Update: Mobile internet services shut down from December 20 night in Lucknow, Bareily, Prayagraj, Ghaziabad and Mangalore.
Amid heavy protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 (CAA) in multiple states, including the national capital Delhi, mobile internet services have been shutdown in some parts of the city. Telecom operators like Airtel, Vodafone-Idea, Jio, MTNL/BSNL were instructed to have shut down voice, Internet, and SMS services in parts of Delhi. User reports initially claimed internet services were blocked in Seelampur, India Gate and ITO in Delhi. There are protests organised at the Red Fort in Delhi today as well.
According to a copy of the order, which was accessed by the Indian Express, internet services were shut down by the Deputy Commissioner of Police Special Cell in Delhi. The order notes that in view of the prevailing law and order situation, all communications from voice, SMS and internet need to be halted till 1 pm in Delhi.
The areas mentioned in the order are Walled city areas of North and Central Districts, Mandi House, Seelampur, Jaffarbad and Mustafad, Jamia Nagar and Shaheen Bagh and Bawana.
As per a tweet by CNBC-TV18, which quoted sources, the government has asked the telecos to shut down services in some pockets of Delhi till 1 PM. Users had already reached out to Airtel regarding the disruption of services on Twitter and the teleco appeared to be confirm the internet shutdown.
Airtel’s official customer care handle replied to users in tweets that they have been instructed by the government authorities to to suspend voice, SMS, and data in certain areas in Delhi.
However, the tweets appears to have been deleted in many cases. Vodafone also appears to have deleted tweets saying mobile internet, voice and SMS were being suspended on government directive.
Airtel, Vodafone-Idea and Jio are yet to issue official statements on the internet shutdown in Delhi.
Here are screenshots of some deleted tweets from Airtel and Vodafone regarding the suspension of internet.
How does the internet shutdown work in India?
The suspension of telecom services in India comes under the Temporary Telecom Suspension Rules of 2017. The reasons for suspending mobile internet, voice services would need to be “occurrence of public emergency or in the interest of public safety”, according to these rules. The power to suspend telecom services on these grounds is traced back to section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.
India’s Information Technology Act (IT Act) has a section 69 A with provisions for blocking certain URLs when violence is feared or in times of threat to national security. The relevant paragraph reads as follows:
“Power to issue directions for blocking for public access of any information through any computer resource. (1) Where the Central Government or any of its officer specially authorised by it in this behalf is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient so to do, in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above, it may subject to the provisions of sub-section (2) for reasons to be recorded in writing, by order, direct any agency of the Government or intermediary to block for access by the public or cause to be blocked for access by the public any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource.”
However, internet shutdown that we see in the country are usually under section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CRPC) which allows the Executive Magistrate of any state or territory to issue an order to prohibit the assembly of four or more people in an area. Given internet is seen as a means of allowing people to come together digitally, Section 144 is extended to the internet services as well.
“It’s really concerning that the capital city of the largest democracy in the world has shut the internet down and cut off its citizens from communicating. This is unprecedented and could have an irreversible and detrimental impact on India’s aspiration to become a Digital Leader,” Mishi Choudhary, Technology Lawyer said in a statement.
The Citizen (Amendment) Act protests have resulted in internet shutdowns in West Bengal where services were suspended in North Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad, Howrah, North 24-Parganas and parts of South 24-Parganas districts.
Internet shutdowns had been enforced in several districts of Uttar Pradesh and in the Northeastern states. Aligarh and Meerut in UP saw an internet shutdown for “law and order maintenance”. Access to internet was cut off in Saharanpur as well. In Assam, internet services were suspended on December 11 and December 12.
The longest internet shutdown in India though is still on in Jammu and Kashmir. On Monday, December 17, it was 134 days of internet remaining suspended, which first began on August 5, where the government stripped the state of its special status under Article 370 of the Constitution. The state had earlier experienced a 133-day shutdown between July 8 and November 19, 2016.
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