(P.S: This is in continuation of the previous article in the series of discussions held at the 2 day conclave in Delhi on 14th and 15th July 2017 titled “Securing Cyber Space” )

The discussion on Civil Society Consultations on Net issues had focused on two specific aspects namely “Internet Shutdowns” and “Net Neutrality” and Naavi placed his views for discussion which is also reflected in greater detail here.

The “Internet Shutdowns” have recently come under criticisms by Human Rights Activists since they have been used when the Police have observed that WhatApp messaging has been used to mobilize violent protesters and Police sought to break this communication channel as a part of their law enforcement requirement.

Internet is respected as “Free Speech” and we often demand that it should be considered as a “Fundamental Right” and should be protected as such in a democratic society. We are also aware that Internet has been used in the past for positive democratic movements including the Anna Hazare movement itself and shutdowns if it occurs are of concern to citizen activists.

However, we cannot deny that , in the recent days Internet has been misused by protestors in J&K to mobilize Stone Pelters to disturb the activity of the army against terrorists. It has also been used in other places in India including perhaps in Gujarat to mobilize crowd for anti Government protests and for spreading rumours aimed at disturbing peace in the society.

If the law enforcement has credible information that such protests or rumours can cause law and order problems, it is difficult to object to law enforcement seeking temporary shutdown of the channel of communication that can fuel trouble.

The debate of what is a reasonable case in which there could be an intervention and when it becomes trampling of democratic rights will never end and there has to be checks and balances including a judicial review if need be in case the Internet shutdown is used indiscriminately. Present law in ITA 2008 already has some provisions in this regard and if it is not being followed properly, we can examine the remedies related to proper implementation of the Section 69/69A rules.

Genuine, law respecting civil society would not mind accepting inconvenience as a part of the security of the society since we all realize that only if we survive in the society we can demand democratic rights such as free speech and privacy. These rights are therefore always subordinate to the requirements of Security.

The Civil society concern is not therefore on whether Internet shutdowns should be allowed or not but that it should not be misused. This requires a trust building between the regulatory authorities and the public and following up a “Due Process of Law” in administering the shutdowns.

Presently the checks and balances all revolve around officials in the Government and the Civil Society representatives (of the right type) are not involved either in the decision making or post decision review. This breeds distrust and a feeling that the provisions of Internet Shutdowns may be used like imposition of emergency to curb civil rights.

We need to therefore strengthen the process of post internet shutdown review and involve civil society members  in the consultation process. The concept of “Netizen’s Rights Commission” which I will elaborate more in my next article is one of the tools that we can use for this purpose.

Focusing now  more on the technical solution side, it is to be recognized that with India becoming more and more dependent on Digital transactions, Internet shutdowns could adversely affect innocent citizens who want to simply carry on their normal digital activities. In particular we would like our digital financial transactions, the health services etc not to be disturbed by the Internet shutdowns.

The challenge is to ensure that the “Critical Digital Services” continue to operate even when an Internet shutdown is warranted.

Technically this means that the communication channels like the WhatsApp like messaging services, E Mail and Web which can be used for spreading rumours and causing law and order problem should be separated from the part of the internet that deals with critical services.

Just as there is a “DarkWeb” which criminals have created as their territory, we should consider the possibility of creating a “White Web” where we can run the critical services.

If we have the segregation of “Non Essential Communication Data” from the “Essential Communication Data”, we can try to apply Internet Shutdowns selectively so that law enforcement needs are met without adverse impact on critical services.

This situation is like in the case of a Curfew being in town, critical movements of citizens can still be accomplished in Government vehicles.

We need to therefore find means of diverting the “Critical Services” to an “Emergency Network” during the time “Internet Shutdowns” are required.

This can be achieved either by creating a separate communication channel that can take the “Sensitive Critical data Traffic” like a VPN which can either be a permanent solution to many of our security issues or could be operated only during emergencies.

The access to such a network would obviously be based on “Identity clearance” through an “Identity Gateway” using digital signature or e-sign  as a base for identity. OTP is not considered a recommended identity clearance mechanism. If there are any other alternatives, it can be considered.

These services can also be licensed to the service operators themselves under a strict guideline and work like a “Digital Ambulance Service” that carries the critical data at times of Internet shutdowns.

One such “Digital Ambulance” can also be licensed to a “Media Self Regulatory Body” or even the “Supreme Court” or the “Netizen Rights Commission”  so that “Free Speech” can still reach an ombudsman who can filter them and take steps where by citizen’s democratic rights are not trampled with.

Some of these measures may come in conflict with the “Net Neutrality” debate which is discussed in the next article. But with the creation of the Netizen’s Rights Commission and that such instances of internet shutdowns are temporary and not permanent, we must be able to consider this “Digital Ambulance” concept to address the Internet Shutdown requirements.


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