Cost of Internet Ban – UPSC GS3

  • India shuts down Internet services more than any other democracy in the world.
    The past four years have seen over 400 such shutdowns.
  • According to a report by digital rights and privacy organisation Access Now, of the total 155 internet shutdowns globally in 2020, India alone accounted for 109.
  • Jammu and Kashmir saw the longest Internet shutdown across the world since the abrogation of Article 370 in the erstwhile State. Digital services were partially restored after a long period of 223 days.
  • India is estimated to have lost over ₹20,000 crore in 2020 because of Internet shutdowns.
  • In 2020, the Supreme Court had declared that the right to access the Internet is one of our fundamental rights, alongside the freedom to carry on any trade, business or occupation over the medium of the Internet, under Article 19 of the Constitution.
  • The Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017 under the Indian Telegraph Act contains the procedure to  restrict internet access.
  • Internet shutdowns can be termed as:
    • a form of collective punishment for people.
    • an overreach of governments on citizens’ rights and liberties.
  • Currently, Indian laws have vague provisions for suspending telecommunication services, including the Internet, during times of public emergencies, or, if required, for protecting the public interest.
Impact of Internet shutdown:
  • Breaks digital services including health/banking services and alerts.
  • Students may lose access to avenues of learning as classes shift online.
  • Impacts white collar employees who Works from Home.
  • Journalists may find it impossible to do ground-reporting from already volatile areas.
Conclusion and Way Forward:
  • Despite the costs and inconveniences involved, the shutdowns, on very rare occasions, do become necessary evils. However, it is hard to classify the ones initiated by the Central government in recent years under those categories.
  • As the pace of globalisation, digitisation and connectivity accelerate, balancing civil liberties with security concerns will become an increasingly difficult task.
  • Governments must find a way other than digital curbs to balance civil liberties and security.
  • Internet bans should be a last resort and must be enforced following well-formulated protocols.
  • Emergency response and relief systems for the vulnerable have to then work in parallel.
  • Upgrading cyber divisions of law enforcement agencies with new-age innovations may offer several alternatives.
    • The use of some of these technologies, including mass surveillance systems and communication interceptors, also presents its own ethical dilemmas.
  • Governments, especially in democracies, will have to create modern, independent institutions that have the authority and expertise to create frameworks that meet these challenges, without falling back on measures that result in state overreach.
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