US President Bill Clinton famously joked in 2000 that controlling the Internet was like nailing jelly to the wall. How well has that statement aged? Subscribe to notifications Subscribe to notifications The story
The Punjab government on March 19 extended the statewide suspension of mobile internet services for an additional 24 hours while searching for Sikh activist Amritpal Singh. Singh is a member of the Sikh Waris Punjab De movement and recently evaded arrest. The radical leader is currently on the run.
This is an ongoing saga in India, where in the past the state has consistently posted condemnations on the internet whenever a case of unrest has been reported.
This has also been demonstrated by many recent reports that place India among the countries where internet freedom is restricted and where most internet shutdowns occur.
India also imposed the most internet shutdowns globally in 2022. Of the 187 internet shutdowns recorded around the world, 84 took place in India, according to a report by Access Now, a New York-based advocacy group that tracks internet freedom.
Understanding the internet shutdowns in India
Perhaps the most notable recent instance of internet shutdown is when services in Jammu and Kashmir were shut down following the repeal of Article 370 there due to civil unrest concerns.
From then to now, there is a plethora of instances where different states use this control mechanism. Rajasthan is just behind Jammu and Kashmir in terms of internet shutdowns.
The government of Rajasthan imposed a ban on internet services following the brutal on-camera killing of tailor Kanhaiyalal Teli in Udaipur by two men.
In order to prevent the leakage of the REET teacher recruitment examination paper, the Rajasthan government has also suspended the internet service for 13 days. Since 2012, Rajasthan has shut down internet services on 76 separate occasions.
While some are precautionary shutdowns imposed in anticipation of a disruptive event that may require an internet disruption, the other is a reactive shutdown imposed to address an ongoing law and order situation to contain, and which is imposed as soon as an event begins.
The line between these two types of shutdowns is often blurred in such a large country with diverse issues and government responses.
The rules for shutting down the internet were set out in the 2017 Telecommunications Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Temporary Suspension Rules. It states that telecom services may be temporarily shut down for “public safety” reasons. But she failed to define the term, a reason that might explain the discrepancies in how random internet shutdowns sometimes feel and why it’s not easy to get a clear, simple picture of the whole situation.
Is it justified to impose restrictions on the Internet?
The earliest advocates of the Internet thought it would usher in a utopian world of true equality, free and unbiased dissemination of information, with no central authority controlling access or regulating content. Those were just early utopian dreams and collapsed when the movement got too big.
The Internet was dominated by the same Silicon Valley rebels as Facebook, Amazon and Google, who soon gave way to government influence and interference due to market demands. This assimilation to an outside force in the state is historical and must occur whenever something reaches a certain level of power and influence.
These escapades have led to the current situation, in which government control of the Internet has reached unprecedented levels worldwide. It allows even despotic and authoritarian governments to use it both for propaganda and to suppress opposition voices.
The arguments against such suppression of the Internet often begin with the conversation about freedom of expression. Mandated by the constitution in most democratic countries, the freedom to say, and in this case to post, what pleases one, is considered a democratic right for every citizen.
However, in many cases this is not the case and there have been many instances where individuals have been arrested and charged for posting their views online, a problem which often arises from the vague wording of laws which has been labeled as offensive can be what arbitrary is best.
The suppression and shutdown of the internet also has more practical consequences for a state’s population, as in today’s internet-dominated market it causes heavy losses for many businesses that primarily operate online.
Education and schooling, too, have grown exponentially in online spaces, especially since the pandemic, and every suppression of the internet results in the loss of valuable educational opportunities for students.
This then leads to one of the most pressing issues in our current political and social discourse, the spread of fake news and misinformation via the Internet. This cuts through both sides of the conversation and on different sides of the political spectrum with absolute certainty about what counts as authentic in a world of information overload, a question best waited on now.
The responsibility of the state
On the other hand, total freedom to use the Internet or any source of information dissemination to the public is not always advisable either. From the state’s point of view, its responsibilities can often conflict with the total freedom of its citizens, an old dilemma that has always existed.
The Internet, like fire, is a tool of immense power that must be used with care.
From national security concerns and hacking of sensitive material (a common phenomenon in today’s cybercrime world) to navigating the dark web and using it to smuggle illegal material internationally, the dangers of total internet freedom abound.
Another important argument in favor of government surveillance of the Internet is how sensitive material targeted at unsupervised and impressionable children and young people can often have long-term and catastrophic consequences.
All of this underscores the importance right now of carefully studying and understanding how powerful the internet is and how well thought out and thought out policies need to be implemented globally if internet use is to function constructively in our civic lives.