Arbitrary and unreasonable Internet shutdowns by the government is a violation of the fundamental rights to information, education and free speech protected by the Constitution, said a petition filed in the Supreme Court on Friday. The petition filed by Ehtesham Hashmi, a Supreme Court advocate, said that access to Internet should be a fundamental right.
The petition said there were more than 100 instances of Internet shutdowns in 2019.
“Right to access internet is a fundamental right under right to education and the right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution. Suspension and shutdown of the Internet and communication services is an infringement of the freedom and rights guaranteed and safeguarded under Articles 19 and 21,” the petition filed by Ehtesham Hashmi, a Supreme Court advocate, contended.
Mr. Hashmi’s petition comes shortly after the Supreme Court declared in a judgment in the Anuradha Bhasin case challenging the Jammu and Kashmir restrictions that free speech and expression on the Internet was a fundamental right and constitutionally protected under Article 19.
However, the judgment authored by Justice Ramana, restrained from delving into the question whether right to access Internet is a fundamental right under the Constitution.
It is this question which Mr. Hashmi’s petition brings to fore when he argues that access to Internet is merged with manifold fundamental rights like education, information, communication, free speech and expression, health among others.
He referred to how the country saw such shutdowns during the CAA protests.
Mr. Hashmi said the court should clearly declare arbitrary Internet shutdowns by the State as illegal. The court should also issue guidelines to prevent unreasonable and arbitrary shutdowns under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017.
The petition said India has the maximum number of Internet shutdowns in the world. Between January 2012 and April 2018, the country has recorded 172 shutdowns across 19 States. The duration of the shutdowns vary from less than 24 hours to more than 72 hours, mode of restriction included restrictions on mobile, fixed line both the modes of connecting to Internet services.