Whether Internet Access is a part of Fundamental Right? (IE)

Context: A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking a direction to the government to restore mobile internet at areas on the Delhi-Haryana border where thousands of farmers are camping in protest against three new farm laws.

  • The petition says denying access to internet is a violation of fundamental rights.

Analysis

Right To Internet A Basic Human Right

  • In 2016, UNHRC General Assembly articulated access to the Internet an essential human right.

Internet Access A Part Of Fundamental Right

  • In Anuradha Bhasin vs. Union of India (2020), SC in its judgement observed that freedom to practice any profession or carry on any trade, business or occupation over the medium of internet enjoys Constitutional protection under Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(1)(g), but the restriction of such fundamental rights should be according to Article 19(2) and (6) of the Constitution, inclusive of the test of proportionality.
  • Internet is an imperative tool for trade and commerce and plays an important role in carrying e-commerce business as it provides a virtual platform to a businessman which is more affordable.
  • It protected the right to use internet as medium for fulfilment of our fundamental rights, especially freedom of speech and expression, and freedom of trade and commerce.
  • Thereafter it has been widely reported and is believed that the Court has declared access to internet as a fundamental right. It is factually incorrect, as the court in its own words said, “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.
  • In Faheema Shirin RK Vs State of Kerala, Hon’ble High Court stated that Right to access internet is a part of Right to education and Right to Privacy under Article 21A and Article 21 of the Constitution of Indian respectively.
  • According to our constitution Article 19(1) All citizens shall have the right—
  1. To freedom of speech and expression;
  2. To assemble peaceably and without arms;
  3. To form associations or unions;
  4. To move freely throughout the territory of India;
  5. To reside and settle in any part of the territory of India;
  6. To practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.

Reasonable restrictions

  1. By enforcing Article 19(2) of the Constitution, the State can enforce reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of speech and expression based on eight grounds.

    These are:
  1. Defamation:  Refers to statements which injures a man’s reputation.
  2. Contempt of court: Restriction may be instituted on the freedom of speech and expression if it surpasses the reasonable limit and amounts to contempt of court.
  3. Decency or morality: Sections 292 to 294 of the Indian Penal Code provide for situations where freedom of speech and expression is limited in the interests of dignity or morality.
  4. Security of the state: Under Article 19(2), fair limitations on the freedom of speech and expression can be placed in the context of State’s security.
  5. Friendly relations with other states: The intention behind the provision is to prevent unrestricted malicious publicity against a foreign friendly state that can disrupt India’s good ties with that state.
  6. Incitement to an offence: Added through the 1951 Constitution (First Amendment) Act. Freedom of speech and expression cannot provide citizens with a privilege to incite people in committing offence.
  7. Sedition: Sedition supports all those activities, whether through words or writing, determined to disrupt the State’s tranquility and drive misguided individuals to subvert the government.
  8. Public Order: Introduced by the Constitution Act (first amendment). That which perturbs public peace or tranquility perturbs public order. ‘In the interest of public order’ involves not only utterances meant explicitly but also those which appear to contribute to disorder.
  • In addition to the above 8 limitations, the rights to freedom under Article 19 of the Indian constitution are revoked during the time of National Emergency proclaimed by the President of India.
  • Furthermore, during the time of action of the National Emergency, the President is authorized to suspend citizens’ right to move to the Supreme Court to implement their personal freedom.

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