RIGHT TO INTERNET – A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT
Author : ISHITA ARORA
Internet has become a part of our lives and it brings ease in our everyday jobs. Internet helps us in building endless network of people, information and knowledge.
Internet access means access to actionable information, innovation best practices, access to finance and credit facilities, facilitation of entrepreneurship and an enhanced employment market.
Even the United Nations report mentions that right to access internet is a basic human right. There have been a number of conflicts and disputes across the world on the issues related to internet.
It has brought up an issue which is that whether access to internet is a fundamental right or not.
This is a very important and intense issue in those nations where the governments and the authorities have shut down the internet access with the intention of stopping the people to raise their voice.
The constitution of India guarantees the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 (1).
The Supreme Court has been expanding the scope of this article through various judgments. In 2017, Kerala High Court in the case of Faheema Shirin v. State of Kerala held that right to internet access is a fundamental right and a necessity.
The Supreme Court in the case of Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India and Gulam Nabi Azad v. Union of India held that indefinite suspension of internet services is illegal under Indian law.
The case of Bhasin was related to restrictions imposed in the State of Jammu and Kashmir in India for national security. In the end, the Supreme Court did not lift the internet instructions but asked the government to review the shutdown orders in the State.
The Supreme Court said that freedom of speech and expression can be restricted because of national security. Freedom of expression and the freedom online are protected under Indian Constitution. But, the Government can suspend the Internet.
The government only has to prove necessity and impose a temporal limit, which it failed to do in the present case. Therefore, the government had to review its suspension orders and lift those that were not necessary or did not have a temporal limit.
Also, the restrictions under Section 144 of CrPC cannot be used to suppress legitimate expression and are subject to judicial scrutiny.
Right to internet has been recognized as a fundamental right. Internet is the primary source of information nowadays. And in a society unequal access to internet will create socio – economic exclusions that is the divide between rural and urban, between rich and poor.
Thus, it will create a new form of inequality. The government has also realized the importance of internet access by introducing various programmes such as digital India mission, BharatNet, National digital literacy mission, etc to promote digital literacy and provide internet access to everyone in India.
Moreover, during the global pandemic, due to social distancing norms we all are living our lives through internet. But digital inequality deprives millions of people the internet connection.
Only 54 per cent of the people in the world have access to internet, whereas marginalized and poor people don’t have access to internet, especially those people living in remote and rural areas.
It is very correctly said that “Internet access is a lifeline — not a luxury. But it is a lifeline that over 3.5 billion people cannot access.“ Due to this digital divide, many students have committed suicide due to lack of smart phones, computers, internet connection as they were behind other students in education.
Then, regarding the restrictions imposed on Jammu and Kashmir, a number of petitions were filed. The pleas contended that restriction on Internet violates the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 21, 19, 14 and 21A of the constitution.
They contended that limiting internet speed during a health crisis leaves doctors, general public and specialist without the access to information, guidelines, updates, etc. Also, the right to education of students is also violated as the students are not able to attend online classes due to restriction on internet.
The reason given by J7K administration for this situation is that right to access internet is not a fundamental right, it is just an enabler of rights. They said that fundamental right to speech and expression is not absolute; certain restrictions can be imposed on it.
And the restriction on internet has been imposed to protect the integrity and sovereignty of India. Removing the restriction would lead to spreading of information to enemies also about the troop movements, etc. The Supreme Court said that right to internet can be restricted under certain conditions and didn’t pass any order for restoration of internet in the union territory.
However, it ordered the central government to establish a committee to decide whether internet restrictions are necessary or not. The restriction on internet in J&K has been imposed since nine months and now the authorities need to find a better steps and measures to deal with this situation.
The right to internet access is a fundamental right in India. Hence, the Government, companies, and civil societies should work together and take urgent measures to get as many people online as possible during this global pandemic as this is the need of the hour. Any internet shutdown should also end.
The global health crisis has highlighted that how vital access to the internet and digital technologies are to all the people. Irrespective of the economic, political, social or geographical background of the person, internet has become a necessity for a person.