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All Posts | Sep 12,2018

RTI Applications to MP & UP about number of Internet Shutdowns: Dismissed & Returned

Governments across the world often impose Internet Shutdowns as a means to order blanket ban on Internet services in an area for a duration. These blanket bans are imposed for a variety of reasons ranging from prevention of spread of misinformation to prevention of cheating in examination.

We at SFLC.in have been tracking incidents of Internet shutdowns across India in an attempt to draw attention towards the number and frequency of shutdowns. This data is made publicly available in the form of an interactive Internet Shutdown Tracker hosted on our dedicated website www.internetshutdowns.in, which also features additional resources on the topic.

On the basis of our tracker, we can safely state that India has seen an alarming increase in the number and frequency of shutdowns. Whereas in 2012 we recorded only 3 shutdowns across India, while as of September 2018 we have already recorded 109 shutdowns in 9 months across the nation. Another notable takeaway is that India has witnessed the highest number of Internet shutdowns in the entire world.

At present, there is no obligation in India on Telecom Service Providers or State Home Departments to inform users about Internet Shutdowns. In the absence of any reliable means to gain access to Internet shutdown orders issued by various Government agents, most of the data collected by our tacker is based on media reports (online and print). We realize that relying solely on media reports is not a foolproof method of tracking shutdowns. With this in mind, when we launched a dedicated website for our Internet shutdowns project, we did so with a new citizen reportage mechanism, i.e. a mechanism that allows citizens to bring instances of shutdowns to our attention. We later expanded our citizen reportage tools to give people the ability to provide inputs on how shutdowns affected them and their communities. Nevertheless, most of the data recorded by our tracker continues to be secondary, which means that it is entirely possible for shutdowns that are not reported by the media or affected citizens to be absent from the tracker.

As per the Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency and Public Safety) Rules, 2017 – the current enabling legislation for Internet shutdowns – the ‘competent authority’ which may issue directions to suspend telecom services are: the Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs or the Secretary to the State Government in-charge of the Home Department, in cases of Central Government or State Government respectively. In order to get a sense of the true extent of unreported shutdowns (if any), we filed an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 to various State Home Departments across India. The RTI Application was filed asking the following question among others:what is the exact number of Internet Shutdowns that were ordered in Rajasthan during 07.08.2017 to 01.05.2018?”. This time-frame was chosen because the Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency and Public Safety) Rules, 2017 was enacted on August 8, 2017, and there was a good chance that consolidated data on shutdowns imposed under the Rules would be available with Central and State Home Departments.

We received information from district level departments of Rajasthan in response to the RTI application filed by us. The responses received from the Rajasthan Government have been collated and the unreported shutdowns have been added on tracker. On the basis of those responses, we found that there were at least 26 unreported instances of Internet shutdowns in Rajasthan alone during the eight-odd months in question. In July we published a detailed blogpost about the responses from Rajasthan to our RTI applications.

However, we have not received required information from every state. Some states, including Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, have dismissed and returned our applications. The Home Department of the Government of Madhya Pradesh dismissed our application stating that the Information that has been requested through the RTI application falls within the ambit of Home Department C Wing which has been exempted from the RTI responses vide Notification No. F. 11-39-2005-I-9-RTI. On the other hand, the Home Department of Uttar Pradesh replied stating that our application had been forwarded to Police Head Office of Lucknow, UP to furnish the details in question to us. The Police Department returned the application submitting that the information sought requires technical support which they lack, therefore they will be unable to provide us the required information.

Scanned copies of responses that we have received as replies from the RTI applications filed in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh:

All Posts | Mar 18,2018

Template letter against Aadhaar linking reminders

During final hearings in the matter of K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India [W.P. (C) No. 494/2012], where a batch of 29 petitions have challenged the overall validity of the Aadhaar scheme, the Supreme Court of India issued an interim order dated 13/3/2018 extending several Aadhaar linking deadlines until final disposal of the petitions. Among the linking deadlines so extended was the March 31, 2018 deadline to link existing mobile phone numbers and bank accounts with Aadhaar. In other words, Indian residents are no longer required to link their existing mobile phone numbers or bank accounts with Aadhaar until such time as a final verdict is pronounced in K.S. Puttaswamy. As final hearings are still on-going and the verdict is not expected for a few weeks (or months), there currently is no applicable deadline for these compulsory linkages.

Despite this, there have been countless reports of telcos and banks harassing their customers with highly disruptive reminders about Aadhaar linkage. Some have even tried indirect ways to force Aadhaar linkage, for instance by insisting that customers quote their Aadhaar number to receive an additional service. If you have been facing such problems from your telco or bank, below is a template letter you can send them to remind them of the Supreme Court's extension of Aadhaar linking deadlines. While we're not saying that the letter will immediately solve the problem, we hope that if enough customers respond this way, telcos and banks will eventually find incentive to stop harassing their customers - at least until a new deadline is notified, if at all.

Feel free to use the following text for your letter after replacing the italicized and underlined fields with your own details, and remember to attach a copy of the Supreme Court's interim order available here.

[Recipient’s address]

[Date]
 

SUB: Contempt of the Interim order dated 13/3/18 of the Hon’ble Supreme Court
 

Sir/Ma’am,

This concerns the repeated reminders and other communications that I have been receiving from you, urging me to link my [mobile phone number/bank account - use either term as applicable] to my Aadhaar number.

It is brought to your kind attention that as per an interim order dated 13/3/18 issued by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the matter of K.S. Puttaswamy and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors. [W.P. (C) No. 494/2012], the last date for linking existing [mobile phone numbers/bank accounts - use either term as applicable] with Aadhaar stands extended until such time as said petition is finally disposed off. A copy of the order is attached with this letter. It is also brought to your notice that as proceedings in this matter are still on-going, there currently is no applicable deadline by which I am legally obligated to link my Aadhaar number to your service.

Your repeated reminders to do otherwise therefore have no legal basis, and I remind you that any coercive measures taken in this regard are punishable under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. In addition, your unwarranted communications are nothing short of harassing, and they significantly interfere with my continued use of your services.

In view of the above, you are requested to immediately cease sending me reminders of any kind regarding Aadhaar linkage until such time as a valid deadline has been notified by the Government or the Hon’ble Supreme Court as the case may be. You are also advised to refrain from taking any measure that directly or indirectly coerces me into linking my [mobile phone number/bank account] with Aadhaar, as failure to do so will attract legal action.
 

Sincerely yours,

[Signature]

[Name]

[Mobile phone/bank account number - quote either number as applicable]

 

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.