The Union Ministry of Communications has asked telecom operators and internet service providers to explore ways of blocking mobile applications such as Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp during emergencies, PTI reported on Monday.
The ministry sent a letter to companies, including Bharti Airtel Ltd, Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, Vodafone India Ltd, Idea Cellular Ltd, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, and industry associations, on July 18, seeking their inputs.
Industry association ASSOCHAM, representing telecom operators, said such a move would be excessive and unnecessary, reported Medianama. In its response to the ministry on August 1, ASSOCHAM said blocking apps would “greatly harm India’s reputation as a growing hub of innovation in technology”.
The industry body cited a study that said apps contributed $20 billion in 2015-’16 to India’s Gross Domestic Product. “The result is that blocking orders are often overboard, have unintended consequences such as blanked outages and end up causing serious harm to economic and consumer interests,” ASSOCHAM wrote.
The association said regulatory measures “need to be targeted, narrowly applied”. Broad blocking measures will adversely impact online usage of innocent consumers, it added.
But government officials allayed fears of any drastic step, and said this was only being discussed. “There is no move to block any apps,” an unidentified government official told Mint. “Meity [Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology] has told the Department of Telecom that blocking such apps during emergency... situations is difficult, and hence there is a need for a reasonably good solution to protect national security.”
This is not the first time that governments in the country have sought to block social media apps. The government in Jammu and Kashmir has suspended internet time and again. Rajasthan has also clamped down on internet services several times this year. Maharashtra blocked internet services during the Maratha quota stir while Tripura curbed internet access to stop child-lifting rumours from spreading.