House IT panel flags impact of internet shutdowns, to table reports this session

THE PARLIAMENTARY panel on Information Technology wants the government to assess the impact of internet shutdowns on the economy and livelihood of people, adopt standard procedures for such moves, and define “safety and security” which is often cited as the reason for restricting internet access, it is learnt.

A meeting of the IT panel, headed by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, on Tuesday is learnt to have adopted two reports — one on internet shutdowns, and the other on ethical standards in media. The reports will be tabled in Parliament during the winter session beginning November 29.

The report is learnt to state that internet shutdowns cannot be arbitrary. The panel is reported to have found that such actions have considerable impact on the economy in many parts of the country. The cellular operators who appeared before the parliamentary panel are learnt to have said that such shutdowns cause huge losses per hour. Since such actions have a deep impact on livelihoods, they amount to violation of the right to livelihood, the panel is learnt to have assessed.

Sources said the IT panel wanted the government to set up a mechanism for constant review of the impact and effect of internet shutdowns. The report also reflects the view that such disruptions border on violation of fundamental rights, sources said.

While dealing with the petitions on internet shutdown and restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir after its special status was revoked, the Supreme Court had said last year that access to the internet is a fundamental right by extension.

The IT panel is also learnt to have expressed unhappiness over the government’s failure to provide an account on internet disruptions across the country.

In another significant development, the IT panel is learnt to have decided to hear grievances against the UIDAI with regard to citizens’ data security and privacy. The IT Secretary and UIDAI CEO Saurabh Garg appeared before the panel which had decided to ” review the functioning of UIDAI, citizens’ data security and privacy, and digital payment and online security measures for data protection.” While both the officials are learnt to have assured the committee about the safeguards adopted by UIDAI, the panel has decided to hear different stakeholders, including those who have grievances.

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