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Internet Shutdown

  • Published
    7th Jul, 2023
Context

Over the past few years, the Indian government has increasingly been trying to control law and order by shutting access to the Internet. Between 2016 and 2022, 60% of Internet shutdowns across the world took place in India.

What is Internet Shutdowns?

  • Internet Shutdowns may be defined as any disruption in access to the internet services most of which deals with mobile internet.
  • Preventive shutdowns are imposed before an event takes place.
  • Reactive shutdown is imposed after an event takes place and is generally the easiest way to control an escalating law and order situation.

What are the legal provisions for it?

  • Prior to 2017, shutdowns were primarily enforced using Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
    • This section empowered the police and the District Magistrate to prevent unlawful gatherings and instruct individuals to refrain from specific activities.
  • However, in 2017, the law underwent amendments, leading to the introduction of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rule 2017 by the Government.

Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rule 2017

  • The suspension of Internet services is based on an expansive interpretation of Section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act 1855.
  • However, it's important to note that the traditional law pertaining to the suspension of Internet services was not directly derived from the aforementioned Act or its associated rules.
  • In August 2017, the method for suspending telecom services in cases of public emergency or safety, including the suspension of Internet services in India, was officially established under Section 7 of The Telegraph Act, 1855.
  • These regulations were introduced as the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017.

How does it violate fundamental Rights?

  • The Internet plays a crucial role in realizing numerous Fundamental Rights beyond Freedom of Speech and Expression.
  • Article 19 of the Constitution mentions freedom of speech and freedom to practise any profession.
  • Article 21 protects the right to life and liberty, which also encompasses the right to education and the right to exercise one’s freedom to access the Internet.
  • In the digital age, people utilize it for essential activities such as accessing rations, conducting card transactions, communicating with relatives, managing healthcare, and more, all of which are vital for their daily functioning.

Negative side of Internet shutdown

Positive side of Internet Shutdown

  • Violation of freedom of expression
  • Economic impact
  • Impediment to education and communication
  • Hindrance to emergency services and information dissemination
  • stopping people from sharing information or organizing protests
  • avoiding cheating on school exams or preventing unrest during public holidays
  • Public safety and security
  • Controlling dissemination of harmful content
  • Preventing cybercrimes

Supreme Court’s View on Internet Shutdown

  • The Supreme Court has held in various decisions, including in Anuradha Bhasinand Faheema Shirin, that access to the Internet has to be preserved.
  • Shutdowns should be exercised only in situations which require exceptional control and surveillance.
  • The Court has said a shutdown needs to be temporary, limited in scope, lawful and proportionate.

Article 92

  • It says that reasonable restrictions ought to be imposed wherever necessary.
  • The grounds include a threat to the nation, to national sovereignty, integrity and defence, or to avoid incitement to, or commission of, a cognisable offence.
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