SUPREME COURT OVER J&K INTERNET SHUTDOWN – MANDATES PUBLICATION OF SUSPENSION ORDERS
The Supreme Court recently released a judgment in response to petitions filed, challenging the closure of the Internet and curbing certain civil liberties in the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). For the first time, the Supreme Court has set the stage for challenging suspension orders before tribunals by mandating government to mandatorily publish all orders. The petition challenged the 2017 Rules on Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Service) imposed due to the Telegraph Act, the statute that enables Internet access to be restricted but does not provide for the publication or notification of any such order.
The court ruled that it is a "settled principle of law and natural justice" that requires these orders to be published, "particularly one that affects people's lives, freedom and property." This judgment rendered all such state directives subject to judicial review. Although suspension orders were still subject to judicial review, lack of public-domain availability of such orders stopped such appeals from being brought before the courts.
The court also said that even if a complete ban is imposed, there should be no undue burden on freedom of expression and the government must justify implementing such a ban and clarify why lesser alternatives would be inadequate. The Supreme Court decision is also in line with the recommendation of the United Nations to make Internet access a fundamental right for every nation.
Infinite internet ban is impermissible since the constitutionally protected use of the Internet. A government cannot deprive people of fundamental rights except as explicitly stated in the Constitution under reasonable restrictions. The right to freedom of speech and expression for all mentioned in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution is a fundamental right. In several occasions, the Supreme Court has broadened the scope of the right to freedom of speech and expression.
Nonetheless, without instructions for the removal of the present restrictions and without questions concerning the permanent existence of these restrictions, the judgment tends to have the character of an advisory opinion, while it lays down some essential principles in a case of fundamental rights
INTERNET SHUTDOWNS IN INDIA
- Worldwide, Internet shutdowns are usually used when there is civil strife to obstruct the flow of information about government decisions or to disrupt activist communications to prevent rumors to false news from spreading.
- This decision would have a huge effect on implementing suspension orders in a nation widely known as a global leader in cutting off access to the Net.
- Today, though India does not have accurate official data on Internet shutdowns, India tops the worldwide list of Internet shutdowns. There have been 381 shutdowns since 2012, 106 of which were in 2019, according to tracker from a foreign based institution.
- Following protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens, Internet services had been temporarily suspended in parts of Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Karnataka.
- Since 2012, the former state of Jammu and Kashmir has seen 180 Internet shutdowns.
- The most frequently provided reasons for cutting access were "Defense and insurgent clashes," "major search operations," "gunfights," and "offensive against CRPF men."
An Internet shutdown is more than just a disconnection from Whatsapp, Facebook or Twitter; it means limiting opportunities for artists who showcase their talent via YouTube or SoundCloud, web-leveraged entrepreneurs who allow them to amplify an idea without burning a hole in their wallet, or restricting learning avenues offered by platforms such as Coursera, etc. Students are unable to appear for various exams during an Internet shutdown; relief agencies, journalists and families are unable to develop contact in crisis-hit areas, and the dispersal of benefits is hampered by various e-governance schemes.