The Central government has amended the internet shutdown rules to restrict the validity of suspension orders to 15 days. It amended the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017, to make the changes.
The development was announced in a gazette notification by the Ministry of Communication on November 10 and shall come into force from the same date.
“The suspension order issued by the competent authority under sub-rule (1) shall not be in operation for more than fifteen days,” the notification reads.
Earlier, in the Anuradha Bhasin judgment, the Supreme Court had said 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.
Now, with the new order in place, any State or Central Home Department — the only ones legally authorised to order internet suspensions — can only suspend the internet for 15 days. This is in addition to the due process they must follow, such as forming a review committee after a suspension, and only letting the home secretary issue suspension orders.
While the amendment is presumably supposed to prevent prolonged blackouts, such as the long internet shutdown in Jammu & Kashmir last year, authorities can still restrict internet access by simply reissuing orders every 15 days. Like they already do in J&K by renewing orders that restrict internet to 2G speeds every few weeks, except the twin districts of Ganderbal in Kashmir and Udhampur in Jammu which have access to high-speed 4G services on a trial basis.
Last year, authorities placed the Union Territory under a communications blackout, with internet services, mobile network and even landline services shut, on the intervening night of August 4–5, when the erstwhile State’s special status under Article 370 was abrogated. The gag continued for months together.