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All Posts | Apr 01,2020

Open letter for restoration of 4G internet in Jammu and Kashmir in wake of COVID-19

Open letter for restoration of 4G internet in Jammu and Kashmir in wake of COVID-19

SFLC.in wrote an open letter to the Principle Secretary of Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir as well as Home Minister Amit Shah on March 31 requesting them to restore 4G internet speed in Jammu and Kashmir.

Kashmir has been facing an internet blackout since August 4, 2019 and it is only recently that citizens have gained access to the internet at 2G speed. The current order issued by the Centre following the top court's ruling states that the speed of the internet will be restricted to 2G till April 3, 2020 after which the order will be pending a review.

COVID-19 is an unprecedented pandemic which has resulted in public health chaos. As of March 31, 2020, the number of cases of COVID-19 in Jammu and Kashmir has reached 55. To fight this global pandemic, timely information is needed which isn't possible without reasonably high speed internet access. Restricted internet has led to citizens of the UT, not being able to download informative videos as well as resource material for dissemination of necessary and accurate information, when a lot of rumours and misinformation are doing the rounds. Timely information both to the general public, medical professionals and media is needed to fight the pandemic.

In order to contain the spread of infection and monitor patients, telemedicine is important along with access to high speed internet for doctors to be able to access material online and to do video consultations with other healthcare practitioners as well as patients.

There is a severe lack of information among the citizens in Jammu and Kashmir owning to the fact that information cannot be accessed without proper internet. Multimedia content including that issued by the Health Ministry and WHO cannot be accessed as well. There are a number of students, working professionals and other citizens who have been asked to work from home due to the lock down in view of the corona virus, and this is possible only if unrestricted internet access to internet is allowed.

Sub- clause (d) of Clause 4 o the Annexure to order no. 40-3/2020 dated 24-03-2020 issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs states that telecommunications, internet services, broadcasting and cable services, IT and IT enabled services are exceptions to lock-down for essential services. Functional high speed internet is a pre-requisite to contain the pandemic as well as to mitigate the damage both in terms of health of the citizens and economy.

In our letter, we have requested the government to consider the prevailing extraordinary circumstances and restore 4G internet in Jammu and Kashmir on an urgent basis.

About SFLC.IN

SFLC.IN is a donor-supported legal services organisation that brings together lawyers, policy analysts, technologists, and students to protect freedom in the digital world. SFLC.in promotes innovation and open access to knowledge by helping developers make great Free and Open Source Software, protect privacy and civil liberties for citizens in the digital world by educating and providing free legal advice and help policy makers make informed and just decisions with the use and adoption of technology.

For further communication:
Prasanth Sugathan
Voluntary Legal Director, SFLC.IN
prasanth@sflc.in

All Posts | Sep 23,2017

New Rules on Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services in case of Public Emergency or Public Safety

The Ministry of Communications, on August 7th, 2017, notified new rules for the suspension of telecom services in case of public emergency or public safety, and consequently, the suspension of Internet services in India. These rules known as the “Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017” were issued under section 7 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.

According to these rules, an order for suspension of telecom services containing can be made by a ‘competent authority’ which would be:

  • In case of Government of India, the Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • In case of a State Government, the Secretary to the State Government in-charge of the the Home Department.

However, ‘in unavoidable circumstances’, such an order might be issued by an officer of the rank of Joint Secretary or above who has been duly authorised by the Union Home Secretary or State Home Secretary. This order will be subject to the confirmation from the competent authority as stated above within 24 hours and will cease to exist in case of failure of receipt of such confirmation.

The rules mandate that the order passed by the competent authority must “contain reasons for such direction” and a copy of the order shall be forwarded to a Review Committee by the next working day. The Review Committee shall comprise of:

  • Where it is constituted by the Central Government- Cabinet Secretary, and Secretaries of Legal Affairs and Department of Telecommunication;
  • Where it is constituted by State Government- Chief Secretary, Secretary Law or Legal Remembrancer In-Charge, Legal Affairs and Secretary to the State Government (other than the Home Secretary).

The Review Committee will have to meet within five working days of the issuance of order and record its findingson the suspension order whether it is in accordance with the provisions of sub-section (2) of section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act.

Moreover, the rules require the telegraph authority and service providers to designate officers in every licensed service area or State or Union territory, as the nodal officers to receive and handle such requisitions.

The chart below lays down the rules in a more simplified manner. These rules come in the light of the increasing instances of Internet shutdowns that India has been witnessing over the past few years. According to our Internet Shutdowns Tracker, this year has already seen 55 instances of Internet shutdowns so far.

All Posts | Sep 18,2017

[RTI] Darjeeling Internet Ban: 3 months and counting

The ongoing Internet shutdown in Darjeeling, West Bengal completes 3 months today. This day, three months earlier, mobile Internet was shutdown in the city due to the ongoing agitation for a separate Gorkhaland. Two days later, on 20thJune, the orders were extended to the broadband services as well, effectively shutting down the entire Internet. Since then, the Internet ban has been extended several times by the district administration, without any hope of it being restored in the near future. We published a short report on the impact of the embargo on the daily lives of the people as the subsisting shutdown completed two months.

In August, we filed an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005, seeking details regarding the ongoing shutdown in Darjeeling and the copies of the orders that authorised these internet shutdowns. However, we were informed in response to the application, that the information asked by us could not be provided as it is exempted from disclosure under para 1(A)(2) of Notification No. 541-PAR(AR)/O/3M-29/2005 Pt. VIIIA dated 29 August, 2005 of Department of Personnel & Administrative Reforms, Government of West Bengal. Hence, the application was disposed of.

Notably, para 1(A)(2) of the above-mentioned notification exempts the Home Department, under section 24(4) of the Right to Information Act, 2005, to provide information under Political Branch relating to the Interception of mails and other personal communications including phones/mobiles under Indian Post Office Act, 1898 and Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.

The response to the RTI application is reproduced below:

All Posts | Aug 18,2017

Darjeeling Internet Ban Completes Two Months

Today marks the completion of two months of continuous Internetshutdown in Darjeeling, West Bengal. Two months back, on 19thJune, 2017, mobile Internet services were blocked in the town following deaths of party supporters in violent clashes between the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and security forces after the former called for a complete strike in its agitation for a separate Gorkhaland.

The protests set off in the city after the house of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) president Bimal Gurung was raided by the police and security forces. The raids are believed to have been conducted following his party’s opposition over the State Government’s decision to make Bengali language mandatory in schools. A majority Gorkha population in Darjeeling and adjoining hills speaks Nepali language. An indefinite strike was called by GJM supporters after the raids, with the protest turning into a demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland.

While the mobile Internet blockade was already in place, Darjeeling faced a complete shutdown of Internet services on 20th June, 2017 after an order was issued by the District Magistrate of Darjeeling requesting all broadband and mobile internet service providers to temporarily stop Internet service in the strike-hit hills for a period of seven days. However, the ban was extended till 4th July, 2017 to prevent the deterioration in law and order situations. Since then, the Internet ban has been extended by the district administration several times.

The blanket Internet ban in Darjeeling has plunged the entire city into a state of virtual darkness. While it has impaired the communication services, it has also impeded media reportage of the agitation, effectively restricting reporting to the newspapers from within the city. Verbal orders have been given by the district magistrate to the local news channels in Darjeeling to stop reporting on the agitation. In the absence of Internet, journalists on ground are having a hard time relaying their stories to the desk. The e-papers published from Darjeeling have also faced a major hit due to the shutdown.

Students are among those that have been worst hit due to the Internet ban. They have been unable to access the Internet for academic purposes for two months now. SFLC.in reached out to Ayush Chaurasia, a student of class 11, who shared his plight:

It has been over two months, I haven’t gone to school. All the schools in Darjeeling are closed due to persistent upheaval and chaos. As far as the Internet is concerned, I am unable to access any kind of information. I used to continuously visit many online portals for my research work but now I cannot even study a small piece of information as there is no Internet. I cannot connect to my friends and there is no exchange of any kind of information due to Internet Shutdown.”

Due to the lack of Internet connectivity, class nine students were unable to fill up their board examination forms. Similarly, a lot of students who had finished their 12th standard board exams were unable to fill up their college admissions forms due to the embargo. These students risk losing a year due to the passing of deadlines for admissions to colleges. While the Darjeeling Teachers’ Association met the district magistrate seeking restoration of Internet services, their demands were rejected by the authorities on the grounds of persisting law and order problem in the hills.

Geeta Devi, a class 12th student told SFLC.in:

The 64 days long Internet shutdown in Darjeeling started in the month of June, that was the time when admissions in most of the colleges and universities begin. As I passed my class 12 exams, I was thinking of pursuing law but could not even apply for the course as there were no Internet services. Even the mobile networks kept on fluctuating which made it difficult to get any kind of updates on admissions and otherwise. I am not the only one who is suffering, all the students in Darjeeling are facing similar issues.”

Businesses have also been hard-hit by the Internet ban. With most of the businesses relying on Internet banking and online transactions in this era of cashless economy and Digital India, they have been facing huge losses with the ban on Internet services. Sunil Prasad, a local businessman, shared his views on the Internet shutdown with SFLC.in:

Internet Shutdown has severely disturbed our lives. I am the sole bread earner of my family and my entire business has collapsed. As a businessman, I am majorly dependent on online transactions that I make or receive but in the past 60 days, I haven’t been able to do that and the entire family is suffering. We are not even able to recharge our phones. My children who stay in Delhi, do that for us. Right now, we are experiencing a complete cut-off from the world outside. I have no access to any kind of information. The situation is getting worse day by day.”

The plight of a common citizen is evident in the words of a local resident, Turni Bhagowati, who shared his concerns with SFLC.in:

Many a people in Darjeeling have bought things on EMIs and loans. I also bought a scooter on EMI but due to Internet shutdown I haven’t been able to use the net banking and failed to pay the bank’s EMI on time. The banks are closed and online transactions cannot be facilitated. In the first week, I asked one of my friends who stays in Pune to do that for me but as it has already been more than 2 months, and the situation is getting worse, I cannot ask for more help. There is no hope of immediate solutions to the problems that are rising every day due to this extended Internet shutdown.”

Though there has been an appeal by the Home Minister Rajnath Singh as well as several demands byGorkha Janmukti Morcha activists and other hill parties to restore Internet services in the area, the State Government has refused to lift the ban citing law and order problems. Moreover, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been filed in the Calcutta High Court challenging the ban on Internet services by the State Government in the Darjeeling hills.

The situation in Darjeeling serves to demonstrate how an extended Internet shutdown can bring life to a virtual standstill, significantly impacting free expression and crippling general society and the economy in the process. Now more than ever, it is necessary for the Government to recognize that Internet shutdowns are not a justifiable response to law and order problems, specially considering the steadily climbing frequency and durations of shutdowns in India. There is simply no room for such draconian and disproportionate measures in a democracy like India that emphasizes a great deal on the Internet in its development agenda.

All Posts | May 05,2017

RTI responses provide copies of Internet shutdown orders

India has seen a steep rise in the number of Internet shutdowns over the last few years. At SFLC.in, we have been tracking such instances of Internet shutdowns – see our dynamic Internet Shutdown Tracker at internetshutdowns.in for details.  These shutdowns are generally imposed under the authority of orders issued by State Governments under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, blocking mobile and/or fixed line Internet services for different reasons.

In May 2016, we filed applications under Right to Information Act, 2005 seeking, amongst other details, copies of the orders that sanctioned Internet shutdowns in Haryana in February 2016. In response to the applications and the information sought, we received the following information:

  1. Copies of orders issued under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, by the District Magistrates  of Jind, Hisar and Bhiwani, ordering the stoppage of the Internet services, and
  2. Copies of orders issued by the District Magistrates of Jind and Hisar, allowing for restoration of Internet services.

These orders are reproduced below: