Internet Shutdowns

Internet Shutdowns

News: Recently, a report published by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) named Internet shutdowns: Trends, causes, legal implications and impacts on a range of human rights, stated that shutting down the internet affects people’s safety & well-being, hampers information flow and harms the economy.

• Internet shutdowns are measures taken by a government or by any entity on behalf of a government, to intentionally disrupt access to and the use of information and communications systems online.
• Governments across the world have resorted to shutting down the internet citing a range of reasons.
• India blocked or disrupted internet connections 106 times and at least 85 of India’s internet shutdown episodes were in Jammu & Kashmir.
• Almost half of all shutdowns recorded by civil society groups from 2016-2021 were carried out in the context of protests and political crises, with 225 shutdowns recorded during public demonstrations relating to a vast range of social, political or economic grievances.

Impact of Internet Shutdown:
• It causes major economic costs for all sectors, disrupting financial transactions, commerce and industry. The World Bank recently calculated that Internet shutdowns in Myanmar alone had cost nearly USD 2.8 billion from February-December 2021, reversing economic progress made over the previous decade.
• It undermines learning outcomes and interferes with education planning and communication among teachers, school administrators and families.
• Such disruptions undermine or eliminate access to digital tools that are critical for campaigning, promoting public discussion, conducting voting and overseeing the electoral processes.
• Internet shutdowns have a profound effect on the ability of humanitarian actors to provide assistance. Supply chains and the flow of information critical to the delivery of goods and services can be disrupted.
• Impact on mobilizing urgent medical care, disrupting the delivery of essential medicines and maintenance of equipment, disrupting essential mental health assistance.

Anuradha Bhasin v. UOI (2020)
• According to the Supreme Court observation in the above verdict, the internet shutdowns do not violate Article 19 of the Indian constitution.
• It acts as a reasonable restriction and it should only be enacted if there is a genuine threat to public safety or national security. Certain balancing tests should be carried out and only if extremely necessary, the government should proceed with this extremely restrictive step.

Way Forward:
• The report accepts that because the visible impact of internet shutdowns is few and far, it becomes one of the biggest hindrances to reversing the unfavorable trend.
• The report urged the states to prevent unnecessary shutdowns, maximize internet access and remove possible obstacles.
• It also called upon companies to speedily share information on disruptions and ensure that they take all possible lawful measures to prevent shutdowns they have been asked to implement.

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