The right to access the Internet is a fundamental right.

OVERVIEW

The right to access the Internet is a fundamental right.

Index:

  • Introduction
  • Benefits of the Internet in education
  • Importance of Internet
  • Making all services available online can also ensure a reduction in the cost for the government.
  • Challenges before internet availability in India
  • Article related to freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right
  • How relevant is the fundamental right to access the Internet?
  • Fundamental Right to Internet Access and the United Nations
  • Case: Fahima Shirin v State of Kerala September 19, 2019
  • Case: Anuradha Bhasin Vs. Union of India 2020

Introduction:

The ban on internet services is meant to bring people back to the era when the Internet was limited to a handful of people, and all services or facilities were available offline. India today accounts for 12 percent of all internet users in the world.

There are about 500 million internet users in the country today, and in modern times everything is dependent on the Internet. Due to the restrictions imposed on the Internet, people have to face many problems. This causes a lot of damage to the economy of the country. Economists believe that just one hour's ban on the Internet causes a loss of crores of rupees to the economy. According to a report, due to internet restrictions imposed between 2012 and 2019, the country's economy suffered a loss of three billion dollars or about 21 thousand crore rupees.

The Internet has been shut down more than 400 times across India in the last ten years, and Rajasthan state alone has had more than 80 internet shutdowns in these ten years. After the murder of Kanhaiyalal in Udaipur on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, the Internet was shut down with section 144 in the entire Rajasthan, including Udaipur.

However, this is not the first time the Rajasthan Government has shut down the Internet. If there is an exam, then the government announced an internet shutdown; when the Karoli riots happened, Internet shut down, and when the Ramganj riots, an internet shutdown was announced. It has been seen repeatedly for the last few years that wherever protests against the administration started in the country, the Internet is immediately banned, arguing to control the rumors.

This is why the Internet has been banned so often in the country since 2012 that India is now at the forefront of internet bans. In the era of digitization, the Internet has become an essential means of communication and information acquisition. Decades ago, access to the Internet was considered a sign of luxury, but today the Internet has become a necessity for everyone.

Benefits of the Internet in Education:

  • The biggest obstacle in front of education in the country is the cost of education, but the Internet has removed this barrier to a great extent. Along with this, it has also become possible to improve the quality of education through the Internet. The Internet has also done the job of facilitating communication between teachers and students. In 2020, during the time of the Corona epidemic, all schools went online. Due to this, many benefits of the Internet were seen in education.

Importance of the Internet:

  • The Internet is an invaluable means of communication, and it cannot be denied that the availability of the Internet has made communication very easy and convenient in the present era.
  • In 2020, no one could get out due to the corona epidemic. At that time, simple facilities like food items, medicines, and everyday things had gone online. This made the commoner aware of the importance of the Internet.
  • The Internet plays a vital role in the field of education. There is no doubt that at this time, almost everyone searches on Google for their problems and questions.
  • There is a lot of knowledge available on the Internet about almost all the subjects, which you can search anytime per your requirement.
  • The Internet has opened the option of better education even for those students living in remote areas, who did not have such facilities till now.
  • A strong revolution has also been witnessed in information through the Internet. Now we can get any information through the Internet in a few minutes.
  • Due to easy access to information, ordinary people have also become aware of their rights.

Making all services available online can also ensure cost reduction for the government:

  • It increases the accountability and transparency of the government.
  • It is helpful in the successful implementation of government schemes.
  • It also helps increase citizens' participation in politics and democracy.
  • It also boosts the government's efforts to provide better education, health, and employment opportunities.

Challenges before Internet availability in India:

  • Many private and government services have been digitized over the years, and some of them are available online only. Due to this, those people have to face inequality who are digitally illiterate.
  • The digital divide can lead to social and economic backwardness due to a lack of reliable information, infrastructure, and digital literacy.
  • The digital divide can be seen across the socio-economic spectrum of India, i.e., rural and urban India, rich and poor, and India's demographic profile (old and young, male and female).

Article related to freedom of speech and expression in Fundamental Rights:

Article 19(1)(a): This article guarantees freedom of speech and expression to every citizen of India. Provides the right to every citizen of India to freely express his views and beliefs through speech, writing, painting, drawing, or any other manner.

Under Article 21, no person, whether Indian or not, shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

According to Article 21(a), the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children aged six to fourteen years, and the State may prescribe such education by law.

How relevant is the fundamental right to access the Internet?

  • Making the right to access the Internet a fundamental right can be seen as a step toward reducing digital inequality.
  • Also, granting the right to access the Internet as a fundamental right supports other rights such as the right to education, privacy, freedom of expression, etc.

Fundamental Right to Internet Access and the United Nations:

  • It is noteworthy that in 2016, the United Nations declared the right to access the Internet as a fundamental right and said that separating people from the Internet is a violation of human rights and is against international law.

Case: Fahima Shirin v State of Kerala September 19, 2019

  • In this case, Faheem Shirin was expelled from her college hostel because she used a mobile phone during the restricted time. All the students residing in that hostel were instructed not to use mobile phones between 6 pm and 10 pm.
  • But Fahima did not hand over her mobile to the hostel warden as per the instructions. After that, she was expelled. In her petition, Fahima said that during her studies, her mobile and the Internet helped her to do research, complete assignments, and analysis; hence she used her mobile.
  • The girl student had challenged the same issue before the Kerala High Court. Hearing the petition filed by the student, Justice PV Asha declared the right to access the Internet as a fundamental right.
  • Fahima also claimed that such a ban was discriminatory based on gender; as a rule, it was not applicable in boys' hostels.
  • On this, the High Court ordered the college to give immediate admission to the girl student in the hostel under the authority granted under Article 21 of the Constitution. Justice PV Asha said, "The United Nations Human Rights Council has also recognized the use of the Internet as a fundamental freedom. As such, any rules and guidelines restricting the rights of students cannot be legally sanctioned.
  • The right to access the Internet was declared a fundamental right, making it part of the right to privacy and education under Article 21 of the Constitution.
  • Recognizing the right to Internet access as a fundamental right was a commendable step taken by the Kerala High Court. These moves not only supported other fundamental rights but also worked towards the digital inequality of the country.

Case: Anuradha Bhasin Vs. Union of India 2020

  • When Article 370 was removed from Jammu and Kashmir from our Constitution of India on August 4, 2019, riots started on it. Given these riots, the government there had stopped the internet service.
  • After this, on January 29, 2020, Anuradha Bhasin filed a petition in the Supreme Court.
  • A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, while reviewing the restrictions issued in Jammu and Kashmir, in its landmark decision, declared the Internet as a fundamental right of the people under Article 19 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court, in one of its judgments in April 2017, had also said that internet access is a citizen's right.
  • Article 19 of the Constitution under which the Internet has been declared a fundamental right by the Court, under the article, freedom of expression, without arms, peaceful assembly anywhere, forming associations or organizations, roaming freely anywhere, right to reside or settle in any part of the country, to take up any occupation or to do business.
  • However, the Court has also held that reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2) of the Constitution shall apply to this fundamental right to the Internet. And this can be done only when there is any threat to the sovereignty, integrity, and security of India; there may be a possibility of bad relations with neighboring countries, whether to protect social decorum and morals or to maintain order, but while banning the Internet, the administration will now have to give appropriate reasons for this.
  • The Court had clearly said that a long-term ban on the Internet could be imposed only when there is no other option, but still, it should be reviewed from time to time.

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