- Recently, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a report titled Internet Shutdown: Its Trends, Causes, Legal Implications and Impact on Human Rights, and states that Internet Shutdown protects people and welfare is affected, information flow is hampered and the economy suffers.
- Internet shutdown measures are commonly used when civil unrest occurs, to block the flow of information regarding government actions.
- Shutdown often involves completely restricting Internet connectivity or access to the affected services. However, governments increasingly resort to reducing bandwidth or limiting mobile service to 2G, which makes it extremely difficult to make meaningful use of the Internet while maintaining nominal access.
- Governments around the world have resorted to shutting down the Internet, citing many reasons
- It also makes it difficult to share and view videos, live broadcasts and other journalistic works that are often ordered during civil society movements, security measures as well as election proceedings, and human rights monitoring and reporting are seriously undermined.
Related International Frameworks:
- Internet shutdowns seriously affect many human rights, as well as rapidly impairing freedom of expression and security and access to information, a prerequisite for the full development of the individual as one of the foundations of democratic societies.
- It is a criterion for all other rights guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other human rights instruments (ie the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
- The Sustainable Development Goals reinforce the human rights obligations of states to function through a universally available and accessible Internet, free from unjust restrictions.
- Established to facilitate international connectivity in communications networks, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) works on the adoption of standards that ensure that networks and technologies interconnect and strives to improve access to the Internet.
- The first major Internet shutdown that caught the world’s attention was in Egypt in 2011, and it was accompanied by hundreds of arrests and murders.
- The #KeepItOn coalition, which monitors Internet shutdown episodes around the world, documented 931 shutdowns in 74 countries from 2016-2021.
- More than 10 shutdowns were implemented by 12 countries during that period. Many shutdowns have been faced in all regions globally, but most of the reports have been in Asia and Africa.
- Of the shutdowns filed by civil society groups, 132 were officially justified by the need to control the spread of hate speech, propaganda or other forms of content deemed illegal or harmful.
- India has blocked or disrupted internet connections 106 times and India has at least 85 internet shutdown episodes in Jammu and Kashmir.
- Nearly half of all shutdowns recorded by civil society groups from 2016-2021 were in the context of protests and political crises, including 225 shutdowns during public demonstrations related to a wide range of social, political or economic grievances.
Shutdown during election:
- It eliminates access to digital tools that are vital for campaigning, promoting public discourse, voting and overseeing electoral processes.
- In 2019 alone, 14 African countries blocked access to the Internet during the election period.
- These disruptions disrupt the work of impartial journalists and the media in general. Shutdowns in Uganda undermined media coverage of elections in 2021 amid reports of violent repressive measures.
- Shutdowns after protests during the election period were also reported in countries such as Belarus and Niger.
Effect of internet shutdown:
- On economic activity: It causes huge economic cost to all sectors, disrupts financial transactions, commerce and industry.
- The World Bank recently calculated that internet shutdowns in Myanmar alone cost about US$2.8 billion from February-December 2021, reversing the economic progress made over the past decade.
- On education: It undermines learning outcomes and interferes with education planning and communication between teachers, school administrators, families.
On access to health and humanitarian aid:
- Studies have shown significant impacts of shutdowns on health systems, including mobilizing immediate medical care, disrupting the delivery of essential drugs and equipment maintenance, limiting the exchange of health information between medical personnel, and essential mental health support.
- Internet shutdowns have a profound effect on the ability of human agents to provide assistance. The flow of information critical to the supply and delivery of goods and services can be obstructed.
- Internet shutdowns in Myanmar reportedly put local aid organizations in jeopardy, as it prevented them from seeking and receiving funds.
Guidelines of Supreme Court of India for Internet Shutdown:
- As ruled by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Anuradha Bhasin vs Union of India (2020) that internet shutdown does not violate Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. It acts as a reasonable restriction and should be enacted only when there is a real threat to public safety or national security. Some balance testing should be done and the government should use this extremely restrictive measure only when absolutely necessary.