The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) General Assembly recognized internet access as a fundamental human right in 2016. Internet access provides valuable resources such as information, innovation, financial services, entrepreneurship opportunities, and employment prospects. Internet access plays a significant role in achieving social development objectives and meeting the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Internet shutdown in India:
India witnessed a significant increase in internet penetration, reaching nearly 50 percent in 2020 from a mere 4 percent in 2007. However, access remains uneven, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
From 2014 to 2019, India experienced over 350 internet shutdowns, accounting for 67 percent of global shutdowns in 2018, as per Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC).
J&K alone has experienced 180 internet shutdowns since 2012, including the longest shutdown lasting 160 days after the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019.
Manipur faced internet shutdown due to the clashed between the Kukis and Meiteis in May 2023
Anuradha Bhasin vs.Union of India:
In this case, the Supreme Court examined the impact of prolonged internet shutdowns on fundamental rights.
The court highlighted the following implications:
Freedom of Speech and Expression: Internet shutdowns restrict citizens from expressing their opinions and hinder the functioning of media and social media platforms.
Right to Livelihood: Internet shutdowns adversely affect businesses that rely on internet access, resulting in economic losses.
Right to Life: Prolonged internet shutdowns hinder access to essential services like education and healthcare, infringing upon citizens’ right to lead a dignified life.
The Supreme Court ruled that internet access is protected under Article 19 of the Constitution, and indefinite suspensions and repeated shutdowns are not permissible.
While the right to internet access is not absolute, the government’s decision to impose shutdowns must meet the test of proportionality.
The court emphasized that orders for internet shutdowns should adhere to the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Service) Rules, 2017 and be made public.
The Supreme Court’s judgment curtails the discretionary powers of the government in imposing internet shutdowns, acknowledging the importance of internet access in various aspects of life, such as education, healthcare, and financial services.