Need proper mechanism to decide on internet shutdowns: Parliamentary panel to Lok Sabha

Pulling up the government over the absence of parameters to decide the merit of shutting down telecom or internet services during certain times, a parliamentary panel on Wednesday suggested adopting a proper mechanism at the earliest.

The Standing Committee on Communications and IT, in its report on ‘suspension of telecom services/internet and its impact’,  emphasised the need to put in place a proper mechanism at the earliest to decide on the merit or appropriateness of telecom and internet shutdowns.

The committee, in its report tabled in the Lok Sabha, observed that although public emergency and safety are the only grounds on which internet shutdowns can be imposed, as of now, “there is no clear-cut definition of what constitutes public emergency and public safety”

Due to a lack of such parameters, internet shutdowns have been ordered purely on the basis of subjective assessment and reading of the ground situations by district level officers and are largely based on executive decisions.

Also Read | India tops the global ‘shame’ list with 109 internet shutdowns in 2020: Report

Suspension rules have been “grossly misused” leading to huge economic loss and also causing untold suffering to the public, as well as severe reputational damage to the country, the committee said.

Frequent suspension of the internet on “flimsy grounds” is uncalled for and “must be avoided”, given that the government’s thrust on digitisation and knowledge economy with free and open access to internet is at its core, it said.

Expressing unhappiness over lack of records relating to telecom services/internet shutdowns ordered by state governments, the panel recommended that both DoT and Ministry of Home Affairs should establish a mechanism at the earliest to maintain a centralised database of all internet shutdown orders in the country.

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