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Supreme Court Asks MeitY if ‘Protocol’ for Internet Shutdowns Exists: Report

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The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) to respond to a plea alleging the arbitrary shutdown of Internet access in various states, as per a report. The apex court has previously ruled in 2020 that an undefined restriction of Internet services is illegal and orders for Internet shutdown must satisfy the tests of necessity and proportionality. State governments regularly shut down Internet access in regions where exams are conducted, with the aim of curbing cheating. 

On Friday, a bench comprising Chief Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justices S Ravindra Bhat and P S Narasimha asked MeitY to respond to a PIL filed by Software Freedom Law Center, according to a report by PTI. The plea has alleged that Internet services have been shut down in states like Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and West Bengal. 

The apex court reportedly asked the Centre for details on whether a protocol exists to deal with the issue, while stating that it was choosing to issue notice to MeitY instead of the states where the Internet shutdowns took place.

Internet shutdowns have been used to curb cheating in examinations held in some states, and advocate Vrinda Grover informed the Supreme Court that petitions were already filed in High Courts in Rajasthan and Calcutta.

The PIL refers to Internet shutdowns in Rajasthan amid recent communal tensions, and in various states in an attempt to prevent cheating during competitive examinations. The advocate also questioned whether proportionality would permit the shutdown of Internet access for this purpose, while adding that a parliamentary committee had said these measures should not be taken to prevent cheating. 

As per the report, the bench stated that the courts could be urged to follow the precedent set in the 2020 Anuradha Bhasin case, in which the apex court ruled that orders for Internet shutdown must satisfy the tests of necessity and proportionality and that an undefined restriction of Internet services is illegal. 


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