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Govt amends internet shutdown rules to restrict validity of orders to 15 days

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The Indian government has amended the internet shutdown rules, formally known as the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services Rules, to restrict the validity of suspension orders to 15 days. The amendment was notified in the gazette on November 10. 

The Supreme Court had reiterated in the Anuradha Bhasin judgment that suspending internet services indefinitely is not permitted under the above-mentioned rules and that suspensions can only be ordered for temporary durations. The court had also ruled that internet shutdown orders could not be made for indefinite periods and must adhere to the principles of proportionality and necessity. 

Any state or central home department — the only ones legally authorised to order internet suspensions — can now only suspend internet for a period of 15 days in an order. This is in addition to due process they must already follow, such as forming a review committee after a suspension, and only letting the home secretary issue suspension orders. While the amendment is presumably aimed at preventing prolonged blackouts, such as the 7-month long internet shutdown in Jammu & Kashmir, administrations can still restrict internet access by simply reissuing orders every 15 days. In Jammu and Kashmir — where only two districts have 4G access on a trial basis — the administration already renews orders that restrict internet to 2G speeds every few weeks. 

The Anuradha Bhasin judgment, delivered in a petition filed by Kashmir Times editor Anuradha Bhasin, eventually led to the restoration of whitelisted websites, followed by restoration of slow-speed (2G) internet services in Jammu and Kashmir. The territory was placed under a communications blackout, with internet services shut off, on August 4–5, when Jammu & Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 was abrogated. The territory was then bifurcated into two union territories, leading to the formation of Ladakh as a union territory.

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