Context: Punjab government suspended mobile Internet and SMS services in the State as it launched an operation to arrest a pro-Khalistani preacher.
About Internet Shutdowns
- Internet Shutdowns may be defined as any disruption in access to the internet services most of which deals with mobile internet.
- According to Access Now, 60% of all the Internet shutdowns recorded between 2016 and 2022 worldwide took place in India.
- Over the past five years, India has recorded the highest number of shutdowns.
- Such shutdowns are never or almost never implemented in most parts of Europe, North and South America and Oceania, while they are rampant in Africa and Asia.
Cost of Internet Shutdown
- A report released by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that in Kashmir, “long-standing restrictions on connectivity undermined the education of students relying on remote education.”
- It also quoted studies which showed that shutdowns impacted health systems.
- A 2018 paper published by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations estimated that India lost around $3 billion between 2012 and 2017 due to shutdowns.
Legal Provisions of Internet Shutdown in India
- Till the year 2017, shutdowns were imposed largely under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
- Section 144 of CrPC gave the police and the District Magistrate the powers in order to prevent unlawful gathering of people and also to direct any person to abstain from a certain activity.
- In 2017 the law was amended and the Government promulgated the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rule 2017.
- Authority who are able to order such directions are:
- The Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs. (Central Government)
- The Secretary of the Home Department to the concerned State Government. (State Government)
Mechanism to Control Internet Shutdown in India
- Currently, Indian government has no mechanism to assess the socio-economic impact of Internet shutdowns.
- Parliamentary Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology has asked to ensure the states and Union territories strictly complied with the rules and the Supreme Court’s guidelines when imposing telecom or internet shutdowns.
- Supreme Court Order on Internet Shutdown
- Usage of the Internet is the Fundamental Right under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.
- Internet shutdowns can be of temporary period but not for indefinite period.
- Government to publish all orders imposing restrictions under Section 144.
- The Court had also said that any order with regard to Internet Shutdowns will come under Judicial Scrutiny.