Lift ban on Internet services with safeguards: Manipur High Court directs State government

The High Court also directed that with respect to Fibre to the Home (FTTH) connections, the Home Department must mandatorily approve each case on its own merits subject to the conditions suggested for ILL .

July 08, 2023 01:50 pm | Updated 08:27 pm IST

Some of the safeguards agreed to by the High Court-appointed Expert Committee for Internet access to be restored include limiting speed to 10MB/s, securing undertakings from intended users, and subjecting users to “physical monitoring”. File

Some of the safeguards agreed to by the High Court-appointed Expert Committee for Internet access to be restored include limiting speed to 10MB/s, securing undertakings from intended users, and subjecting users to “physical monitoring”. File | Photo Credit: Reuters

The Manipur High Court on July 7 directed the Home Department of the Manipur government to lift the ban on providing internet through Internet Lease Lines (ILLs) throughout the State to facilitate limited access to internet services for the public, and to consider Fibre to Home connections on a case to case basis, provided the safeguards put on record by the Expert Committee are complied with. 

Some of the safeguards agreed to by the Expert Committee and put forth by the State government for internet access to be restored include limiting the speed to 10MB/s, securing undertakings from intended users that they will not do anything illegal, and subjecting the users to “physical monitoring by the concerned authority/officials”.

The directions came from a Division Bench of Justices Ahanthem Bimol Singh and A. Guneshwar Sharma that was hearing a batch of petitions seeking restoration of internet services in Manipur, which has been under an internet shutdown since May 3, when ethnic conflict broke out between the dominant Meitei people and Scheduled Tribe Kuki-Zomi people.  

The High Court’s directions came after an in-chamber hearing on July 7, which lasted several hours, and broadly are for restoring limited access to ILLs, which are dedicated internet connections not shared with other users — often used by enterprises, businesses, offices, institutes, etc. The second part of the directions are for Fibre-to-Home connections for personal users and the third part deals with the possibility of whitelisting mobile devices, for which, the state has been directed to conduct physical trials.

In the order, the court said, “The State Government, more particularly, the Home Department is directed to lift the ban on providing internet service through Internet Lease Line (ILL) throughout the whole State after ensuring that all the stakeholders have complied with the safeguards given by the Expert Committee mentioned hereinabove.”

For both ILLs and FTH connections, the 12-member Expert Committee formed by the high court on June 27, submitted the following safeguards, which include setting up a dedicated Leased Line or FTH line with static IP. Other measures to be adhered include, “Banning of Wifi/ Hotspots from any of the routers and systems, MAC binding at the system level or router, blocking of social media websites and VPNs at the local level, removing of any existing VPNs softwares from the system and prohibiting installation of new softwares by any user, and enforcing Physical Monitoring by the concerned authority/ officials.”

In addition to this, the State government, in a June 12 meeting with experts and representatives of telecos and internet service providers, decided that the speed for ILLs and FTHs should be capped at 10MB/s, subject to undertaking obtained from the intending /existing subscribers that they will not do anything illegal such as spreading rumours, “inciting contents or comments which is likely to create mistrust/ misunderstanding which may aggravates the ongoing law and order crisis in the State of Manipur” 

The State government had also decided that the user signing the undertaking would be “personally held responsible” for illegal actions done by a secondary user through their network. “The primary subscriber shall be made mandatory to maintain log book of secondary user including details of date, time and duration (entry/exit) of internet use,” the government had decided.

Additionally, for FTH connections the state government had placed the condition of “ensuring One to One connection and control by the ISP (Internet Service Provider)“

The court noted that the Commissioner (Home) and all expert members present at the hearing were of the unanimous view that “there will be no problem or difficulty in lifting of the ban in respect of the Internet Lease Line (ILL) by ensuring and following the safeguards given by the expert members mentioned hereinabove.”

“In the case of Fibre To The Home (FTTH), lifting of the ban on providing internet service can be carried out by the Home Department on case to case basis and after ensuring that all the stakeholders have duly complied with the above mentioned safeguards given by the Expert Committee,” the High Court said. 

As for whitelisting mobile devices, the court directed the state government to conduct a physical trial as proposed during the hearing, in order to “find out the feasibility of providing internet service to the whitelisted mobile phones without jeopardizing the security of the State and the life and property of the citizen”.

A report in this regard has been called for by the court before the next date of hearing on July 25. In the hearing, the State government had said that it intends to conduct the physical trial and prepare a report within 15 days.  

In the suggestions given by the Expert Committee to the court, panel members had said that whitelisting specially identified mobile numbers was possible if the Home Department supplied a list of such devices. The court noted, “It has also been stated by all the officials of the service providers that providing of internet service will be exclusively limited to those specially identified or whitelisted mobile numbers and that there is absolutely no chance or possibility of any leakage.”

Meanwhile, the review petitions against the March 27 order on the ST status for Meiteis and the appeal filed against it were adjourned this week. While the reviews have now been listed for next hearing on August 7, the appeal will be taken up again on July 28.

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