In a landmark judgment, India’s Supreme Court said indefinite internet shutdowns violate the country’s laws concerning freedom of speech and expression. The government must pass an order describing the reason and duration of the shutdown each time it wishes to implement this action. However, the order won’t directly affect the ongoing internet shutdown in Kashmir at this time.
The court decided that the Indian government has to produce a restrictive order detailing the shut down within a week. For now, people in the region of Kashmir will be still offline.
The bench said the internet is a major part of citizens’ rights that guarantee freedom of expression. It added the government can only shut down the internet as an extreme measure. Plus, such an order will draw judicial scrutiny. Internet Freedom Foundation, a local nonprofit that fights to secure digital rights for people in India, explained this in a tweet thread:
3. Internet shutdowns cannot be ordered to suppress speech unless there is incitement to violence or similar reasons. Reasonableness of S. 144 orders must be assessed based on territorial reach, nature of restrictions and time period.
— Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) (@internetfreedom) January 10, 2020
Additionally, local authorities can’t issue section 144 — which imposes a curfew in a territory and makes the gathering of four or more people illegal — to shut down internet or crack down on dissent online.
According to Software Freedom Law Centre, India’s internetshutdowns.in — a website that keeps a track of internet blackouts in India — the government blocked internet access 106 times last year. The longest — and still ongoing — shutdown is in Kashmir; it was imposed effect last August to supposedly control the law and order situation there, after the center scrapped Article 370 and stripped the region of its autonomy from central rule.
Internet shutdowns not only deprive people of the ability to stay connected with each other, but they also draw in financial losses, and they don’t work as intended. A report published by Firstpost last month, noted telecom operators lose $1 million every three hours in all 22 circles they operate in during internet shutdown.
A recent study released by top10VPN, a VPN comparison site, suggests internet shutdowns cost India $1.3 billion last year.