Anirudh Vijay, “Internet Suspended For 506 Hrs Through 26 Shutdown Orders In Udaipur: PIL In Rajasthan High Court, Notice Issued” LiveLaw, May 18, 2022, https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/rajasthan-high-court-internet-shutd….
- 28Nilashish 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….
- 29Anuradha 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].”, Live Law, January 10, 2020, https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/kashmir-lockdown-sc-asks-jk-administ….
- 30Software Freedom Law Centre, “Representation sent to Government of Rajasthan to publish orders regarding suspension of internet services in the districts of Udaipur, Banswara, Dungarpur and Pratapgarh” SFLC.In, September 28, 2020, https://sflc.in/representation-sent-government-rajasthan-publish-orders….; Internet Freedom Foundation, “6 months after Anuradha Bhasin v UoI, state governments are still not publishing internet shutdown orders #KeepUsOnline” IFF, July 14, 2020, https://internetfreedom.in/publication-internet-shutdown-orders/.
- 31Internet Freedom Foundation, “RTI responses from Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat show compliance failure with the Anuradha Bhasin Internet Shutdown decision” IFF, November 10, 2020,https://internetfreedom.in/rti-responses-from-andhra-pradesh-and-gujara…
- 32Chetan Thathoo, “Govt Has No Record Of Shutdowns Ordered By State Govts”, Inc 42, February 10, 2022, https://inc42.com/buzz/govt-has-no-record-of-shutdowns-ordered-by-state….
- 33“India bans Chinese Apps: Number and Names of Apps banned, why and more”,The Times of India, February 14, 2022, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/gadgets-news/india-bans-chinese-app…
- 34“Government Blocks 118 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, September 2, 2020, https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1650669.
- 35Bijou George and Sudhi Ranjan Sen,” India Bans 54 Chinese Apps on security concerns”, Al Jazeera, February 14, 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2022/2/14/bbindia-bans-54-chinese-app….
- 36“India to Permanently Ban 59 Chinese Apps, Including TikTok”, The Economic Times, January 26, 2021, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/technology/india-to-permanent…
- 37Sankalp Phartiyal, “India Retains Ban on 59 Apps, Including TikTok”, Reuters, January 26, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-china-apps-idUSKBN29U2GJ.
|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. While fees to enter the market have served as an economic barrier for some providers, there are no significant obstacles to entry for service providers.
As of December 2021, there were 639 operational ISPs in India.1 The largest service provider, Reliance Jio, had an almost 51 percent share of the market as of December 2021; the top three ISPs—Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone—together control nearly 95 percent of the market.2 Reliance Jo also controls the majority of the wireless market, with 36 percent of the market share, followed by Bharti Airtel at 30.8 percent and Vodafone at 23 percent.3 In April 2020, Facebook invested in a 9.9 percent stake in Reliance Jio,4 and the Competition Commission of India (CCI) approved Google’s purchase of a 7.7 percent stake in Jio Platforms (the owner of Reliance Jio) in November 2020.5 In January 2022, Google announced an investment of up to $1 billion in Bharti Airtel, comprising an equity investment of $700 million for a 1.28 percent stake in the company and up to $300 million towards potential multiyear commercial agreements.6
A 2014 universal license framework7 reduced legal and regulatory obstacles by combining mobile phone and ISP licenses. Licensees pay a high one-time entry fee, a performance bank guarantee,8 and annual license fees adjusted for revenue.9
In October 2019, a Supreme Court decision clarified that the percentage of revenues that license holders must pay the government is calculated on the basis of the entire revenue of the license holder, and not just revenue from telecom services.10 In September 2020, the court passed an order giving telecom companies 10 years to pay their dues.11 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.12 As of the end of the coverage period, Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel’s challenge before the appellate tribunal for telecommunications disputes, in separate cases, remained pending; the companies challenged a notice from the telecom regulator instructing the companies to pay a cumulative penalty of $374,000 (30,500,00 rupees) for previously denying network interconnectivity to Reliance Jio.13
Roughly 15 submarine cables connect India to the global internet,14 most of which are consortium-owned.15 There are at least 15 landing stations where the cables meet the mainland, spread across five cities,16 with 8 more landing stations expected to be ready by 2025.17 Currently, Tata Communications owns five cable landing stations, Reliance Jio owns two, and Bharti Airtel owns three.18 The state-run telecom operator BSNL owns three landing stations, and Vodafone, Sify, and Global Cloud Exchange own one each.19
- 1Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators October-December 2021,” May 4 , 2022, 39, https://www.trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/QPIR_05052022.pdf.
- 2Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators October-December 2021,” May 4 27, 2022, 39, https://www.trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/QPIR_05052022.pdf.
- 3T Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators October-December 2021,” May 4, 2022, 13, https://www.trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/QPIR_05052022.pdf.
- 4“Reliance Jio-Facebook deal: JioMart, WhatsApp to operate together to connect consumers with local kiranas,” MoneyControl, Apr il 22, 2020, https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/business/reliance-retail-jio-whatsapp….
- 5“Google-Jio deal: CCI clears Google picking up 7.73% stake in Jio Platforms for ₹ 33,737 cr,” Live Mint, November 12, 2020, https://www.livemint.com/companies/news/google-jio-deal-cci-clears-goog…
- 6Google to invest $1 billion in Airtel, pick up 1.28% stake", The Indian Express, January 29, 2022. https://indianexpress.com/article/business/companies/google-invests-in-…
- 7Department 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….
- 8Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Draft License Agreement for Unified License,” accessed March 11, 2021, 22, http://dot.gov.in/sites/default/files/Unified%20Licence_0.pdf.
- 9Department 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….
- 10Ashish Tripathi, "SC allows govt to recover Rs 92k as AGR from telecoms", Deccan Herald, October 24, 2019 https://www.deccanherald.com/business/business-news/sc-allows-govt-to-r… ; “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….
- 11Prachi Bhardwaj, “SC gives 10 years’ time to Telecos to pay AGR dues,” The SCC Online Blog, September 1, 2020, https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2020/09/01/sc-gives-10-years-time-t….
- 12Arpan 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….
- 13PTI, “Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea penalty case: TDSAT says no hearing on Tuesday” The Economic Times, October 26, 2021. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/telecom/telecom-news/bhar….
- 14Suvesh 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 March 11, 2021, https://www.submarinenetworks.com/stations/asia/india.
- 15The 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 March 11, 2021, 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 March 11, 2021, https://www.de-cix.net/en/about-de-cix/academy/white-papers/subsea-cabl….
- 16Suvesh 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, March 11, 2021, https://www.submarinenetworks.com/stations/asia/india.
- 17“Submarine Cable Map,” TeleGeography, accessed March 11, 2021, http://www.submarinecablemap.com/#/country/india; BL New Delhi Bureau, “Airtel joins undersea cable consortium to scale up high-speed network” The Business Line, February 21, 2022. https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/info-tech/airtel-joins-sea-me-we-6…; PTI, “Bharti Airtel joins SEA-ME-WE-6 undersea cable consortium; anchoring 20 pc investment in cable system” The Economic Times, February 21, 2022. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/telecom/telecom-news/bhar…; “Reliance Jio’s undersea cable system to land in Maldives” Livemint, February 21, 2022. https://www.livemint.com/companies/news/reliance-jio-s-undersea-cable-s…
- 18“Cable Landing Stations in India,” Submarine Cable Networks, accessed April 22, 20221, https://www.submarinenetworks.com/stations/asia/india.
- 19“Cable Landing Stations in India,” Submarine Cable Networks, accessed April 22, 20221, https://www.submarinenetworks.com/stations/asia/india.
|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 Department of Telecommunications (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
The TRAI regulates the telecommunications, broadcast, and cable television sectors.3 The TRAI Act mandates transparency in the exercise of its operations, which includes monitoring licensing terms, compliance, and service quality.4 Its reports are published online, usually preceded by a multistakeholder consultation.5 A 2000 amendment to the TRAI Act established a three-member Telecommunications Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal.6
There have been some reservations about TRAI’s independence.7 The central government makes appointment and salary decisions for its members.8 Amendments to the TRAI Act enacted in 2014 allow former government officials to join the regulator two years after resigning from office, or earlier with government permission.9
TRAI opinions, however, are generally perceived as free of undue influence, and the regulator engages in public consultations.10 For example, TRAI sought stakeholder comments in December 2021 on creating a licensing framework to establish satellite gateways, which would help increase access to broadband services in India.11
MeitY has engaged in public consultations around proposed policy and legislative initiatives, including around the various draft data protection bills (see C6).12 In 2018, MeitY held a public consultation on a draft of the Information Technology [Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules], which were further updated in 2021 and notified in their renewed form.13 However, critics have pointed out that the subsequently adopted 2021 Information Technology Rules have an expanded scope from the 2018 draft rules, and were notified and enforced without conducting fresh public consultation on the broadened scope and new provisions (see B3, B6, C4, and C6).14
In April 2022, the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) issued new cybersecurity directions (see C4 and C8), which were released by MeitY without public consultations.15 In response to criticism,16 MeitY invited industry and legal experts and other stakeholders for a closed-door consultation in June 2022 .17 In May, MeitY also invited comments on its draft National Data Governance Framework.18
- 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“About Us: History,” Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, accessed October 6, 2020, https://www.trai.gov.in/about-us/history.
- 4Telecom 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.
- 5“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….
- 6Section 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.
- 7Arun 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….
- 8Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997,” Section 5, accessed March 18, 2021, https://dot.gov.in/act-rules-content/2426.
- 9Ministry of Law and Justice, “The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Amendment) Act, 2014,” Section 2(i)(8), accessed March 18, 2021, https://www.trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/The_TRAI_(Amendment)_2014.p….
- 10“Trai may review 5G pricing if govt prods,” LiveMint, February 24, 2021, https://www.livemint.com/industry/telecom/trai-may-review-5g-pricing-if….
- 11ET Bureau, “TRAI extends comments submissions deadlines for satellite gateways consultation” The Economic Times, December 13, 2021. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/telecom/telecom-news/trai….; Mitaksh, “Summary: Consultation Paper On Setting Up Data Centres, Content Delivery Networks, And Interconnect Exchanges” Medianama, January 10, 2022. https://www.medianama.com/2022/01/223-data-centres-cdn-ixp-regulatory-f…
- 12“Feedback on Draft Personal Data Protection Bill,” Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, accessed March 18, 2021, https://www.meity.gov.in/content/feedback-draft-personal-data-protectio…; “White Paper on Data Protection framework for India - Public Comments invited,” Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, https://www.meity.gov.in/white-paper-data-protection-framework-india-pu… accessed March 18, 202; "Report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019", December 16, 2021 http://loksabhaph.nic.in/Committee/CommitteeInformation.aspx?comm_code=…; Pallavi Bedi “What the JPC Report on the Data Protection Bill Gets Right and Wrong” The Wire, December 20, 2021. https://thewire.in/tech/what-the-jpc-report-on-the-data-protection-bill…
- 13“Comments / suggestions invited on Draft of “The Information Technology [Intermediary Guidelines (Amendment) Rules] 2018,” Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, accessed March 18, 2021, https://www.meity.gov.in/content/comments-suggestions-invited-draft-%E2…
- 14Anam Ajmal, “Rules framed in ‘opaque’ manner, may lead to censorship: Activists,” Times of India, February 26, 2021, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/rules-frame…; Manya Saini, “IFF and Digital Rights Activists Criticise Centre’s New Digital Regulation Guidelines as ‘Unconstitutional,” The Leaflet, March 1, 2021, https://www.theleaflet.in/iff-and-digital-rights-activists-criticise-ce…; “Fact Check! The IT Rules 2021 FAQ” Internet Freedom Foundation, November 2, 2021. https://internetfreedom.in/factcheck-of-the-it-rules-faq/.
- 15Sarvesh Mathi, "Public Consultations Not Needed For Cybersecurity Directive: IT Ministry" Medianama, May 21, 2022. https://www.medianama.com/2022/05/223-public-consultations-not-needed-c….
- 16Access Now, “India’s CERT-In must withdraw April Directions and strengthen privacy and cybersecurity” June 1, 2022. https://www.accessnow.org/india-cert-in-directions/; “Global tech industry body seeks revision in India's directive on reporting of cybersecurity breach” The Hindu, May 7, 2022. https://www.thehindu.com/business/global-tech-industry-body-seeks-revis…
- 17Aashish Aryan, “MeitY to discuss new cybersecurity rules with VPN firms on Friday” Economic Times, June 10, 2022. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/technology/meity-to-discuss-n…
- 18Press Trust of India, “MeitY issues draft norms to mobilise non-personal citizen data with govt”, Business Standard, May 28, 2022, https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/meity-issues-d…; Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, “Draft National Data Governance Framework Policy (Draft)” May 2022, https://www.meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/National%20Data%20Governan….
|Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?||3.003 6.006|
Political and social information has been blocked by court or government orders in India. Although these orders are not always publicly released, government data show an increasing number of requests. In February 2022, the Minister of Electronics and Information Technology stated in Parliament that in 2021, 6,069 accounts, websites, and URLs had been restricted on government orders under section 69A of the IT Act; the disclosure likely represents both website blocks and takedowns from content hosts (see B2).1 Previously the government stated that it had banned 16,283 websites between 2018 and 2020, including 9,849 websites in 2020.2 Content was blocked for allegedly seeking to stoke anti-India sentiment, or to damage public order, the security of the state, and the interest and defense of India’s sovereignty and integrity.3
The Intermediary Guidelines 2021 provide a regulatory framework for online publishers of news and current affairs and curated audiovisual content. They also give the state emergency powers to block content without a hearing, and authorities have invoked this authority at times.4 From December 2021 to April 2022, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued orders under emergency blocking powers to block 78 YouTube channels, including 18 India-based channels, as well as social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook.5 There have been multiple challenges to the enforcement of these rules, and two high courts ordered interim stays on the application of parts of the IT rules (see B3).6
Several reports have clarified the technology used to block websites in India. The Open Observatory of Network Interference and the Centre for Internet & Society reported that Airtel and Jio use server name indication (SNI)–based filtering to restrict access to websites on government orders.7 In April 2018, Citizen Lab found that India was using internet-filtering technology from the Canadian-based company Netsweeper.8 Service providers appear to restrict different sets of websites. For instance, security researchers identified over 5,000 websites blocked on Atria Convergence Technology’s fixed-broadband services and over 2,000 websites blocked on Bharti Airtel’s networks, per a December 2021 report.9
- 1“Over 6,000 URLs, accounts or websites blocked in 2021: Chandrasekhar,” Business Standard, February 02, 2022, https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/over-6-000-ur….
- 2Lok Sabha, “Starred Question No. 26, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology,” http://loksabhaph.nic.in/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=18898&lsno=17 .
- 3Lok Sabha, “Question No. 2829, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology,” http://220.127.116.11/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
- 4BandWagon Online, “Government puts the onus of blocking fake news on social media intermediaries,” The Financial Express, January 21, 2022, https://www.financialexpress.com/brandwagon/government-puts-the-onus-of… Thathoo, “60 Social Media Handles Blocked So Far For Peddling Fake News: Govt,” Inc42, February 11, 2022, https://inc42.com/buzz/60-social-media-handles-blocked-so-far-for-peddl…
- 5Press Information Bureau, Government of India, “Ministry of I&B blocks 22 YouTube channels for spreading disinformation related to India’s national security, foreign relations and public order”, April 05, 2022, https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1813603;“Govt. blocks several social media handles circulating ‘fake/inciting content’,” The Hindu, January 08, 2022, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/govt-blocks-several-social-media….
- 6Umang Poddar, “Modi government used law stayed by courts to seek details from digital media outfits”, The Scroll, February 01, 2022, https://scroll.in/article/1016248/modi-government-is-using-a-law-stayed….
- 7Open Observatory of Network Interference, “Investigating TLS blocking in India,” July 08, 2020, https://ooni.org/post/2020-tls-blocking-india/ ; Yasmin Ahmed, “Airtel and Jio likely using middleboxes to block websites in India, finds report,” India Today, October 12, 2020, https://www.indiatoday.in/technology/news/story/airtel-and-jio-likely-u… ; Aditi Agrawal, “Airtel Uses Specially Configured Routers To Block Websites: Why You Should Care,” Medianama, October 12, 2020, https://www.medianama.com/2020/10/223-airtel-middleboxes-web-censorship/.
- 8The Citizen Lab, “Planet Netsweeper,” April 25, 2018, https://citizenlab.ca/2018/04/planet-netsweeper/.
- 9Yasmin Ahmed, “Blocking websites is secret in India, now researchers are probing Airtel and ACT networks to reveal details,” India Today, December 07, 2021, https://www.indiatoday.in/technology/features/story/blocking-websites-i….
|Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?||2.002 4.004|
Government actors order social media and other online platforms to remove content, including material protected under international human rights standards. Content restricted under Section 69A of the IT Act decreased in 2021, with 6,096 blocked websites and accounts disclosed that year, compared to a peak of 9,859 in 2020, according to MeitY disclosures; the disclosure likely represents both website blocks and takedowns from content hosts (see B1).1 Moreover, the Intermediary Rules, 2021 have changed the regulatory environment for intermediary liability and require large social media companies to proactively identify and remove offending categories of content, including rape and child sexual abuse imagery, among others (see B3, B6, C4, and C6).2
In June 2022, after the coverage period, Twitter withheld posts and accounts in India following government orders issued throughout 2021. According to Twitter disclosures, the orders related to content from Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) politicians, journalists including Rana Ayuub, and activists linked to the farmers’ protests, as well as posts from Freedom House.3 In July, Twitter filed a lawsuit over the orders (see B3).
During the farmers’ protests in early 2021, Indian media outlets reported that Twitter briefly complied with orders to block 257 India-based accounts, including those of the journalism magazine Caravan and the farmer’s unions coalition Kisan Ekta Morcha, for allegedly provoking violence, threatening public order, or “making fake, intimidatory, and provocative tweets.”4 It later reversed its decision, citing free expression standards.5 MeitY then cited Section 69A of the IT Act in ordering Twitter to block 1,178 accounts; Twitter complied in part, but did not restrict accounts related to news outlets, journalists, activists, or politicians.6 Twitter was reportedly told that noncompliance could result in imprisonment of up to seven years for employees or financial penalty under Section 69A(3) of the IT Act.7 YouTube also removed music videos in support of the protests, reportedly following a demand by the government.8
Subsequent to the Intermediary Rules being notified in February 2021, MeitY stated that Twitter India had lost its safe-harbor protection under Section 79 of the IT Act for failure to comply with the new IT Rules within the stipulated time, though it subsequently noted that Twitter “appears to be in compliance” (see B6).9 Twitter did not face legal consequences as a result of this incident. In June 2021, police in Uttar Pradesh filed a first information report (FIR) against Twitter and Twitter India, alleging that the platform failed to take down a video of an elderly Muslim man in Loni, Uttar Pradesh (UP), being assaulted, that is alleged to have promoted religious enmity. The FIR also named several journalists, Congress politicians, and the news outlet the Wire.10 The police later issued a notice to the managing director of Twitter, requiring him to physically appear before the investigating officer in UP, but the order was set aside by the Karnataka High Court 11 and the matter is currently pending before the Supreme Court.12
Amid a second wave of COVID-19 in April 2021, MeitY reportedly ordered Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to restrict an estimated 100 posts, including comments from opposition politicians13 and other public figures, as well as content criticizing the government’s pandemic response and shortages of oxygen and hospital beds.14 The Home Ministry claimed that the posts were spreading misinformation, inciting panic, and hampering the government’s response.15 Facebook also reportedly blocked the #ResignModi hashtag, which referenced Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for a few hours, but claimed it was accidental.16 In May 2021, Reuters reported that MeitY had issued a letter to social media companies asking for the removal of content that used the name or implied the existence of an “Indian variant” of COVID-19.17
After the government banned 59 mobile applications with links to China in June 2020, during the previous coverage period, Google and Apple removed the apps from their respective app stores in India (see A3).18 The government reportedly directed the companies that owned the apps to comply,19 stating that their continued availability would constitute a legal offense.20
Meta’s appeal against a Delhi High Court order to remove videos uploaded from India related to popular religious leader Baba Ramdev and his business, which he claimed were defamatory, remained under consideration during the coverage period.21 In October 2019, the Delhi High Court had ordered Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter, and other unidentified internet intermediaries to remove the videos around the world.22
In October 2021, the Andhra Pradesh High Court ordered Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media intermediaries to remove within 36 hours posts that the court deemed to be objectionable and derogatory against the judiciary and some High Court judges.23 In January 2022, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) claimed that Twitter had not complied with the order since the posts were still visible to users outside the country, and the High Court warned Twitter that it would initiate action if this continued.24 Subsequently, Twitter informed the court that it had taken the necessary steps to remove content flagged by the CBI.25
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.26 Intermediary guidelines issued in 2021 require intermediaries to remove access to certain content within 36 hours of a government or legal order under Section 79 of the IT Act (see B3).27 In the 2015 Shreya Singhal v. Union of India ruling, the Supreme Court had reduced the scope of the 2011 intermediary guidelines, and companies were only to act on court and government take-down orders and not on user complaints. The court also clarified that unlawful content beyond the scope of Article 19(2) (restrictions on the right to the freedom of speech and expression) of the Indian Constitution cannot be restricted.28
Intermediaries can separately be held liable for infringing the Copyright Act, 1957,29 under the law and licensing agreements.30 A 2012 amendment limited the liability for intermediaries 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. Intermediaries can assess the legitimacy of the notice from the copyright holder and refuse to comply.31
- 1Lok Sabha, 'Unstarred Question No. 30' Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. http://18.104.22.168/loksabhaquestions/annex/178/AU30.pdf
- 2Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, ‘The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021’ RuleSection 4(4). https://www.meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/Intermediary_Guidelines_an…
- 3Aroon Deep, “Indian government censors tweets critical of Indian internet censorship,” Entrackr, June 27, 2022, https://entrackr.com/2022/06/indian-government-censors-tweets-critical-…; “Govt asks Twitter to 'take down' Freedom House's tweets,” The Telegraph, June 28, 2022, https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/twitter-doc-shows-government-reque….
- 4“Centre asks Twitter to block 250 accounts for 'hateful' tweets on farm protest,” Hindustan Times, February 01, 2021, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/centre-asks-twitter-to-block-…
- 5“Twitter helps govt block accounts tweeting on farmer protests, withholds Kishan Ekta and other accounts,” India Today, 01 February, 2021,https://www.indiatoday.in/technology/news/story/twitter-helps-govt-bloc….
- 6“Farmers protest: Government orders Twitter to block over 1,100 accounts for spreading misinformation,” Financial Express, February 08, 2021, https://www.financialexpress.com/industry/technology/farmers-protest-go…; “Twitter starts blocking accounts flagged by govt citing Khalistani links but with counter ; India Today, February 10, 2021; Outlook Web Bureau, “Twitter Seeks Formal Dialogue With Govt, Begins To Block Accounts With 'Khalistani' Links” Outlook, February 10, 2021. https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/india-news-twitter-seeks-for… https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/govt-asks-twitter-to-remove-1178….; Twitter Safety, February 10, 2021, https://blog.twitter.com/en_in/topics/company/2020/twitters-response-in…
- 7Karan Deep Singh, “Twitter Blocks Accounts in India as Modi Pressures Social Media,” The New York Times, February 10, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/10/technology/india-twitter.html; Pankaj Doval, “Under pressure, Twitter starts blocking handles censured by govt”, Times of India, February 10, 2021, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/80777447.cms?utm_source=….
- 8Ajith Athrady, “YouTube removes Punjabi songs related to farmers' protest” Deccan Herald, February 10, 2021. https://www.deccanherald.com/national/youtube-removes-punjabi-songs-rel…
- 9Twitter stripped of Safe Harbour Immunity Under IT Act for Non-Compliance with IT Rules 2021: GOI To Delhi High Court, LiveLaw, 5 July, 2021. https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/twitter-stripped-of-safe-harbour-im…; PTI, “Twitter loses 'safe harbour' shield in India over non-compliance to IT rules” Deccan Herald, June 16, 2021 https://www.deccanherald.com/national/twitter-loses-safe-harbour-shield…; Abhinav Garg, “Govt: Twitter ‘appears to be in compliance’ with new IT rules” The Times of India, August 11, 2021. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/85228521.cms?utm_source=…; In Parliament, Meity Reveals Decision Taken On Twitter’s Safe Harbour Immunity; More On ‘Manipulated Media Tag’ Issue, Medianama, August 5, 2021. https://www.medianama.com/2021/08/223-parliament-meity-twitter-safe-har…
- 10"UP police send legal notice to Twitter India MD over Loni incident", Hindustan Times, June 18, 2021. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/up-police-sends-legal-notice-…; @ANINewsUP, “FIR registered against 9, including Twitter and some journalists, in connection with the incident in Loni where a man was thrashed & his beard was chopped off,” Twitter, June 15, 2021, https://web.archive.org/web/20220506195213/https://twitter.com/ANINewsU….
- 11"Karnataka HC quashes UP Police notice to Twitter India MD Manish Maheshwari", Deccan Herald, July 23, 2021. https://www.deccanherald.com/national/karnataka-hc-quashes-up-police-no…
- 12"Supreme Court notice to ex-Twitter India MD on UP government plea" The Time of India, October 23, 2021. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/supreme-court-notice-to-ex-tw…
- 13Aashish Aryan, “IT ministry asks social media cos to remove more posts, alleges content ‘spreading misinformation’ about Covid-19”, The Indian Express, April 25, 2021. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/it-ministry-asks-social-media-c…; ; Karan Deep Singh and Paul Mozure, “As Outbreak Rages, India Orders Critical Social Media Posts to Be Taken Down,” The New York Times, April 25, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/25/business/india-covid19-twitter-faceb….
- 14“Govt asks Twitter to block some tweets critical of its Covid handling, Twitter complies partially,” India Today, April 24, 2021, https://www.indiatoday.in/technology/story/govt-twitter-block-tweets-cr… ; Karan Deep Singh and Paul Mozure, “As Outbreak Rages, India Orders Critical Social Media Posts to Be Taken Down,” The New York Times, April 25, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/25/business/india-covid19-twitter-faceb….; “Twitter removes over 50 posts on govt. orders; majority related to COVID-19”, The Hindu, April 28, 2021, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/twitter-removes-over-50-posts-on….
- 15Gloria Methri, “Centre Asks Social Media Sites To Remove 100s Of Misleading Posts On COVID Crisis In India,” RepublicWorld, April 25, 2021, https://www.republicworld.com/india-news/general-news/govt-asks-social-…
- 16Jeff Horwitz, “Facebook blocks, then restores content calling on PM Modi to resign,” Live Mint, April 29, 2021, https://www.livemint.com/news/india/facebook-blocks-then-restores-conte….
- 17Aditya Kalra, “India asks social media firms to remove reference to ‘Indian variant’ of coronavirus” Reuters, May 21, 2021,https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/india-asks-….
- 18“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….
- 19Anam 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….
- 20Aloke 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….
- 21Meghna 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…; “Delhi HC to hear pleas by FB, Twitter, Google against order to remove anti-Ramdev links globally,” Economic Times, March 21, 2022, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/delhi-hc-to-hear-pleas-….
- 22“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….
- 23“‘Judge Bashing Is Not Constructive Criticism’: HC Wants Abusive Social Media Posts Taken Down” The Wire, November 2021 https://thewire.in/law/judge-bashing-is-not-constructive-criticism-hc-w…; Order dated May 26, 2020 in Re vs Nandigram Suresh https://www.livelaw.in/pdf_upload/pdf_upload-375384.pdf
- 24Explained: Why Andhra Pradesh HC warned Twitter to either follow the law of the land or face action, The Indian Express, February 1, 2022. https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/andhra-pradesh-high-court-t…
- 25"Have Removed 'Derogatory' Content/Comments Against Judiciary, Judges": Twitter Informs Andhra Pradesh High Court, LiveLaw, February 14, 2022 https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/removed-derogatory-content-comments… ; Have removed abusive content: Twitter" The Times of India, February 8, 2022. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/vijayawada/have-removed-abusiv…
- 26Ministry 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….
- 27Aashish Aryan, Pranav Mukul, “Govt frames new rules to hold social media, OTT accountable for content” The Indian Express, February 26, 2021,https://indianexpress.com/article/technology/tech-news-technology/govt-….
- 28Supreme Court of India, “Shreya Singhal v Union of India, Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 167 of 2012,” Indian Kanoon, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/110813550/.
- 29In the Copyright Act, 1957, Section 51(a)(ii) read with Section 63 of Act 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.
- 30The 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.
- 31Ministry of Human Resource Development, “Copyright Rules 2013”, March 14, 2013, https://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Copyright%20rules,%202013/Copy%2….
|Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process?||2.002 4.004|
Significant social media intermediaries must appoint certain India-based officers. A nodal person of contact is required to coordinate with law enforcement, while a chief compliance officer must comply with takedown orders from a court, government agency, or any other competent authority within 36 hours, and can face potential criminal prosecution under provisions of the IT Act and the Indian Penal Code.6
Separately, social media intermediaries, regardless of their size, must create grievance redressal mechanisms under the Intermediary Rules 2021. A grievance officer must acknowledge complaints about content from any user within 24 hours and resolve them within 15 days.7 The officer is also responsible for orders issued by competent authorities, courts, or other government agencies. The law also empowers authorities to issue emergency blocking orders, but does not specify time limits for the operation of blocking orders or provide affected parties the right to a hearing.8
Additionally, the rules subject digital news media and over-the-top (OTT) platforms to a regulation system and a code of ethics.9 The code instructs content creators to consider whether content affects India’s sovereignty, jeopardizes security, or affects friendly relations with foreign countries.10 OTT platforms are cautioned to consider India’s multireligious and multiracial society and be mindful of content that relates to religion and race.11 A self-regulation body and interdepartmental committee are granted enforcement powers, including recommending that the government block content under the IT Act.
Civil society groups, industry experts, and tech companies have broadly criticized the rules for the increased power they provide the government and potential for adverse impact on free expression, privacy, and access to information.12 Ambiguity around the rules’ definitions and implementation, such as uncertainty as to which entities are considered digital news platforms, has further fueled concern.13 Several legal challenges have been lodged against the rules, questioning their constitutionality (see C4);14 the Bombay and Madras High Courts stayed clauses relating to operation of the code of ethics and the grievance redressal mechanisms in August and September 2021, respectively.15 The impact of these orders on the rules’ information-sharing provisions, which require digital news media publishers to furnish information to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) about themselves, is not immediately clear (see B6).16
OTT streaming platforms undertook some self-regulatory efforts before the Intermediary Rules 2021 were introduced. In February 2021, 17 such platforms—including Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney Plus Hotstar—announced they would implement a code for self-regulation proposed in September 2020, under the authority of the Internet and Mobile Association of India.17 However, the code was made redundant with the passing of the Intermediary Rules 2021, which the platforms are obliged to follow.
Blocking of websites takes place under Section 69A of the IT Act and the 2009 Blocking Rules,18 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.”19 Intermediaries’ failure to comply is punishable with fines and prison terms of up to seven years.20
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.21 The rules provide an extensive review procedure for blocking requests, including a notice provision to impacted parties and an opportunity for appeal,22 but provide exceptions for emergencies.23
The constitutionality of Section 69A and the Blocking Rules of the IT Act was challenged in the landmark 2015 Shreya Singhal case.24 The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of both, but read the Blocking Rules25 to include both the right to be heard and the right to appeal. Blocking orders must provide a written explanation and allow for reasonable efforts to contact the originator of the content for a hearing.26 However, the rules continue to require that the orders and actions based on them be kept "strictly confidential”27 ; hence there is no information on the extent of compliance with the judgment.
In September 2018, MeitY ordered the blocking of DowryCalculator.com, a website using satire to criticize the practice of dowry.28 The owner of the website was reportedly not provided with a hearing or the right to appeal, in contravention of Shreya Singhal.29 In consideration of a lawsuit challenging the blocking order, in May 2022 the Delhi High Court directed the government to provide the owner of DowryCalculator.com with a copy of the original blocking order and the opportunity for a hearing.30 The Internet Freedom Foundation noted that this was the first time that MeitY has been required to provide its blocking order to a petitioner, and is one of the rare instances in which a hearing has been provided in a blocking case.31
In August 2021, MeitY refused to respond to Right to Information Act requests relating to blocking orders issued to Twitter against the actor Shushant Singh’s account, stating that blocking information is confidential under the 2009 Blocking Rules and claiming an exemption under the Right to Information Act, 2005.32
In July 2022, after the coverage period, Twitter filed a lawsuit in the Karnataka High Court challenging removal orders issued throughout 2021 (see B2). The lawsuit contends the orders rested on an overbroad interpretation of the IT Act.33
Indian courts can also order content takedowns.34 In 2021, the High Court of Andhra Pradesh ordered the removal of alleged objectionable and derogatory posts against the judiciary and some High Court judges (see B2). 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.35 ISPs have occasionally implemented such orders by blocking entire websites instead of individual URLs, regardless of whether the websites were hosting pirated material.36 The judiciary has noted that John Doe orders can lead to excessive blocking,37 and civil society has called for greater transparency.38
The IT Act and the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) prohibit the production and transmission of “obscene material,”39 but there is no specific law against viewing pornography in India. The Delhi High Court in April 2021 heard a matter where an individual’s photos were taken from private social media accounts and uploaded onto pornographic websites without her consent. It outlined a template for how directions should be issued in similar cases, suggesting that websites or online platforms be obliged to immediately remove the content upon receipt of a court order. It further suggested that search engines should deindex and dereference such content, and proactively monitor for and disable access to identical content, among other recommendations.40
There is no legally established right to be forgotten in India, despite several attempts in recent years to codify this principle.41 The draft Data Protection Bill 2021, which was tabled in December 2021 and withdrawn in August 2022, included a provision establishing the right to be forgotten (see C6).42
Social media platforms’ removal of content has lacked transparency and consistency. For example, the Wall Street Journal reported in August 2020 that a Facebook executive in India opposed applying the platforms’ content-moderation rules to at least one member of the ruling party and several other individuals and groups, due to the platform’s business interests.43 Facebook denied claims of bias and stated that the application of their policies was open, transparent, and nonpartisan.44
- 1Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, ‘The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021,’ https://www.meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/Intermediary_Guidelines_an…; Web Desk, “Explained: India’s new draft rules to regulate social media, OTT Platforms” The Week, February 25, 2021,https://www.theweek.in/news/biz-tech/2021/02/25/explained-indias-new-dr….
- 2Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, ‘The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021’, Rule 3(1)(d). https://www.meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/Intermediary_Guidelines_an…
- 3Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, ‘The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021’ Rule 3(2)(b). https://www.meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/Intermediary_Guidelines_an…
- 4Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, ‘The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021’ Rule 4(4). https://www.meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/Intermediary_Guidelines_an…
- 5Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, ‘The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021’ Rule 4(8). https://www.meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/Intermediary_Guidelines_an…
- 6Web Desk, “Explained: India’s new draft rules to regulate social media, OTT Platforms” The Week, February 25, 2021,https://www.theweek.in/news/biz-tech/2021/02/25/explained-indias-new-dr….; “Deep dive: How the intermediaries rules are anti-democratic and unconstitutional,” Internet Freedom Foundation, February 27, 2021, https://internetfreedom.in/intermediaries-rules-2021/
- 7Web Desk, “Explained: India’s new draft rules to regulate social media, OTT Platforms” The Week, February 25, 2021,https://www.theweek.in/news/biz-tech/2021/02/25/explained-indias-new-dr….
- 8Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, "The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. https://mib.gov.in/sites/default/files/IT%28Intermediary%20Guidelines%2…
- 9Deeksha Bharadwaj, “Code of ethics: What OTT platforms, such as Netflix and Hotstar, may have to follow” Hindustan Times, February 24, 2021,https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/govt-mulls-code-of-ethics-wha….
- 10Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, ‘The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021,’ Code of Ethics, Principle II(A)(C), https://www.meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/Intermediary_Guidelines_an….
- 11Deeksha Bharadwaj, “Code of ethics: What OTT platforms, such as Netflix and Hotstar, may have to follow” Hindustan Times, February 24, 2021,https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/govt-mulls-code-of-ethics-wha….
- 12“Deep dive: How the intermediaries rules are anti-democratic and unconstitutional.” Internet Freedom Foundation, February 27, 2021,https://internetfreedom.in/intermediaries-rules-2021/.
- 13Deeksha Bharadwaj, “Code of ethics: What OTT platforms, such as Netflix and Hotstar, may have to follow” Hindustan Times, February 24, 2021,https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/govt-mulls-code-of-ethics-wha…; Aashish Aryan, Pranav Mukul, “Govt frames new rules to hold social media, OTT accountable for content” The Indian Express, February 26, 2021,https://indianexpress.com/article/technology/tech-news-technology/govt-….; Internet Freedom Foundation, “Explainer: Why India’s new rules for social media, news sites are anti-democratic, unconstitutional” Scroll.in, February 27, 2021,https://scroll.in/article/988105/explainer-how-indias-new-digital-media… .
- 14‘Delhi HC Issues Notice to Centre on The Quint's Petition Against New IT Rules’, The Wire, March 19, 2021, https://thewire.in/media/delhi-hc-issues-notice-to-centre-on-the-quints…; Saibam Rocky Singh, ‘Delhi HC seeks Centre’s response to portal’s plea’, The Hindu, June 28, 2021, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/delhi-high-court-refuses-to-stay….
- 15ET Bureau, “Madras High Court stays two clauses of India IT Rules 2021”, The Economic Times, September 17, 2021, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/technology/madras-high-court-….
- 16TNN, “Govt sought info from media companies under new IT rules stayed by HC, Times of India”, January 28, 2022 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/89166655.cms?utm_source=…
- 17Special Correspondent, “17 major OTT players adopt toolkit for regulation” The Hindu, February 12, 2021,https://www.thehindu.com/business/Industry/netflix-disney-hotstar-amazo….
- 18“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.
- 19Ministry of Law and Justice, “The Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008,” Section 69A(1).
- 20Ministry of Law and Justice, “The Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008,” Section 69A(3).
- 21Department 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, Rule 68, https://cis-india.org/internet-governance/resources/information-technol….
- 22Department 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.
- 23Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology “Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009,” Rules 7-9.
- 24Common Cause v. Union of India [W.P.(C) No. 21 of 2013]; PUCL v. Union of India [W.P.(Crl) No. 199 of 2013].
- 25Supreme Court of India, “Shreya Singhal v. U.O.I on 24 March 2015, (2015) 5 SCC 1”.
- 26Chinmayi 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….
- 27Department 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.
- 28“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….
- 29“Delhi HC issues notice to the government for blocking satirical Dowry Calculator website,” Internet Freedom Foundation.
- 31“Delhi HC orders MeitY to give copy of ban order and hearing to Mr Tanul Thakur for banning his website #WhatTheBlock”, Internet Freedom Foundation, May 16, 2022, https://internetfreedom.in/delhi-hc-directs-meity-to-provide-a-copy-of-…; Nupur Thapliyal, "Delhi High Court Directs Centre To Give Copy Of Blocking Order & Post Decisional Hearing To Owner Of 'Dowry Calculator' Website", LiveLaw, May 16, 2022. https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/delhi-high-court-centre-blocking-or…
- 32Internet Freedom Foundation, “MeitY blocks information about Actor Sushant Singh’s account takedown”, August 31, 2021, https://internetfreedom.in/meity-blocks-information-about-actor-sushant….
- 33Karan Deep Singh and Kate Conger, “Twitter, Challenging Orders to Remove Content, Sues India’s Government,” July 5, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/05/business/twitter-india-lawsuit.html.
- 34Department 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 10.
- 35Kian 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.
- 36Ananth 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….
- 37Kartik 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….
- 38Shamnad 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….
- 39“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.
- 40Nupur Thayal, ‘Removal Of Offending Content From Internet: Delhi High Court Lays Down Procedure, Guidelines For Intermediaries, Govt.Agencies ‘ LiveLaw, 20 April, 2021,https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/delhi-high-court-removal-of-offende…; PTI, “Guidelines for Ensuring Quick Removal of 'Offensive Content' From Internet Laid Down by Delhi HC”, The Wire, April 21, 2021. https://thewire.in/law/guidelines-for-ensuring-quick-removal-of-offensi…
- 41Subhranshu Rout v. State of Odisha, 2020 SCC OnLine Ori 878; “Need 'Right to be Forgotten' under Article 21: Orissa HC,” The Economic Times, November 24, 2020, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/need-righ… Freedom Foundation, “Indian Kanoon defends the right to provide access to court records,” January 05, 2021, https://internetfreedom.in/indian-kanoon-kerala-hc-right-to-be-forgotte….
- 42Draft Data Protection Bill, 2021, Clause 20.; Joint Parliamentary Committee on Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, " Report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019", Para 2.90. http://22.214.171.124/lsscommittee/Joint%20Committee%20on%20the%20Perso….
- 43Newley Purnell, Jeff Horwitz, “Facebook’s Hate-Speech Rules Collide with Indian Politics” The Wall Street Journal, August 14, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-hate-speech-india-politics-muslim… .
- 44Ajit Mohan, “We are open, transparent and non-partisan” Facebook, August 21, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/notes/672988013631652/.
|Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship?||3.003 4.004|
Threats of criminal charges and increased online harassment have reportedly contributed to more self-censorship among individual people and news outlets, as has the growing influence of the BJP and its recent popular electoral mandates.1 Civil society groups have expressed concern that the Intermediary Rules 2021 may also lead to self-censorship by digital media and OTT platforms.2 Content creators are reportedly wary of increased scrutiny by the government and other stakeholders, particularly in relation to more sensitive topics such as politics and religion.3
Self-censorship over Jammu and Kashmir and COVID-19 in particular has been reportedly common in recent years.4 The Caravan magazine reported that the central government had repeatedly signaled to the media to refrain from publishing criticism of the government’s response to the pandemic.5
However, many independent online outlets, individual journalists, and ordinary users, including those from marginalized communities, continue to report on and speak publicly about controversial or political topics.6
- 1Sevanti 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….; Kavitha Iyer, “India has launched a sharp assault on press freedom – but independent media is determined to resist,” The Scroll, February 15, 2021, https://scroll.in/article/986981/as-more-indians-turn-to-independent-me….
- 2Internet Freedom Foundation, “Explainer: Why India’s new rules for social media, news sites are anti-democratic, unconstitutional,” The Scroll, February 27, 2021, https://scroll.in/article/988105/explainer-how-indias-new-digital-media….
- 3Lata Jha, “Content creators fear self-censorship as OTT platforms go mainstream,” Mint, December 31, 2021, https://www.livemint.com/industry/media/content-creators-fear-self-cens….
- 4Bansari Kamdar, “COVID-19 and Shrinking Press Freedom in India,” The Diplomat, May 29, 2020, https://thediplomat.com/2020/05/covid-19-and-shrinking-press-freedom-in….; Azaan Javaid, “Kashmir Times is latest, media in J&K has been ‘gasping for breath’ since Article 370 move,” The Print, October 21, 2020, https://theprint.in/india/kashmir-times-is-latest-media-in-jk-has-been-…; Amir Peerzaada, “The Kashmir journalists 'harassed' and 'questioned' for doing their job,” BBC, October 31, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-54655948; and Rebecca Rose Varghese, “Looking back, 2020: Five times Indian media censored itself,” Newslaundry, December 30, 2020, https://www.newslaundry.com/2020/12/30/looking-back-2020-five-times-ind…; Azaan Javaid, “Kashmir Times is latest, media in J&K has been ‘gasping for breath’ since Article 370 move,” The Print, October 21, 2020, https://theprint.in/india/kashmir-times-is-latest-media-in-jk-has-been-….
- 5Sagar, “Speaking Positivity to Power,” The Caravan, March 31, 2020, https://caravanmagazine.in/media/hours-before-lockdown-modi-asked-print….
- 6Kavitha Iyer, “India has launched a sharp assault on press freedom – but independent media is determined to resist,” The Scroll, February 15, 2021, https://scroll.in/article/986981/as-more-indians-turn-to-independent-me….
|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 and disinformation spread by domestic actors, including political parties and leaders, continues to permeate the online environment in India.
Reports from the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) connected manipulated content online to the country’s political parties, noting that major political parties manipulate information on Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp to amplify their messaging, attack the opposition, and create division. The OII has noted increasing capacity for online content manipulation from 2019 to 2021, with actors employing greater resources and involving full-time staff dedicated to shaping the information space.1 Both paid commentators and volunteers disseminate disinformation across social media and respond to political developments in real time.2
In February 2021, Newslaundry published a report detailing how the “Hindu Ecosystem” group, created by a member of the BJP, spread content supporting them on social media.3 The report discusses how a network of over 20,000 participants is given content to spread on Twitter at pre-decided times in order to artificially cause certain hashtags to trend. For example, one group admin reportedly requested members to post against the Tandav television show on Twitter using the hashtag #BanTandavNow, which later trended.4
The Facebook Papers, a collection of leaked internal documents from Facebook released in October 2021,5 revealed that Facebook employees had found that bots and fake accounts tied to the ruling party and opposition figures had potentially affected elections in India, and that misinformation was exacerbated by measures aimed at increasing meaningful interaction on the platform.6 A March 2022 Al Jazeera report found that Jio Platforms exploited a loophole in electoral regulations to promote surrogate advertisements for the ruling party on Facebook during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, and that the party had benefited from how content was promoted via the platform’s algorithmic recommendation systems.7
In December 2020, the EU Disinfo Lab reported on a 15-year domestic and international disinformation operation that aimed to boost international perceptions of India and harm domestic perceptions of the Pakistani and Chinese governments. The campaign was spearheaded by the opaque India-based company the Srivastava Group and amplified by the Indian news organization ANI.8 EU Disinfo Lab found over 750 fake media outlets and over 550 domain names operating in 95 countries.9 The Indian government denied involvement in the operation.10
In January 2022, following a two-year investigation based on information provided by a whistleblower working with the ruling party’s IT Cell, the Wire reported that the ruling party was allegedly using an app called Tek Fog to shape public narratives by manipulating social media trends, automating political messaging, modifying news and articles, phishing inactive WhatsApp accounts, and targeting groups and individuals with abusive and derogatory content, among other actions.11 The government denied the account.12 As of October 2022, the Wire has removed their reporting on Tek Fog from their website pending an internal investigation.
In a 2020 report, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked India as medium-to-high risk for political control over online and offline media distribution networks,13 citing concerns about outlets majority owned or controlled by political officials and factions, or by a politically connected owner.14
- 1Samantha Bradshaw, UalanCampbell-Smith, Amelie Henle, Antonella Perini, Sivanne Shalev, Hannah Bailey & Philip N. Howard, “Country Case StudiesIndustrialized Disinformation: 2020 Global Inventory of Organized Social Media Manipulation,” Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, March 2021, page 182. https://demtech.oii.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/127/2021/03/Case-…
- 2Samantha Bradshaw, UalanCampbell-Smith, Amelie Henle, Antonella Perini, Sivanne Shalev, Hannah Bailey & Philip N. Howard, “Country Case StudiesIndustrialized Disinformation: 2020 Global Inventory of Organized Social Media Manipulation,” Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, March 2021, page 182. https://demtech.oii.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/127/2021/03/Case-…; 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, page 18. https://demtech.oii.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/93/2019/09/CyberT….
- 3Meghnad S, Shambhavi Thakur, “Hate Factory: Inside Kapil Mishra’s ‘Hindu Ecosystem’” Newslaundry, February 15, 2021, https://www.newslaundry.com/2021/02/15/we-infiltrated-the-telegram-grou….
- 4“Hashtag 'Boycott Tandav' Trends on Twitter for Allegedly 'Mocking' Hindu Gods”, News 18, January 16, 2021, https://www.news18.com/news/movies/hashtag-boycott-tandav-trends-on-twi…
- 5Christiano Lima, “A whistleblower’s power: Key takeaways from the Facebook Papers”, The Washington Post, October 26, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/10/25/what-are-the-faceb….
- 6Sheera Frenkel and Davey Alba, “In India, Facebook Grapples With an Amplified Version of Its Problems”, The New York Times, November 9, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/23/technology/facebook-india-misinforma….
- 7Kumar Sambhav and Nayantara Ranganathan, “How a Reliance-funded firm boosts BJP’s campaigns on Facebook” Al Jazeera, March 14 2022. https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2022/3/14/how-a-reliance-funded-compa… ; Kumar Sambhav and Nayantara Ranganathan & Shreegireesh Jalihal, “Inside Facebook and BJP’s world of ghost advertisers” Al Jazeera, March 15, 2022. https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2022/3/15/inside-facebook-and-bjps-wo… ; Kumar Sambhav & Nayantara Ranganathan, “Facebook charged BJP less for India election ads than others” Al Jazeera, March 16 2022. https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2022/3/16/facebook-charged-bjp-lower-… ; Nayantara Ranganathan & Kumar Sambhav, “What helps India’s BJP get lower Facebook rates? Divisive content” Al Jazeera, March 17, 2022. https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2022/3/17/facebook-algorithm-favours-…
- 8Team Webqoof, “ANI Boosted Huge Global Network of Fake media Websites: Study” The Quint, December 17, 2020, https://www.thequint.com/news/webqoof/ani-srivastava-group-used-disinfo….; Hassan Aslam Shad, “‘Indian Chronicles’ - a New War of Narratives between India and Pakistan?” The Diplomat, December 18, 2020,https://thediplomat.com/2020/12/indian-chronicles-a-new-war-of-narrativ…; Gary Machado Alexandre Alaphillipe, Roman Adamczyk, “Indian Chronicles: deep dive into a 15-year operation targeting the EU and UN to serve Indian Interests” EU Disinfo Lab, December 09, 2020, https://www.disinfo.eu/publications/indian-chronicles-deep-dive-into-a-….
- 9Scroll Staff, “What the EU NGO Report claiming to have uncovered a 15-year Indian disinformation campaign tells us” Scroll.in, December 10, 2020,https://scroll.in/article/980833/what-the-eu-ngo-report-claiming-to-hav….
- 10Geeta Mohan. “India clarifies on fake news report, says our neighbours run such campaigns” India Today, December 12, 2020, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/india-clarifies-on-fake-news-repo….
- 11Ayushman Kaul and Devesh Kumar, “Tek Fog: An App With BJP Footprints for Cyber Troops to Automate Hate, Manipulate Trends” The Wire, January 6, 2022, https://thewire.in/tekfog/en/1.html; Ayushman Kaul and Devesh Kumar, “Tek Fog: Morphing URLs to Make Real News Fake, ‘Hijacking’ WhatsApp to Drive BJP Propaganda”, The Wire, January 10, 2022, https://thewire.in/tekfog/en/2.html.
- 12Isha Sahai Bhatnagar, “Can’t find Tek Fog app on online stores: Centre”, The Hindustan Times, February 5, 2022, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/cant-find-tek-fog-app-on-onli….
- 13“Media Ownership Monitor India,” Reporters without Borders, accessed February 20, 2021, September 28, 2020, http://india.mom-rsf.org/en/.
- 14“Media Ownership Monitor India,” Reporters without Borders, http://india.mom-rsf.org/en/.
|Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online?||2.002 3.003|
Online news outlets, blogs, and other publishing platforms were previously not required to register, obtain licenses, or provide information to the state to publish content. However, the Intermediary Rules 2021 imposed new obligations on digital news publishers and OTT platforms to furnish details about their entities to the MIB and provide a monthly report of grievances they have received, along with information about any actions they took in response.1
The MIB issued a notification in May 2021 requiring digital news organizations and OTT platforms to furnish the specified information,2 and later disclosed that over 2,100 such platforms had done so as of January 2022.3 The IFF said it was unclear if the provisions under which the MIB issued the relevant notifications is operational, since high courts have stayed provisions of the IT rules that affect digital media organizations and OTT platforms (see B3).4
The 2019 amendments to the Foreign Direct Investment Policy (FDI Policy) imposed a 26 percent cap for foreign investment in digital media companies, broadly defined as companies that upload or stream news and current affairs through digital media.5 Digital media platforms were given time until October 2021 to comply with the cap.6 In August 2021, Yahoo, which is now owned by US-based Apollo Global Management, announced that it would discontinue its news websites in India, including Yahoo News, due to the FDI policy’s restrictions on foreign investment in digital media companies.7 In November 2020, during the previous coverage period, HuffPost India, the Indian edition of US-based Huffington Post, announced that it was shutting down operations in India due to the FDI policy.8
The government mandated in 2020 that digital media companies must receive preapproval for foreign investment from certain neighboring countries, including China, and introduced regulatory approvals necessary for transfer of shares of Indian digital media companies.9
The Net Neutrality Rules, adopted in July 2018 by the Indian government, are considered among the world’s strongest.10 With only some exceptions, the rules prevent internet providers from interfering with content, including through blocking, throttling, and zero-rating.11 In September 2020, TRAI recommended that the DoT establish a multistakeholder body to monitor ISPs’ compliance with the rules.12 As of November 2021, the recommendations had not yet been implemented.13
The government released updates to the Central Media Accreditation Guidelines in February 2022, which outline accreditation terms for journalists and for eligible news sites. The guidelines have a new clause on the withdrawal of journalists’ accreditation if they act in a manner prejudicial to the country’s security, sovereignty, and integrity; friendly relations with foreign states; or public order; or are charged with a serious offense.14 Press freedom and internet freedom groups raised concerns the guidelines could be abused to censor journalists critical of the government.15
- 1Rule 18 and 19, Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, https://mib.gov.in/sites/default/files/IT%28Intermediary%20Guidelines%2….
- 2“Public Notice – Furnishing of information by digital media publishers under Rule 18 of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021,” F.No.A-50013/31/2021-DM, May 26, 2021, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, https://mib.gov.in/sites/default/files/Furnishing%20of%20Information%20….
- 3Internet Freedom Foundation, “Revealed: Over two thousand news publishers furnished their details to the MIB, despite Bombay HC’s stay,” January 25, 2022, https://internetfreedom.in/revealed-two-thousand-news-publishers-furnis….
- 4TNN, “Govt sought info from media companies under new IT rules stayed by HC”, Times of India, January 2022 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/89166655.cms?utm_source=….; Internet Freedom Foundation, “Revealed: Over two thousand news publishers furnished their details to the MIB, despite Bombay HC’s stay,” January 25, 2022, https://internetfreedom.in/revealed-two-thousand-news-publishers-furnis….
- 5“Cabinet approves proposal for Review of FDI policy on various sectors”, Press Information Bureau, August 28, 2019, https://pib.gov.in/Pressreleaseshare.aspx?PRID=1583294.; “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.; Sushovan Sircar, “Explained: Is Govt’s 26% FDI in Digital Media the Right Move?,” The Quint, October 30, 2020, https://www.thequint.com/explainers/26-percent-fdi-digital-media-regula….; Akila Agrawal and Varun Sehgal, “FDI in Digital Media: A Case For Further Clarification,” India Corporate Law, November 05, 2020, https://corporate.cyrilamarchandblogs.com/2020/11/fdi-in-digital-media-….; “Clarification on FDI Policy for uploading/streaming of news and current affairs through Digital Media,” Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, October 16, 2020, https://dipp.gov.in/sites/default/files/Digital-Media-Clarification-Sca….
- 6Swati Mathur, “Comply with 26% FDI cap,” Times of India, November 17, 2020, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/comply-with-26-fdi-cap-govt-t….
- 7Aditya Saroha, “Yahoo shuts down news sites in India over FDI regulations,” The Hindu, August 26, 2021, https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/yahoo-shuts-down-news-site…; “Latest FDI rules force Yahoo to shut down news websites in India,” Business Standard, August 26, 2021, https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/yahoo-shuts-down-….
- 8Aditya Saroha, “Yahoo shuts down news sites in India over FDI regulations,” The Hindu, August 26, 2021, https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/yahoo-shuts-down-news-site…
- 9Ministry of Commerce & Industry Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, “Press Note No. 3(2020 Series):: Review of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy for curbing opportunistic takeovers/acquisitions of Indian companies due to the current COVID-19 pandemic,” April 17, 2020, https://dipp.gov.in/sites/default/files/pn3_2020.pdf. ibid.; Payaswini Upadhyay, “FDI Policy: Investors From Border States Need Government Approval To Invest In Indian Companies,” BloombergQuint, April 18, 2020, https://www.bloombergquint.com/law-and-policy/fdi-policy-investors-from….; “Consolidated FDI Policy,” Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade Ministry of Commerce and Industry, October 28, 2020, https://dipp.gov.in/sites/default/files/FDI-PolicyCircular-2020-29Octob…; “DPIIT releases next edition of consolidated FDI policy,” Times of India, October 28, 2020, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/78919179.cms?utm_source=….
- 10Rishi 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.; 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.
- 11Kalyan 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-….
- 12Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “Recommendations on Traffic Management Practices (TMPs) and MultiStakeholder Body for Net Neutrality,” September 22, 2020, https://www.trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/Recommendations_22092020.pdf ; “Trai recommends forming a multi-stakeholder body to monitor net neutrality norms,” The Financial Express, September 23, 2020, https://www.financialexpress.com/industry/trai-recommends-forming-a-mul….
- 13Internet Freedom Foundation, “Whither net neutrality? On the urgent need to implement the TRAI’s recommendations on net neutrality,” November 23, 2021, https://internetfreedom.in/whither-net-neutrality-on-the-urgent-need-to…
- 14Anuradha Raman, “Understanding the new Central Media Accreditation Guidelines”, The Hindu, February 10, 2022, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/understanding-the-new-central-me…; Press Information Bureau of India, “ Central Media Accreditation Guidelines, 2022”, https://static.pib.gov.in/WriteReadData/userfiles/file/CentralMediaAccr….
- 15Upmanyu Trivedi, “New Media Accreditation Rules Add to India Free Speech Worries”, Bloomberg Quint, February 10, 2022, https://www.bloombergquint.com/business/new-media-accreditation-rules-a…; “Understanding India’s Central Media Accreditation Guidelines 2022,” Global Voices Advox, June 15, 2022, https://globalvoices.org/2022/06/15/understanding-indias-central-media-….
|Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability?||3.003 4.004|
Online media content in India is diverse and debate is lively. While digital divides persist, users can increasingly access local-language content (see A2).1 At least one estimate claimed that 70 percent of Indian users could access online news in their local language at the end of 2020.2
Online spaces for the LGBT+ community are growing,3 and there is some representation of LGBT+ people in mainstream digital advertisements, television, and media.4 Nevertheless, civil society groups noted that LGBT+ people and experiences are still not proportionately covered online, particularly during the pandemic.5
Use of virtual private networks (VPNs) is increasing, enabling people to evade government censorship and access more diverse internet content.6 In 2021, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs recommended that the government ban the use of VPNs on the grounds that it allows criminals to remain anonymous online (see B1 and C4).7 However, this proposal has been criticized for having the potential to violate privacy rights, security, net neutrality, and internet access, as well as for being unlikely to deter criminal activity online.8
Misinformation undermines users’ ability to access reliable information.9 False and misleading information about the COVID-19 pandemic has been rampant on social media platforms, especially WhatsApp.10 A 2021 study found that India was the most prevalent source of COVID-19 misinformation debunked by fact-checkers, out of the 138 surveyed countries.11
Unreliable information regarding the death toll of Chinese soldiers also spread online amid the India-China border dispute in June 2020, during the previous coverage period.12 Misinformation and doctored videos have led to offline violence.13 Earlier, at least 24 people were reportedly killed in 2018 alone in connection to rumors spread on WhatsApp, often about child kidnappings.14
- 1Tarun Bhardwaj, “Record spike in consumption of regional language content amid Covid-19 pandemic,” The Financial Express, May 15, 2020, https://www.financialexpress.com/brandwagon/record-spike-in-consumption….
- 2WATConsult, “Digital, Diverse and Multilingual India,” July 2020, https://www.watconsult.com/watinsights/local-language/; “By December 2020, close to 70% of all internet users will access the internet in their local languages: WATConsult,” BusinessInsider, July 21, 2020, https://www.businessinsider.in/advertising/ad-agencies/news/by-december….
- 3Sunnalini Mathew and others, “Follow these voices in the LGBTQIA+ spaces to understand the community better,” The Hindu, September 01, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/lgbtqia-influencers-you-can-fo…; Kevin Truong, “Secret Online Groups Provide Safe Space for India's LGBTQ Community,” NBC News, December 29, 2016, https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/secret-online-groups-provide-sa….
- 4Pallavi Mathur Lal and Neha Dutta, “Inclusiveness of LGBTQ Community: Marketers leading the way,” Brand Equity - The Economic Times, August 06, 2021, https://brandequity.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/marketing/inclusi….
- 5“‘Media totally neglected LGBT community during pandemic’,” The New Indian Express, January 16, 2021, https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2021/jan/16/media-totally-negle…; “Media’s LGBTI coverage during pandemic was inadequate,” The Times of Bennett, January 23, 2021, http://www.timesofbennett.com/campus/medias-lgbti-coverage-during-pande….
- 6Yasmin Ahmed, “Use of VPNs in India spiking because of blocked websites, experts say ban proposal will not help users,” India Today, October 18, 2021, https://www.indiatoday.in/technology/features/story/use-of-vpns-in-indi…; Debangana Ghosh, “VPN installations skyrocket over seven times since Dec”, Hindu BusinessLine, September 04, 2021, https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/info-tech/vpn-installations-skyroc….
- 7Mehab Qureshi, “India's Anti-VPN Plan a Threat to Privacy, Internet Freedom: Experts,” The Quint, September 02, 2021, https://www.thequint.com/tech-and-auto/indias-anti-vpn-plan-a-threat-to…; Yasmin Ahmed, “Use of VPNs in India spiking because of blocked websites, experts say ban proposal will not help users,” India Today, October 18, 2021 ,https://www.indiatoday.in/technology/features/story/use-of-vpns-in-indi….
- 8Mehab Qureshi, “India's Anti-VPN Plan a Threat to Privacy, Internet Freedom: Experts,” The Quint, September 02, 2021, https://www.thequint.com/tech-and-auto/indias-anti-vpn-plan-a-threat-to…; Yasmin Ahmed, “Use of VPNs in India spiking because of blocked websites, experts say ban proposal will not help users,” India Today, October 18, 2021 ,https://www.indiatoday.in/technology/features/story/use-of-vpns-in-indi….
- 9Nivedita Niranjankumar and Archis Chowdhury, “Here Are the Biggest Stories the Media Got Wrong in 2020,” The Wire, December 30, 2020, https://thewire.in/media/here-are-the-biggest-stories-the-media-got-wro….
- 10“COVID: Misinformation complicates India's fight against pandemic,” Deutsche Welle, May 03, 2021, https://www.dw.com/en/india-covid-misinformation/a-57414876; Sagar Biswas, “Karnataka: Raichur teacher dies after lemon juice in nose as ‘cure’ for Covid-19 | Hubballi News – Times of India,” Bangalore News Today, April 29, 2021, https://bangalorenewstoday.com/top-news/karnataka-raichur-teacher-dies-….
- 11Md. Sayeed Al Zaman, “Prevalence and source analysis of COVID-19 misinformation in 138 countries,” International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions Journal, August 27, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1177%2F03400352211041135; “India top source of social media misinformation on Covid-19: Study,” Business Standard, September 15, 2021, https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/india-top-sou….
- 12Pooja Chaudhuri, “India-China Dispute; 43 Chinese Soldiers Killed? Media Outlets and Journalists Mislead” Alt News, June 17, 2020, https://www.altnews.in/india-china-dispute-43-chinese-soldiers-killed-m… Pooja Chaudhuri, “Indian Journalists quote Chinese Casualties based on Unverified Source” June 17, 2020, https://www.altnews.in/indian-journalists-quote-chinese-casualties-base….
- 13Elyse Samuels, “How misinformation on WhatsApp led to a mob killing in India”, Washington Post, February 21, 2020, Error! Hyperlink reference not valid..
- 14Timothy Mclaughlin, “How WhatsApp Fuels Fake News and Violence in India,” Wired, December 12, 2018, Error! Hyperlink reference not valid..
|Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues?||4.004 6.006|
Digital activism has driven important social debates and at times has helped usher in policy changes. However, local authorities continued to impose internet shutdowns amid protests.
Internet users led online campaigns during the coverage period. For example, in December 2021, doctors across the country used online communication and other tools to mobilize over severe staff shortages caused by a delay in the admission process for new resident doctors.1
In 2021, amid the farmers’ protests, the government ordered multiple internet shutdowns for areas in and around New Delhi,2 and ordered Twitter to restrict access to the accounts of several individuals and organizations that were sharing protest-related information.3 Local police reportedly monitored social media platforms for accounts spreading purported misinformation and “incendiary” content,4 and several journalists and users, including member of parliament Shashi Tharoor,5 faced legal action over protest-related posts .6
In September 2021, the Haryana government reportedly ordered internet shutdowns for at least a day in 5 districts of the state in response to the farmers’ protests.7 However, despite the increased censorship and other attempts to limit mobilization, social media and other digital platforms were used extensively to disseminate information about the agricultural laws and live updates on the protests, and to spur national and international conversation.8 In December 2021, in response to the digital and on-ground mobilization and opposition from farmers, the government repealed the contentious laws that had prompted the farmers’ protests.9
Online campaigns related to the COVID-19 pandemic also continued. When the Indian health care system was overwhelmed amid a second wave in April 2021, people turned to social media to help organize relief efforts.10 During this period, the Supreme Court ordered state governments and the police to not clamp down on calls for help or related information sharing on social media.11
- 1“Explainer: Why are doctors protesting?”, The times of India, December 28, 2021, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/explainer-why-are-doctors-pro…; Banjot Kaur, “Why Young, Overworked Doctors Are Protesting Outside the Union Health Ministry” The Wire, December 27, 2021, https://thewire.in/health/why-young-overworked-doctors-are-protesting-o….
- 2“Govt extends internet suspension at 3 farmer protest sites in Delhi till 2 February”, The Print, February 1, 2021, https://theprint.in/india/govt-extends-internet-suspension-at-3-farmer-… ; Kritika Bansal, “Chakka Jam: Internet Services Suspended at Singhu, Ghazipur, Tikri Borders Till Midnight”, India.com, February 6, 2021, https://www.india.com/news/india/chakka-jam-internet-services-suspended… .
- 3Mujib Mashal and Sameer Yasir, “Modi’s Response to Farmer Protests in India Stirs Fears of a Pattern,” The New York Times, February 3, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/03/world/asia/india-modi-farmer-protest….
- 4Swati Bhan, “Haryana Govt Monitoring 300 'Suspicious' Social Media Handles With 'Incendiary' Posts Amid Farmers Protest”, News18, January 29, 2021, https://www.news18.com/news/india/haryana-farmers-protest-border-social… ; “Farmers' 'Chakka Jam': Delhi Police to Monitor Social Media for 'Rumours'”, The Wire, February 06, 2021, https://thewire.in/rights/farmers-chakka-jam-delhi-police-to-monitor-so…
- 5Alok Pandey, Anurag Dwary, “Shashi Tharoor, 6 Journalists Face Sedition For Farmers' Protest Posts”, January 29, 2021, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/shashi-tharoor-6-journalists-face-sedit…
- 6“India: Journalists targeted for reporting farmer protest”, International Federation of Journalists, February 15, 2021, https://www.ifj.org/media-centre/news/detail/category/press-releases/ar…
- 7“India: SFLC.in asks Haryana government to reconsider internet shutdown - IFEX”, SFLC, September 7,, 2021, https://ifex.org/india-sflc-in-asks-haryana-government-to-reconsider-in….
- 8Venkat Ananth, “Tractor to Twitter: How farmers developed their social media plan to convey their views,” The Economic Times, January 3, 2021, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/tractor-t…; “Social Media crucial for our agitation: Farmers on Facebook shutting down protest page,” Mint, December 21, 2020, https://www.livemint.com/news/india/social-media-crucial-for-our-agitat….
- 9"It's official. Three farm laws scrapped" The Hindu, December 2, 2021. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/president-gives-assent-to-farm-l…
- 10Saheli Roy Chaudhary, ‘Indians turn to social media for help as Covid crisis overwhelms the health-care system’, CNBC, May 24, 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/05/25/india-covid-crisis-people-use-social-me….
- 11Krishnadas Rajagopal, ‘Coronavirus | Do not clampdown on citizen’s SOS calls via social media: Supreme Court’, The Hindu, April 30, 2021, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/dont-clampdown-dissemination-of-….
|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 The right to access information is also recognized as an inalienable component of free expression rights,3 and press freedom has been read into the freedom of speech and expression clauses.4 These freedoms can be restricted by law (but not by executive action) in the interests of state security, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency and morality, and the sovereignty and integrity of India, as well as in instances related to contempt of court, defamation, and incitement.5
The judiciary is independent. Although commentators have argued that the courts show signs of politicization,6 judgments continue to protect free expression and other constitutional rights. Throughout the coverage period, high courts in different states have stayed the application of different parts of the IT Rules to protect the rights of the media (see B3 and B6).7 In May 2022, the Supreme Court ordered that the sedition law under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code to be effectively kept in abeyance until the government evaluates that provision (see C2).8
A 2015 Supreme Court ruling struck down a broad provision of Section 66A of the IT Act that criminalized information causing "annoyance,” “inconvenience,” or “danger,” among other ill-defined categories. Nevertheless, cases continue to be registered under this provision, and the Supreme Court has issued notice requiring high courts to report all cases filed under Section 66A (see C2). Additionally, the court in the Shreya Singhal judgment9 affirmed that free speech online is equal to free speech offline (see B3).10
Courts have also addressed 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 the internet and internet infrastructure.11 The Supreme Court’s January 2020 Anuradha Bhasin judgment placed limits on restrictions to internet access (see A3).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-….
- 2Supreme Court of India, “Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India on 25 January 1978.”
- 3Supreme Court of India, “S. P. Gupta v. President of India on 30 December 1981”, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1294854/.
- 4“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….
- 5“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.”
- 6Shoaib Daniyal, “The Indian judiciary didn’t suddenly decline in the Modi years – it was always broken,” Scroll, December 14, 2020, https://scroll.in/article/979369/the-indian-judiciary-didnt-suddenly-de…; Rana Ayyub “Opinion: The destruction of India’s judicial independence is almost complete” Washington Post, March 24, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/03/24/destruction-indias-j…
- 7“Madras High Court stays two clauses of India IT Rules 2021” , The Economic Times, September 17, 2021, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/technology/madras-high-court-…; Mustafa Shaikh, “Bombay High Court stays two provisions of IT Rules 2021” India Today, August 14, 2021, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/bombay-hc-bench-chief-justice-inf….
- 8Keep the sedition law in abeyance: Supreme Court rules in a historic order, LiveLaw, May 11, 2022, https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/breaking-supreme-court-urges-centre-….
- 9(2015) 5 SCC 1.
- 10Sarvjeet 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….
- 11Kerala High Court, “Faheema Shirin.R.K v State of Kerala on 19 September, 2019,” Indian Kanoon, September 19, 2019, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/188439981/.
- 12Anandita Mishra, “Behind the great Indian Internet shutdown” The Hindu, September 15, 2021, https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op- ed/behind-the-great-indian-internet-shutdown/article62105487.ece; 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…;.
|Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||2.002 4.004|
The Indian Penal Code (IPC) criminalizes several kinds of speech. 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 to promote “enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language,”4 is deemed “prejudicial to maintenance of harmony,”5 or consists of statements, rumors, or reports that may cause fear or alarm, disturb public tranquility, or promote enmity or ill will.6 A 2016 Supreme Court judgment ruled that laws criminalizing defamation (Sections 499 and 500 of the IPC and Section 119 of the CrPC) are constitutional.7 A June 2021 Supreme Court ruling that quashed a sedition lawsuit against journalist Vinod Dua for comments criticizing the prime minister in a YouTube video may reflect the court’s concern about the constitutionality of the sedition clause (see C1).8
The Official Secrets Act criminalizes communication of information that may have an adverse effect on the sovereignty and integrity of India.9 The National Security Act allows the police to detain an accused person for up to one year without charge, and has been invoked in relation to speech online.10
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. While the Supreme Court in 2015 struck down Section 66A (see C1) for being vague and overbroad, similar complaints continue to be registered under the provision, as well as under Sections 67, 66D, and the IPC (see C3).11 In August 2021, the Supreme Court issued a notice to all high courts to report cases filed under section 66A, in a case pertaining to the continued use of the provision by law enforcement agencies and the lower judiciary, stating “this cannot continue.”12
Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister reportedly directed state officials to charge people under the National Security Act and Gangsters Act for spreading “rumors” about oxygen shortages.13 In May 2021, the Supreme Court directed state officials and police to not take legal action for social media posts seeking to obtain medical supplies (see C3).14
- 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.
- 7Supreme Court of India, “Subramaniam Swamy v Union of India (2016),” accessed October 07, 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….
- 8Krishnadas Rajagopal, “Sedition law | Supreme Court sends strong message to government” The Hindu, July 16, 2021, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/sedition-law-supreme-court-sends….
- 9“Official Secrets Act, 1923,” Indian Kanoon, accessed October 7, 2020, Section 5, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/61492784/.
- 10Soutik 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-….
- 11Supreme 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….
- 12“SC notice to states, HCs on cases still registered under scrapped Sec 66A” The Indian Express, August 3, 2021, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/sc-notices-states-uts-high-cour….
- 13“‘No Shortage of Oxygen’: Adityanath Wants NSA Invoked Against Those Who Spread ‘Rumours’”, The Wire, April 25, 2021, https://thewire.in/government/no-oxygen-shortage-adityanath-uttar-prade….
- 14Utkarsh Anand, “Don’t Take Action Against People Sending SOS on Social Media: SC”, Livemint, May 20, 2021, https://www.livemint.com/news/india/dont-act-against-people-sending-sos…
|Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||2.002 6.006|
Users and journalists risk being arrested and detained for political, social, and religious speech or other forms of online content authorities deem objectionable or derogatory, especially during major political events.
Journalists were arrested for their online posts during the coverage period.1 In June 2021, the police filed charges against various journalists, Twitter and Twitter India, and the media organization the Wire, among others, for sharing videos of violence against an elderly Muslim man in the state of Uttar Pradesh (see B2).2 Police stated that the video was related to a financial dispute and was not motivated by religion,3 and that the social media posts may amount to criminal conspiracy and attempts to destroy communal harmony and spread false news.4 Journalist Rana Ayyub approached the Bombay High Court and was granted temporary protection from arrest for four weeks through anticipatory bail;5 a number of charges were filed against her, but she was not arrested. Others against whom charges were filed were questioned by the police, including Mohammed Zubair, cofounder of the fact-checking website AltNews.6
Similarly, in November 2021, Samriddhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha, both journalists with the online outlet HW News Network, were reportedly arrested by the Tripura police for tweets relating to their investigation of alleged religious vandalism in the state of Tripura.7 The police alleged that videos posted by the two journalists, where they claimed that a prayer hall was burnt down and a religious text was damaged, had been doctored.8 They were arrested on charges of criminal conspiracy, spreading communal disharmony, and breach of peace, and were later granted bail.9 In a separate incident related to the same violence, the Tripura police also reportedly registered cases against four lawyers under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 (UAPA) and the Indian Penal Code for allegedly promoting communal disharmony for their social media posts on the incident.10 The Tripura police also served notices to 102 individuals under the UAPA for their social media posts on the violence, and sent letters to social media companies requesting details of the account holders.11
In June 2022, after the coverage period, Delhi police arrested Zubair, of Alt News, a prominent fact-checking website, after a Twitter user filed an FIR over a 2018 post. Police filed charges alleging that the tweet, which purportedly showed an image of a hotel board referencing a Hindu god, promoted enmity between different groups and outraged religious feelings under the penal code.12 In July 2022, the Supreme Court ordered Zubair’s release on bail.13
In October 2020, Siddique Kappan, a journalist for the news website Azhimukham, was reportedly arrested and initially remanded for 14 days on charges of sedition and violating the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act while he was on his way to cover a murder and sexual assault (see C7).14 In September 2022, after the coverage period, the Supreme Court ordered Kappan released on bail, subject to stringent conditions, and affirmed right to freedom of expression. Kappan remained detained on charges of money laundering registered against him by the Directorate of Enforcement.15
In October 2021, three Kashmiri students in Agra were reportedly arrested for allegedly sending anti-India WhatsApp messages after Pakistan's victory in a T-20 cricket World Cup match.16 They were granted bail in March 2022 and released from custody after 5 months of pretrial detention, after being charged for sedition under the penal code and cyber-terrorism under the IT Act, among other charges.17 In a separate incident, a teacher from Udaipur was also reportedly arrested for posting celebratory status messages on WhatsApp after the match.18 The teacher was later released on bail and the school that she was teaching at subsequently terminated her employment.19 In May 2021, a professor from Delhi University was reportedly arrested for posting a satirical tweet about the alleged discovery of a Hindu religious structure inside the Gyanvapi mosque in Uttar Pradesh.20 While he was granted bail, he was also instructed by the court to refrain from posting on social media or providing interviews on the controversy.21
During the reporting period, individuals were penalized for publishing or sharing content concerning politicians in India. In March 2022, a member of the ruling party’s youth wing was reportedly arrested for defamation in the state of Tamil Nadu for his tweet claiming that a jacket worn by Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin cost around an exorbitant amount of money attributing that information to the state’s finance minister.22 He is currently in judicial custody for his remarks.23
Similarly, in April 2022, a member of the legislative assembly from Gujarat was reportedly arrested for posting a tweet about the prime minster that purportedly claimed he was a supporter of Nathuram Godse, who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi.24 After being provided bail, he was rearrested in a separate case,25 but was granted bail in the second case as well.26
Research by human rights and media organizations found that many journalists, activists, and ordinary users were criminally charged and arrested for their online posts amid the farmers’ protests in 2021.27 Numerous people were also reportedly arrested, charged, or threatened with legal sanction in relation to online speech during the country’s second wave of COVID-19 in 2021.28
- 1“India: Media freedom under threat”, Reporters Without Borders, May 3, 2022, https://rsf.org/en/india-media-freedom-under-threat.
- 2Amil Bhatnagar, “Ghaziabad Police lodge FIR against Twitter, journalists and Congress leaders for tweets on elderly man’s assault”, The Indian Express, June 17, 2021, https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/ghaziabad-police-lodge-f….
- 3“Ghaziabad attack: Journalists, The Wire named in FIR for tweets 'provoking communal sentiments’”, Newslaundry, June 16, 2021, https://www.newslaundry.com/2021/06/16/ghaziabad-attack-journalists-the….
- 4Amil Bhatnagar, “Ghaziabad Police lodge FIR against Twitter, journalists and Congress leaders for tweets on elderly man’s assault”, The Indian Express, June 17, 2021, https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/ghaziabad-police-lodge-f….
- 5Special Correspondent, “Transit anticipatory bail for Rana Ayyub” The Hindu, June 22, 2021, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/transit-anticipatory-bail-for-ra…;
- 6HT Correspondent, “Loni thrashing: Ghaziabad cops question Zubair, Naqvi over tweets”, Hindustan Times, June 28, 2021, https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/noida-news/loni-thrashing-ghaziab….
- 7Debraj Deb, “Two journalists, reporting on Tripura violence, detained in Assam’s Karimganj” The Indian Express, November 14, 2021. https://indianexpress.com/article/north-east-india/tripura/two-journali…
- 8Debraj Deb, “Two journalists, reporting on Tripura violence, detained in Assam’s Karimganj” The Indian Express, November 14, 2021. https://indianexpress.com/article/north-east-india/tripura/two-journali…; Priyanka Deb Barman, “Tripura cops start questioning 2 women journalists after court gives them bail” The Hindustan Times, November 17, 2021 https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/tripura-cops-start-questionin…
- 9Sumedha Paul, Tripura: Two Journalists Arrested for Covering Communal Violence Get Bail”, The Wire, November 15, 2021. https://thewire.in/media/tripura-police-fir-two-journalists-communal-vi….; Bikash Singh, “2 journalists arrested by Tripura police granted bail”, The Economic Times, November 16, 2021, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/2-journalists-arrested-…
- 10“Tripura violence: UAPA invoked against four SC lawyers”, The New Indian Express, November 6, 2021, https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2021/nov/06/tripura-violence-ua….; Press Trust of India, “Tripura police books 4 SC lawyers under UAPA for abetting disharmony”, Business Standard, November 5, 2021, https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/tripura-polic….
- 11Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta, “Tripura Police Books 102 People Under UAPA for Social Media Posts Against Communal Violence” The Wire, November 6, 2021. https://thewire.in/communalism/tripura-police-uapa-social-media-posts.; PTI, “Tripura police serves notices to 102 persons under UAPA; asks Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to freeze their accounts””, The Times of India, November 6, 2021, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/agartala/tripura-police-serves….; Debaraj Deb, “Tripura violence: After SC lawyers, 102 social media accounts face UAPA charge”, The Indian Express, November 7, 2021, https://indianexpress.com/article/north-east-india/tripura/tripura-viol….
- 12Mehnder Singh Manral, “Mohammed Zubair, AltNews co-founder, arrested for allegedly hurting religious sentiments” (The Indian Express, 28 June, 2022) https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/altnews-co-founder-moham…
- 13“India court orders release of journalist Mohammed Zubair on bail,” Al Jazeera, July 20, 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/7/20/india-court-orders-release-of-…; @zoo_bear, “Before 2014 : Honeymoon Hotel After 2014 : Hanuman Hotel. #SanskaariHotel,” Twitter, March 23, 2018, https://twitter.com/zoo_bear/status/977276920671842304
- 14“Outlook Web Desk, "Press Association, IWPC Condemn Arrest of Kerala Journalist; Demands Immediate Release”, Outlook, October 7, 2020.https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/india-news-press-association…; Sedition charge against Indian reporter symptomatic of difficulties facing journalists in Uttar Pradesh”, Reporters Without Borders, October 09, 2020, https://rsf.org/en/news/sedition-charge-against-indian-reporter-symptom….
- 15Debayan Roy, “Siddique Kappan granted bail by Supreme Court” (Bar and Bench, 9 September 2022) https://www.barandbench.com/news/siddique-kappan-granted-bail-supreme-c…; Deeptiman Tiwary, “Supreme Court gave Kerela journalist Siddique Kappan bail, so why is he still in jail?” (The Indian Express, 6 October 2022) https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/sc-kerala-journalist-kappan…
- 16Asad Rehman, “T20 World Cup: 3 Agra students held for cheering Pakistan win; college shuts over outsider entry” The Indian Express, October 28, 2021 https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/lucknow/t20-world-cup-3-agra-s….; Amil Bhatnagar, “Allahabad HC bail to students in T20 World Cup case: ‘Unity of India not a reed that can bend to slogans’” The Indian Express, April 1, 2022 https://indianexpress.com/article/india/allahabad-hc-kashmir-students-b….
- 17Amil Bhatnagar, “Allahabad HC bail to students in T20 World Cup case: ‘Unity of India not a reed that can bend to slogans’” The Indian Express, April 1, 2022 https://indianexpress.com/article/india/allahabad-hc-kashmir-students-b…; Anuja Jaiswal, “After 5 months, Allahabad HC bail to Kashmiri students charged with sedition for ‘celebrating Pakistan’s T20 win’” The Times of India, March 31, 2022. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/agra/after-5-months-allahabad-…
- 18Tabeenah Anjum, “Rajasthan Teacher Arrested For Celebrating Pak T20 Win, Released On Bail” Outlook, October 28, 2021 https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/india-news-rajasthan-teacher….
- 19Tabeenah Anjum, “Rajasthan Teacher Arrested For Celebrating Pak T20 Win, Released On Bail” Outlook, October 28, 2021 https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/india-news-rajasthan-teacher…
- 20“Delhi Police Arrest DU Teacher Ratan Lal Over Social Media Post on Gyanvapi 'Shivling’”, The Wire, May 21, 2022. https://thewire.in/rights/delhi-police-arrest-du-teacher-ratan-lal-over…
- 21Richa Banka, “DU professor, arrested over ‘Shivling’ post, granted bail” Hindustan Times, May 22, 2022. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/delhi-news/du-professor-arrested-…
- 22“Tamil Nadu: BJP youth wing leader in cop net for posting ‘fake news’ on MK Stalin”, The India Express, March 30, 2022 https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/chennai/tamil-nadu-bjp-youth-w…; Akshaya Nath, "BJP youth wing member in Tamil Nadu arrested for spreading false information on CM Stalin" India Today, March 29, 2022. https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/bjp-youth-wing-member-arrest-twit…
- 23Express Web Desk, "Tamil Nadu: BJP youth wing leader in cop net for posting 'fake news' on MK Stalin", The Indian Express, March 30, 2022. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/chennai/tamil-nadu-bjp-youth-w….
- 24Tora Agarwal, “Assam police arrest Mevani from Gujarat after complaint over tweet” The Indian Express, April 22, 2022. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/gandhinagar/gujarat-mla-jignes…
- 25Asian News International, “Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani re-arrested right after getting bail in case over negative tweets on PM Modi”, Firstpost, April 25, 2022, https://www.firstpost.com/india/gujarat-mla-jignesh-mevani-granted-bail…; HT News Desk, “Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani arrested again in Assam after bail in PM tweet row”, Hindustan Times, April 25, 2022, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/gujarat-mla-jignesh-mevani-ar….
- 26Bikash Singh, “District court grants bail to Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani, slams Assam police” The Economic Times, April 29, 2022. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/district-court-grants-b…
- 27“India: Journalists targeted for reporting farmer protest”,International Federation of Journalists, February 15, 2021, https://www.ifj.org/media-centre/news/detail/category/press-releases/ar…; “Toolkit Justice”, The Indian Express, February 17, 2021 https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/editorials/disha-ravi-arrest-….; “India: Journalists Covering Farmer Protests Charged”, Human Rights Watch, February 02, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/02/02/india-journalists-covering-farmer-p….; Alok Pandey, Anurag Dwary, “Shashi Tharoor, 6 Journalists Face Sedition For Farmers' Protest Posts”, January 29, 2021, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/shashi-tharoor-6-journalists-face-sedit…; “Farmers’ Protests | FIR against Tharoor, senior journalists for ‘inciting violence’”, The Hindu, January 28, 2021, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/farmers-protests-fir-against-tha….
- 28“Youth Sought Oxygen For Grandfather via Tweet, UP Police File Criminal Case Against Him”, The Wire, April 28, 2021, https://thewire.in/government/amethi-up-police-arfa-khanum-sherwani-oxy….; “Case filed over ‘derogatory’ post against PM Modi, Amit Shah, Gujarat CM Rupani and his deputy”, The Indian Express, May 02, 2021, https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ahmedabad/gujarat-case-filed-o….
|Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption?||2.002 4.004|
Some laws risk undermining end-to-end encryption and limiting anonymity online. 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 Intermediary Rules 2021 impose certain restrictions for anonymity and encryption (see B3, B6, and C6).3 Significant social media intermediaries must allow users to “voluntarily” verify their accounts, including through mobile numbers, and clearly mark which users have done so. Digital rights organizations have expressed concerns that this verification could be made mandatory in the future.4 The rules also require that significant intermediaries be able to identify the first originator of information if requested by a competent authority or court in certain cases related to public order, sexually explicit or child abuse material, and India’s sovereignty, integrity, and security.5 Technical experts have raised concerns that such traceability is not possible without breaking end-to-end encryption6 as this would require the intermediaries to track every message being sent over the platform,7 despite the government’s claim that it did not intend to undermine the technology.8 The government released a list of frequently asked questions on the Intermediary Rules in November 2021, which stated that the intent of the rule on identifying the first originator of a message was not intended to break or weaken encryption.9 The state has not subsequently undertaken any steps to ensure the traceability of the first originator of information.10
In April 2022, the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) issued a set of directions under the IT Act requiring cloud service providers and cryptocurrency exchanges to log user data for five years.11 While the use of VPNs remains legal in India, VPN providers now need to store user names, addresses, contact numbers, period of subscription, email and IP addresses, and the purpose of using their services.12 Companies have argued that logging such information would violate their users’ privacy and may also be technically unfeasible.13 After the directions were issued, VPN providers including ExpressVPN and SurfShark announced that they are shutting down India-based servers;14 others, including TunnelBear, announced their services would no longer be available to users in India.15 Clarifications on the rules issued in May clarify that the provisions would not be applicable to corporate and enterprise VPNs.16
In May 2021, WhatsApp filed a suit against the government in the Delhi High Court, arguing that the message traceability provisions of the IT Rules violated the right to privacy.17 The matter is still pending before the Delhi High Court, and the government reportedly filed an affidavit arguing that WhatsApp—as a foreign company with no Indian entity—could not avail of certain fundamental rights, or challenge the constitutionality of an Indian law.18
In October 2020, the Indian government joined those in Japan, the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand in a statement requesting that social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp allow law enforcement access to encrypted communications and provide content in a “readable and usable format.”19
ISPs setting up cable-landing stations are required to install infrastructure for surveillance and keyword scanning of all traffic passing through each gateway.20 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;21 and mandates prior approval from the DoT or a designated officer to install encryption equipment.22
- 1Press Information Bureau, Government of India, “Guidelines for New Mobile Connections,” March 13, 2013, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=93584.
- 2Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Information Technology (Guidelines for Cyber Cafe) Rules, 2011,” Rule 4.
- 3Press Information Bureau, Government of India, “Government notifies Information Technology (IntermediaryGuidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021”, February 25, 2021, https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1700749.; Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021”, Rule 54(7), https://www.meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/Intermediary_Guidelines_an…-
- 4Internet Freedom Foundation, “Explainer: Why India’s new rules for social media, news sites are anti-democratic, unconstitutional”, Scroll.in, February 27, 2021, https://scroll.in/article/988105/explainer-how-indias-new-digital-media…
- 5Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021”, Rule 4(2), https://www.meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/Intermediary_Guidelines_an….; Internet Freedom Foundation, “Explainer: How the New IT Rules Take Away Our Digital Rights”, The Wire, February 26, 2021, https://thewire.in/tech/explainer-how-the-new-it-rules-take-away-our-di… ; “Letter to Ravi Shankar Prasad, Hon’ble Union Minister for Law and Justice, and Electronics and Information Technology,” Access Now; Aditi Agarwal. “Traceability and end-to-end encryption cannot co-exist on digital messaging platforms: Experts,” Forbes, March 15, 2021,https://www.forbesindia.com/article/take-one-big-story-of-the-day/trace….
- 6Aditi Agarwal. “Traceability and end-to-end encryption cannot co-exist on digital messaging platforms: Experts,” Forbes, March 15
- 7Anirudh Burman, Prateek Jha, “Understanding the Encryption Debate in India”. Carnegie India, September 21, 2021. https://carnegieindia.org/2021/09/13/understanding-encryption-debate-in…
- 8Aashish Aryan, “Ravi Shankar Prasad: ‘Govt not in favour of breaking WhatsApp’s encryption, users have full right to it’”, The Indian Express, 29 May, 2021, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/ravi-shankar-prasad-whatsapps-e…
- 9Frequently Asked Questions on the Part-II of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (“IT Rules, 2021”), Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, accessed October 6, 2020, https://www.meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/FAQ_Intermediary_Rules_202…
- 10Neha Alawadhi, “Tracing originator of message won't break encryption, says MeitY”, Business Standard, November 02, 2021, https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/tracing-origin…; Prasid Banerjee, “Intermediaries can’t track users 24x7, Centre says in new IT rules”, The Mint, November 02, 2021, https://www.livemint.com/news/india/intermediaries-can-t-track-users-24….
- 11“India orders VPN service providers to collect user data or face jail term” Scroll, May 05, 2022, https://scroll.in/latest/1023282/india-orders-vpn-service-providers-to-….
- 12Sneha Saha, “India vs VPNs: What is new VPN policy and will VPNs be banned in India, here is the story so far” India Today, May 09, 2022, https://www.indiatoday.in/technology/features/story/india-vs-vpns-what-…, Sarvesh Mathi, “CERT-In Wants Cybersecurity Incidents Reported Within 6 Hours”, Medianama, April 29, 2022, https://www.medianama.com/2022/04/223-summary-cert-in-cybersecurity-dir….
- 13Subhrojit Mallick, “UnCERT-in times for VPN services providers in India” The Economic Times, May 10, 2022, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/cons-products/electronics….
- 14“Express VPN, SurfShark shuts down India servers: Here’s everything that happened so far”, The Indian Express, June 8, 2022, https://indianexpress.com/article/technology/tech-news-technology/expre….
- 15“TunnelBear no longer available in India,” TunnelBear, September 2022, https://help.tunnelbear.com/hc/en-us/articles/9008085360539-TunnelBear-….
- 16Sunainaa Chadha, “Corporate VPN will not have to maintain customer logs: Govt clarification on VPNs explained”, The Times of India, May 19, 2022, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/corporate-v….
- 17Nandagopal Rajan, “WhatsApp moves Delhi HC against traceability clause in IT rules, calls it is unconstitutional”, The Indian Express, May 26, 2021, https://indianexpress.com/article/technology/tech-news-technology/whats… .
- 18Abhinav Garg, “‘Foreign entity’ WhatsApp cannot challenge Indian laws: Govt to HC”, The Times of India, October 23, 2021, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/foreign-entity-whatsapp-canno…; “WhatsApp can’t challenge Indian law as it is a foreign entity: Union govt to HC”, The News Minute, October 23, 2021, https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/whatsapp-can-t-challenge-indian-l….
- 19Regine Mihindukulasariya, “India & 6 countries want to see encrypted messages, but Facebook ‘will maintain’ user security”, The Print, October 13, 2020, https://theprint.in/tech/india-6-countries-want-to-see-encrypted-messag….
- 20Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Guidelines for Grant of Unified License,” Guideline 42.
- 21Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Guidelines for Grant of Unified License,” Guideline 13(d)(vii).
- 22Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Guidelines for Grant of Unified License.”
|Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy?||1.001 6.006|
In August 2017, a landmark Supreme Court ruling affirmed privacy as a fundamental right embedded in the right to life and liberty, and intrinsically linked to other fundamental rights like free expression.1 State surveillance can nevertheless infringe on this right. 2
Communications surveillance may be conducted under the Telegraph Act3 and the IT Act4 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 broadly allows surveillance for “the investigation of any offense.”5
The home secretary at the central or state level issues interception orders based on procedural safeguards established by the Supreme Court and the Telegraph Act.6 These orders are reviewed by a committee of government officials.7 Interception orders are limited to 60 days, and renewable for up to 180 days.8 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.9
In December 2021, amid searches by income tax authorities, an opposition leader alleged that the Uttar Pradesh state government was tapping the phones of members of his party ahead of the state’s March 2022 elections.10 Police are also investigating two alleged instances of unauthorized phone tapping conducted by the state investigation department against political leaders in the state of Maharashtra.11
The Central Monitoring System (CMS) reportedly allows government agencies to intercept any online activities, including phone calls, text messages, and Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) communication.12 A petition filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation and the Software Freedom Law Centre in December 2020 argued that CMS and two other programs (the surveillance software NETRA or Network Traffic Analysis13 and the integrated intelligence grid NATGRID) should be discontinued because they allow bulk surveillance and data collection.14 The matter is currently pending before the court and was due to be heard in September 2022.15 In February 2021, the Ministry of Home Affairs in an affidavit before the Delhi High Court claimed that agencies are not granted “blanket permission” for surveillance, that surveillance programs are necessary to monitor “terrorism, radicalization, cybercrime, [and] drug cartels,”16 and that there is sufficient oversight on such surveillance activities.17
The Indian government is suspected of using sophisticated spyware technology against citizens. In October 2019, WhatsApp claimed that Pegasus software from the Israeli NSO Group was used to spy on at least two dozen activists, lawyers, academics, and journalists in India in May 2019.18 In July 2021, Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories reported that more than 1,000 phone numbers in India—including those belonging to politicians with the Congress party, activists, journalists, public health experts, and Tibetan exiles—appeared in a leaked data set of possible Pegasus targets.19 While it is unclear how many phones were targeted by Pegasus, preliminary reporting indicates that the spyware infiltrated the devices of at least 149 people in India.20
While NSO claims to only work with state agencies, government officials have repeatedly denied purchasing its software.21 However, when questioned about the claims, the minister of state in the Ministry of Home Affairs argued that Section 69 of the IT Act and Section 5 of the Telegraph Act allow certain authorities to intercept, monitor, or decrypt “any information from any computer resource” in the country.22 The Internet Freedom Foundation has reported that state investigations into the hack remain confidential.23
In August 2022, after the coverage period, a panel convened by the Supreme Court in October 2021 submitted its report following an independent probe into claims the government used Pegasus. The Supreme Court noted that the government did not cooperate with the investigation.24 As of September 2022, the report had not been publicly released, though the court has stated that it plans to do so.25
Separately, Citizen Lab and Amnesty International reported finding evidence that at least nine academics, lawyers, writers, and activists were targeted between January and October 2019 in a spear-phishing campaign to install the spyware NetWire.26 The targeted individuals included human rights defenders calling for the release of activists arrested for allegedly participating in protests and violence in Maharashtra, including prominent activists Rona Wilson and Anand Teltumbde.27 In February 2022, cybersecurity firm SentinelOne attributed the campaign to a threat actor dubbed ModifiedElephant.28
The government uses the Aadhaar national biometric database for the provision of multiple public services, including food stamps and various scholarships and employment schemes.29 The system’s use poses concerns regarding data privacy and security.30 Breaches of Aadhaar data were reported in 2017,31 2018,32 2019,33 2020,34 and 2021.35 In March 2020, it was reported that the government planned to build a database called the National Social Registry that will use data from Aadhaar36 and capture a vast amount of other personal information including individuals’ marital status, financial status, and property owned.37 Critics, including Manorajan Kumar, the civil servant who first proposed the National Social Registry, have expressed concerns about privacy and potential data manipulation arising from the system’s envisioned implementation.38
In September 2018, the Supreme Court set limits on Aadhaar’s use.39 The ruling held that it was legitimate for the program to be mandatory for welfare schemes and that Indians must link their Aadhaar number to income tax filings and permanent account numbers, but that it cannot be required for services such as obtaining a SIM card, opening a bank account, and receiving educational grants. Despite this, Parliament passed in July 2019 the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill,40 which civil society groups argue ignores the Supreme Court ruling.41 As of the end of the coverage period, a case challenging the law was pending in the Supreme Court.42 The court has also directed that a larger bench be set up to review the 2018 judgment, but the bench has not yet been constituted.43
The Data Protection Bill, 2021 has been criticized for providing extensive powers and exemptions to the central government (see C6).44 Clause 35 exempts state agencies 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,” and for preventing incitement to offenses relating to the foregoing.
There has been a lack of transparency and oversight, and in some cases an insufficient legal framework, to ensure that COVID-19-related technology does not undermine privacy.45 For example, the contact-tracing app Aarogya Setu, the use of which was active until June 2022,46 uses data gleaned from Global Positioning System (GPS) and Bluetooth technology.47 Government agencies are permitted access to information stored on a centralized database.48 The app has poor encryption standards.49
- 1Supreme 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.
- 2Bombay 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….
- 3Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications, “Indian Telegraph Act, 1885,” accessed October 07, 2020, Section 5(2), https://dot.gov.in/act-rules-content/2442.
- 4Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, “The Information Technology Act 2000,” Section 69.
- 5Ministry of Law and Justice, “The Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008,” Section 69.
- 6Government 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….
- 7Government of India, “Rule 419A of the Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951”; Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, “The Information Technology Act 2000,” Section 69.
- 8Government of India, “Rule 419A of the Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951”; Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, “The Information Technology Act 2000,” Section 69.
- 9Privacy International, “India Telecommunications Privacy Report,” October 22, 2012, Chapter III: Privacy Issues, https://web.archive.org/web/20121202224337/https://www.privacyinternati….
- 10Samarth Srivastava, “UP CM taps our phones, listens to calls himself, claims Akhilesh Yadav; Yogi Adityanath responds”, India Today, December 19, 2021, https://www.indiatoday.in/elections/uttar-pradesh-assembly-polls-2022/s…; Asad Rehman, “Government tapping phones, ‘anupyogi’ CM listening to calls: Akhilesh”, The Indian Express, December 20, 2021, https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/lucknow/our-phones-being-tappe….
- 11“Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut’s statement recorded in phone-tapping case”, The Indian Express, April 10, 2022, https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/sanjay-raut-statement-r…; Shoumojit Banerjee, “Maharashtra Phone tapping case | Devendra Fadnavis alleges government bid to pressure him”, The Hindu,
- 12Udbhav Tiwari, “The Design and Technology behind India’s Surveillance Programmes”, The Centre for Internet and Society, January 20, 2017, https://cis-india.org/internet-governance/blog/the-design-technology-be…; Shalini Singh, “Govt. violates privacy safeguards to secretly monitor Internet traffic”, The Hindu, September 08, 2013, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/govt-violates-privacy-safeguards…; 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….; “Government considering internet monitoring through centralised system” Financial Express, July 4, 2019, https://www.financialexpress.com/india-news/govt-considering-internet-m…; “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….
- 13Udbhav Tiwari, “The Design and Technology behind India’s Surveillance Programmes”, The Centre for Internet and Society, January 20, 2017, https://cis-india.org/internet-governance/blog/the-design-technology-be…; “India to deploy Internet spy system ‘Netra’”, LiveMint, January 06, 2014, https://www.livemint.com/Politics/To4wvOZX7RmLM4VqtBshCM/India-to-deplo…; Kalyan Parbat, “Government to launch 'Netra' for internet surveillance”, The Economic Times, December 16, 2013, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/internet/government-to-launch….; “India to deploy Internet spy system ‘Netra’”, Livemint, January 06, 2014, https://www.livemint.com/Politics/To4wvOZX7RmLM4VqtBshCM/India-to-deplo….
- 14“Legal Challenge by CPIL and SFLC.IN to Surveillance Projects CMS, NATGRID and NETRA”, Software Freedom Law Centre, December 02 2020, https://sflc.in/legal-challenge-cpil-and-sflcin-surveillance-projects-c….; “CPIL and Anr. vs. Union of India and Others- High Court of Delhi”, Software Freedom Law Center, December 02, 2020, https://sflc.in/legal-challenge-cpil-and-sflcin-surveillance-projects-c….; “India’s Three Main Surveillance Projects NATGRID, CMS and NETRA havebeen Directed to Stop Collecting Data citing Breach of Privacy”, Business Insider, December 02 2020, https://www.businessinsider.in/tech/news/indias-three-main-surveillance…. “No blanket permission given for surveillance under NETRA, NATGRID: Centre to HC”, Legal World, February 06, 2021, https://legal.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/industry/no-blanket-per….
- 15“CPIL & Anr vs. Union of India and Ors - Delhi High Court”, Software Freedom Law Centre, 24 March, 2022, https://sflc.in/legal-challenge-cpil-and-sflcin-surveillance-projects-c….
- 16Soibam Rocky Singh, “No Blanket Permission Given to any Agency on Surveillance: Centre”, The Hindu, February 05 2021, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/no-blanket-permission-given-to-a….
- 17“No blanket permission given for surveillance under NETRA, NATGRID: Centre to HC”, Legal World, February 06, 2021, https://legal.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/industry/no-blanket-per….
- 18Seema Chisti, “WhatsApp confirms: Israeli Spyware used to snoop on Indian Journalists, Activists” The Indian Express, November 01, 2019, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/whatsapp-confirms-israeli-spywa….
- 19“Pegasus Project: The spyware is sold to governments to fight terrorism. In India, it was used to hack journalists and others,” Washington Post, July 19, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/07/19/india-nso-pegasus/
- 20“Pegasus Project: 174 Individuals Revealed By The Wire On Snoop List So Far”, The Wire, August 04, 2021, https://thewire.in/rights/project-pegasus-list-of-names-uncovered-spywa…
- 21Sandhya 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 01, 2019, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/government-pegasus-spyware-nso-gr…; “Pegasus breach: India denies WhatsApp hack amid outrage” BBC News, November 01, 2019, https://perma.cc/G57R-J9GE.; “Pegasus row: ‘No transaction’ with spyware maker NSO group, says defence ministry,” mint, August 9, 2021, https://www.livemint.com/news/india/pegasus-row-no-transaction-with-spy…
- 22Lok 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….
- 23“Statement: One Year of Inaction, Delay and Evasion on the NSO-Pegasus Hack”, Internet Freedom Foundation, November 02 2020, https://internetfreedom.in/nso-pegasus-hack-one-year-anniversary/.
- 24Srishti Ojha, “Pegasus Case: Supreme Court To Examine Technical Committee's Interim Report On February 23rd”, LiveLaw, February 21, 2022, http://www.livelaw.in.nludelhi.remotexs.in/top-stories/pegasus-case-sup…; “Pegasus hearing: Centre didn’t cooperate with probe, says Supreme Court,” LiveMint, August 25, 2022, https://www.livemint.com/news/india/pegasus-hearing-centre-didn-t-coope….
- 25Explained: The findings of the Pegasus committee, and what we know about the use of the Israeli malware (The Indian Express, 26 August 2022) https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-sci-tech/supreme-…
- 26“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…; Medianama, Another Coordinated Spyware Attack On Bhima Koregaon Activists Uncovered, June 16, 2020, https://www.medianama.com/2020/06/223-netwire-bhima-koregaon-amnesty/.
- 27Pheroze L. Vincent, “Bhima-Koregaon case: shocking data forensics report”, Telegraph India, March 09, 2021.; “Evidence planted, says activist Rona Wilson after forensic firm’s analysis”, Hindustan Times, February 11, 2021,
- 28Sethu Pradeep, “Explained: What we know of hacking group ModifiedElephant”, The Indian Express, February 14, 2022, https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-what-we-know-of-h…; Inonut Arghire, “India-Linked Threat Actor Involved in Spying, Planting Evidence”, SecurityWeek, February 11, 2022, https://www.securityweek.com/india-linked-threat-actor-involved-spying-….
- 29Gurman Bhatia, “PAN, bank accounts and over 100 services, schemes you need to link your Aadhaar to”, Hindustan Times, April 02, 2017, https://www.hindustantimes.com/interactives/aadhaar-mandatory-schemes-t…; 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/.; “The Code on Social Security, 2020”, PRS Legislative Research, https://prsindia.org/billtrack/the-code-on-social-security-2020#:~:text….
- 30Sunil 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….
- 31Krishnadas 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…; 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….
- 32Vidhi 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….
- 33Zack Whittaker, “Indian state government leaks thousands of Aadhaar numbers,” Tech Crunch, February 01, 2019, https://techcrunch.com/2019/01/31/aadhaar-data-leak/.
- 34“BHIM Data Leak Exposes 7 Million Indians’ Data: Report”, The Week, June 01 2020, https://www.theweek.in/news/biz-tech/2020/06/01/bhim-data-leak-exposes-….
- 35“20 Million Aadhaar Card Numbers Leaked Allegedly From Tamil Nadu PDS”, Cyble, July 02, 2021, https://blog.cyble.com/2021/07/02/20m-aadhaar-numbers-leaked-from-tamil….
- 36Ivan 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….
- 37Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava, “EXCLUSIVE: Documents Show Modi Govt Building 360 Degree Database To Track Every Indian”, Huffpost, March 16, 2020, https://www.huffpost.com/archive/in/entry/aadhaar-national-social-regis….
- 38Basant Kumar Mohanty, “Data manipulation and privacy worry over 'Social Registry', The Telegraph Online, July 04, 2021, https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/data-manipulation-and-privacy-worr…; Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava, “Bureaucrat Who Planned Modi Govt's Tracking Database Now Fears A Police State,” March 17, 2020, HuffPost India, https://www.huffpost.com/archive/in/entry/modi-govt-tracking-database-p….
- 39Anindita 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….
- 40“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….; 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….
- 41Naman 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….
- 42“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….
- 43Rojer Mathew vs South Indian Bank Ltd And Ors, November 13, 2019, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/36423291/.; Apoorva Mandhani, “Review pleas pending, 7-judge bench not formed — Aadhaar Act validity case languishes in SC”, The Print, January 04, 2021, https://theprint.in/judiciary/review-pleas-pending-7-judge-bench-not-fo….
- 44Vrinda 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….
- 45Divij 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…; Tripti Dhar, “Aarogya Setu – Carrying Your Privacy in Your Hands?”, PrivSec Report, May 29 2020, https:// perma.cc/T6NJ-XE7T.
- 46Anushka Jain, “The Aarogya Setu Data Access And Knowledge Sharing Protocol has been discontinued!” IFF, June 08, 2022, https://forum.internetfreedom.in/t/the-aarogya-setu-data-access-and-kno….
- 47“Watch | How does the Aarogya Setu app work?”, The Hindu, May 08, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/how-does-the-aarogya-setu-app-wo….
- 48Pranav Mukul, “Aarogya Setu: Who can access your data, and when?”, The Indian Express, May 14, 2020., https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/coronavirus-aarogya-setu-wh….
- 49Anuj Srivas, “Aarogya Setu: Six Questions for the Centre on the COVID-19 Contact Tracing App”, The Wire, May 04 2020, https://perma.cc/JDD2-QYEA.
|Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy?||2.002 6.006|
Technology companies are required to collect extensive personal data, and a variety of laws provide government agencies the ability to access this information.
Ten 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 can lead to a maximum 10-year jail term.4 Unlawful interception is punishable by a lesser sentence of three years.5
The Intermediary Rules 2021 changed the way companies must share information with government agencies in certain circumstances (see B3, B6, and C4). The rules require intermediaries to provide the government with data within 72 hours of receipt of a written order to verify identity, or for the prevention, detection, investigation, or prosecution of offences under domestic law.6 The rules also impose new data-retention policies requiring intermediaries to store information for 180 days. 7
India does not have a data-protection law in force. In December 2021, the Joint Parliamentary Committee submitted its report on the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 before Parliament and introduced a revised Data Protection Bill, 2021 (DPB 2021).8 The government withdrew the bill in August 2022, after the coverage period, stating plans to draft a “comprehensive legal framework” instead.9
The DPB 2021 reaffirmed the importance of consent in personal-data protection and required consent for processing. The law permitted nonconsensual data processing in some circumstances, including "for the performance of any function of the state authorized by law."10 The bill also contained broad exemptions for state agencies, including when deemed “necessary and expedient” for issues ranging from the sovereignty and security of India, security of the state, and public order, to preventing the incitement of specific kinds of offenses.11 These exemptions were criticized—including by members of Parliament who submitted dissent notes to the JPC report—as providing blanket exemptions to the government and making it easier for authorities to sidestep the jurisdiction of a data-protection law.12 Experts also raised concerns about the independence, transparency, and accountability of the proposed regulator, the Data Protection Authority, which would be responsible for ensuring compliance with the DPB 2021.13 The bill also proposed a hybrid data-localization model,14 and the JPC report calls on the government to produce a data-localization policy.
Standard Operating Procedures for Lawful Interception and Monitoring of Telecom Service Providers—regulations issued in 201415 —restricted interception to a service provider’s chief nodal officer, and mandated that interception orders be made in writing.16 Rules issued in 2011 under the IT Act provided for greater protection of personal data handled by companies,17 but do not apply to the government.
The telecom license agreements require service providers to guarantee the designated security agency or licensor remote access to information for monitoring;18 ensure that their equipment can provide for centralized interception and monitoring; and provide the geographic location of any subscriber at a given point in time.19 A 2011 Equipment Security Agreement requires telecom operators to develop the capacity to pinpoint any customer’s location within 50 meters.20
Between January and December 2021, India was the second-highest requester of user data from Twitter and Facebook, while also being one of its biggest markets.21 In the period from July to December 2021, Facebook received 50,382 such requests involving 81,501 users and accounts from the Indian government, and complied with 64 percent.22 During the same period, Microsoft reported 722 legal requests from law enforcement agencies in India and provided noncontent data in 19.94 percent of cases.23 In the same period, Twitter received 2,211 information requests from the Indian government relating to 7,768 accounts, and complied with 5.6 percent.24
- 1Ministry of Home Affairs, Cyber and Information Security Division, “Statutory Order 6227(E),” December 20, 2018, http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2018/194066.pdf; “10 central agencies can now snoop on "any" computer they want,” The Economic Times, December 21, 2018, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/10-centra….
- 2Ministry of Law and Justice, “The Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008,” Section 69(4).
- 3Sunil 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.
- 4Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, “Information Technology Act, 2000,” Section 69(4).
- 5Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications, “Indian Telegraph Act, 1885,” Section 26.
- 6Rule 3(1)(j), “Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021” February 25, 2021, http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2021/225464.pdf.
- 7Privacy International, “Initial analysis of Indian Supreme Court decision on Aadhaar.”
- 8“Key Takeaways: The JPC Report and the Data Protection Bill, 2021 #SaveOurPrivacy”, Internet Freedom Foundation, https://internetfreedom.in/key-takeaways-the-jpc-report-and-the-data-pr….; Aihik Sur, “JPC On Data Protection Bill Tables Report In Parliament After 2 Years Of Deliberations”, Medianama, December 16, 2021, https://www.medianama.com/2021/12/223-pdp-bill-jpc-report-tabled-parlia….
- 9Soumyarendra Barik, “Govt withdraws data protection Bill to bring revamped, refreshed regulation,” The Indian Express, August 4, 2022, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/government-withdraws-data-prote….
- 10Clauses 12 and 14, Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, “Report of the Joint Committee on the Personal Data Protection Bill 2019,” December, 16, 2021, https://drive.google.com/file/d/159BsjGVLQCy7jTe0w2gegJAHsDe7a7I-/view
- 11Clause 35, Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, “Report of the Joint Committee on the Personal Data Protection Bill 2019,” December, 16, 2021, https://drive.google.com/file/d/159BsjGVLQCy7jTe0w2gegJAHsDe7a7I-/view
- 12Pallavi Bedi, “What the JPC Report on the Data Protection Bill Gets Right and Wrong” The Wire, December 20, 2021. https://thewire.in/tech/what-the-jpc-report-on-the-data-protection-bill… ; “Key Takeaways: The JPC Report and the Data Protection Bill, 2021 #SaveOurPrivacy” Internet Freedom Foundation, December 16, 2021. https://internetfreedom.in/key-takeaways-the-jpc-report-and-the-data-pr…; Trishee Goyal, “Personal Data Protection Bill: Overbroad Exemptions on Data Processing Dilute Govt’s Own Cause” News 18, December 16, 2021. https://www.news18.com/news/opinion/personal-data-protection-bill-overb… and Minutes of Dissent, Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, “Report of the Joint Committee on the Personal Data Protection Bill 2019,” December, 16, 2021, pages 209 - 250 https://drive.google.com/file/d/159BsjGVLQCy7jTe0w2gegJAHsDe7a7I-/view
- 13Smriti 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…; Internet Freedom Foundation, "Essential Features of a Rights Respecting Data Protection Law #SaveOurPrivacy" February 28, 2020. https://internetfreedom.in/essential-features-of-a-rights-respecting-da…; Jhalak M Kakkar and Shashank Mohan, "Changes needed to ensure a robust privacy law" The Deccan Herald, December 4, 2022. https://www.deccanherald.com/specials/sunday-spotlight/changes-needed-t…
- 14Cyril Shroff, Arun Prabhu, “Cross-border transfers and data localisation under the Data Protection Bill, 2021”,Mint, March 23, 2022, https://www.livemint.com/politics/policy/crossborder-transfers-and-data…; “Key Takeaways: The JPC Report and the Data Protection Bill, 2021 #SaveOurPrivacy” Internet Freedom Foundation, December 16, 2021. https://internetfreedom.in/key-takeaways-the-jpc-report-and-the-data-pr….
- 15Shalini Singh, “Centre issues new guidelines for phone interception,” The Hindu, May 13, 2016, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/centre-issues-new-guidelines-for-….
- 16Divij 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….
- 17Bhairav 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….
- 18Saikat Datta, “A Fox On A Fishing Expedition,” Outlook India, May 3, 2010, http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?265192.
- 19Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Guidelines for Grant of Unified License,” Guideline 8.; Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “Recommendations on “Terms and Conditions of Unified License (Access Services),” January 02, 2013, https://www.trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/reco-02JAN13.pdf.
- 20Department 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; ; Danish Khan, “Desi 4G core maker PertSol bags LBS contract from BSNL,” Economic Times Telecom, January 21, 2021, https://telecom.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/bsnl-awards-lbs-deplo….
- 21Facebook Transparency, “Global Overview: July to December 2021,”, https://transparency.fb.com/data/government-data-requests/country/IN/ ; Twitter Transparency, “Information Requests Report: July to December 2021anuary to June 2020,” accessed June 5, 2022.
- 22Facebook Transparency, “India: July to December 2021, January to June 2020,” accessed June 5 March 11, 2022, https://transparency.fb.com/data/government-data-requests/country/IN/.
- 23Microsoft Corporate Social Responsibility, “Law Enforcement Requests Report 20210,” accessed June 10, 2022, https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/corporate-responsibility/law-enforcemen…
- 24Twitter Transparency Center, “India,” https://transparency.twitter.com/en/reports/countries/in.html.
|Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities?||2.002 5.005|
Trolling and violent threats for online activity continued in the reporting period. Journalists continued to face intimidation, coming in the form of criminal charges and lawsuits, as well as extralegal harassment.
Media outlets have reported widespread online harassment and trolling of investigative journalist Rana Ayyub in response to her work.1 In February 2022, the Enforcement Directorate, one of the government’s financial investigation agencies, reportedly launched a money-laundering investigation against Ayyub in relation to alleged misappropriation of COVID-19 relief funds raised primarily through crowdfunding platform Ketto.2 . Ayyub has called the investigation a baseless smear campaign.3
Indian media outlets have reported incidents of police intimidating and harassing other journalists for their work. The Uttar Pradesh police filed an FIR in June 2021 against three prominent journalists and writers—Ayyub, Saba Naqvi, and Mohammed Zubair—for tweeting a video of an elderly Muslim man being assaulted (see B2 and C3).4 In June and July 2021, Haryana police harassed, threatened, and obstructed journalists—including reporters from the Wire, the new site Newslick, and the YouTube news channels Mojo Story and the Tsunami—attempting to report on the demolition of homes in a village of Khori Gaon and associated protests; the officers prevented them from recording footage and conducting interviews.5
Members of political parties have been accused of directly disseminating incendiary content or other violent threats online. The Wall Street Journal reported in August 2020 that a BJP politician’s violent and Islamophobic content on Facebook, including calls for Rohingya Muslims to be shot, violated the platform’s policies.6 In February 2021, a YouTube video calling for certain journalists to be executed was reportedly shared widely on Twitter, including by some leaders of the ruling party.7 In September 2020, a navy veteran was reportedly beaten by affiliates of the Shiv Sena party for sharing a cartoon mocking the chief minister of Maharashtra on WhatsApp.8
In November 2021, journalist and right to information activist Buddinath Jha, who reported for his Facebook news page BNN News Benipatti, was found burnt to death. Jha had previously received death threats and offers of bribes in relation to his reporting on corruption in local health care clinics.9 In August 2021, Chenna Kesavulu, a journalist who had exposed the corruption of a local police officer in a series of YouTube videos, was stabbed to death by the officer and his brother.10
Abuse and trolling are worse when the victim is a woman, is an adherent of a minority religion, is from a lower caste, or otherwise identifies within a marginalized group.11 A January 2020 Amnesty International report stated 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.12 Women from marginalized communities faced the worst of the abuse: Muslim women faced 94 percent more ethnic and religious slurs, and women from Bahujan backgrounds received 59 percent more abusive caste-based tweets compared to women from upper-caste backgrounds.13
An investigation conducted by the Wire reported that social media operatives allegedly linked with the ruling party used an app called Tek Fog to target journalists, individuals, and other groups with phishing attacks and other harassment, as well as to spread propaganda and hijack twitter trends (see B5).14 As of October 2022, the Wire has removed their reporting on Tek Fog from their website pending an internal investigation.
Other apps have reportedly been used to coordinate online harassment campaigns against prominent Muslim women. In January 2022, an app called “Bulli Bai” surfaced, which reportedly used photographs and deepfakes of prominent Indian Muslim woman journalists and ordinary women to “auction” the women online.15 The “Sulli Deals” app, which surfaced in July 2021, reportedly created online profiles and uploaded photos of over 80 Muslim women, including activists, journalists and politicians, describing them as "deals of the day."16 Both apps are named after colloquial slurs for Muslim women, and have targeted women with a prominent digital presence.17 The creators of both apps have been arrested and charged with promoting enmity between groups, sexual harassment, and causing disharmony, among other offenses.18
- 1Raghav Bikhchandani, “‘Targeted harassment’: Rana Ayyub files police complaint against website over ‘fake news’”, The Print, January 27, 2022, https://theprint.in/india/targeted-harassment-rana-ayyub-files-police-c….; Scroll Staff, “Mumbai Police arrest a man who made death, rape threats to journalist Rana Ayyub,” Scroll, February 10, 2022, https://scroll.in/latest/1017097/mumbai-police-arrest-a-man-for-death-r….
- 2Express News Service, “Money laundering case: ED attaches Rs 1.77 crore belonging to journalist Rana Ayyub”, The Indian Express, February 11, 2022, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/money-laundering-case-ed-attach….; Munish Chandra Pandey, “ED attaches Rs 1.77 crore of journalist Rana Ayyub in money laundering case,” India Today, February 11, 2022, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/ed-attaches-rs-1-77-crore-journal….
- 3Rana Ayyub, “My Statement,” Rana Ayyub’s Newsletter, February 11, 2022, https://ranaayyub.substack.com/p/my-statement?token=eyJ1c2VyX2lkIjoxODc….
- 4“Three Indian journalists could be jailed for nine years for tweets about video,” Reporters Without Borders, June 17, 2021, https://rsf.org/en/news/three-indian-journalists-could-be-jailed-nine-y…; Scroll Staff, “FIR lodged against Twitter, journalists for posts about assault on Muslim man in Ghaziabad,” The Scroll, June 16, 2021, https://scroll.in/latest/997629/fir-lodged-against-twitter-journalists-….
- 5“Journalists harassed, obstructed while covering home demolitions in India,” Committee to Protect Journalists, July 19, 2021, https://cpj.org/2021/07/journalists-harassed-obstructed-while-covering-….
- 6Jeff 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….
- 7Mekhala Saran, “BJP Leaders Laud YouTuber Calling for Journalists To Be ‘Hanged’”, The Quint, February 12, 2021, https://www.thequint.com/news/india/bjp-leaders-laud-youtuber-calling-f… - read-more; Kavitha Iyer, “India has launched a sharp assault on press freedom – but independent media is determined to resist” Scroll.In, February 15, 2021, https://scroll.in/article/986981/as-more-indians-turn-to-independent-me….
- 8“‘Was sharing CM’s cartoon national work?’: Sena on attack on ex-navy man,” Hindustan Times, September 14, 2020, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/was-sharing-cartoon-on-cm-nat….
- 9Amarnath Tewari, “Burnt body of abducted journalist found in Bihar’s Madhubani district,” The Hindu, November 14, 2021, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/burnt-body-of-abduc…; Umesh Kumar Ray, “Bihar: RTI Activist and Journalist Who Exposed Illegal Clinics Murdered,” The Wire, November 14, 2021, https://thewire.in/media/bihar-rti-activist-journalist-buddhinath-jha-i….
- 10“Corrupt cop stabs TV reporter to death in southern India,” Reporters Without Borders, August 10, 2021, https://rsf.org/en/news/corrupt-cop-stabs-tv-reporter-death-southern-in….
- 11Mariya 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-….
- 12Amnesty 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….; 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….
- 13Amnesty 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….
- 14Ayushman Kaul and Devesh Kumar, “Tek Fog: An App With BJP Footprints for Cyber Troops to Automate Hate, Manipulate Trends,” The Wire, January 06, 2022, https://thewire.in/tekfog/en/1.html.
- 15Niharika Kulkarni, “‘Auction’ of India’s Muslim women shows tech weaponised for abuse,” Aljazeera, January 10, 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/1/10/india-bulli-bai-app-auction-mu….
- 16“Delhi Police Files FIR on 'Sulli Deals' App That 'Auctioned' Photos of Muslim Women,” The Wire, July 08, 2021, https://thewire.in/women/sulli-deals-github-delhi-police-fir.
- 17Niharika Kulkarni, “‘Auction’ of India’s Muslim women shows tech weaponised for abuse,” Aljazeera, January 10, 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/1/10/india-bulli-bai-app-auction-mu…; Asmita Bakshi, “Sulli Deals: Indian Muslim women offered for sale in ‘auction’,” Aljazeera, July 12, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/12/sulli-deals-a-virtual-auction-….; “Delhi Police Files FIR on 'Sulli Deals' App That 'Auctioned' Photos of Muslim Women,” The Wire, July 08, 2021, https://thewire.in/women/sulli-deals-github-delhi-police-fir.;
- 18“Charge sheets filed against prime accused in Bulli Bai, Sulli Deals cases”, Business Standard, March 09, 2022, https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/bulli-bai-and-sulli-deals-cases-d…; “Delhi police files chargesheets in Sulli Deals and Bulli Bai app cases” The Times of India, March 09, 2022, https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/delhi-police-files-chargeshe….; “Bulli Bai app: Three arrested for fake auction of Muslim women in India,” BBC, January 05, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-59835674.
|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,1 Many cyberattacks are suspected to emanate from actors in China.2 Hackers based in China reportedly attempted 40,300 cyberattacks against Indian IT and banking infrastructure—including distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, phishing attempts, and attempts to hijack IP addresses—across five days in June 2020, amid a border dispute between China and India.3 In February 2021, the National Critical Infrastructure Protection Centre warned about attempts by a Chinese-based hacking group to break into the Telangana grid control systems.4 State-backed attacks originating in Pakistan5 and Iran6 have reportedly also targeted Indian government systems.
Reports suggest that cybersecurity attacks and breaches increased dramatically since March 2020.7 In October 2020, Mumbai suffered a multihour power outage that affected hospitals, transportation, and other critical services.8 In November 2021, a server vulnerability in the Punjab National Bank (PNB) allegedly left its entire banking systems open to access, though the bank stated that the affected servers did not have any sensitive or critical information, and denied that the vulnerability threatened customer data.9 In January 2022, it was reported that the contact information and COVID-19 test results of thousands of people in India had been leaked from a government server and subsequently put on sale on a website notorious for hosting material from large-scale database leaks.10
According to MeitY, the number of ransomware incidents in India has been increasing in recent years, and more than doubled from 54 incidents in 2020 to 132 incidents in 2021.11
The Information Technology Act is the primary legislation governing cybersecurity, and lays out penalties for damaging computers and computer systems.12 The IT Act penalizes hacking, introducing malware, and DDoS attacks that result in significant damage or disruption to essential services.13 The law also allows the government to define resources as “critical information infrastructure.”14 In August 2020, the prime minister announced that the government is developing a new cybersecurity policy to counter increased cyberattacks.15 As of the end of the coverage period, the policy, known as the National Cyber Security Strategy 2021, remained pending. The policy aims to create a multistakeholder organizational framework with a dedicated authority for cybersecurity concerns.16 The April 2022 CERT-IN directive (C4) also requires all service providers, intermediaries, data centers, companies and government organizations in India to report cybersecurity incidents within six hours. 17
- 1Lok Sabha, "Unstarred Question No. 2519, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology". http://126.96.36.199/loksabhaquestions/annex/178/AU2519.pdf
- 2Brendan 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….
- 3Abhinav Sahay, “40,300 cyber attacks in the last 4-5 days from China, more coming: Maharashtra cyber department” Hindustan Times, June 23, 2020. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/40-300-cyber-attacks-in-the-l…; “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-….
- 4Sanjay Dutta, “CERT-In had alerted grid controllers about China-backed Cyberattacks in November” The Times of India, March 02, 2021,https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/cert-in-had-alerted-grid-cont….
- 5Aditya Bhan, Sameer Patil, “Cyber Attacks | Pakistan emerges as China’s proxy against India,” ORF, February 15, 2022, https://www.orfonline.org/research/pakistan-emerges-as-chinas-proxy-aga….
- 6Sana Shakil, “Cyber attacks by Iran hackers on rise,” The New Indian Express, March 06, 2022, https://www.newindianexpress.com/thesundaystandard/2022/mar/06/cyber-at….; Mukesh, Ranjan, "Iranian hackers new challenge, says experts" The Tribune, April 4, 2022, https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/nation/iranian-hackers-new-challenge-….
- 7Devina Sengupta, “Cyber attacks in India surge since lockdown,” The Economic Times, June 25, 2020, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/internet/cyber-attacks-in-ind….
- 8Sanjay Dutta, “CERT-In had alerted grid controllers about China-backed Cyberattacks in November” The Times of India, March 02, 2021, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/cert-in-had-alerted-grid-cont….
- 9Vivek Punj, “We are currently updating the first draft of the answers” Livemint, November 21, 2021 https://www.livemint.com/industry/banking/pnb-customers-data-exposed-fo…; Abhijit Ahaskar, “Major cyberattacks and data breaches faced by India Inc in 2021” Techcircle, December 6, 2021 https://www.techcircle.in/2021/12/06/major-cyberattacks-and-data-breach…
- 10PTI, “Covid-19 related data of thousands of Indians leaked online” Deccan Herald, January 21, 2022. www.deccanherald.com/national/covid-19-related-data-of-thousands-of-ind…; PTI, "COVID-19 related data of thousands of Indians leaked online" The Indian Express, January 21, 2022 https://indianexpress.com/article/technology/tech-news-technology/covid…
- 11Mitaksh, “Ransomware Incidents In India Doubled in 2021 At 132, Up From 54 In 2020: MeitY In Parliament”, Medianama, March 31, 2022, https://www.medianama.com/2022/03/223-ransomware-incidents-india-meity-…; Lok Sabha, "Unstarred Question No. 2519, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology". http://188.8.131.52/loksabhaquestions/annex/178/AU2519.pdf
- 12Information Technology Act, 2000. Section 2(nb) defines “cyber security” as “protecting information, equipment, devices, computer, computer resource, communication device and information stored therein from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification or destruction.” Section 43 provides for penalties and compensation for “damage to computer, computer systems, etc.” Section 66 imposes criminal liability for the fraudulent or dishonest carrying out of acts enumerated in Section 43, with imprisonment up to 3 years or with fine up to 5 lakh rupees or both.
- 13Section 66F, IT Act.; Section 70, IT Act
- 14Section 70, IT Act.
- 15Abhishekh Bhalla, “India's 'digital revolution' needs cyber shield: A blueprint of the new cybersecurity strategy” India Today, August 15, 2020,https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/india-digital-revolution-cyber-sh….
- 16Deeksha Bhardwaj, “Cybersecurity strategy proposes framework to combat adversarial narratives on social media,” Hindustan Times, March 15, 2022 https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/cybersecurity-strategy-propos….
- 17Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology - Indian Computer Emergency Response Team, "Directions under sub-section (6) of section 70B of the Information Technology Act, 2000 relating to information security practices, procedure, prevention, response and reporting of cyber incidents for Safe & Trusted Internet" https://www.cert-in.org.in/PDF/CERT-In_Directions_70B_28.04.2022.pdf ; “Reporting cyber incidents in 6 hrs mandatory”, The Indian Express, April 29, 2022. https://indianexpress.com/article/business/reporting-cyber-incidents-in…
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Global Freedom Score66 100 partly free
Internet Freedom Score51 100 partly free
Freedom in the World StatusPartly Free