Mobile network shutdowns could be human-rights violations

A mobile phone. Credit: johanl/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Excerpt:

Who uses mobile phones and for what? The biggest use case is with friends and family using cell phones to communicate good news – especially helpful during times of distress – and bad. They’re also used to access banking services, emergency services and the social media, and in information-poor environments like in the rural hinterland, to stay updated with essential government services and weather updates. Mobile-network shutdowns are also harmful for small businesses and impact TSP revenues. However, in the event of a shutdown, those who effect it are either not concerned about the consequences for legitimate activities or there isn’t a mechanism that allows them to reflect that concern.

As shutdowns become more frequent, the affected stakeholders are beginning to grapple with the fact that there are few legal sanctions holding the authorities back. Though the Telegraph Act (1885) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of Indian Act (2000) specify the circumstances in which the government can submit shutdown requests to TSPs, there is no requirement that an independent body be constituted to approve or reject shutdown requests – in effect, no layer between the government and TSPs (in the USA, the Department of Homeland Security is required to ensure a shutdown request it’s going to sign off on is absolutely necessary). Nor does the law specify the circumstances in which TSPs can discuss requests or claim compensation for loss of revenue – which are especially important because the requests are mired in claims of “national security” – or for citizens to engage with a grievance redressal mechanism. Though these concerns apply to ISPs, the Information Technology Act (2000) is more cognisant of the effects of Internet blockades.

Both Acts are concerned with regulating the provision and availability of network, not their unavailability. In other words there’s no ‘non-natural disaster response’ legislation that explicitly defines the extent to which state actors can interfere with the provision of public services to quell unrest.

Full article here.