Striking a Balance Between National Security and Fundamental Rights
SC JUDGMENT ON INTERNET RESTRICTIONS IN THE STATE OF J&K
Foundation for Media Professionals V. Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir Foundation
The Hon'ble Supreme Court of India, on the bench comprising of Justices N V Ramana, R Subhash Reddy, and B R Gavai pronounced judgment on the petition for better internet speed during the time of national lockdown. In August 2019, after the abrogation of Article 370, the internet lockdown was imposed in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The internet services, after the Supreme Court order in January 2020, were partially restored. However, the entire shutdown is yet to be lifted.
The Honorable Court noted the contention of both sides in the judgment that, the petitioners had contended the internet restrictions in the state of J & K were disproportionate to the object sought and thereby violated the Suspension of telecom services rules and the Supreme Court’s judgment in Anuradha Bhasin Case.
In the current situation of lockdown, access to the internet acquires more importance which is necessary to avail online delivery services, medical services, e-education, online jobs and businesses, e-filing of cases, and circulation of COVID-19 related information on containment. Even if there is apprehended violence, the internet can be made available in some non-problematic areas on a trial basis.
These contentions were countered by the Attorney general on the grounds of national security and its paramount over claims of fundamental rights. To halt the flow of misleading information it is imperative to restrict internet speed at 2G in the region. Also, the information regarding COVID-19 on websites, social media platforms, applications made for circulating information can be easily downloaded over a 2G internet. Advisories and documents relating to COVID-19 have been procured by over 1 lakh health professionals in Jammu and Kashmir through fixed-line internet. To ensure access to the right to health, information is being broadcasted through radio and TV and pamphlets and posters in three different languages and are being distributed to the public. Various COVID-19 Helpline numbers have been highlighted in the region.
With regard to the right to education, lessons are broadcasted on 16 DD channels and the department has undertaken to distribute textbooks up to elementary level, to the eligible students at their homes. The state has submitted that terrorist activities have increased in the region and the internet is likely to fuel terrorism.
The court noted the contentions of both sides and ordered the constitution for a review committee consisting of Secretaries of Union Ministers of Home Affairs & Communications and the Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir to examine the contentions and suggestions of petitioners as well as respondents.
The committee must also examine the suggestions of petitioners regarding lifting speed restrictions of the internet in areas where necessary and inform the respondents about the same. The Honorable Court dismissing the petitions pointed out that while it is convenient to have the internet at this time of nationwide lockdown, a balance has to be effectuated between the right to the internet and the national security. The restriction of internet speed to 2G is to prevent the flow of information in order to prevent misuse by terrorists to disturb public peace.
As observed in Anuradha Bhasin's judgment, the restriction must be proportional to the necessity. Although the orders to limit the access to the internet have been made for the specified time, as they are imposed in the entire territory of Jammu and Kashmir. However, Certain concerns of cross border terrorism in the union of Jammu and Kashmir cannot be overlooked. Furthermore, the court acknowledged that the authorities have taken steps to ease the restrictions in such a prevailing situation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
SHRIYA RAJE, is a third-year BA LL.B (Honours) Student from University of Allahabad. This is edited by Vijayalakshmi Raju.
You can contact the author at https://www.linkedin.com/in/shriya-raje-7850911aa
Editor- Vijayalaxmi Raju
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