Right to access the internet a fundamental right, can’t be curbed arbitrarily: SC on J&K restrictions

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News:The Supreme Court has ruled that the right to access the internet is a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.

Facts:

  • This ruling came on a petition on Internet blockade in Jammu and Kashmir due to revoking of Article 370.
  • The cases were also related to the impact of the prohibitory orders issued under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) on press freedom.

Key takeaways from the judgement

Court on Suspension of Internet services:

  • The Supreme Court has directed the Jammu and Kashmir authorities to review all orders imposing curbs in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • The court observed that suspending Internet services indefinitely is impermissible under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services [Public Emergency or Public Service] Rules,2017.
  • The suspension could be done for temporary duration only and the same is subject to judicial review.

Court on Freedom of Speech and expression:

  • The apex court observed that the Freedom of speech and expression includes right to internet within Article 19 of the Constitution.
  • Hence,the restrictions on fundamental rights cannot be done by an arbitrary exercise of powers.It should follow the principles of the doctrine of proportionality under Article 19(2).
  • The doctrine of Proportionality postulates that the nature and extent of the State’s interference with the exercise of a right must be proportionate to the goal it seeks to achieve.

Court on Section 144:

  • The court said that Section 144 cannot be used to suppress the legitimate expression of opinion or grievance or the exercise of democratic rights
  • The imposition of Section 144 must strike a balance between the rights of the individual and the concerns of the state.
  • Further,the powers under Section 144 should be exercised in a reasonable and bona fide manner and the order must state material facts in order to enable judicial review.

Additional information:

About Article 19:Article 19 of the Constitution lists the following as fundamental rights under the Protection of certain rights.It says all citizens shall have the right:

  • to freedom of speech and expression;
  • to assemble peaceably and without arms;
  • to form associations or unions;
  • to move freely throughout the territory of India;
  • to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and
  • to practise any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.

Restrictions under Article 19:The only restrictions which may be imposed are those mentioned in clause (2) of Article 19.These are:

  • the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India,
  • the security of the State,
  • friendly relations with foreign States,
  • public order, decency or morality
  • in relation to contempt of court, defamation or
  • incitement to an offence.

About Section 144:

  • Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code(CrPC) of 1973 authorizes the Executive Magistrate of any state or territory to issue an order to prohibit the assembly of four or more people in an area.
  • It is imposed in urgent cases of nuisance or apprehended danger of some event that has the potential to cause trouble or damage to human life or property.