Internet blackouts in India are increasingly becoming more and more frequent. Until now they have been mostly arbitrary, coming after the directions from district administration but now the government has come out with new rules that will govern suspension of mobile data services in the country. Although the new rules still leave a lot of room for arbitrariness and don’t necessarily make blocking of data services in an area transparent, they are better than nothing.
The rules mandate that internet and data in any area can’t be blocked or suspended by local administration. Instead the decision has to be taken either by a central government secretary or in the state capital.
The Ministry of Communications, on August 7th 2017, issued rules for shutting down the telecom services in the country. The notification dates August 7,2017 and is issued under the Telegraph Act 1885. The note states that these rules can be called as Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017 and they shall come into force on the date of their publication in the Official Gazette.
Here is what the notification says:
Who can issue the order for shut down?
Only the secretary to the Government of India or the secretary to the state’s home ministry can issue the order to shut down internet in a state or across the country. In unavoidable circumstances, the order can be issued by an officer, not below the rank of a Joint Secretary to the Government of India, who has been duly authorised by the Union Home Secretary or the State Home Secretary, as the case may be. The order will be subject to the confirmation from the union home authority (most likely Home Ministry) within 24 hours.
How is the order conveyed to telcos and internet service providers?
An officer not below the rank of superintendent of police or of the equivalent rank will convey order to the “telegraph authority”, or to the designated ISPs who have been granted licenses under section 4 of the Telegraph Act. The order has to be conveyed either in written or via secure mode of electronic communication. The implementation will be determined by the telegraph authority.
Who reviews the order, can revise it or restore the internet services?
A review committee constituted by the state government or the central government will meet within five working days of issue of directions for suspension of services due to public emergency or public safety and record its findings on whether the directions issued are in accordance with the Act or not.
In India, blocking of internet has become common. Just recently, authorities in Haryana and Punjab suspended internet services in many areas after anticipating trouble in the wake of Ram Rahim verdict. Similarly, in Kashmir internet is shut down frequently. Authorities say that suspension of data services helps them maintain law and order.
In India, internet services have been suspended as many as 30 times in 2017 so far. According to Brookings Institution report, the country saw a loss of nearly Rs 6500 cores in business due to these shutdowns.
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