Internet Shutdown

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    • Recently, the UN rights office released a Report which states, Internet shutdowns hurt much more than we realise.

    About

    • The dramatic real-life effects of Internet shutdowns on people’s lives and human rights have been vastly underestimated.
    • Aim of the Report: 
      • To shed much-needed light on the phenomenon of Internet shutdowns, 
      • Looking at when and why they are imposed and 
      • Examining how they undermine a range of human rights, first and foremost the right to freedom of expression.
    • #KeepItOn coalition: It monitors shutdowns episodes across the world, documented 931 shutdowns between 2016 and 2021 in 74 countries, with some countries blocking communications repeatedly and over long periods of time.
      • It’s a campaign launched by Access Now in 2016 to help unite and organize the efforts of activists and organizations across the world to end internet shutdowns. 
      • It now represents 243 organizations from 105 countries across the globe. 
      • The coalition is advancing the fight to stop them using a wide range of approaches, including grassroots advocacy, direct policy-maker engagement, technical support, corporate accountability, and legal intervention.
    • Shutdowns are powerful markers of sharply deteriorating human rights situations
    • They are also reported when governments carried out security operations, severely restricting human rights monitoring and reporting. 
    • When authorities do recognize having ordered disruptions, justifications often point to public safety, containing the spread of incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, or combatting disinformation
      • Still shutdowns often achieve the exact opposite, furthering fear and confusion, and stoking risks of division and conflict.
    • At least 27 of the 46 least developed countries have implemented shutdowns between 2016 and 2021, most of which have received support to increase connectivity.

    About Internet Shutdowns

    • Internet shutdowns are an absolute restriction placed on the use of Internet services due to an order issued by a government body.
    • It may be limited to a specific place and to a specific period, time, or number of days. Sometimes it can even extend indefinitely.
    • An Internet shutdown may be limited to mobile Internet or wired broadband or both at the same time.
    • According to data available in the public domain and compiled by the Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC), there is a lack of any form of communication on these blockades.
      • In most of these instances, there was no formal order being issued to the telecom operators.

    Reasons for Shutdowns

    • To ensure peace during a festival procession.
    • To prevent cheating in exams.
    • To block the flow of information about government actions or to end communication among activists
    • To curb uploading, downloading, and circulation of provocative videos, guard against rumour-mongering/fake news, prevent the use of encrypted messaging and coordinating terror activities.
    • To defeat the nefarious designs from across the border to propagate terrorism.
    • To prevent the misuse of data services by elements that have the potential to scale up violent activities and disturb public order.

    Internet access and its importance

    • Importance of internet: 
      • The Internet is not only the main source of information & communication and access to social media but it is much more than that.
      • Today, the internet has entered into all the walks of life of a person for example:
        • Thousands of delivery workers for Swiggy, Dunzo and Amazon and the cab drivers of Uber and Ola — depend on the Internet for their livelihoods and affect the people involved in India’s gig economy
        • It is a mode of access to education for students who do courses and take exams online.
        • Provides access to transport for millions of urban and rural people.
        • A mode to access health care for those who avail of health services online.
        • More than anything, it is a means for business and occupation for thousands of small and individual-owned enterprises that sell their products and services online, especially those staffed by women and home-based workers.
    • Right to Internet access,  Should it be a Fundamental Right?
      • Access to the Internet is a right that is very similar to what the Supreme Court held with respect to the right to privacy in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy’s judgment.
      • Internationally, the right to access to the Internet can be rooted in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. 
        • This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
      • The Human Rights Council of the United Nations Resolution dated July 2, 2018, on the promotion, protection, and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet, made important declarations. 
        • The resolution affirmed that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular, freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice and includes the Internet.
    • Cases: 
      • The High Court of Kerala made a start to the domestic recognition of the right to Internet access with its judgment in Faheema Shirin R.K. v. State of Kerala & Others which can be replicated pan India 
      • In Anuradha Bhasin versus the Union of India, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that an undefined restriction of internet services would be illegal and that orders for internet shutdown must satisfy the tests of necessity and proportionality.

    Issues 

    • Communication: Too often, major communication channels or entire communication networks are slowed down or blocked which deprives thousands or even millions of people of their only means of reaching loved ones, continuing their work or participating in political debates or decisions.
    • Complete block on Internet connectivity: Governments increasingly resort to banning access to major communication platforms and throttling bandwidth and limiting mobile services to 2G transfer speeds, making it hard, for example, to share and watch videos or live picture broadcasts. 
    • Tool for repression: Internet shutdowns have become one such tool across the globe.
    • Human Rights: such shutdowns majorly impact the rights that should be enjoyed by a human.
    • Armed conflicts and during mass demonstrations: The fact that people could not communicate and promptly report abuses seems to have contributed to further insecurity and violence, including serious human rights violations.
    • Collecting information about shutdowns is difficult: As many governments refuse to acknowledge having ordered any interference in communications and sometimes put pressure on companies to prevent them from sharing information on communication being blocked or slowed down.
    • Economic costs: Disrupting financial transactions, commerce and industry. Economic shocks provoked by shutdowns are felt over long periods of time, greatly exacerbating pre-existing social and economic inequalities.

    Way Ahead

    • States should refrain from imposing shutdowns, to maximize Internet access and remove the multiple obstacles standing in the way of communication. 
    • The companies should speedily share information on disruptions and ensure that they take all possible lawful measures to prevent shutdowns they have been asked to implement.
    • Swift action is needed to end Internet shutdowns, including through more prominent reporting of their impacts, more transparency by involved companies.

    Source: DTE