Why in News? India continued to maintain its top position in enforcing internet shutdowns for the fifth consecutive year as per the report by Access Now and the KeepItOn coalition, which recorded 84 shutdowns in the country in 2022.
What are the Highlights of the Report?
In 2022, a total of 187 internet shutdowns were documented across 35 countries, with the majority being repeat offenses. Ukraine ranked second with 22 shutdowns, followed by Iran with 18. Myanmar recorded seven internet shutdowns, with some regions having experienced blackout periods lasting over 500 days by March 2022. In Tigray, Ethiopia, people had endured a complete communication blackout for over two years by the end of 2022, leaving many disconnected.
In 2022, Jammu and Kashmir experienced the highest number of internet shutdowns in any state of the country, with a total of 49 shutdowns. Additionally, authorities in Rajasthan imposed shutdowns 12 times and West Bengal ordered shutdowns on seven occasions.
The act of enforcing internet shutdowns is considered a serious threat to digital freedom and rights. The report indicates that shutdowns were employed by authorities as a means to conceal severe rights abuses and disrupt communication between people and groups, thereby hindering human rights monitoring, such as tracking shutdowns and providing humanitarian assistance.
Shutdowns were implemented for various reasons such as protests, conflict, school exams, and elections.
What is an Internet Shutdown?
Internet shutdowns are used as a tool to eliminate online communication, which has a direct impact on daily activities in an increasingly digital world. However, these shutdowns also have significant and serious repercussions on democratic movements, and in some cases, they provide cover for violence. As reporting crimes and seeking support becomes difficult, shutdowns can hinder these essential activities.
What are impacts of internet shutdown?
Global internet shutdowns have become a growing concern in recent years, with governments around the world imposing such measures for various reasons, including protests, conflicts, and elections.
These shutdowns have severe impacts on people’s daily lives, including disruptions to communication, access to essential services, and human rights monitoring.
Internet shutdowns have a wide range of impacts on individuals, communities, and society as a whole. Some of the key impacts are:
- Communication breakdown: Internet shutdowns severely limit or completely cut off access to digital communication tools like email, social media, and messaging apps. This makes it difficult for individuals to communicate with each other, as well as with the outside world.
- Economic losses: Shutdowns have a significant impact on businesses, especially those that rely on the internet for their day-to-day operations. Shutdowns can result in significant financial losses, as well as reduced access to customers and suppliers.
- Human rights violations: Shutting down the internet can be used as a tool to suppress free speech, assembly, and association. This can lead to human rights violations, including restrictions on the right to peaceful protest, the right to access information, and the right to education.
- Political instability: Shutdowns have been shown to exacerbate political tensions and increase social unrest. They can also be used by authoritarian regimes to silence dissent and undermine democratic processes.
- Public safety concerns: In situations where people rely on the internet for emergency services and public safety information, shutdowns can have serious consequences. For example, during natural disasters or other emergencies, shutting down the internet can make it difficult for people to access critical information and assistance.
Overall, internet shutdowns have far-reaching impacts on individuals, communities, and society, and can pose significant threats to human rights, democracy, and economic stability.
Who Governs Internet Shutdowns in India?
In India, the decision to implement an internet shutdown is taken by the government, usually the state government or the central government, under the purview of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and the Information Technology Act, 2000. The orders for internet shutdowns are typically issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs or by the respective state governments. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) also plays a role in monitoring and reporting on the use of internet shutdowns in the country. However, there have been concerns raised by civil society organizations regarding the lack of transparency and accountability in the process of ordering and implementing internet shutdowns in India.
What is the Related SC’s Judgment and Further Amendments?
In 2020, the Indian Supreme Court declared in Anuradha Bhasin vs Union of India that internet suspension orders must follow the principles of necessity and proportionality, and indefinite suspensions are illegal under Indian law. The Union government subsequently amended the 2017 Rules in November 2020 to restrict internet suspension orders to a maximum of 15 days. However, in December 2021, the Standing Committee on Communication and Information Technology recommended further changes to the 2017 Rules. The committee urged a review of the Rules to address all aspects of internet shutdown, make amendments that align with changing technology, ensure minimal disturbance to the public, and issue uniform guidelines for states/UTs before implementing an internet shutdown.
Governments can implement laws and regulations to safeguard the right of citizens to access the internet and prevent arbitrary shutdowns. Additionally, international organizations, such as the United Nations, can exert pressure on governments that engage in internet shutdowns to uphold human rights and guarantee that the internet remains open and accessible. Alternative means of internet access, such as mesh networks and satellite communication, can be employed as technological solutions when the internet is shut down.