Right To Privacy

Internet Shutdowns in India: Upholding Constitutional Rights

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Right to Internet

Mains level : Not Much

Introduction

  • The Internet serves as a vital source of information, entertainment, healthcare, education, and livelihood.
  • However, the rampant instances of Internet suspension in India, often without public disclosure, raise concerns about constitutional rights and economic losses.

Constitutional Provisions for Right to Internet

Landmark Case Constitutional Provision Explanation
Anuradha Bhasin vs. Union of India and Ors. (2020) Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19(1)(a) Grants the right to freedom of speech and expression, which encompasses access to information and the Internet.
Faheema Shirin RK vs. State of Kerala and others (2019) Right to Education under Article 21A Guarantees the right to education for children aged 6 to 14;

Internet access is crucial for modern education.

K.S. Puttaswamy (Privacy) vs. Union of India (2017) Right to Privacy under Article 21 Protects the fundamental right to privacy, and Internet access is often used for secure communication.
Anuradha Bhasin vs. Union of India and Ors. Freedom to Practice Any Profession or Carry on Any Trade, Business, or Occupation under Article 19(1)(g) Ensures the freedom to conduct various trades, businesses, and professions, often requiring Internet access.

 

Mechanisms allowing Internet Shut-downs

Mechanism Authorities Purpose
Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017 Home Departments in the states, state government review committee, central government (under this law, but rarely used) Enforces shutdowns for public emergency or safety reasons.
Section 144 of the CrPC Local law enforcement authorities Enables shutdowns, particularly before 2017, to maintain public order and safety.
The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, Section 5(2) Home Secretary of the Union or state governments Allows blocking of messaging during a public emergency, safeguarding public safety, or protecting sovereignty and integrity.

Landmark Precedence: Anuradha Bhasin Judgment (2020)

  • Supreme Court’s Ruling: In January 2020, the Supreme Court of India recognized access to the Internet as a fundamental right under the Indian Constitution.
  • Restrictions Guidelines: The Court mandated that any government-imposed Internet restrictions must be temporary, limited, lawful, necessary, and proportionate. It also emphasized judicial review.

Unfulfilled Promises and Ongoing Restrictions

  • Broken Promises: Despite the Anuradha Bhasin judgment, Internet shutdowns increased in India, making it the leader in global Internet suspensions.
  • Recent Examples: The Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and Haryana have imposed Internet restrictions without timely publication of orders.
  • Compliance Issues: Lack of publication erodes public trust and limits the ability to challenge the legality of restrictions.

Need for Transparency

  • Publication’s Significance: Non-disclosure of orders hinders legal challenges and perpetuates illegal restrictions.
  • Statutory Recognition: The government’s failure to give statutory recognition to the Supreme Court’s directions creates awareness issues.
  • Economic Impact: In 2020, India suffered $2.8 billion in losses due to 129 Internet shutdowns affecting 10.3 million individuals.

Widespread Impact

  • Economic, Psychological, and Social Harm: Internet suspensions harm the economy and disrupt daily life, education, healthcare, and communication.
  • Democratic Right to Protest: Restrictions on Internet access hinder the democratic exercise of the right to protest.
  • Verifying Information: The Internet helps verify rumors and disseminate the truth during emergencies.

Socio-economic Disparities

  • Mobile-Dependent Users: The majority of Internet users rely on mobile data services, making Internet restrictions detrimental to lower socio-economic groups.
  • Broadband Accessibility: Limited access to broadband Internet exacerbates the impact of shutdowns.

Conclusion

  • To uphold constitutional rights and unlock the full potential of Digital India, the government must adhere to the Supreme Court’s guidelines, ensuring transparency and legality in Internet shutdowns.
  • Addressing compliance issues and minimizing restrictions can benefit the nation’s economic and social well-being.

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