The Standing Committee on communications and information technology, headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, submitted its report on the suspenssion of internet services, making close to a dozen recommendations. The panel observed that Internet today is an indispensable part of everyday lives of citizens and therefore, the government should explore the possibility of banning particular internet services, such as messengers like WhatsApp and social media websites, instead of putting in place blanket internet bans. It also recommended to the Union government to issue a uniform SOP on the modalities to be adopted by all states and union territories regarding the Internet shutdown. The view of the Committee was that there is need to maintain a delicate balance between the citizens’ right to access internet to exercise their rights and the duty of the State to deal with Public Emergency and Public Safety. Talking about the economic impact, the panel said India lost 2.8 billion US dollars in 2020 to internet shutdowns. Telecom operators reportedly lose Rs 24.5 million per hour in every Circle Area where there is a shutdown, according to the Cellular Operators Association of India.Internet shutdown:
is an intentional disruption of Internet or electronic communications, rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow of information.Areas that are affected:
What procedure does the government follow to suspend Internet services?
- As in previous years, India continued to restrict Internet access more than any other country over 75 times in 2020.
- The majority of these short blackouts were highly targeted, affecting groups of villages or individual city districts, and so were not included in this report, which focuses on larger region-wide shutdowns.
Issues and concerns involved:
- Before 2017, Internet suspension orders were issued under section 14 of the CrPC.
- In 2017, the central government notified the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Service) Rules under the Telegraph Act to govern suspension of Internet.
- These Rules derive their powers from Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, which talks about interception of messages in the “interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India”.
- Despite the 2017 rules, the government has often used the broad powers under Section 144.
- Shutdown is a violation of fundamental rights of Freedom of speech and expression.
- Internet shutdowns can erode democratic institutions and values. For example, if citizens are using the internet to mobilize themselves, then shutting down the internet is not different from suppressing dissent.
- Does a democratic government have the right to shut down the internet? Is a basic question regarding internet shutdown. After the Gujarat government suspended internet services for almost a week during the Patidar protest in 2015, the matter was taken to the courts.
- Internet shutdowns are not particularly effective—people always find other ways to communicate, and studies have shown that such censorship in times of political unrest actually leads to more violent uprisings as the information void fuels uncertainty and causes panic.
- The Internet is pretty much a basic human right, even if not legally defined as such, for most parts of the world — without access to the virtual world, a very large number of vital human activities simply stop.
- In countries that have “medium” Internet penetration — 49% to 79% of the population — a shutdown could dent daily economic activity by $6.6 million per 10 million people, according to an analysis by Deloitte, quoted in The New York Times article.
- Between July 2015 to June 2016, Internet shutdowns caused global losses of more than $2.4 billion, according to an analysis by The Brookings Institution quoted in the same article.
- Over the past five years, some 16,000 hours of Internet shutdowns cost the economy a little over $3 billion, according to estimates in a report by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER).
- Cutting off communication in itself is an enormous public safety risk. Citizens are left without access to information about emergency services like the volunteer-built solutions like chennairains.org.
- Because internet shutdowns affect every section of society – especially those who need it the most. And these restrictions, targeting the ‘common people’, are becoming increasingly ‘common’.
- Perhaps the solution can be found in renegotiating our law enforcement approaches in keeping with the changing times and technologies.
- Police and government agencies could increase their presence online so that they can actively fight back against rumour-mongering.
- Empowering local law enforcement so they can tackle tensions without shutting the Internet down.
- The solution to internet misuse is to build stronger laws for data privacy and protection. Stopping access to internet services altogether is definitely not the solution.
- Social media can be the solution, not just the problem: Particularly in the Kaveri River water dispute, the Bangalore police used texts, Twitter, and Facebook to send out information on emergency contacts to reassure people.
, which are a negative expression of the idea of digital sovereignty, are not just for undemocratic societies any more. An internet shutdown compromises
our democratic freedoms and should only be allowed in the rarest cases, rather than as a first response. Also an independent body could be a substitute for legislation which impose shutdown arbitrarily and that it also be empowered to review the necessity of shutdowns in the first place.