India Gets Strong Support For Its Internet Shutdowns... From China
Chinese state media has – both surprisingly & unsurprisingly – lent support to India’s internet shutdowns.
With 321 shutdowns since 2016, India tops the list of countries that face state-sanctioned internet blockades in civilian areas. And now, India gets a pat on its back from perhaps unexpected quarters – China.
In an opinion piece published on 17 December in People's Daily Online, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the paper promotes the Indian government’s move to shut down internet access in Assam and Meghalaya as a necessary mechanism to cope with “threats to national security”.
The article, authored by Qing Qiu, highlights India’s position as an important geopolitical partner for the United States, and its internet market size. It states that, “…necessary regulation of the internet is a reasonable choice of sovereign countries based on national interests, and a natural extension of national sovereignty in cyberspace.”
“The internet cannot be independent of national sovereignty. It is a routine operation for governments all over the world to manage the internet based on national interests, including shutting down the internet in a state of emergency.”Qing Qiu
The article also points to a similar instance of internet regulation by the Chinese government in 2009, where internet access was restricted for almost 10 months after riots erupted in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s regional capital. According to Reuters, social media websites like Twitter were also barred as far as Beijing.
The article raises eyebrows when it states that western countries, who first adopted the internet, have “…strive(d) to spread their jurisdiction online and squeeze the sovereignty of developing countries.”
The article then tries normalise the concept of internet regulation by citing similar actions by the US government – such as deleting content and shutting down accounts in response to national security threats – saying that such responses have become “routine operations”.
Existing law mechanisms in India to block internet in civilian areas falls under the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 (CrPC), Indian Telegraph Act 1885, and Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017. According to Software Law Centre India (SFLC), a non-profit which tracks shutdowns nationally. Many of the internet shutdowns recorded in India between January 2012 and April 2018 have been ordered under Section 144 of the CrPC, 1973. In their paper titled 'Living in Digital Darkness’ from May 2018, they state that:
“As an archaic provision of law (Section 144) that has been carried down from the British Raj, this Section was clearly not designed to oversee State actions like Internet shutdowns, where a lot more nuances must ideally be considered before imposing restrictions.”Software Law Centre India (SFLC)
According to Internet Shutdown tracker, there have more than 30 internet shutdowns across India since July 2019.
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