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Right to access internet is fundamental right declares Kerala High Court

Right to access internet is fundamental right declares Kerala High Court

Tag:  GS 2 || Polity||Constitutional Framework ||Fundamental Rights

Why In News?

  • The Kerala High Court held that the right to have access to the Internet is part of the fundamental right to education as well as the right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution.

 Right to access Internet

  • The court ordered to re-admit a student who had been expelled from the college hostel for using her mobile phone beyond the restricted hours.
  • The court observed that when the Human Rights Council of the UN has found that the right of access to Internet is a fundamental freedom and a tool to ensure right to education.
  • A rule or instruction which impairs the said right of the students cannot be permitted to stand in the eye of law.
  • The bench contended that the use of mobile phones amounted to a violation of fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(a) of the Constitution.

Restrictions on Art. 19(1)(a)

  • The court cited the observations of the Supreme Court in the Rengarajan and others vs P. Jagjivan Ram (1989) case.
  • It said that the fundamental freedom under Article 19(1) can be reasonably restricted only for the purposes mentioned in Article 19(2).
  • 19(2) provides for reasonable restrictions on Art. 19(1) in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

Digital inequality

  • Inequality is a concept that underpins most interventions focused on social justice and development.
  • It resembles the mythological serpent Hydra in Greek mythology — as the state attempts to deal with one aspect of inequality.
  • In recent times, several government and private sector services have become digital. Some of them are only available online.
  • This leads to a new kind of inequality, digital inequality, where social and economic backwardness is exacerbated due to information poverty, lack of infrastructure, and lack of digital literacy.

 Indian case

  • According to the Deloitte report, ‘Digital India: Unlocking the Trillion Dollar Opportunity’, in mid-2016, digital literacy in India was less than 10%.
  • We are moving to a global economy where knowledge of digital processes will transform the way in which people work, collaborate, consume information, and entertain themselves.
  • This has been acknowledged in the SDGs (Sustain Development Goals) as well as by the Indian government and has led to the Digital India mission.

Benefits of Digital Equality

  • Offering services online has cost and efficiency.
  • However, in the absence of Internet access and digital literacy enabling that access, there will be further exclusion of large parts of the population, exacerbating the already existing digital divide.

 The economics behind

  • Moving governance and service delivery online without the requisite progress in Internet access and digital literacy also does not make economic sense.
  • For instance, Common Service Centres, which operate in rural and remote locations, are physical facilities which help in delivering digital government services and informing communities about government initiatives.
  • While the state may be saving resources by moving services online, it also has to spend resources since a large chunk of citizens cannot access these services.
  • The Bharat Net programme, aiming to have an optical fibre network in all gram panchayats, is to act as the infrastructural backbone for having Internet access all across the country.

 The importance of digital literacy

  • Internet access and digital literacy have implications beyond access to government services.
  • Digital literacy allows people to access information and services, collaborate, and navigate socio-cultural networks.

What’s so special with the recent judgement?

  • The Kerala HC judgment acknowledges the role of the right to access Internet in accessing other fundamental rights.

In this framework the state would have-

  • A positive obligation to create infrastructure for a minimum standard and quality of Internet access as well as capacity-building measures which would allow all citizens to be digitally literate.
  • A negative obligation prohibiting it from engaging in conduct that impedes, obstructs or violates such a right.

Conclusion

  • The courts have always interpreted Article 21 as a broad spectrum of rights considered incidental and/or integral to the right to life.
  • Recognising this right will also make it easier to demand accountability from the state, as well as encourage the legislature and the executive to take a more proactive role in furthering this right.

 Additional Info

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/kerala/kerala-hc-says-internet-access-a-fundamental-right-6011451/

Mains  Question

What are the impact and challenges of Internet Access and Digital Literacy on Socio-Economic Development?