Internet shutdowns hurt people and harm human rights, regardless of the rationale. Yet this past week, the Rajasthan state government gave police the permission to suspend internet services across the state to prevent cheating during Constable Recruitment Examination. On July 14th and 15th, no one in the entire state of Rajasthan could access the internet. This kind of massive, disproportionate shutdown for exams is increasingly common in countries like Iraq and Algeria, despite the documented negative consequences. But it’s a relatively new phenomenon in India, and it must be stopped.
Whether due to exams or attempts to control the flow of information online during elections or protests, internet shutdowns do self-inflicted harm to human rights and the economy. They curtail access to information, stop freedom of expression, and block the exercise of many other rights that are absolutely vital for a functioning democracy.
Even though India authorizes shutdowns under the Telegraph Act, the rules to suspend telecom services establish that “internet services can be suspended only by a reasoned order issued in writing by the Central or State Home Secretaries, or by an authorized officer not below the rank of Joint Secretary in unavoidable circumstances.” The same laws have established an oversight committee to review shutdowns; however, in practice, the effectiveness of the committee is questionable. The committee is supposed to begin review within five working days that an internet shutdown order is issued — by which time most shutdowns would already have been imposed and lifted.
The people of India already suffer from shutdowns for other reasons. Adding another rationale contributes to a pattern of normalization that puts Indians in danger, including jeopardizing people’s physical safety. For more information on the negative impact that routine shutdowns for school exams would have for India, read this full analysis from the Software Freedom Law Center, India (SFLC.in). And please, join us in calling for an end to shutdowns, during exams and any other time.