From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Sec. 144 of CRPC
Mains level : Internet shutdown as an infringement of FR
Directing the government to mandatorily publish all orders permitting Internet shutdowns, the Supreme Court has for the first time set the stage for challenging suspension orders before courts.
What triggered the SC?
- India tops the list of Internet shutdowns globally. According to Software Freedom Law Center’s tracker, there have been 381 shutdowns since 2012, 106 of which were in 2019.
- The ongoing shutdown in Kashmir is the longest ever in any democratic country.
The prime mover for Supreme Court
- The Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Service) Rules, 2017 issued under the Telegraph Act deals with restricting Internet access.
- It does not provide for publication or notification of the order suspending Internet, the apex court mandated that such orders must be made available to the public.
- The court declared that it is a “settled principle of law, and of natural justice” that requires publication of such orders, “particularly one that affects lives, liberty and property of people”.
- This allows individuals to now challenge the orders before courts in J&K and rest of India.
Internet suspension orders are subjected to Judicial Review
- In the wake of protests against the new citizenship law, Internet services were suspended temporarily in parts of Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Karnataka.
- There should not be excessive burden on free speech even if complete prohibition is imposed, and the government has to justify imposition of such prohibition and explain why lesser alternatives were inadequate, the bench stated.
- It ruled that Restrictions are to be imposed in an emergency. Hence they must be proportionate to the concern. Their objective must be legitimate rather than cavalier.
- Authorities must necessarily consider an alternative and least restrictive mechanism before opting to restrict rights. Every decision to impose restriction should be backed by sufficient material and amenable to judicial review.
Pacing up with technology
- The bench also noted that the law needs to keep pace with technological development:
- We need to note that the law should imbibe the technological development and accordingly mould its rules so as to cater to the needs of society.
- Non-recognition of technology within the sphere of law is only a disservice to the inevitable.
Justifying the Kashmir shutdown
- Lastly, the court mandated that all orders regarding the Kashmir case be made public, and to provide essential services such as e-banking and hospitals immediately.
- What the centre was arguing in this case was that this is a matter of national security given that it pertains to Kashmir with a history of militancy.