Among all the inventions witnessed by world, the most praised invention is that of the Internet. With the creation of ARPAnet in the late 1960s, the Internet has come a long way in today’s day and age. With the invention of computers, the Internet reached our homes and later with the invention of the “world wide web,” the world completely changed.
In today’s world, where people start and end their day with Internet, Internet has many uses. Internet dispenses several opportunities and has opened a new world for many people. Internet knows no boundary and thus possesses the power of improving the quality of living. In a way, we can say that “Internet” is what drives the world today.
But what will happen, if in any case, Internet is taken away from the lives of people? Is it possible to scoop-out Internet entirely from the lives of people, even for a day?
Since we all know that almost every task nowadays is driven to their completion with the help of Internet, and thus if Internet even for a day is taken off from the lives of people, then there would be a great loss to the socio-economic conditions of the humanity. And yes, Internet can very well be taken off from the lives of people. This scooping-out of Internet from people’s lives is what is known as the ‘Internet Shutdown’.
In a nutshell, Internet Shutdown is a complete or near-complete restriction over the usage of internet services in a specific area due to orders passed by the government.
But why do governments order such shutdown?
There can be ‘n’ number of reasons behind governments imposing internet shutdown, it all depends upon the discretion of the government that how and when the ‘so-called’ tool of internet shutdown will be used.
Abraham Lincoln ones said “don’t believe everything you read on the internet”,the reasoning behind him saying this could be that Internet these days are filled with many misinformed people who share their views on the Internet for the sake of sharing. Many a times they share such information which may lead to moments of unrest and protest, reason behind this can be many like the innocent reason of not being adequately educated about what one is sharing over the Internet or even the non-innocent intention of provoking other people against the policies of the government.
A famous quote by Don Rittner describes the affair quite nicely, the quote reads as “civility is only a passenger-not a driver-on the information superhighway”, no matter how well you are with the netiquette rules, you eventually will offend someone who doesn’t.
If looked from top, then these acts of offending masses can be disastrous. The test of proportionality says that ‘over fundamental rights there happens to be some reasonable restrictions’ the government hence uses Internet Shutdown as a tool to stop the spread of any such information which may lead to anger and protests. But unfortunate it is to see that governments have even used this tool to tackle pity issues like preventing frivolous cheatings in examination.
Statistics shows the increasing number of Internet-Shutdowns all over the world, internet-shutdown these days have become the new normal. And in all this, the country which lead, which also happens to be the largest democracy of the world, is our India, with 388 recorded internet-shutdowns since 2012.
But does this make sense to the largest democracy of the world to simply put the Internet down, where Internet is considered a medium through which people express their views and is it worthy enough to cut the internet services down to prevent anger, rage and protest while at the same time keeping the economy and the social fabric of our society at stake?
Talking of impacts of internet shutdown, economic losses and societal tensions emerge as the two main facets. these shutdowns have far-reaching societal and psychological impacts. One thing that is affected most is the individual’s ability to express his opinions freely. The Universal Declaration of Human rights of 1948 in article 19 talks of a right, called the ‘right to freedom of opinion and expression’ which reads as,
“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”
Lately world witnessed many suppressive tactics used by governments all over the world regarding the suspension of internet services, seeing this the United Nations in 2016 declared that “Online freedom is a human right and one that must be protected”, this was in the form of resolution A/HRC/32/L.20.
Nevertheless, the real problem is that, although the resolutions made by the United nation apply to all the people around the globe, they are not legally binding and thus, as a result, many countries including China and Russia simply opposed the resolution, the resolution which at first seemed to be passed in unison. The disapproval was in regards that they wanted amendments, amendments for calling-off the “human-rights based approach” for expansion of access to the Internet.
If we talk of our country India, then we lead the world in terms of number of internet shutdowns, and this happens when we have article 19 of our constitution which talks about the fundamental right to freedom and article 19(1)(a) in particular which talks about freedom of speech and expression, in addition to these, we witnessed judgments like one of the Kerala high court’s judgment in the case of Shirin R.K. v. State of Kerala, where the High Court ruled that internet access is a fundamental right, forming a part of the right to privacy and the right to education. But even after all this India from 2012 and till 2020 has witnessed a whopping 390 internet shutdowns.
Talking of numbers, the bigger problem that lies in front of us is that nobody knows that till when an internet shutdown will last or what would be the quantum of the same, adhering to this fact firmly, some of the internet shutdowns we saw lately has run for months like the shutdown of Internet in Darjeeling in 2017 which was on for 100 days and the shutdown in Kashmir in 2019 which was on for 145 days. These incidences are epitome that India rule the world not just in the terms of having the highest number of internet shutdowns but in having the longest running shutdowns in the world as well.
In response to these indefinite bans over civil liberties, writ petitions were filed, following which Supreme court gave her verdict in Anuradha Bhasin vs Union of India & ors. Writ petition (civil) the verdict was, “suspending internet services indefinitely is impermissible and any order suspending Internet under the suspension rules is subject to judicial review”. But judicial reviews could be done to those shutdowns only which are reported and unfortunately not all internet shutdowns are reported.
Internet shutdown being a sensitive subject comes under Governance, Transparency and accountability. And citizens have all the rights to know about these sensitive issues. Many a times citizens file RTI applications regarding the same but in response the authorities, they simply cite section 8 of the RTI act, 2005 which talks of national and internal security.
Talking of the laws, until august 2017, internet shutdowns were ordered by the district magistrates or the police officers under section 144 of the CrPC which gave them the power to stop unlawful gathering of people and also to direct any person to abstain from doing certain acts, simply the section gave a wide discretionary power to the state to freeze the civil liberties.
However, in August 2017, a new law promulgated as the “Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (public emergency or public safety) rules under the telegraph act, 2017. This rule gave the legal source of power to issue a shutdown order to the union home secretary or the secretary in charge of the home department in a state, and the order must be forwarded to the review committee.
But like most of the laws this law also had certain drawbacks, these drawbacks resulted into arbitrariness, which further invoked a variety of circumstances like caste and communal uprisings and protests.
Aristotle believed in the fact that “the Truth is not pre-given rather it is constructed”. In today’s day and age, access to internet is not a luxury but a necessity. Apparently, life without Internet is not as smooth as life with Internet. The daily schedule of an average person gets affected to a great extent be it in terms of livelihood or peace of mind.
Thus, again talking of impacts, following every Internet Shutdown there happens to be many losses, but if we talk of the sector which gets affected the most, then the answer would be ‘the economy’. Seeing, the usage of the Internet in today’s world it is evident that most of the things we do are backed by the Internet for their doing. Last decade saw a revolution in the business running-techniques. Nowadays almost every company has its presence on the web. Internet plays a significant role in the growth of the businesses. With every passing day the world is becoming smaller, economies of the nations are slowing approaching to become a global economy, all thanks to Internet. What is even more praise worthy is the digitization of economy. If India is talked in particular then after the demonetization in November 2016, the digital payment saw a boom, and the dream of digital India is no longer a dream now.
Talking of economic losses. An obvious loss is being experienced by the telecom companies, other than that there are innumerable sectors which get highly affected with the internet shutdown, these include sectors like tourism, press and media, health care system, real states, education system, I.T. sectors, e-commerce sectors, banking sector and many others.
Recent happenings recorded some change in the world of economy, earlier the overall health of an economy was analyzed and interpreted by economic indicators, some of them being Gross domestic product (GDP), The Consumer Price Index (CPI), Crude oil price etc. A recent trend has shown that some economists consider internet shutdown as one of the economic indicators.
According to an analysis by Deloitte,
“The impacts of a temporary shutdown of the Internet grow larger as a country develops and as a more mature online ecosystem emerges. It is estimated that for a highly Internet connected country, the per day impact of a temporary shutdown of the Internet and all of its services would be on average $23.6 million per 10 million population. With lower levels of Internet access, the average estimated GDP impacts amount to $6.6 million and to $0.6 million per 10 million population for medium and low Internet connectivity economies, respectively”
According to a study conducted by ICRIER, a total of 16,315 hours of internet shutdown was experienced in India between the year of 2012 and 2017. And these hours of inactivity of Internet has costed the nation a loss of over $3.04 billion. Relation of Indians and Internet grew much since 2017 and many shutdowns followed the year. A report named, “The Global cost of Internet Shutdown in 2019” by internet research firm Top10VPN. Says that India in the year of 2019 has suffered a loss of $1.3 billion because of internet shutdown which lasted for 4,196 hours, making it the third most affected countries economically after Iraq and Sudan.
The same report “The Global cost of Internet Shutdown in 2019” traced 18,225 hours of internet shutdown around the world, and for that the world suffered a loss of $8.05 billion. Report also said that there were more shutdowns in 2019 than ever before, with a total cost surging 235% from 2016.
Despite seeing all the negative impacts, governments all around the world still use Internet shutdown as a tool to curb the moments of tension.
It is said that ‘with great power comes great responsibility’, and seeing the increase in numbers of internet Users globally, using the Internet turns out to be a thing of great responsibility. Sharing anything for the sake of sharing, sometimes can be disastrous. A shared message which may mean nothing to you, might offend the masses, which may follow a variety of circumstances including conflicts, militancy, protests, caste and communal uprisings. Hence, in order to take control over these issues’ governments all over the world order for the call of Internet shutdown. But since Internet today has many uses, cutting down the internet services do much harm than solving the issue. These shutdowns have far reaching impacts in our human lives, the two main facets of impact are the ‘economic losses’ and the ‘societal impacts’. Economically, every year the world faces a loss of billions of dollars because of internet shutdown. Societal impact includes the education, safety, human rights and all those aspects of life which have their dependency on the internet.
Life, liberty and property all gets affected because of internet blackout. Internet being a great medium of communication and expression, acts as a human right, and this is recognized by many countries in the world. Even the United Nation recognizes, ‘online freedom as a human right’.
But when things go out of hand, the governments find internet shutdown as the best viable option and consequently, the Internet is shut. But then the governments can make the impacts much less severe if they plan for this sensitive issue of governance and transparency.
Some suggestions include:
1. Providing official notification of the internet shutdown, so that the people can have enough time to be prepared for the internet blackout.
2. Restraining social media applications in place of complete internet shutdown, as this will help in facilitating the businesses.
3. Police reforms, proper training should be given to the police officials to tackle these issues of hate and anger.
4. Documentation of Internet Shutdowns, this will help in keeping the records of internet blackouts and the impacts suffered because of them.
5. Educating people, most of the internet shutdowns are imposed because some hate messages were being transmitted, the government hence should provide campaigns that educate people over curbing hate speeches and inflammatory messages.
“In our doctrine of constitutionalism, we talk of limited government, which is why modern democratic states like India needs a balance between liberty and security. We cannot curtail liberty in the name of security and at the same time we cannot curtail security in the name of liberty, because the first case will result into ‘Autocracy’, and the second case will result into ‘anarchy.’ The features that will do no good to a democratic nation”
Shambhavi Gautam, she’s a 2nd year law student at Institute of law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad, she has her interests in Human right laws and laws pertaining to ethical treatment of animals. Apart from studies she has her keen interest in calligraphy and sports.
Abhijeet, he’s a 2nd year law student at Chanakya National Law University, Patna. He has his interest in the subjects of law, he aspires to become a Criminal lawyer. Besides he has his interest in mooting and legal research.
1. Abraham Lincoln, (1864) on Internet Variation
2. Don Rittner, (2007) https://livet.se/proverb/category/Internet
3. Preventing cheating in exams is not a valid reason to shut down the Internet #KeepUsOnline, Internet Freedom Foundation (February 27, 2020) https://internetfreedom.in/preventing-cheating-in-exams-is-not-a-valid-reason-to-shut-down-the-internet/
4. Most prolonged Shutdown and Trends, Internet Shutdown Tracker (May 19, 2020) https://internetshutdowns.in/
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9. Shirin R.K. v. State of Kerala, W.P. (C). NO. 19716 OF 2019 (L) (September 19,2019)
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11. Longest Shutdown and Trends, Internet Shutdowns (May 19, 2020) https://internetshutdowns.in/
12. Zaid Drabu and Aiman Hashmi, SC Judgment on Kashmir’s Internet Shutdown Ignores Both Rights and Remedies, The Wire (February 13, 2020) https://thewire.in/law/sc-internet-shutdown-judgement
13. About Right to Information Act 2005, Right to Information (May 14, 2015) https://rti.gov.in/
14. The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973, Indian Kanoon (October 17, 2014)
15. Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017, Department of Telecommunication, (August 8, 2017)
16. ADAM BARONE, Economic Indicator, Investopedia (January 10, 2020) https://www.investopedia.com/terms/e/economic_indicator.asp
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19. Samuel Woodhams & Simon Migliano, The Global Cost of Internet Shutdowns in 2019
, Top10VPN (January 7 2020) https://www.top10vpn.com/cost-of-internet-shutdowns/
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