- GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
Context: In January, 2020, the Supreme Court in Anuradha Bhasin vs Union of India case, held that access to information via the Internet is a fundamental right under the Indian Constitution.
- It held that any restriction on Internet access by the Government must be temporary, limited in scope, lawful, necessary and proportionate.
- Also, Government’s orders restricting Internet access are subject to review by Courts.
- The expectation was that the Internet suspension will be ordered in only those exceptional situations where there is a public emergency or a threat to public safety
Criticisms of Internet Shutdowns
- SC directions sidelined: Government has not done enough to give statutory recognition to direction in Anuradha Bashin case. In fact, the year following the SC decision, India saw more instances of Internet shutdown than the year preceding it.
- Non-Publication of orders: The internet suspension orders by authorities are not uploaded on the government’s websites, as was mandated by SC in Anuradha Bhasin case.
- Hurdles in Judicial recourse: Unless these orders are published, aggrieved citizens cannot approach the court of law.
- Trust deficit: Restrictions without publicly disclosed reasons create a trust deficit & undermines public confidence in the Government.
- Lack of awareness: The experience with Section 66A of IT Act has shown that if SC decisions are not statutorily recognised, the officials enforce the law incorrectly simply because of a lack of awareness.
- Economic Loss: In 2020, the Indian economy suffered losses to the tune of $2.8 billion due to 129 separate instances of Internet suspension, which affected 10.3 million individuals.
- Wide-ranging Impact: The harm — economic, psychological, social, and journalistic — caused by such suspensions is more than any benefits of such suspension.
More faithful compliance with the Supreme Court guidelines on the part of the government is needed to rid ourselves of the tag of the “internet shutdown capital” of the world and fulfil Digital India’s potential
Connecting the dots: