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Internet Shutdowns UPSC NOTE

 


Internet shutdowns used to maintain public order

  • 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.

  • There are many reasons why Internet shutdowns are imposed. 

  • For around 40-50% of them, the official reason is communal tensions. 

    • Some of them are imposed during protests.

    • Many to prevent cheating during exams 

    • Many due to religious processions.

  • Preventive shutdowns are imposed before an event takes place. 

  • A reactive shutdown is imposed after an event takes place and is generally the easiest way to control an escalating law and order situation.

  • There were almost 84 shutdowns in 2022 in India. 

  • While a lot of shutdowns are necessary to prevent communal tensions, civil war, or riots and situations of unrest, they need to be proportionate.

Arguments against it:

  • 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. 

  • The Supreme Court has held in various decisions, 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 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.

  • Proportionality means you cannot shut down the Internet to prevent cheating in exams. 

  • Shutdowns for preventing cheating in exams should not be a ground.

    • Rajasthan cut off Internet before REET (Rajasthan Eligibility Examination for Teachers) and West Bengal did the same before the Madhyamik Pariksha.

  • Lot of these shutdowns decisions are not made following due process.

  • Nobody below the level of a Joint Secretary can impose a shutdown. But often, district magistrates end up imposing blanket shutdowns.

  • To impose an Internet shutdown is to essentially curb a fundamental right. 

  • People can’t work, access telemedicine, study, or even eat, since so many of our delivery services need the Internet and an OTP (one-time password). 

  • Rule 5 of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017  says that a review committee has to be formed within five working days (of issue of directions for suspension of services). 

  • Often, when you try to get orders to understand how the review committee is working and whether there are minutes of the meeting, these applications are denied. 

  • This means we don’t know if the review committee met and if the shutdown is justified.

  • According to the Anuradha Bhasin judgment, if you’re cutting off somebody’s Internet, you have to at least inform them. 


  • After this judgment, shutdowns have only started occurring under the Suspension Rules as opposed to Section 144, which is a good thing, but there are a lot of guidelines that are not adhered to. 

  • For example, there are none or very few publications of shutdown orders in the public domain. 

  • The Manipur High Court constituted a committee to look into the possibility of blocking VPN servers so that the Internet access can be restored safely while restrictions on social media websites are still maintained. 

  • This is not a feasible solution because VPNs provide access. 

  • In any case, social media is also an important part of the freedom of profession, and of the freedom of speech and expression.


Way forward

  • There could be certain services to which we continue to have access if possible. 

  • Certain websites could be blocked instead of a complete shutdown. 

  • Healthcare or education services could remain accessible. 

  • VPNs could be blocked. People use VPNs freely today, and that also is a facet of your right to privacy. 

    • But in certain sectors, especially the government sector, there have been guidelines where VPN use is not allowed.

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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: Internet Shutdowns UPSC NOTE
Internet Shutdowns UPSC NOTE
Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam
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