The Supreme Court on Friday declined to express any views on whether “access to Internet” is a fundamental right.
In its 130-page judgment directing the government to “forthwith” review its orders suspending Internet services in Jammu and Kashmir, the court merely confined itself to declaring that the freedoms of speech, expression and conducting business on the Internet are fundamental rights integral to Article 19 of the Constitution and subject to reasonable restrictions.
“None of the counsels have argued for declaring the right to access the Internet as a fundamental right and therefore we are not expressing any view on the same,” Justice Ramana, who authored the verdict, wrote.
The judgment, however, makes a reference to how even one of the fathers of the Internet, Vinton G. Cerf, has argued that Internet cannot be elevated to the status of a human right.
“He argued that while the Internet is very important, however, it cannot be elevated to the status of a human right. Technology, in his view, is an enabler of rights and not a right in and of itself,” Justice Ramana wrote.
The court clarified that the right to free speech and expression includes the right to disseminate information as far and wide as possible. The State cannot restrict or deny free speech on the Internet because the medium has a huge impact and can circulate information across a wide range. The fundamental right of free speech and expression, with the advent of technology, includes speech and expression over different media. Law has to recognise the relevance of Internet.
“Expression through the Internet has gained contemporary relevance. It is one of the major means of information diffusion. Therefore, the freedom of speech and expression through the medium of internet is an integral part of Article 19(1)(a)...” the court noted.