Source: The Hindu
Gs2: Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors and Issues arising out of their Design and Implementation.
Synopsis: Frequent internet shutdown by the state has many negative consequences. Governments must find alternatives to balance civil liberties and security.
- The Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017 under the Indian Telegraph Act contains the procedure to restrict internet access.
- The Rules empowers the central and state governments to suspend internet services during public emergencies or for protecting the public interest.
- However, this provision has been frequently used in India. In the past 4 years, India has witnessed more than 400 internet shutdowns throughout the country. Which is the highest compared to any democracy in the world.
- For instance, after the abrogation of Article 370, J&K witnessed the longest Internet shutdown across the world.
- Most recently, Internet services were shut down in Delhi NCR following the violence that erupted during the Farmers protest on Republic day.
- Many civil society organizations including UN rights groups have termed these shutdowns a form of collective punishment for people, and an overreach of governments on citizens’ rights and liberties.
What are the views of the Supreme court in this regard?
- In January 2020, the Supreme Court has declared that the right to access the Internet is one of the fundamental rights.
- It is a part of Article 19 of the Constitution along with the freedom to carry on any trade, business or occupation over the medium of the Internet.
What are the negative impacts of Internet shutdown?
Arbitrary internet shutdowns have many undetermined consequences. Particularly during the crisis of the pandemic.
- First, Lack of internet connectivity or digital illiteracy will force many citizens to be excluded from social and economic systems.
- Second, Blanket bans on digital connectivity during the COVID-19 crisis will widen digital inequalities.
- Third, it will cut off the most vulnerable i.e. the elderly, and pregnant women, from accessing vital digital health services, health and welfare alerts.
- Fourth, it denies access to learning for students as most of the classes are shifting online to maintain physical distancing norms.
- Fifth, internet shutdown will cause large-scale disruptions in the economy. Many white-collar employment sectors, including IT, financial and consulting services, have resorted to working from home option. For example, according to an estimation India has lost over ₹20,000 crore in 2020 because of Internet shutdowns.
What is the Way forward?
- Internet bans should be used as a last resort and must be enforced following well-formulated protocols.
- Emergency response and relief systems for the vulnerable should be planned in advance before enforcing internet shutdowns.
- Other alternatives should be used. Cyber divisions of law enforcement agencies can be upgraded to use new-age innovations such as mass surveillance systems and communication interceptors.
- The government should focus on balancing civil liberties with security concerns. For that modern, independent institutions having expertise in this domain, can be created.