The Indian government on August 7, 2017, came out with a set of protocols towards network shutdowns. Release by the Ministry of Communications and Information Broadcasting, the Gazette specifies procedure required for shutting of telecom and Internet services in the country. It states that authorities will require the highest-level official in charge of domestic security – the Ministry of Home Affairs or a state’s Home Department official – to sign off on any shutdown. However, in case of an “unavoidable circumstances”, the order can also be passed to the Joint Secretary rank but the ban can only hold for 24 hours.
The notification also highlights that any shutdown order will have to come with an explanation and will be reviewed within five days by a “review committee comprising of top members of the legal, executive and administrative branches” to ensure it is in accordance with the law and for “public emergency or public safety”.
As instances of Internet shutdowns in India increase at a worrisome pace (108 since 2012 till date), denying its people of many fundamental rights, including freedom of speech and expression, such government notifications has two facets to it. On one hand, it gives a formal structure to what has become an increasing problem in India. Every act of shutdown will now have to be explained and accounted for to the public as either an act of “public emergency” or “public safety”. This is likely to reduce incidences of Internet shutdowns due to bizarre reasons such as “to prevent cheating” as seen in Gujrat last year. On the other hand, it also discourages those who have been fighting for the idea that Internet connections should be treated like public utilities or goods and only cut off in the most extreme circumstances. This step by the government also reiterates that it is unlikely to give up its control over the control of Internet.