India’s internet outages explained
Following the brutal incidents on camera the killing of Kanhayalal Teli, a tailor In Udaipur by two men, the Rajasthan government has banned internet services. Internet shutdown as an administrative or legal measure, has been a common move across India for a variety of reasons and by almost all political parties and governments.
There is no official data on the number of outages, but based on estimates from research organizations, it appears that their frequency has increased over the past few years. More and more people have been affected as internet usage in India has increased and the coronavirus pandemic has made it a more commonly used essential service.
How do internet blackouts affect people and why do governments enforce them?
What do internet suspension data say?
According to the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC), a legal services organization working in this field in India, in 2012 665 internet outages in India Till today. Here, “shutdowns” means a complete ban on mobile (3G, 4G/LTE) or fixed (dial-up, wired/wireless broadband) Internet, either or both of which may be turned off.
According to Internet Freedom and Technology Policy Organizations, India is the leading country (by number) in the frequency of Internet outage incidents and outages. There have been 59 shutdowns this year, according to the SFLC, which decides shutdowns based on government orders and media reports.
This raises another question. internet outages aren’t always officially announced, so it can be difficult to know if your phone is simply not working properly or is down. Raman Jeet Singh Cheema, senior international adviser at Access Now, which works to ensure an “open internet”, told The Indian Express that some telcos in states like Rajasthan are alerting people through SMS messages, but there is no requirement to do so.
Jammu and Kashmir has experienced more than 411 blackouts since 2012, with the longest lasting more than 552 days after the erstwhile state’s special status was revoked.
Among the states, Rajasthan has had the highest number of blackouts, with 88 such cases in almost 10 years. The reasons range from the Gujjar community’s grievances for reservations to last year’s prevention of cheating in the Rajasthan Eligibility Test for Teachers (REET), held for the selection of primary school teachers, which was taken by around 16 lakh aspirants.
How do governments justify shutting down the internet?
Governments say misinformation and rumors can lead to a breakdown in law and order in a given area, so curbing the flow of information helps keep peace between communities during a crisis.
But many experts have countered that in the absence of information sources like news sources, the news may actually spread more. Also, critical services such as those related to payments, banking and educational access are all cut off in an instant, leading to multiple levels of disruption and economic loss.
What is the procedure for turning off the Internet?
In February 2022, Lok Sabha MP Varun Gandhi asked in Parliament whether the government kept records of closures or planned to do so, and if not, what record was being kept.
State Communications Minister Devusin Chauhan replied that a review committee in the states headed by the Chief Secretary (the most senior civil servant in the state) is empowered under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017. , to determine that the disconnections were performed according to the rules.
Rules drawn up by the central government say temporary suspensions can be “due to public emergency or public safety” and give senior Home Office officials at the home and state levels the power to order shutdowns.
Bulletin: |: Click to get the best explanations of the day delivered to your inbox
Before these rules came into effect in 2017, internet shutdowns were ordered under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which gives district magistrates broad powers in dangerous situations.
So what, a debate over shutdowns?
Kashmiri journalist Anuradha Basin has moved the Supreme Court over the internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir, which she says has brought newspaper printing and life to a halt.
In its January 2020 decision, the court ruled that “freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to engage in any profession or trade, business or occupation over the Internet enjoy constitutional protection under Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19( 1) (g)”.
The court directed the J&K administration to “immediately review all orders suspending internet services” as “an order to suspend internet services indefinitely is impermissible”.
It said that “restriction of such fundamental rights must be consistent with the mandate under Article 19(2) and (6) of the Constitution, including the test of proportionality.”
The court ordered the government to compulsorily publish all orders authorizing internet blackouts, paving the way for the suspension orders to be challenged in the courts for the first time. In December 2019, the Gauhati High Court had directed the Assam government to restore internet in the state after reviewing the suspension orders.
In December 2021, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology, chaired by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, said: even administrative purposes, such as preventing cheating on examinations to suppress local crime, which are not overarching public safety concerns and certainly not a “public emergency”.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs told the commission. “The phrase public emergency is not defined in the statute, but outlines broadly delineating its scope and characteristics are discernible from the section, which must be read in its entirety. The appropriate authority shall form an opinion regarding the occurrence of a public emergency in order to take further action under this section.”
Some of the committee’s recommendations included defining terms such as “public emergency” to avoid their use without proper cause. It added that some apps or websites may be banned, such as WhatsApp, where there is a high likelihood of widespread rumors, while other internet services may remain accessible to users.