In July this year, the
The real story was that there was an
This year, India has earned the dubious distinction of the highest number of internet shutdowns in the world, according the
India has more WhatsApp users than the United States. We are also in the top three when it comes to Facebook. The digital economy is flourishing because of the backbone infrastructure of internet. Denying access to internet is now as bad as cutting off water, electricity or gas connection. In Canada and some countries in Europe, internet access has been accorded the status of a basic human right. Even prisoners have the right to internet access.
The internet is not just a backbone, but also a repository of information and knowledge, and it enables most of the tools needed for modern economic life. It is indispensable to education and most people now get their news online. The government is increasingly interacting with people on digital platforms. Prime Minister Narendra Minister Modi’s vision of Digital India entails high-speed broadband for all, especially in rural and remote areas. The governments of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh decided to give free smartphones to its rural folk before the recent assembly elections. They felt citizens should be equipped with smartphones so they can easily access government services, including welfare payments.
The Telegraph Act of 1885 and its new version after modifications have provisions for suspending telecom services for the purposes of public safety and law and order. But when you give this power to state governments instead of judicial magistrates, you are essentially creating the grounds for abuse and misuse of the provisions. An internet ban is effectively stifling of free speech. There is no appeal process to challenge an internet shutdown, nor are there any safeguards.
As if internet shutdowns are not embarrassing enough, the government has also passed orders giving the authority of intercepting and decrypting your data and transmission to specified agencies. This provision was mentioned in the Information Technology Act of 2009, but the arbitrary powers have been extended to police, tax authorities, Intelligence Bureau and the CBI. This is an attack on the right to privacy and a roadmap for becoming a surveillance state. Such snooping powers, which can cover a lot of area, need safeguards.
Frequent internet shutdowns, arbitrary gagging of digital free speech, continued policy of viewing defamation as a criminal act and not a civil breach that can be compensated, and now sweeping snooping powers — these are not the hallmarks of a ‘Minimum government, maximum governance’. The citizens must wake up.