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Explained: How 'Internet Shutdowns' happen and the related provisions in India.

Lately we have been seeing the Internet shutdown in Punjab because of some ruckus created by an imaginary cult who presented himself as someone who is blessed with some extraordinary powers. There used to be some news here and there in the past of Internet shutdowns in J&K as well as in many other countriesof the world. Lets understand what laws exist and how the Internet shutdowns work.

Currently, suspension of telecom services (including internet shutdowns) is governed by the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency & Public Safety) Rules, 2017, notified under the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.

The 2017 Rules provide for temporary shutdown of telecom services in a region on grounds of public emergency (up to 15 days at once).

What is Internet shutdowns?

Internet shutdowns are when an entity, like a government or non-state actor, intentionally disrupts access to the internet or certain apps, in order to control the flow of information in a country or region.

How governments shuts the Internet down?

Governments across the world order internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict network connectivity or block certain websites or apps. ISPs comply with government orders, out of fear of legal action.

Example, Zimbabwe government in 2019 ordered the largest telecommunications company in the country to shut down all internet services. The Chairman wrote on Facebook, in a message inaccessible to most in the country, that they had to comply or management would face “immediate imprisonment”.

In cases where the government controls the internet infrastructure, in whole or in part, it can simply restrict access on its own, without having to go through another party.

Some countries are also developing individual, “closed-off internets” which would allow governments to cut off the country from the rest of the world wide web.

Impacts of Internet shutdown:

Major economic costs for all sectors, disrupting for example financial transactions, commerce, and industry.

Undermines pedagogical outcomes, interfere with education planning and participation in political debates or decisions.

Communication delays and impediments also

compromise the effectiveness of health-care.

Undermines access for women and girls to critical support and protection, exacerbating the gender divide.

Causes mental trauma by depriving people of their only means of reaching loved ones.

Can you bypass the Internet shutdowns?

To a point, Yes. In some cases, getting a virtual private network (VPN) can allow users to securely connect to the internet and access banned or blocked web pages and apps.

It was reported that users in Myanmar are using VPNs or using international SIM cards to access blocked sites and communications services during the blackouts. (Read about the situation of Myanmar here)

Since governments can limit access at the server level, meaning that it can control all traffic coming in and out at the hardware level, they can make it so that VPNs are not allowed through as well. Most countries don’t do this, but there have been efforts to block, limit, and/or ban VPNs in places like Kashmir (in the past), Russia, and China and sometimes western countries.

Key Recommendations to prevent Internet shutdowns:

  • Necessary to achieve a legitimate aim.

  • Reinforce engagement and collaboration with all stakeholders working to prevent and reverse communications disruption.

  • Ensure that the risks of Internet shutdowns are considered when designing and implementing cooperation programmes relating to Internet connectivity.

  • Reinforce collaborative efforts to prevent, detect, study, and respond to Internet shutdowns.

Also, the governments should have the right to shut the internetdown in case of law and order situation because this is the supported choice as campared to loosing lives due to some activities of antinational elements.

stay tuned for more.



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