From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : NA
Mains level : Internet shutdowns in India
Nowadays, India is widely considered to be a world leader in cutting off access to the Net. Yet, there are no detailed official data on Internet shutdowns in India.
Shutdowns in India
- The cutting off internet access to control restive populations is an increasing trend around the world with India at the lead.
- Of the 196 shutdowns in 25 countries documented by Access Now in 2018, as many as 134 were in India, followed by Pakistan (12).
Why such shut-downs?
- Worldwide, Internet shutdowns are typically used when there is civil unrest, in order to block the flow of information about government actions or to end communication among activists and prevent the spread of rumours and fake news.
- Internet serves as medium for the transmission of information through pictures, videos and text that have the potential to cause civil unrest and exacerbate the law and order situation.
- Shutdown helps prevent the “spreading of rumours and misinformation using social media platforms which can hinder peace and law and order”.
States with most shutdowns
- Jammu and Kashmir: The erstwhile state has seen 180 Internet shutdowns since 2012, according to SFLC.
- The most commonly offered reasons for cutting access have been “encounter between security forces and militants”, “massive search operations”, “gunfights”, and “attack on CRPF men”.
Legal mechanisms allowing shut-downs
- Home Departments in the states are mostly the authorities that enforce shutdowns, drawing powers from The Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017.
- The decisions are reviewed by a state government review committee. The central government also has powers under this law, but has not used it.
- Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure has enabled many of the shutdowns in the recent past, especially until the time the telecom suspension Rules came into force in 2017.
- It gives the District Magistrate, Sub-Divisional Magistrate or any other executive magistrate empowered by the state government the power to issue orders to “maintain public tranquility”.
- Less frequently used is The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, whose Section 5(2) allows central and state governments to prevent the transmission of messaging during a “public emergency or in the interest of public safety”, or “in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state”, etc.
Economic cost to bear
- 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).
- 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 stops.
- Internet shutdowns leave people without access to information and other services that could be the difference between life and death.
- It is in recognition of the Internet as a human right that the United Nations in 2016 passed a non-binding resolution condemning countries that disrupt Internet access to its citizens.
With inputs from: Scoopwhoop