Supreme Court Asks Govt: Is There Any Protocol For Internet Shutdowns?
The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Centre to respond to a plea alleging arbitrary internet shutdowns in Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and West Bengal.
Arbitrary and disproportionate
It wants to know whether there is any protocol in such events.
The petition filed by Software Freedom Law Centre argued that such administrative decisions are arbitrary and disproportionate, citing one one instance where internet services were suspended for conducting high school examinations.
Notice sent to MeitY
A bench comprising Chief Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justices S Ravindra Bhat and P S Narasimha issued notice to the Ministry of Electronic and Information Technology, seeking a response to the plea.
“We issue a notice only to the Centre (MeitY), the Union to indicate whether there are standard protocols with respect to a grievance raised,” said the bench.
Court asked the Ministry to file an affidavit stating whether there is any standard protocol for internet shutdowns.
Approached several HCs
The bench noted that the petitioners had previously approached various High Courts with the same grievance.
Accordingly it questioned as to why the petitioner was not approaching the High Courts for relief in the matter.
Lawyer Vrinda Grover representing the petitioners said that the orders on shutdown of the internet are not in public domain and it requires a lot of work to get them.
Addressing cheating in exams
The lawyer said even a parliamentary committee had said that the internet cannot be shutdown to prevent cheating in examinations.
“They say it is to prevent cheating. But would proportionality permit this… today, when we are doing everything digitally,” the lawyer said.
Pertaining to this, the court discussed the viability of installing jammers in examination centres and the cost of doing so.
Neither necessary nor proportionate
The PIL stated that different states have been imposing internet shutdowns on the pretext of imaginary, fanciful or fictitious law and order problems.
It also referred to recent internet shutdowns in Rajasthan during a communal flare-up.
Orders for internet shutdown must satisfy the tests of necessity and proportionality.
59 instances this year so far
In 2021, the government authorities in the country shut down the Internet 182 times overall.
It accounted for half of the total government-enforced shutdowns on a global scale, according to a report from AccessNow.
This also puts India on the global list for internet shutdowns for the fourth time in a row.
The report also states that 59 internet shutdowns have already occurred this year.