Understanding Internet Shutdowns

Understanding Internet Shutdowns


India has consistently ranked at the top of the list for imposing internet shutdowns globally over the past five years, with approximately 60% of all blackouts occurring in the country between 2016 and 2022.

GS-02 (Indian Polity)

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Internet Shutdowns
  • The Issue
  • Arguments Against Internet Shutdowns
  • Arguments For Internet Shutdowns
  • Way forward

Internet Shutdowns:

  • It is an intentional disruptions of internet or electronic communications making them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow of information.
  • Under Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, along with the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency and Public Safety) Rules, 2017, the union or state home secretary has the authority to suspend any telegraph service, including the internet, in the event of a public emergency or public safety concern.
  • This suspension order must undergo committee review within five days and cannot exceed 15 days.
  • In urgent situations, an officer of joint secretary level or higher, authorized by the union or state home secretary, can issue the order.

The Issue:

  • India witnessed a total of 780 internet shutdowns between January 1, 2014, and December 31, 2023, with significant spikes during events such as protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, the abrogation of Article 370, and the introduction of Farm Bills.
  • Shutdowns in India accounted for over 70% of the global economic loss due to internet disruptions in 2020, with the country experiencing over 7,000 hours of internet shutdowns in 2023 alone.

Arguments Against Internet Shutdowns:

  • The Indian Telegraph Act permits states and union territories to impose internet shutdowns only in cases of “public emergency” or “public safety,” yet lacks clarity on what constitutes an emergency or safety concern.
  • The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India case declared internet shutdowns as violations of freedom of expression, especially those of indefinite duration, deeming them unconstitutional.
  • Despite court directives, governments often fail to make shutdown orders public, undermining transparency and accountability.

Arguments For Internet Shutdowns:

  • Governments justify internet shutdowns as necessary measures to maintain public order and national security during protests or civil unrest.
  • The British-era law invoked by the Union government grants powers to suspend mobile internet, as seen in the case of Punjab farmers’ protests in Delhi.

Way forward:

  • Ensure compliance with the “three-part test” under international law, assessing the legality, legitimacy, and necessity of internet shutdowns, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur.
  • Increase transparency by making shutdown orders public and adhering to court directives.
  • Address cybercrime concerns through proactive measures rather than blanket internet shutdowns, considering the significant rise in cybercrime cases in recent years.