The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) has asked the government to consider adopting federal oversight over internet shutdowns occurring across the country. Responding to the consultation process by the Department of Telecommunications(DoT) on the “need for a new legal framework for governing the telecommunications sector of India,” the tech industry body noted that temporary internet shutdowns must be only done through a standard operating procedure and approved by the DoT. This appeal comes at a time when India is the leading country in the number of internet disruption incidents and frequency shutdowns. Shutting down the internet is seen as a law and order measure and is undertaken in India very commonly.
Members of IAMAI include major tech and telco companies such as Twitter, RelianceJio, Meta, Microsoft, Amazon, and Airtel. Many tech start-ups, crypto start-ups and media companies are also part of the association.
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In its letter to the DoT the association noted, “Temporary stopping/shutdown orders in an area/district/state must be only through a standard operating procedure approved by DoT, and Telegraph (Act) being a Union subject, only the Central government should be the governing authority in this regard. The current ad-hoc requests and orders to stop internet services in an area causes significant inconvenience to local public at large.”
As per Software Freedom Law Centre, an organisation working on this issue in India, since 2012, over 665 internet shutdowns have been undertaken in India. In 2022 itself, over 59 internet shutdowns were undertaken.
Activists, civil society organisations and companies note that these internet shutdowns cause major disruption in people’s day-to-day lives as well as losses to local economies.
On the other hand, the government notes that misinformation and rumours circulated on the internet lead to the deterioration of law and order impacting the safety of citizens, necessitating shut downs.
IAMAI’s comments are part of the consultation process for the new telecom bill which was announced by the Minister of Communications, Ashwini Vaishnaw, following the withdrawal of the personal data protection bill. Vaishnaw noted in August that the government is readying four comprehensive tech laws to cover the digital tech space. This includes a new bill for the telecom sector, which is still regulated by the 1885 Telegraph Act.