In July this year, the
The real story was that there was an internet shutdown across Rajasthan on both days. The police department got a special permission from the government to suspend all internet services, i.e. data connection on mobile phones. This was done to prevent high-tech cheating during the test. Around 3,500 security personnel were deployed at the exam centres apart from invigilators. Candidates were not allowed to carry mobile phones. Rajasthan has been notorious for frequent internet shutdowns. This year alone, it suspended the connection nearly a dozen times. In past four years, the state has ranked after Jammu and Kashmir for imposing the restriction.
This year, India has earned the dubious distinction of the highest number of internet shutdowns in the world, according the Software Freedom Law Centre. It was worse last year. Whether it is farmers’ agitation or communal clashes, the first instinct is to halt services. Nearly two-fifth of all shutdowns in India happen in Kashmir, and this actually amounts to denial of basic human rights. Authorities should try shutting the internet for a few hours in Mumbai, Delhi or Bengaluru and see the backlash. Cumulatively, Kashmir has endured shutdowns for a full month in the past four years. Think of the impact on businesses and services that rely completely on the internet. Think of entrepreneurs, or even medical and para-medical services, which now routinely need internet connectivity to send medical reports, prescriptions and advice. Recently, a surgeon conducted an operation remotely using a good connection and robotics.
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
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
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.
■ Ajit Ranade On the wheels that make Mumbai run – money and economy
■ Whether it is farmers’ agitation or communal clashes, the first instinct is to halt services