Internet freedom in India worsened during the coverage period, following marginal improvement the previous year, when efforts to bridge the country’s digital divides expanded access to the internet. The government continues to impose internet shutdowns and is considering legislation that would expand its legal authority for such restrictions. 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 (IT Rules)—have seen limits imposed on some powers. However, the state continues to block online content at an increasing pace, and Indian internet users risk arrest for posts critical of the government. Misinformation and disinformation are frequently shared online, and journalists, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and members of marginalized groups remain at risk of being targeted by hate speech and harassment online.
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 led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has presided over discriminatory policies and increased violence affecting the country’s 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.
- The government of Punjab restricted access to the internet across the state for four days in March 2023, while authorities in Manipur imposed a statewide shutdown in May 2023 that lasted for several months (see A3).
- The government released the draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022 and the draft Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022 (DPDPB), which together would overhaul India’s existing legal architecture for internet regulation (see A4, B6, C4, and C6).
- In September 2022, new rules requiring virtual private network (VPN) providers to store information about their users for five years came into effect, prompting a few providers to remove their servers from the country (see A5 and C4).
- Government officials increasingly ordered content removed from social media platforms under the emergency provisions of the Intermediary Guidelines, including a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) documentary about communal violence during Modi’s tenure as chief minister of Gujarat (see B2 and B3).
- Two laws amending the IT Rules permit the government to establish a state fact-checking unit and committees that hear appeals against decisions taken by social media platforms to remove content, raising further concerns about government limits on online expression (see B3).
- Journalists, activists, and everyday internet users continued to be arrested and harassed online over real or perceived criticism of the ruling party (see C3 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 population of nearly 1.4 billion is relatively low, access to the internet continues to rise. According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), internet penetration stood at 62.56 percent as of December 2022, representing 865.9 million internet subscribers—an increase from 60.46 percent in the previous year.1 By contrast, the digital analytics company DataReportal’s Digital 2023 analysis identified a national penetration rate of at least 48.7 percent as of February 2023.2 The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has reported that 608,353 of the more than 644,000 villages in India have wireless broadband coverage.3
The yearly growth rate of internet subscription has declined in recent years, from 18.95 percent in 2019 to 4.29 percent in 2021.4 Some analysts attribute the slowing growth of mobile internet penetration to a decline in smartphone purchases, with industry figures indicating a 9 percent decrease in the smartphone market in 2022.5
India’s median connection speed as of April 2023 was 36.35 megabits per second (Mbps) for mobile internet and 51.12 Mbps for fixed broadband internet.6 Nearly 97 percent of subscribers accessed the internet through mobile devices as of December 2022, with only 32.38 million having wired internet connections, per TRAI data.7
Several public and private sector initiatives aim to improve internet access. The government has set up over 149,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots under the prime minister’s Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (PM–WANI) scheme as of August 2023.8 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.9 As of May 2023, 200,000 5G sites have been rolled out across India.10
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,11 but has faced several delays and challenges (see A2).12 As of May 2023, the initiative connects over 192,000 gram panchayats.13 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 2022.14
The National Internet Exchange India (NIXI), a nonprofit organization set up to facilitate peering between internet service providers (ISPs) and improve internet services, announced plans in March 2022 to establish 16 additional internet exchanges to improve internet access.15 In December 2021, seven new internet exchange nodes were inaugurated in the state of Uttar Pradesh.16 Reliance Jio announced a joint venture with SES, a Luxembourg-based satellite solutions provider, in February 2022, with the aim of providing affordable satellite-based communications services.17
- 1Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators October – December 2022” May 31 2022, https://trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/QPIR_31052023_0.pdf .
- 2“Digital 2023: India” (DataReportal, February 13, 2023), https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2023-india?rq=india.
- 3“Unstarred Question No. 5379”, Lok Sabha, April 5 2023, https://sansad.in/ls/questions/questions-and-answers.
- 4“Performance Indicators Reports,” Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, https://trai.gov.in/release-publication/reports/performance-indicators-….
- 5Soutik Biswas, “Why Internet Growth Has Stalled in India,” BBC News, January 23, 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-64293857 ; “India Smartphone Market Share” (Counterpoint Research, February 3, 2023), https://www.counterpointresearch.com/india-smartphone-share/.
- 6Speedtest, “Speedtest Global Index”, accessed June 2023, https://www.speedtest.net/global-index/india.
- 7Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, “The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators October – December 2022” May 31 2022, https://trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/QPIR_31052023_0.pdf
- 8“PM-WANI Central Registry,” PM-WANI, accessed June 5, 2023, https://pmwani.gov.in/wani.
- 9Aashish 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….
- 10“Gangotri: 5G Network in India Crosses 2 Lakh Sites Mark with Roll out in Gangotri,” The Economic Times, May 24, 2023, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/telecom/telecom-news/5g-n….
- 11Government 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.
- 12S 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-….
- 13ET Bureau, “BharatNet now connects 171,000 blocks”, The Economic Times, February 23, 2022 https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/telecom/telecom-news/bhar….
- 14Devanjana 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….
- 15Ayushi 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…
- 16Press 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.
- 17Tech 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|
While mobile data plans in India are quite cheap, digital divides remain across geography, language, economic class, and gender.1 According to a 2023 report from the UK–based company Cable, the average cost of one month of broadband services in India is $10.11.2 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
TRAI reported 516.37 million internet subscribers in urban areas and 349.53 million rural subscribers as of December 2022, representing 106.2 percent internet penetration in urban areas and 38.9 percent internet penetration rate in rural. 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 has successfully connected almost 75 percent of gram panchayats as of April 2023.13 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 As of June 2022, the CSCs had halted maintenance after their contract with BharatNet ended over a dispute over payments.18 The deadline for completion of the BharatNet project has been extended to 2025.19 However, subsequent reports suggest that the project will not be able to meet the 2025 target..20
A significant gender divide persists, with women only making up about a third of Indian internet users.21 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.22 The divide is particularly pronounced in rural areas, and rates of access also vary between states.23 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 2021.24
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.25 According to a December 2021 study by Meta, 91 percent of online interaction by women is conducted in English, indicating that access to social media is functionally limited to English-speaking women.26
- 1Oxfam India, “India Inequality Report 2022: Digital Divide,” December 2022, https://www.oxfamindia.org/knowledgehub/workingpaper/india-inequality-r….
- 2“Worldwide Broadband Price Research 2023” (Cable.co.uk, 2023), https://www.cable.co.uk/broadband/pricing/worldwide-comparison/.
- 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 2022” May 31 2022, https://trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/QPIR_31052023_0.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-….
- 13“1.84 Lakh Gram Panchayats Service-Ready With Broadband Infra Under BharatNet: Government,” Outlook India, December 21, 2022, https://www.outlookindia.com/business/1-84-lakh-gram-panchayats-service….
- 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….
- 18Ashish Aryan, “Common Service Centre Stops BharatNet Fibre Maintenance as Dues Mount,” The Economic Times, August 11, 2022, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/technology/common-service-cen….
- 19Ayushi 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…
- 20Ashish Aryan, “BharatNet Likely to Miss Deadline as Shifting Goalposts Slow Roll Out,” The Indian Express, April 4, 2022, https://indianexpress.com/article/business/bharatnet-likely-to-miss-dea….
- 21“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-….
- 22Aihik 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….
- 23National 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….
- 24GSM Association, “The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2021,” June 2021, https://www.gsma.com/r/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/The-Mobile-Gender-Gap….
- 25Muntazir 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….
- 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|
India has been the global leader in the number of internet shutdowns imposed for the last five years,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: the Software Freedom Law Center’s (SFLC’s) Internet Shutdown Tracker reported 132 internet shutdowns in 2020, 101 in 2021, and 77 in 2022, while Access Now reported 109 internet shutdowns in 2020, 106 in 2021, and 84 in 2022.3 Since 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. Authorities typically justify shutdowns as cautionary measures to maintain law and order,4 quell potential violence or communal tensions,5 restrict protests,6 prevent the spread of disinformation, or stop cheating in school exams.7
Authorities restricted internet access across the state of Manipur in May 2023 as violence broke out between the Meitiei and Kuki communities. The Manipur government restored some fixed broadband connections subject to certain conditions in July 2023, after the coverage period, and access more broadly in September 2023.8 The shutdown impeded the documentation of and response to acts of violence, including sexual violence, perpetrated during the conflict.9
In March 2023, the government of the state of Punjab imposed a statewide shutdown affecting 27 million people as the police searched for Amritpal Singh, a Khalistan separatist movement leader. The shutdown was implemented for four days, and extended an additional two days in some parts of the state.10 In April 2023, internet services were suspended in the city of Jamshedpur, Jharkhand after communal violence broke out between two groups resulting in stone pelting and arson.11
Authorities in the state of Haryana suspended mobile internet services for two weeks in August 2023, after the coverage period, and again for two days in September. The shutdowns were imposed following the outbreak of violence after the Hindu nationalist Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) group organized a processional through a Muslim-majority neighborhood.12
In the Jammu and Kashmir region, which is excluded from this report’s scoring (see Overview), the state administration regularly 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, and 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
Authorities in India also use Section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act, 1885 to order internet shutdowns. Section 5(2) provides government authorities with the power to stop the transmission of messages or classes of messages in the event of a public emergency or for public safety.17 The 2017 Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, under Section 7 of the Telegraph Act, 18 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,19 and mandate that each order must be justified and be forwarded to a review committee for assessment.20 However, several shutdown orders since 2017 were issued under Section 144 of the CrPC by officials not designated under the Telegraph Act rules,21 sparking concerns from civil society groups that procedural safeguards and checks were not followed.22 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.23 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.24
The draft Indian Telecommunication Bill (see A4) would authorize the government to order internet shutdowns more directly than any previous Indian law. The bill fails to put in place any safeguards on the use of shutdowns.25 Separately, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology recommended in February 2023 that the government create a database for internet shutdown orders and conduct a review of the legal regime governing such restrictions. 26
Courts have directly ruled on the legality of restrictions and in some cases ordered restored services.27 In March 2022, during the previous coverage period, 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 stayed such an order, according to the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF).28
In response to the months-long shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir,29 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.30 However, compliance with the ruling remains unclear.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 In September 2023, after the coverage period, the Jharkhand High Court ordered the state to publish all past internet shutdown orders.33
The government has ordered the blocking of almost 400 mobile apps since 2020,34 primarily those owned by companies based in China, citing concerns related to national security, public order, and Indian sovereignty.35 The government banned 232 apps, some of them owned by companies based in China, in February 2023 for money laundering and improper cross-border data transfers.36 In May 2023, the Union government directed service providers to block 14 applications—including messaging apps Threema, Firefly, and Briar and file transfer software Mediafire—in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which is excluded from this report’s scoring, alleging that terrorist groups used them to communicate in the region.37
- 1“Five Years in a Row: India Is 2022’s Biggest Internet Shutdowns Offender,” Access Now (blog), February 28, 2023, https://www.accessnow.org/press-release/keepiton-internet-shutdowns-202….
- 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.
- 3SFLC.in, “Internet Shutdowns Tracker,” accessed June 5, 2023, https://internetshutdowns.in/; see also Access Now [@accessnow], “Five Years in a Row: India Is 2022’s Biggest Shutdown Offender Our #KeepItOn Report Reveals That since 2016, India Has Ordered about 58% of All Documented Shutdowns. India Hit the Kill Switch at Least 84 Times in 2022. That’s 84 Attacks on Human Rights🧵 Https://Accessnow.Org/Keepiton-Internet-Shutdowns-2022-India/ Https://T.Co/Efibg1hyW2,” Tweet, Twitter, March 1, 2023, https://twitter.com/accessnow/status/1630772362294575106.
- 4Rhea Mogul, “India Cuts Internet to 27 Million as Punjab Police Hunt Sikh Separatist,” CNN, March 20, 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/20/india/india-separatist-manhunt-internet-….
- 5Saurabh Rathore, “Jharkhand Ram Navami Clashes: 50 Arrested, Sec 144 Imposed, Internet, Schools Shut,” News18, April 10, 2023, https://www.news18.com/india/jharkhand-ram-navami-clashes-bjp-leader-he….
- 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…
- 7Utpal Parashar, “Mobile Internet Shut down in Assam Second Time in 8 Days to Conduct Job Exams,” Hindustan Times, August 28, 2022, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/mobile-internet-shut-down-in-….
- 8Indrajit Kundu, “Internet restored in violence-hit Manipur after more than 100 days,” India Today, September 23, 2023, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/violence-hit-manipur-to-resume-in….
- 9Parth M.N., “An Internet Shutdown Means Manipur Is Burning in the Dark,” WIRED, August 3, 2023, https://www.wired.com/story/internet-shutdown-manipur-burning-in-the-da….
- 10“#Punjab extended #Internetshutdown in districts of Tarn Taran, Ferozepur, Moga, Sangrur, Sub-Division Ainala in Amritsar, areas adjoining YPS chowk and Airport Road both in SAS Nagar, till March 23 (12:00 hours) in interest of public safety.Shutdown was lifted in rest of State.” @SFLCin, Twitter, March 21, 2023, https://twitter.com/SFLCin/status/1638104458759487489.
- 11“Jamshedpur: Internet Suspended, Curfew Imposed after Two Groups Resort to Arson,” Hindustan Times, April 10, 2023, https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/ranchi-news/stone-pelting-and-ars….
- 12“Haryana government extends internet shutdown in Nuh district, says ‘situation still critical and tense,’” LiveMint, August 12, 2023, https://www.livemint.com/news/india/haryana-government-extends-internet…, “M obile internet services suspended in Haryana's Nuh,” LiveMint, September 15, 2023, https://www.livemint.com/news/india/mobile-internet-services-suspended-….
- 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…
- 17See, for example: Bikash Singh, “It's testing times as Assam suspends mobile internet during exams in 25 districts,” Economic Times, August 22, 2022, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/its-testing-times-as-as….
- 18Department 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….
- 19Karishma 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-….
- 20“Government frames rules for suspension of telecom services” The Indian Express, August 29, 2017,https://indianexpress.com/article/india/government-frames-rules-for-sus….
- 21Apurva 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/.
- 22Yaqoob 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-….
- 23Regina 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….
- 24Internet 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….
- 25Draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, 24(2)(b), https://dot.gov.in/sites/default/files/Draft%20Indian%20Telecommunicati….
- 26“Standing Committee on IT Highlights Lack of Action Taken by the Government and Reiterates It Recommendations on Internet Shutdowns,” Internet Freedom Foundation, February 28, 2023, https://internetfreedom.in/standing-committee-action-taken-report/.
- 27Trisha 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….
- 28Anushka 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…; Krishnesh Bapat and Anandita Mishra, “Calcutta HC stays internet shutdown issued by West Bengal Government,” Internet Freedom Foundation, March 10, 2022, https://internetfreedom.in/calcutta-hc-stays-internet-shutdown-issued-b….
- 29Nilashish 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….
- 30Anuradha 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….
- 31Software 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/.
- 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….
- 33Aarathi Ganesan, “Follow SC Guidelines on Internet Suspensions in the Future: Jharkhand HC Tells State Gov,” Medianama, September 20, 2023, https://www.medianama.com/2023/09/223-follow-sc-guide-on-internet-suspe….
- 34“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…
- 35“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.
- 36Aashish Aryan, “Govt Blocks 232 Betting, Loan Apps Linked to China, Other Countries,” The Economic Times, February 6, 2023, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/technology/govt-blocks-232-fo….
- 37“Government Bans Snapchat, 14 Other Apps in Jammu and Kashmir Citing Terror Use,” The Hindu, May 1, 2023, sec. India, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/centre-blocks-14-mobile-messenge….
|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 2022, there were 921 operational ISPs in India.1 The largest service provider, Reliance Jio, had an almost 51 percent share of the market as of December 2022; the top three ISPs—Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone—together control nearly 95 percent of the market. Reliance Jio also controls the majority of the wireless market, with 37.14 percent of the market share, followed by Bharti Airtel at 32.16 percent and Vodafone at 21.11 percent. In April 2020, Facebook invested in a 9.9 percent stake in Reliance Jio,2 and the Competition Commission of India (CCI) approved Google’s purchase of a 7.7 percent stake in Jio Platforms, which owns Reliance Jio, in November 2020.3 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.4
A 2014 universal license framework5 reduced legal and regulatory obstacles by combining mobile phone and ISP licenses. Licensees pay a high one-time entry fee, a performance bank guarantee,6 and annual license fees adjusted for revenue.7 The draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, released in September 2022, would establish an “exclusive privilege” for the Indian government to provide telecommunication services in India. The bill defined “telecommunication services” to include fixed-line and mobile internet, as well as email, over-the-top (OTT) communication, broadcasting, and a range of other communications and media services. In order to obtain and retain licenses for telecommunications service provision, companies would be required to comply with the bill’s onerous obligations for internet suspension, communications interception, and user identification (see A3, C4, and C5).8 In August 2023, after the coverage period, the cabinet approved a version of the bill that reportedly relaxed the regulation of OTT services, among other changes.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.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 eight 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 Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (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 20221” May 314 2022, https://trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/QPIR_31052023_0.pdf.
- 2“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….
- 3“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…
- 4Google 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-…
- 5Department 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….
- 6Department 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.
- 7Department 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….
- 8Draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, https://dot.gov.in/sites/default/files/Draft%20Indian%20Telecommunicati….
- 9Soumyarendra Barik, “Cabinet clears telecom Bill with relaxations on OTT regulation,” Indian Express, August 5, 2023, https://indianexpress.com/article/business/cabinet-clears-telecom-bill-….
- 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 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 Amendments to the TRAI Act under the draft India Telecommunications Bill, 2022 would limit the agency’s consultation and oversight authorities.10
TRAI opinions, however, are generally perceived as free of undue influence, and the regulator engages in public consultations.11 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.12
MeitY has engaged in public consultations around proposed policy and legislative initiatives, including around the various draft data-protection bills (see C6).13 In April 2022, the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT–In) issued new cybersecurity directions, which were released by MeitY without public consultations.14 In response to criticism,15 MeitY invited industry and legal experts and other stakeholders for a closed-door consultation in June 2022.16 Earlier, in May 2022, MeitY invited comments on its draft National Data Governance Framework.17
MeitY’s Grievance Appellate Committees (GACs) became operational in March 2023, and will allow users to appeal decisions taken by social media platforms on content moderation (see B3). Three GACs established in January 2023 are comprised primarily of former military officials, police, and civil servants,18 raising concerns about the committees’ independence.
- 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….
- 10Draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, https://dot.gov.in/sites/default/files/Draft%20Indian%20Telecommunicati…; Yuthika Bhargava, “Centre mulls removal of TRAI-related provisions from telecom bill,” The Hindu, October 27, 2022, https://www.thehindu.com/business/Industry/government-mulls-removal-of-….
- 11“Trai may review 5G pricing if govt prods,” LiveMint, February 24, 2021, https://www.livemint.com/industry/telecom/trai-may-review-5g-pricing-if….
- 12ET 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…
- 13“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…
- 14Sarvesh 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….
- 15Access 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…
- 16Aashish 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…
- 17Press 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….
- 18Gulveen Aulakh, “Govt to Appoint 3-Member GACs on Top of Grievance Mechanisms of Intermediaries,” Mint, October 28, 2022, https://www.livemint.com/news/india/govt-to-set-up-grievance-appellate-…; “Three Grievance Appellate Committees (GACs) Notified on the recently amended “IT Rules 2021,” Ministry of Electronics & IT, January 28, 2023, https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1894258.
|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 is regularly 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 2023, the minister of electronics and information technology stated in Parliament that 6,775 accounts, websites, and URLs had been restricted on government orders in 2022 under Rule 8(6) and Rule 9(2) of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information for Public) Rules, 2009.1 Previously, the government stated that it had banned a cumulative 22,379 websites between 2018 and 2021, including 6,096 websites in 2021. 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.2 For example, in August 2023, after the coverage period, Indian authorities blocked access to the Jammu and Kashmir–based outlet Kashmir Walla.3
Authorities sometimes restrict access to social media platforms. In June 2022, authorities in Bihar restricted access to social media platforms, including Facebook and WhatsApp, amid widespread protests over changes to military recruitment policy.4
Several reports have clarified the technology used to block websites in India. The SFLC reported in January 2023 that techniques used by ISPs to implement website blocking include domain name system (DNS) tampering, HTTP blocking, transmission control protocol/internet protocol (TCP/IP blocking), transport layer security–server name indication (TLS–SNI) blocking, and QUIC network blocking.5 The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) and the Centre for Internet and Society previously reported that Airtel and Jio use server name indication (SNI)–based filtering to restrict access to websites on government orders.6 In April 2018, Canadian internet watchdog Citizen Lab found that India was using internet-filtering technology from the Canada-based company Netsweeper.7
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.8
- 1“Unstarred Question No. 1064,” Lok Sabha, February 8, 2023, https://pqals.nic.in/annex/1711/AU1064.pdf.
- 2Lok 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
- 3“India blocks independent news outlet The Kashmir Walla,” Al Jazeera, August 21, 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/8/21/india-blocks-independent-news-….
- 4Piyush Traphathi, “Agnipath protests: Internet services suspended in 15 districts of Bihar,” Times of India, June 17, 2022, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/patna/agnipath-protests-intern…
- 5“Finding 404: A Report on Website Blocking in India” (Software Freedom Law Centre, January 12, 2023), https://sflc.in/finding-404-report-website-blocking-india.
- 6Open 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/.
- 7The Citizen Lab, “Planet Netsweeper,” April 25, 2018, https://citizenlab.ca/2018/04/planet-netsweeper/.
- 8Yasmin 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?||1.001 4.004|
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because the Indian government has increasingly used emergency powers to order the removal of online content.
Government actors regularly order social media and other online platforms to remove content, including material protected under international human rights standards. The IT Rules, 2021 provide a regulatory framework for online publishers of news and current affairs and curated audiovisual content (see B3). They also give the state emergency powers to block content without a hearing, which have been invoked by the authorities at times.1
As of December 2022, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had issued orders under the emergency blocking powers of the IT Rules to block 104 YouTube channels, 45 videos, and 25 social media accounts, posts, apps, and websites of digital news publishers.2 In January 2023, the government used emergency blocking powers to order YouTube and Twitter to withhold posts in India sharing India: The Modi Question, a BBC documentary on the 2002 communal violence in Gujarat, during which Modi was chief minister of the state.3
Content restricted under Section 69A of the IT Act increased in 2022, with 6,775 blocked websites and accounts disclosed that year, compared to a 6,096 in 2021, according to MeitY disclosures; the disclosures likely represent both website blocks and takedowns from content hosts (see B1).4
Analysis from news site Rest of World found that—according to Twitter’s public disclosures in the Lumen database—Twitter complied in full or in part with all 44 removal orders filed by the Indian government from the time that the platform was acquired by Elon Musk in late October 2022 to late April 2023..5 For example, in March 2023, the government ordered Twitter to restrict over 120 accounts in India, many of which belonged to journalists, politicians, and activists who had criticized the government’s internet shutdown in Punjab or its broader effort to arrest Amritpal Singh (see A3).6
In September 2022, the government ordered Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media companies to permanently block accounts associated with the newly outlawed Popular Front of India (PFI) group and its satellite organizations. These actions were taken under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), ostensibly to prevent these organizations from propagating their activities.7
In July 2022, Twitter removed a post from filmmaker Leena Manimekalai that contained an image depicting the Indian goddess Kali smoking and holding a rainbow flag in response to a legal demand.8 In June 2022, Twitter withheld posts and accounts in India following government orders issued throughout 2021. According to Twitter disclosures, the orders related to content from Indian National Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) politicians, journalists including Rana Ayyub, and activists linked to the farmers’ protests, as well as posts from Freedom House.9 Twitter filed a lawsuit over the orders the following month (see B3).
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.10 The IT Rules 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).11 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 takedown orders and not on user complaints. The court also clarified that unlawful content beyond the scope of Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution—which sets forth certain restrictions on the right to the freedom of speech and expression—cannot be restricted.12 Moreover, the IT Rules, 2021 require large social media companies to proactively identify and remove offending categories of content, including rape and child sexual abuse imagery, among others.13
Intermediaries can separately be held liable for infringing the Copyright Act, 1957,14 under the law and licensing agreements.15 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.16
- 1BandWagon 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…
- 2Unstarred Question No. 1048, Lok Sabha, December 13, 2022, https://sansad.in/getFile/loksabhaquestions/annex/1710/AU1048.pdf?sourc….
- 3“Govt Directs YouTube, Twitter to Take Down Links to BBC Documentary on Modi’s Role in 2002 Riots,” The Wire, January 21, 2023, https://thewire.in/government/union-govt-directs-youtube-twitter-to-tak…; see also “‘Emergency’: From John Cusack to Prashant Bhushan, the List of 50 Tweets the Modi Govt Has Censored,” The Wire, January 22, 2023, https://thewire.in/media/from-john-cusack-to-prashant-bhushan-modi-gove….
- 4Lok Sabha, 'Unstarred Question No. 30' Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. http://18.104.22.168/loksabhaquestions/annex/178/AU30.pdf
- 5Rusell Brandom, “Twitter is complying with more government demands under Elon Musk,” Rest of World, April 27, 2023, https://restofworld.org/2023/elon-musk-twitter-government-orders/.
- 6Samriddhi Sakunia, “Twitter blocked 122 accounts in India at the government’s request,” Rest of World, March 24, 2023, https://restofworld.org/2023/twitter-blocked-access-punjab-amritpal-sin…
- 7Neeraj Chauhan, “Centre Orders Blocking of Websites, Social Media Accounts of PFI, Affiliates,” Hindustan Times, September 28, 2022, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/centre-issues-takedown-orders….
- 8“Twitter Removes Filmmaker Leena Manimekalai’s ‘Kaali’ Poster Tweet,” Business Standard News, July 6, 2022, https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/twitter-remov….
- 9Aroon 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….
- 13Ministry 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…
|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 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.
The government passed several amendments to the IT Rules, 2021 during the coverage period. Amendments passed in October 2022 established rules for Grievance Appellate Committees (GAC), a government body which will hear appeals against decisions taken by social media platforms to remove content. The GACs became functional on March 1, 2023.12 Further, they have placed an additional burden on social media platforms to make “reasonable efforts” to ensure users comply with the IT Rules as well. Amendments passed in April 2023 require intermediaries to remove information identified as “fake or false” by a government “fact-checking” unit. The April 2023 amendments also expand the scope of the IT Rules to cover online gaming platforms.13 Satirist Kumal Kamra challenged the fact-checking provision of the April 2023 amendments before the Bombay High Court on free expression grounds.14 In response to the lawsuit, MeitY stated that the provisions would only apply to information about government policies and programs.15
Civil society groups, industry experts, and tech companies have broadly criticized the rules for the increased powers they grant the government and their potential to adversely affect free expression, privacy, and access to information.16 Ambiguity around the rules’ definitions and implementation, such as uncertainty as to which entities are considered digital news platforms, has further fueled concern.17 Over 15 legal challenges have been lodged against the rules, questioning their constitutionality (see C4).18 The Bombay and Madras high courts stayed clauses relating to the operation of the code of ethics and the grievance redressal mechanisms in August and September 2021, respectively.19 The impact of these orders on the rules’ information-sharing provisions, which require digital news media publishers to furnish information about themselves to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB), is not immediately clear (see B6).20 In May 2022, the Supreme Court stayed further proceedings before the high courts in order to consolidate the challenges.21
Blocking of websites takes place under Section 69A of the IT Act and the 2009 Blocking Rules,22 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.”23 Intermediaries’ failure to comply is punishable with fines and prison terms of up to seven years.24
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.25 The rules provide an extensive review procedure for blocking requests, including a notice provision to impacted parties and an opportunity for appeal,26 but provide exceptions for emergencies.27
The constitutionality of Section 69A and the Blocking Rules of the IT Act was challenged in the landmark 2015 Shreya Singhal case.28 The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of both, but read the Blocking Rules29 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.30 However, the rules continue to require that the orders and actions based on them be kept "strictly confidential”;31 hence, there is no information on the extent of compliance with the judgment.
A lawsuit over MeitY’s September 2018 blocking of DowryCalculator.com, a website using satire to criticize the practice of dowry,32 remained ongoing during the coverage period.33 In consideration of the 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.34 The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) 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.35
In July 2022, 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 overly broad interpretation of the IT Act.36 The court dismissed the lawsuit in June 2023, after the coverage period, and criticized the company’s delay in complying with the removal orders.37
Indian courts can also order content takedowns.38 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.39 ISPs have occasionally implemented such orders by blocking entire websites instead of individual URLs, regardless of whether the websites were hosting pirated material.40 The judiciary has noted that John Doe orders can lead to excessive blocking,41 and civil society has called for greater transparency.42
The IT Act and the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) prohibit the production and transmission of “obscene material,”43 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 de-index and de-reference such content, and proactively monitor for and disable access to identical content, among other recommendations.44
There is no legally established right to be forgotten in India, despite several attempts in recent years to codify this principle.45 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).46
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 platform’s 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.47 Facebook denied claims of bias and stated that the application of their policies was open, transparent, and nonpartisan.48
- 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….
- 12Aroon Deep, “Portal Opened for Complaints against Decisions of Social Media Platforms,” The Hindu, February 28, 2023, https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/internet/govt-launches-gri….
- 13Jatin Grover, “Fact Check by PIB under IT Rules: Experts Fear Govt Control over News,” Financial Express, January 19, 2023, https://www.financialexpress.com/life/technology-fact-check-by-pib-unde…; Aroon Deep, “Online Platforms Must Take down PIB-Flagged ‘Fake News,’” The Hindu, April 6, 2023, sec. India, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/social-media-platforms-can-now-b…; Ministry of Elctrronics and Information Technology Notification, April 6, 2023, https://www.meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/244980-Gazette%20Notificat….
- 14Sharmeen Hakim, “Kunal Kamra Moves Bombay High Court Against IT Rules Amendment That Allows Centre To ‘Fact Check’ Social Media Posts About Itself,” LiveLaw, April 11, 2023, https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/bombay-high-court-kunal-kamra-chall….
- 15Omkar Gokhale, “Before amending IT Rules, govt considered concerns on misleading information: Centre tells Bombay HC,” Indian Express, April 21, 2023, https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/it-rules-amendment-cent….
- 16“Deep dive: How the intermediaries rules are anti-democratic and unconstitutional.” Internet Freedom Foundation, February 27, 2021,https://internetfreedom.in/intermediaries-rules-2021/.
- 17Deeksha 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… .
- 18Internet Freedom Foundation, “Table Summarizing Challenges to IT Rules, 2021 - Google Docs,” April 26, 2022, https://docs.google.com/document/d/1kmq-AlRO1XpPaThvesl5xQq2nVkZv6UdmaK…; ‘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….
- 19“Bombay HC Stays Enforcement of Code of Ethics Provisions under New IT Rules,” Text, Scroll.in (August 15, 2021), https://scroll.in/latest/1002863/bombay-hc-stays-enforcement-of-code-of…; see also ET 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-….
- 20TNN, “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=…
- 21“Supreme Court Stays Proceedings Before High Courts In Matters Challenging IT Rules,” NDTV.com, May 9, 2022, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/supreme-court-stays-proceedings-before-….
- 22“Liability of Online Intermediaries: New Study by the Global Network of Internet and Society Centers,” Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, February 18, 2015, https://cyber.harvard.edu/node/98684.
- 23Ministry of Law and Justice, “The Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008,” Section 69A(1).
- 24Ministry of Law and Justice, “The Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008,” Section 69A(3).
- 25Department 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….
- 26Department 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.
- 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,” Rules 7-9.
- 28Common Cause v. Union of India [W.P.(C) No. 21 of 2013]; PUCL v. Union of India [W.P.(Crl) No. 199 of 2013].
- 29Supreme Court of India, “Shreya Singhal v. U.O.I on 24 March 2015, (2015) 5 SCC 1”.
- 30Chinmayi 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….
- 31Department 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.
- 32“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….
- 33Ramya Dronamraju, “Delhi High Court issues notice in the blocking case of satirical website,” Internet Freedom Foundation, January 25, 2023, https://internetfreedom.in/dhc-issues-notice-in-website-blocking-case/.
- 34"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….
- 35“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…
- 36Karan 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.
- 37“Karnataka HC dismisses Twitter plea against Centre’s blocking orders, imposes Rs 50 lakh cost,” Indian Express, June 30, 2023, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/karnataka-hc-dismisses-twitter-….
- 38Department 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.
- 39Kian 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.
- 40Ananth 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….
- 41Kartik 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….
- 42Shamnad 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….
- 43“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.
- 44Nupur 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…
- 45Subhranshu 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….
- 46Draft 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….
- 47Newley 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… .
- 48Ajit 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 (see C3 and C7) have reportedly contributed to more self-censorship among both individuals 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
Journalists and commentators have reported self-censoring in response to increased government pressure on the media. For example, after authorities ordered social media platforms to remove the BBC documentary India: The Modi Question (see B2), some commentators stated that they avoided reporting on the removal.4 Media organizations and journalists also face tax investigations,5 arrests, and online harassment relating to their work (see C3 and C7). Programs like the Cyber Crime Volunteer Program, which invites ordinary people to report on their peers by flagging “unlawful content” but does not define the term, may also chill online expression.6
Self-censorship, particularly on the topics of Jammu and Kashmir and COVID-19, has reportedly been common in recent years.7 In March 2020, 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.8
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.9
- 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….
- 4Varsha Bansal, “India’s Government Wants Total Control of the Internet,” Wired, February 13, 2023, https://www.wired.com/story/indias-government-wants-total-control-of-th….
- 5Astha Rajvanshi, “How the Indian Government Uses Raids to Silence Critics,” Time, February 14, 2023, https://time.com/6255425/india-raid-bbc-modi-documentary/.
- 6Abhishek MIshra, “Cyber Whispers: Why the MHA’s Volunteer Programme Needs to Be Carefully Thought Through,” The Wire, February 17, 2021, https://thewire.in/rights/cyber-whispers-home-ministry-volunteer-progra….
- 7Bansari 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-….
- 8Sagar, “Speaking Positivity to Power,” The Caravan, March 31, 2020, https://caravanmagazine.in/media/hours-before-lockdown-modi-asked-print….
- 9Kavitha 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. Analysts have raised concerns about the potential increase of content manipulation efforts ahead of the 2024 national elections.1
Disinformation linked to prominent political matters spread throughout the coverage period. For example, BJP leaders and supporters amplified false and misleading information about migrant laborers from the north Indian Hindu majority state of Bihar being harmed in the south Indian state of Karnataka.2 BJP officials and BJP–linked accounts disseminated misleading information and manipulated media about opposition leader Rahul Gandhi throughout the coverage period; Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, a march across the country coordinated by his Congress party in late 2022 and early 2023, was one target of such misinformation.3
In August 2022, Twitter suspended a network of accounts, many of which claimed to be Kashmiri, that spread pro-Indian military and anti-Pakistan narratives, sometimes aimed at Indian politicians.4 In September 2023, after the coverage period, former Twitter head of trust and safety Yoel Roth disclosed that Twitter had linked the network to the Indian military.5
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.6 Both paid commentators and volunteers disseminate disinformation across social media and respond to political developments in real time.7
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.8 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 administrator reportedly requested that members post against the Tandav television show on Twitter using the hashtag #BanTandavNow, which later trended.9
The Facebook Papers, a collection of leaked internal documents from Facebook released in October 2021,10 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, had found that anti-Muslim hate was on the rise, and that misinformation was exacerbated by measures aimed at increasing meaningful interaction on the platform.11 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.12
- 1Bharat Bhushan, “Fake News and CBI Signal It’s Election Time,” Deccan Herald, March 10, 2023, https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/fake-news-and-cbi-signal-its-elect….
- 2Avinash Kumar, “Fake Video on Migrant Attack in Tamil Nadu Shot in Bihar, 3 Arrested,” Hindustan Times, March 14, 2023, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/fake-video-on-migrant-attack-…; see also Prateek Goyal, “Reality of Tamil Nadu ‘Attacks on Migrants’ and How Media Mainstreamed Fake News,” Newslaundry, March 10, 2023, https://www.newslaundry.com/2023/03/10/reality-of-tamil-nadu-attacks-on…; Bharat Bhushan, “Fake News and CBI Signal It’s Election Time,” Deccan Herald, March 10, 2023, https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/fake-news-and-cbi-signal-its-elect….
- 3Abhilash Mallick, “Round-Up: How Disinformation Followed Rahul Gandhi During the Bharat Jodo Yatra,” The Quint, January 29, 2023, https://www.thequint.com/news/webqoof/top-fact-checks-around-bharat-jod…; “Congress accuses BJP of 'doctoring' video to discredit Bharat Jodo Yatra,” The Times of India, November 25, 2022; http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/95768496.cms.
- 4Shelby Grossman, Emily Tianshi, David Thiel, and Renée DiResta, “My Heart Belongs to Kashmir: An Analysis of a Pro-Indian Army Covert Influence Operation on Twitter,” Stanford Internet Observatory, September 21, 2022, https://stacks.stanford.edu/file/druid:zs105tw7107/20220921%20India%20t….
- 5Yoel Roth, “Trump Attacked Me. Then Musk Did. It Wasn’t an Accident.,” New York Times, September 18, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/18/opinion/trump-elon-musk-twitter.html
- 6Samantha 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-…
- 7Samantha 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….
- 8Meghnad 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….
- 9“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…
- 10Christiano 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….
- 11Sheera 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….
- 12Kumar 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-…
|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 draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022 establishes an expansive licensing regime over a broad range of online services, including internet-based communication services and OTT communication services. The requirements under the bill present onerous obligations that may impede their operations (see A4 and C4).2
The MIB issued a notification in May 2021 requiring digital news organizations and OTT platforms to furnish the specified information,3 and later disclosed that over 2,100 such platforms had done so as of January 2022.4 The IFF said it was unclear if the provisions under which the MIB issued the relevant notifications are operational, since high courts have stayed provisions of the IT Rules that affect digital media organizations and OTT platforms (see B3).5
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.6 Digital media platforms were given until October 2021 to comply with the cap.7 During the previous coverage period, 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.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 the transfer of shares of Indian digital media companies.9
The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) regulates foreign funding of domestic NGOs. Since 2014, FCRA regulations have been tightened several times, making it increasingly difficult for civil society organizations in India to receive funding. The FCRA licenses of about 19,000 NGOs have been canceled, according to a report by the International Commission of Jurists, silencing “critical voices” and impeding their ability to conduct their activities online.10
The Net Neutrality Rules, adopted in July 2018 by the Indian government, are considered among the world’s strongest.11 With only some exceptions, the rules prevent internet providers from interfering with content, including through blocking, throttling, and zero-rating.12 In September 2020, TRAI recommended that the DoT establish a multistakeholder body to monitor ISPs’ compliance with the rules.13 As of March 2023, the recommendations had not yet been implemented.
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 that 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….
- 2Preeksha Malhotra, “India’s New Telecom Bill Not Only Preserves 137-Year-Old Colonial Powers But Gives Govt Sweeping New Ones — Article 14,” Article 14, November 18, 2022, https://article-14.com/post/india-s-new-telecom-bill-not-only-preserves….
- 3“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….
- 4Internet 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….
- 5TNN, “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….
- 6“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….
- 7Swati Mathur, “Comply with 26% FDI cap,” Times of India, November 17, 2020, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/comply-with-26-fdi-cap-govt-t….
- 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…; “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-….
- 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=….
- 10“FCRA Law ‘Repressive’, ‘Stifles NGOs’: International Commission of Jurists,” The Wire, November 13, 2020, https://thewire.in/government/fcra-law-repressive-stifles-ngos-internat….
- 11Rishi 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.
- 12Kalyan 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-….
- 13Telecom 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….
- 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 Directions issued by the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT–In) in April 2022 required VPN providers to store user data, leading to some providers withdrawing servers from or restricting services in India (see C4). 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 about the conflict in Manipur circulated widely during the crisis (see A3).9 False information and doctored videos have led to offline violence.10 According to one tally, at least 31 people were reportedly killed between 2014 and 2018 in connection to rumors spread on WhatsApp, often about child kidnappings.11
Increasing media polarization, which also undermines access to reliable information online, has been on the rise in the last decade. Reporting critical of the Union government and its affiliates is often met with harsh pushback, creating a chilling effect on critical coverage.12 News outlets and commentators that criticize the government face the risk of politicized government intervention, such as tax raids. In November 2022, NDTV, one of India’s last independent news media organizations, was bought by Gautam Adani, a long-standing ally of Prime Minister Modi, raising concerns over the organization’s continued independence and the status of press freedom in India generally.13
- 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…; see also Prathap Nair, “How Streaming Platforms Ushered in a Wave of Queer Representation in India - TV Guide,” TV Guide, June 13, 2019, https://www.tvguide.com/news/features/netflix-amazon-prime-queer-repres….
- 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….
- 9Shruti Menon, “Manipur: Misleading information shared about India tensions,” BBC, July 26, 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-66255989.
- 10Elyse Samuels, “How misinformation on WhatsApp led to a mob killing in India”, Washington Post, February 21, 2020, Error! Hyperlink reference not valid..
- 11Shadab Nazmi, Dhruv Nenwani, and Gagan Narhe, “Social Media Rumours in India: Counting the Dead - BBC News,” BBC News, November 13, 2018, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-e5043092-f7f0-42e9-9848-5274ac….
- 12Subhajit Paul and Uttam Pegu, “Media Polarization and Assertion of Majoritarianism in Indian News Media,” The Journal of Communication and Media Studies 6 (January 23, 2021): 1–12, https://doi.org/10.18848/2470-9247/CGP/v06i02/1-12.
- 13“NDTV: How Gautam Adani Will Run India’s Top News Network,” BBC News, November 30, 2022, sec. India, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-63713572.
|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 have continued to impose internet shutdowns amid protests.
In March 2023, authorities in Punjab suspended internet services throughout the state, in part to prevent the mobilization of Amritpal Singh’s supporters (see A3).1 In June 2022, authorities in Bihar restricted access to social media platforms, including Facebook and WhatsApp, amid widespread protests over changes to military recruitment policy.2
People use social media to lead campaigns. For example, in July 2023, after the coverage period, environmental activists mobilized online and in person across the country to protest a proposed law that would roll back conservation protections for forests.3
- 1Rhea Mogul, “India Cuts Internet to 27 Million as Punjab Police Hunt Sikh Separatist,” CNN, March 20, 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/20/india/india-separatist-manhunt-internet-….
- 2Piyush Traphathi, “Agnipath protests: Internet services suspended in 15 districts of Bihar,” Times of India, June 17, 2022, “https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/patna/agnipath-protests-intern…
- 3“Activists across India use social media, ground campaign to oppose forest conservation Bill,” Counterview, July 29, 2023, https://www.counterview.net/2023/07/activists-across-india-use-social-m…; see, e.g., @LetIndBreathe, “Why was #SaveIndianForests trending on Twitter yesterday? A thread #ScrapForestConservationAmendmentBill2023,” X, July 25, 2023, https://twitter.com/LetIndBreathe/status/1683860437270515713.
|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 Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022 (DPDPB) (see C6), which was released in November 2022, would amend the Right to Information Act, 2005 to exempt a greater degree of information about public officials from the transparency law.6 The proposal has been widely criticized by civil society and the opposition for limiting government accountability efforts.7
The judiciary is independent. Although commentators have argued that the courts show signs of politicization,8 judgments continue to protect free expression and other constitutional rights in most cases. 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 although compliance with the decision has been an issue.13
However, there have also been instances where the courts have failed to adequately protect citizen rights. In December 2022, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal regarding the use of a journalist’s phone contents for the purposes of a law enforcement investigation, hampering the journalist’s ability to protect her work and sources.14
- 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.”
- 6Shailesh Gandhi, “How the Proposed Data Protection Bill Will Undermine India’s Right to Information,” Text, Scroll.in (https://scroll.in, November 21, 2022), https://scroll.in/article/1037879/how-the-proposed-data-protection-bill….
- 7“MPs, Civil Society Groups Oppose Changes to RTI Act Through Data Protection Bill,” The Wire, March 14, 2023, https://thewire.in/rights/mps-civil-society-groups-oppose-changes-to-rt….
- 8Shoaib 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…
- 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…;.
- 13“SC Issues Notice in FMP’s MA in Anuradha Bhasin v. UOI,” Internet Freedom Foundation, May 11, 2023, https://internetfreedom.in/supreme-court-of-india-issues-notice-in-foun….
- 14“The Supreme Court Refuses Special Leave Petition Challenging the Unconstitutional Retention of Mobile Data of Journalists,” Internet Freedom Foundation, February 11, 2023, https://internetfreedom.in/the-supreme-court-refuses-special-leave-peti….
|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 or 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
The Official Secrets Act criminalizes communication of information that may have an adverse effect on the sovereignty and integrity of India.8 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.9
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 and 66D and the IPC (see C3).10 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.”11 In October 2022, the Supreme Court issued fresh directions ordering states to stop prosecuting people on the basis of Section 66A and held that all ongoing 66A cases should stand deleted.12
In August 2023, after the coverage period, the government announced a slate of criminal procedure reforms, including the repeal of Section 124A of the IPC, which relates to sedition. However, the reforms would introduce a new provision that would criminalize conduct that “endangers [the] sovereignty or unity and integrity of India,” among other broadly defined terms, with a punishment of imprisonment for life or with imprisonment of up to seven years. Legal experts described the new provision as a more extreme form of Section 124A.13 In May 2022, the Supreme Court ordered that Section 124A be temporarily suspended until the Union government reconsiders the colonial-era law. The stay came as a relief to many journalists who had been targeted through the provision.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….
- 8“Official Secrets Act, 1923,” Indian Kanoon, accessed October 7, 2020, Section 5, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/61492784/.
- 9Soutik 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-….
- 10Supreme 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….
- 11“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….
- 12The Hindu Bureau, “No More Prosecutions under Section 66A, Says Supreme Court,” The Hindu, October 12, 2022, sec. India, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/no-more-prosecutions-under-secti….
- 13Himanshi Dahiya, “'New Bottle, Old Wine': Experts on Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita and Sedition Laws,” The Quint, August 11, 2023, https://www.thequint.com/news/law/amit-shah-parliament-bill-to-repeal-s….
- 14“Supreme Court’s Sedition Law Stay Promises Relief for Journalists,” Newslaundry, May 11, 2022, https://www.newslaundry.com/2022/05/11/supreme-courts-sedition-law-stay….
|Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||2.002 6.006|
People 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 March 2023, journalist Jaspal Singh was arrested in Haryana after the son of a local BJP legislator, Lakshman Napa, filed a complaint against Singh for allegedly defaming Napa on WhatsApp and Facebook.2
In June 2022, Delhi police arrested Mohammed Zubair, cofounder of fact-checking website Alt News, after a Twitter user lodged a complaint 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.3 In July 2022, the Supreme Court ordered Zubair to be released on bail.4
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 UAPA while he was on his way to cover a murder and sexual assault.5 In September 2022, the Supreme Court ordered Kappan released on bail, subject to stringent conditions, and affirmed the right to freedom of expression. However, Kappan remained in custody on charges of money laundering registered against him by the Directorate of Enforcement.6 He was ultimately released on bail in February 2023.7
Activists and human rights defenders also face arrest for their online activities. Right to information activist Pradeep Bhalekar was arrested by the Mumbai Police in August 2022 and again in October for posting allegedly defamatory content about Maharashtra officials and BJP leaders.8 Bhalekar has alleged that his family has been harassed and that he is being targeted for criticizing the state government.9 In October 2022, Sunil Bajilakeri, a Mangaluru-based activist and BJP critic, was arrested by the Karnataka Police after he posted an image of a leopard superimposed on the face of a pregnant woman dressed in traditional Indian clothes to mock the government’s project to reintroduce cheetahs to India. Bajilakeri was arrested after a woman complained that this was an insult to pregnant women and Indian culture; he was later released on bail.10
In December 2022, Saket Gokhale, national spokesperson for the Trinamool Congress party, was arrested by Gujarat police after a complaint was made regarding a tweet he had posted about the prime minister’s visit to the site of the Morbi bridge collapse. The complaint alleges that Gokhale’s post contained false information about the cost of the visit.11 Gokhale was released on bail two days later, but shortly thereafter was rearrested on new charges related to the post; he was arrested a third time later that month on charges relating to misuse of crowdfunded money.12
People are penalized for publishing or sharing content concerning politicians and religious groups in India. For example, in June 2022, a man in Uttar Pradesh was arrested over posting purportedly objectionable comments against Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath as his status on WhatsApp.13 The following month, another man in Uttar Pradesh was arrested for posting objectionable comments against Prime Minister Modi on social media.14 In November 2022, Tamil Nadu police arrested Kishore K Swamy, a pro-BJP social media commentator known for his provocative language, over a Twitter post that criticized Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K. Stalin.15
In January 2023, a man in Haryana was arrested for sharing on Facebook a manipulated screenshot of a tweet by the Haryana chief minister. He was subsequently released on bail.16 In March 2023, Kannada actor Chetan Kumar was arrested for a tweet in which he stated that Hindutva ideology is “built on lies.”17 The following month, the Ministry of Home Affairs revoked Kumar’s Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) status, which grants noncitizens permanent residency, citing his previous social media posts.18
Journalists in Jammu and Kashmir, which is excluded from this report’s scoring, frequently face such restrictions on their online activities. In March 2023, a special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court filed charges of sedition against academic Abdul Aala Fazili and Fahad Shah, editor of the news site the Kashmir Walla. The charges, filed under the UAPA, were brought against the two in relation to an article written by Fazili—titled “The Shackles of Slavery Will Break”—published on the news site in 2011. Fazili and Shah, who were arrested in April and February 2022, respectively, remained in detention as of the end of the coverage period, despite Shah having been granted bail.19 Kashmir Walla journalist Sajad Gul was arrested in January 2022 for posting a video online that showed a family shouting anti-India slogans while protesting over the death of at least one relative who was allegedly killed in a gunfight with security forces.20
- 1“India: Media freedom under threat”, Reporters Without Borders, May 3, 2022, https://rsf.org/en/india-media-freedom-under-threat.
- 2“Journalist Arrested after Haryana MLA Lakshman Napa’s Son Lodges Complaint about False News, Scribes Protest,” The Indian Express, March 19, 2023, https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/chandigarh/journalist-arrested….
- 3Mehnder 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…
- 4“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
- 5“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….
- 6Debayan 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…
- 7Asad Rehman, “‘After 28 Months and a Long Fight, I Am out’: Journalist Siddique Kappan Walks out of UP Jail” Indian Express, February 3, 2023, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/kerala-journalist-siddique-bail….
- 8“Maharashtra: Man Arrested for Posting ‘Defamatory’ Content against Governor Koshyari | Cities News,The Indian Express,” Indian Express, August 9, 2022, https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/man-arrested-for-postin….
- 9Maharashtra: Man Held for Comments against Governor, Rearrested for Social Media Posts Slamming CM, Dy CM,” The Indian Express, October 31, 2022, https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/mumbai-police-twitter-p….
- 10“Mangaluru Activist Arrested over ‘Derogatory’ Social Media Post on Cheetah Project,” The Indian Express, October 8, 2022, https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/bangalore/mangaluru-activist-a….
- 11Aniruddha Dhar, “Saket Gokhale Sent to 2-Day Police Custody | Why TMC Spokesperson Was Arrested,” Hindustan Times, December 6, 2022, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/saket-gokhale-sent-to-2-day-p….
- 12“Trinamool's Saket Gokhale, jailed in Gujarat, arrested again - this time by ED,” Hindustan Times, January 25, 2023, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/saket-gokhale-arrest-trinamoo…
- 13“UP Police Arrests 19-Year-Old for Social Media Post Against Adityanath,” The Wire, June 14, 2022, https://thewire.in/government/up-police-arrests-19-year-old-for-social-….
- 14“Man Arrested For Posting Remarks Against PM Modi on Social Media,” NDTV.com, July 1, 2022, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/man-arrested-for-posting-objectionable-….
- 15ETB Sivapriyan, “Social Media Commentator Arrested for ‘demeaning Tweet’ against CM Stalin | Deccan Herald,” Deccan Herald, November 21, 2022, https://www.deccanherald.com/national/south/social-media-commentator-ar….
- 16“Man Gets Bail After Arrest For Fake Tweet About Haryana Chief Minister,” NDTV.com, January 30, 2023, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/man-gets-bail-after-arrest-for-fake-twe….
- 17Yamini CS, “Kannada Actor Chetan Kumar Arrested after ‘Hindutva Built on Lies’ Tweet,” Hindustan Times, March 21, 2023, https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/bengaluru-news/kannada-actor-chet….
- 18“OCI status of actor Chetan Kumar cancelled weeks after arrest over Hindutva tweet,” The Hindu, April 15, 2023, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/oci-status-of-actor-ch…
- 19Scroll Staff, “NIA Court Frames Charges against ‘The Kashmir Walla’ Editor, Academician for ‘Seditious’ Article,” Text, Scroll.in (https://scroll.in, March 18, 2023), https://scroll.in/latest/1045846/nia-court-frames-sedition-charges-agai….
- 20Scroll Staff, “Kashmiri Journalist Sajad Gul Charged with Criminal Conspiracy, Press Body Condemns Arrest,” Text, Scroll.in (https://scroll.in, January 8, 2022), https://scroll.in/latest/1014589/kashmiri-journalist-sajad-gul-charged-….
|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.
In February 2023, the Department of Telecommunications confirmed a report from MediaNama that it had developed and deployed a face-recognition system that analyzes the identification submitted by people when activating connections. The system, which is confirmed to be in use in Haryana, is purportedly used to combat SIM card fraud.3
Provisions of the draft Indian Telecommunication Bill (see A4) are likely to undermine end-to-end encryption. In September 2022, the DoT released the draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022 for public consultation.4 Under Clauses 4(7) and 4(8), telecommunication service providers—including companies that provide interpersonal communications services, like end-to-end encrypted platforms WhatsApp and Signal— are required to identify users and make the identities of all senders of messages available to those who receive it. Under Clause 24(2)(a), telecommunication service providers shall be required to stop the transmission of, intercept, detain, or disclose any message or class of messages being transmitted by them, which would require telecommunication service providers to break end-to-end encryption.5
Civil society organizations have raised concerns that the draft DPDPB (see C6)—which would impose requirements on people seeking to exercise their rights under the act—would undermine online anonymity.6
The Intermediary Rules 2021 impose certain restrictions for anonymity and encryption,7 though it appears that the government has not enforced some of those measures.8 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.9 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.10 Technical experts have raised concerns that such traceability is not possible without breaking end-to-end encryption,11 as this would require the intermediaries to track every message being sent over the platform,12 despite the government’s claim that it did not intend to undermine the technology.13 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.14
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.15 While the use of VPNs remains legal in India, VPN providers now need to store users’ names, addresses, contact numbers, period of subscription, email and IP addresses, and the purpose of using their services.16 Companies have argued that logging such information would violate their users’ privacy and may also be technically unfeasible.17 Clarifications on the rules issued in May 2022 clarify that the provisions would not be applicable to corporate and enterprise VPNs.18 The directions, which came into force on September 25, 2022, have led several VPN service providers such as Proton AG, NordVPN, Surfshark, ExpressVPN, and IPVanish to withdraw their servers from India;.19 others, including TunnelBear, announced their services would no longer be available to users in India.
An Indian VPN service provider, SnTHostings, has challenged the legality of the directions before the Delhi High Court.20 In May 2023, it was reported that Surfshark and several other VPN service providers had received notices from CERT–In inquiring about compliance with the directions.21
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.22 The matter was still pending before the Delhi High Court during the coverage period, 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.23
ISPs setting up cable-landing stations are required to install infrastructure for surveillance and keyword scanning of all traffic passing through each gateway.24 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;25 and mandates prior approval from the DoT or a designated officer to install encryption equipment.26
- 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.
- 3Vallari Sanzgiri, “MediaNama Impact: Govt confirms using facial recognition on SIM card subscribers,” Medianama, February 7, 2023, https://www.medianama.com/2023/02/223-govt-confirms-using-facial-recogn….
- 4Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communication, Government of India, “The Draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022” (2022), https://dot.gov.in/relatedlinks/indian-telecommunication-bill-2022.
- 5Anushka Jain and Prateek Waghre, “India’s Draft Telecommunications Bill Fails to Democratize the Telecom Sector,” Tech Policy Press, November 4, 2022, https://techpolicy.press/indias-draft-telecommunications-bill-fails-to-….
- 6“IFF’s First Read of the Draft Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022,” Internet Freedom Foundation, November 18, 2022, https://internetfreedom.in/iffs-first-read-of-the-draft-digital-persona….
- 7Press 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…-
- 8Neha 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….
- 9Internet 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…
- 10Department 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….
- 11Aditi Agarwal. “Traceability and end-to-end encryption cannot co-exist on digital messaging platforms: Experts,” Forbes, March 15
- 12Anirudh Burman, Prateek Jha, “Understanding the Encryption Debate in India”. Carnegie India, September 21, 2021. https://carnegieindia.org/2021/09/13/understanding-encryption-debate-in…
- 13Aashish 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…
- 14Frequently 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…
- 15“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-….
- 16Sneha 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….
- 17Subhrojit Mallick, “UnCERT-in times for VPN services providers in India” The Economic Times, May 10, 2022, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/cons-products/electronics….
- 18Sunainaa 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….
- 19Paran Balakrishnan, “VPNs Shut India-Based Servers, Blame Invasive Government Rules,” The Telegraph Online, September 23, 2022, https://www.telegraphindia.com/business/vpns-shut-india-based-servers-b….
- 20Aroon Deep, “Indian Hosting Company Sues Government over VPN Rules,” Entrackr, September 28, 2022, https://entrackr.com/2022/09/indian-hosting-company-sues-government-ove….
- 21Aihik Sur, “Surfshark Confirms It Is One of the Recipients of CERT-In’s Notices on Cybersecurity Directions,” Moneycontrol, May 19, 2023, https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/business/netherlands-based-surfshark-…; Aihik Sur, “CERT-In Sends Notices to VPN Companies on Compliance with Cybersecurity Directions,” Moneycontrol, May 16, 2023, https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/business/cert-in-sends-notices-to-vpn….
- 22Nandagopal 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… .
- 23Abhinav 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….
- 24Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Guidelines for Grant of Unified License,” Guideline 42.
- 25Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, “Guidelines for Grant of Unified License,” Guideline 13(d)(vii).
- 26Department 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 and private companies offering spyware or hack-for-hire services have flourished.3
Communications surveillance may be conducted under the Telegraph Act4 and the IT Act5 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.”6
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.7 These orders are reviewed by a committee of government officials.8 Interception orders are limited to 60 days, and renewable for up to 180 days.9 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.10
The existing surveillance architecture in India concentrates surveillance powers in the executive branch of the government and does not provide for meaningful oversight or review, either judicial or parliamentary, of surveillance activities.11 Draft legislation under consideration—namely the Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022 and the Digital India Bill—would revamp the country’s legal framework for surveillance, along with the recently passed DPDPB (see C6). The draft legislation fails to limit overbroad government surveillance.
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 (CPIL) and the SFLC in December 2020 argued that CMS and two other programs (the surveillance software Network Traffic Analysis [NETRA]13 and the integrated National Intelligence Grid [NATGRID]) should be discontinued because they allow bulk surveillance and data collection.14 The matter was due to be heard in September 2022, but remained pending before the court during the coverage period.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 IFF has reported that state investigations into the hack remain confidential.23
In August 2022, a panel convened by the Supreme Court in October 2021 submitted its report following an independent probe into claims that the government used Pegasus. The Supreme Court noted that the government did not cooperate with the investigation.24 As of April 2023, the report had not been publicly released, though the court has stated that it plans to do so.25
In March 2023, the Financial Times reported that the Indian officials were seeking spyware tools from companies with a lower profile than the NSO Group.26 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.27 The targeted individuals included human rights defenders calling for the release of activists arrested for allegedly participating in protests and violence in Maharashtra, known collectively as the BK16, including prominent activists Rona Wilson and Anand Teltumbde.28 In February 2022, cybersecurity firm SentinelOne attributed the campaign to a threat actor dubbed ModifiedElephant, which allegedly planted fabricated evidence on the personal devices of the BK16.29 Subsequent reporting linked police in Pune to ModifiedElephant.30
The government uses the Aadhaar national biometric database for the provision of multiple public services, including food stamps and various scholarships and employment schemes.31 The system’s use poses concerns regarding data privacy and security.32 Breaches of Aadhaar data were reported in 2017,33 2018,34 2019,35 2020,36 and 2021.37 In March 2020, it was reported that the government planned to build a database called the National Social Registry that will use data from Aadhaar38 and capture a vast amount of other personal information, including individuals’ marital status, financial status, and property owned.39 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.40
In September 2018, the Supreme Court set limits on Aadhaar’s use.41 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,42 which civil society groups argue ignores the Supreme Court ruling.43 As of the end of the coverage period, a case challenging the law was pending in the Supreme Court.44 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.45
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.46 For example, the contact-tracing app Aarogya Setu, which was active until June 2022,47 uses data gleaned from Global Positioning System (GPS) and Bluetooth technology.48 Government agencies are permitted access to information stored on a centralized database.49 The app has poor encryption standards.50
Police also conduct manual searches of electronic devices. In October 2021, during the previous coverage period, police in Hyderabad and Bengaluru were reported for randomly checking the phones of citizens on the street.51
- 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….
- 3Raphael Satter and Christopher Bing, “How Mercenary Hackers Sway Litigation Battles,” Reuters, June 30, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-hackers-litigat….
- 4Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications, “Indian Telegraph Act, 1885,” accessed October 07, 2020, Section 5(2), https://dot.gov.in/act-rules-content/2442.
- 5Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, “The Information Technology Act 2000,” Section 69.
- 6Ministry of Law and Justice, “The Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008,” Section 69.
- 7Government 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….
- 8Government of India, “Rule 419A of the Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951”; Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, “The Information Technology Act 2000,” Section 69.
- 9Government of India, “Rule 419A of the Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951”; Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, “The Information Technology Act 2000,” Section 69.
- 10Privacy International, “India Telecommunications Privacy Report,” October 22, 2012, Chapter III: Privacy Issues, https://web.archive.org/web/20121202224337/https://www.privacyinternati….
- 11Anushka Jain and Krishnesh Bapat, “In Pegasus Battle, the Fight for Surveillance Reform,” The Hindu, July 21, 2022, sec. Lead, https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/in-pegasus-battle-the-fight-for-s….
- 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-…
- 26Mehul Srivastava and Kaye Wiggins, “India Hunts for Spyware That Rivals Controversial Pegasus System,” Financial Times, March 31, 2023, sec. India, https://www.ft.com/content/7674d7b7-8b9b-4c15-9047-a6a495c6b9c9.
- 27“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/.
- 28Pheroze 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,
- 29Sethu 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-….
- 30Andy Greenberg, “Police Linked to Hacking Campaign to Frame Indian Activists,” Wired, June 16, 2022, https://www.wired.com/story/modified-elephant-planted-evidence-hacking-….
- 31Gurman 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….
- 32Sunil 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….
- 33Krishnadas 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….
- 34Vidhi 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….
- 35Zack Whittaker, “Indian state government leaks thousands of Aadhaar numbers,” Tech Crunch, February 01, 2019, https://techcrunch.com/2019/01/31/aadhaar-data-leak/.
- 36“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-….
- 37“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….
- 38Ivan 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….
- 39Kumar 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….
- 40Basant 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….
- 41Anindita 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….
- 42“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….
- 43Naman 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….
- 44“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….
- 45Rojer 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….
- 46Divij 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.
- 47Anushka 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….
- 48“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….
- 49Pranav 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….
- 50Anuj 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.
- 51Paul Oommen, “Hyderabad Cops Are Stopping People on the Road, Checking WhatsApp Chats for ‘Drugs,’” The News Minute, October 28, 2021, https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/hyderabad-cops-are-illegally-chec…; “Amid Row, Bengaluru Top Cop Rules out Random Checks of Local Residents’ Phones,” Hindustan Times, April 5, 2022, https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/bengaluru-news/amid-row-bengaluru….
|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 IT Rules 2021 changed the way companies must share information with government agencies in certain circumstances. 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 offenses 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 November 2022, MeitY published the draft DPDPB for public consultation. The draft DPDPB was criticized for various provisions that failed to sufficiently safeguard personal data. These include provisions such as the deemed consent clause, which allows for nonconsensual processing of data, and the exemptions clause, which grants wide exemptions from the application of the draft bill to state and private actors.8 A version of the DPDPB was passed in August 2023, after the coverage period, the provisions of which raised similar concerns; the law will come into effect once notified.9
The 2022 draft departs from the Data Protection Bill, 2021, which was introduced in December 2021 to replace the earlier Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 and subsequently withdrawn in August 2022. The 2022 draft dilutes the role of the Data Protection Board, which is not independent and performs only an adjudicatory function, compared to the regulator under the 2021 draft.10 The 2021 bill mandated data localization; the 2022 version allows for cross-border data transfer. It has been reported that the Indian government may block the transfer of data from India to a number of “disapproved” countries.11
Standard Operating Procedures for Lawful Interception and Monitoring of Telecom Service Providers—regulations issued in 201412 —restricted interception to a service provider’s chief nodal officer, and mandated that interception orders be made in writing.13 Rules issued in 2011 under the IT Act provided for greater protection of personal data handled by companies,14 but do not apply to the government.
The telecom license agreements require service providers to guarantee the designated security agency or licensor remote access to information for monitoring;15 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.16 A 2011 Equipment Security Agreement requires telecom operators to develop the capacity to pinpoint any customer’s location within 50 meters.17
In December 2021, during the previous coverage period, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) extended the requirement for telecommunications providers to retain call data and internet usage records of subscribers from one year to two years.18 In March 2020, news reports revealed that telecom companies had raised concerns with the DoT over the bulk call data records sought by the government.19 Through RTI requests, the IFF found indications that the records were potentially sought for use cases beyond quality assurance, as the government claimed.20
Between January and December 2022, Meta received 119,349 total requests from the Union and state governments in India for user data. The company produced information for 66.59 percent of requests received from January to June 2022 and for 68.26 percent of requests received from July to December 2022.21 From January to June 2022, Microsoft received 610 requests by law enforcement in India relating to criminal cases, of which 29.02 percent resulted in disclosure of non-content subscriber data and 544 requests in which users or accounts were specified.22
- 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.
- 7“How the Intermediaries Rules Are Anti-Democratic and Unconstitutional.,” Internet Freedom Foundation, February 27, 2021, https://internetfreedom.in/intermediaries-rules-2021/.
- 8Siddhaant Verma, “Data Protection Bill Is Riddled With Arbitrary Provisions That Violate the Right to Privacy,” The Wire, January 2, 2023, https://thewire.in/rights/data-protection-bill-arbitrary-provisions-rig….
- 9“India passes data protection legislation in Parliament. Critics fear privacy violation,” AP, August 10, 2023, https://apnews.com/article/india-data-privacy-law-modi-parliament-0776a….
- 10“Our Analysis of the Draft Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022,” Ikigai Law (blog), November 20, 2022, https://www.ikigailaw.com/our-analysis-of-the-draft-digital-personal-da….
- 11Hemant Kashyap, “‘Negative List’ For Cross-Border Data Transfer In Works: MoS IT,” Inc42, March 21, 2023, https://inc42.com/buzz/negative-list-cross-border-data-transfer-works-m….
- 12Shalini Singh, “Centre issues new guidelines for phone interception,” The Hindu, May 13, 2016, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/centre-issues-new-guidelines-for-….
- 13Divij 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….
- 14Bhairav 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….
- 15Saikat Datta, “A Fox On A Fishing Expedition,” Outlook India, May 3, 2010, http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?265192.
- 16Department 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.
- 17Department 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….
- 18“Centre Extends Duration to Archive Call, Internet Usage Data to Two Years,” Economic Times, December 24, 2021, https://government.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/digital-india/cent….
- 19Anil Sasi and Pranav Mukul, “Cellphone Operators Red-Flag ‘Surveillance’ after Govt Wants Call Records of All Users,” The Indian Express, March 18, 2020, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/call-data-records-government-su….
- 20“Mass Surveillance? You Decide as per DoT’s RTI Responses #SaveOurPrivacy,” Internet Freedom Foundation, June 16, 2020, https://internetfreedom.in/bulk-cdr-mass-surveillance/.
- 21Transparency Center, “Government Requests for User Data,” Meta, accessed June 13, 2023, https://transparency.fb.com/data/government-data-requests/country/IN/.
- 22“Law Enforcement Request Report,” Microsoft, accessed June 13, 2023, https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/corporate-responsibility/lerr.
|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.
People sometimes face physical violence as a result of their online activities. In June 2022, two Muslim men killed Kanhaiya Lal Teli, a Hindu, in Udaipur, reportedly in retaliation for his social media post in support of former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma, who had made controversial and derogatory remarks about the prophet Muhammad.1
Media outlets have reported widespread online harassment and trolling of investigative journalist Rana Ayyub in response to her work.2 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.3 Ayyub has called the investigation a baseless smear campaign.4 Ayyub was stopped by immigration officials at the Mumbai airport in March 2022 while on her way to London for a discussion on online violence against women journalists hosted by the International Center for Journalists.5 Online harassment of Ayyub continued throughout the coverage period.6
Indian media outlets have reported incidents of police intimidating and harassing other journalists for their work. In June 2022, Delhi-based journalist Shahid Tantray, who works for the Caravan news site, disclosed that Jammu and Kashmir police had harassed him and his family as a result of his reporting. He has alleged that he was told that if he continued his reporting he would either be shot at or detained.7
In August 2023, after the coverage period, the home of Khushboo and Nadeem Akhtar, who run the YouTube news channel Pal Pal News, was set on fire. The Akhtar siblings, who have received death threats for their reporting on violence and discrimination against Muslims, believe the arson attack was connected to their work.8
In November 2021, during the previous coverage period, 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 For example, YouTube journalist Thulasi Chandu faced violent misogynistic harassment during 2022 and 2023 over her reporting, which appeared to be coordinated in part through Facebook groups and YouTube channels.12
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.13 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."14 Both apps are named after colloquial slurs for Muslim women, and have targeted women with a prominent digital presence.15 The creators of both apps were charged with promoting enmity between groups, sexual harassment, and causing disharmony, among other offenses.16
- 1Shubhangi Misra, “Empty streets, ‘Jai Shri Ram’, RAF – Udaipur prepares for Hindu tailor’s funeral,” The Print, June 29, 2022, https://theprint.in/india/empty-streets-jai-shri-ram-raf-udaipur-prepar….
- 2Raghav 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….
- 3Express 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….
- 4Rana Ayyub, “My Statement,” Rana Ayyub’s Newsletter, February 11, 2022, https://ranaayyub.substack.com/p/my-statement?token=eyJ1c2VyX2lkIjoxODc….
- 5Arvind Gunasekar, “Journalist Rana Ayyub Stopped At Mumbai Airport From Flying To London,” NDTV.com, March 30, 2022, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/journalist-rana-ayyub-stopped-from-leav….
- 6Julie Posetti, Kalina Bontcheva, Hanan Zaffar, Nabeelah Shabbir, Diana Maynard, and Mugdha Pandya, “Rana Ayyub: Targeted Online Violence at the Intersection of Misogyny and Islamophobia,” Online Violence Big Data Case Studies (International Center for Journalists, February 14, 2023), https://www.icfj.org/our-work/online-violence-big-data-case-studies.
- 7“‘Either Be Shot At or Sent to Jail’: Caravan Journalist Says J&K Police Threatened Him,” The Wire, June 8, 2022, https://thewire.in/media/either-be-shot-at-or-sent-to-jail-caravan-jour….
- 8“Delhi home of Indian journalists Khushboo and Nadeem Akhtar set ablaze,” Committee to Protect Journalists, September 7, 2023, https://cpj.org/2023/09/delhi-home-of-indian-journalists-khushboo-and-n….
- 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-….
- 12Sravasti Dasgupta, “In the Face of Death Threats, Online Hate, Telugu Journalist Thulasi Chandu Refuses to Back Down,” The Wire, June 30, 2023, https://thewire.in/media/journalist-thulasi-chandu-fears-for-her-life-a….
- 13Niharika 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….
- 14“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.
- 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…; 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.;
- 16“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 cyber security incidents during the coverage period. CERT–In reported almost 1.39 million cybersecurity incidents in 2022.1 Many cyberattacks are suspected to emanate from actors in China. Hackers based in China reportedly attempted to compromise the personal health data of millions of patients after attacking five servers of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi.2 State-backed attacks originating in Pakistan3 and Iran4 have reportedly also targeted Indian government systems.
Reports suggest that cyberattacks against Indian government agencies increased during the coverage period.5 According to monitoring by CloudSEK, such attacks doubled from 2021 to 2022.6 For example, the hacktivist group DragonForce Malaysia coordinated attacks against government and BJP websites in June 2022 after a prominent BJP official made disparaging remarks about the prophet Muhammad.7 According to MeitY, the number of ransomware incidents in India has increased in recent years, with 132 incidents in 2021 and 202 incidents in 2022.8
The Information Technology Act is the primary legislation governing cybersecurity, and lays out penalties for damaging computers and computer systems.9 The IT Act penalizes hacking, introducing malware, and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that result in significant damage or disruption to essential services.10 The law also allows the government to define resources as “critical information infrastructure.”11 In August 2020, the prime minister announced that the government is developing a new cybersecurity policy to counter increased cyberattacks;12 the national security coordinator reported that the strategy remained in progress during the coverage period.13 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.14
- 1Chetan Thathoo, “India Witnessed 13.9 Lakh Cybersecurity Incidents In 2022: Govt,” Inc42 Media (blog), February 11, 2023, https://inc42.com/buzz/india-witnessed-13-9-lakh-cybersecurity-incident….
- 2Kirti Bhargava, “Recent Cyber Attacks With Alleged Chinese Involvement That Targeted India’s Critical Infrastructure,” Outlook India, December 2, 2022, https://www.outlookindia.com/national/recent-cyber-attacks-with-alleged….
- 3Aditya 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….
- 4Sana 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-….
- 5K. V Kurmanath, “No. of Cyber Attacks on Indian Entities Far Surpasses Global Average,” Hindu BusinessLine, March 24, 2023, https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/info-tech/no-of-cyber-attacks-on-i…; Anupriya Chatterjee, “India’s Had Its Worst Year of Cyberattacks, but 2023 Will See Govt & Firms Ramp up Defences,” The Print, December 30, 2022, https://theprint.in/india/indias-had-its-worst-year-of-cyberattacks-but….
- 6Hansika Saxena and Aastha Mittal, “Unprecedented Increase in Cyber Attacks Targeting Government Entities in 2022 | CloudSEK” (CloudSEK, December 30, 2022), https://cloudsek.com/whitepapers-reports/unprecedented-increase-in-cybe….
- 7Nate Nelson, “DragonForce Gang Unleash Hacks Against Govt. of India,” threatpost, June 15, 2022, https://threatpost.com/hackers-india-government/179968/.
- 8On Parliament [@IFFonParliament], “The Ministry, in Response to a Question Raised in the Rajya Sabha, Also Shared That CERT-In Has Reported a Total Number of 132 and 202 Ransomware Incidents during the Year 2021 and 2022 Respectively. Https://Drive.Google.Com/File/d/1zIdDxh9EaTdj6PfhIamzd1B-_nEc5uL7/View?Usp=sharing 6/9 Https://T.Co/Lw2ev1sGeg,” Tweet, Twitter, February 6, 2023, https://twitter.com/IFFonParliament/status/1622539065320157184.
- 9Information 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.
- 10Section 66F, IT Act.; Section 70, IT Act
- 11Section 70, IT Act.
- 12Abhishekh 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….
- 13“National Cybersecurity Strategy 2023 May Come out Soon: Pant,” ETTelecom.com, February 20, 2023, https://telecom.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/national-cybersecurit….
- 14Ministry 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…
See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.See More
Global Freedom Score66 100 partly free
Internet Freedom Score50 100 partly free
Freedom in the World StatusPartly Free