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IT Parliamentary Committee questions Home Ministry over whether internet shutdowns work

no internet
Credit: Aditi Agrawal

In a deposition before the Parliamentary Committee on IT, representatives of the Home Ministry and Delhi and Bihar state governments were clueless about whether internet shutdowns are effective, or on the metrics that determine their effectiveness. The Home Ministry was unaware of the number of internet shutdowns that had been ordered in the country. The representatives said that they would check and inform the Committee in the next meeting.

It is understood that the Home Ministry and the two state governments maintained that internet shutdowns are essential to stop violence during riots and maintain law and order. However, they could not establish the causality between internet shutdowns and curbing riots, despite being asked to do that. It is understood that members of the committee asked the government representatives how riots were curbed before the advent of internet.

Internet was shut down in the national capital for the first time in December 2019 during the anti-CAA protests and Bihar has had its internet services shut down at least 11 times since 2016, as per SFLC.in’s tracker. According to the tracker, internet services have been snapped in the country 66 times in 2020, without including the sustained internet restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir where 4G services have been restored in only two of the twenty districts of the new union territory.

The two-hour long meeting, that saw participation from ten members, primarily discussed how internet shutdowns are used during riots. The next meeting is scheduled for October 27. The demand for grants for Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Ministry of Communications, and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting were also scheduled to be discussed but were not.

The Delhi government was represented by Special Secretary (Home) Ajay Kumar Gupta, Bihar government by Addition Secretary (Home) Amir Subhani, and the Union Home Ministry by Additional Secretary Govind Mohan.

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‘Internet shutdown order came from Home Ministry,’ says Delhi govt; Home Ministry stays mum

The Delhi government said that the order to shut down internet services in the national capital on December 19, 2019, during the protests against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act came from the Union Home Ministry, MediaNama has learnt. It is understood that the representative from the Home Ministry did not confirm having issued such an order. Instead, he said that he would check with the Home Ministry and inform the Committee.

When internet services were snapped in Delhi in December 2019, both Airtel and Vodafone, at the time, had confirmed that the government had ordered internet shutdown in the part of Delhi NCR along with suspension of voice and SMS services.

This is not the first time that the Shashi Tharoor-led Committee discussed internet shutdowns. It had taken up the issue in August 2020 and had questioned the Department of Telecommunications over the impact of the protracted shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir. A war of words had broken along partisan lines at the time between BJP MP Nishikant Dubey on one side, and Tharoor and TMC MP Mahua Moitra on the other over whether throttling internet speeds was a proportionate response.

Hours after the meeting ended, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla replaced Lok Sabha MP M.V.V. Satyanarayana (YSR Congress Party) with Lok Sabha MP Jayadev Galla (TDP) as a member. Read about the composition of the Committee here.

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