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Right to access internet is not fundamental right: J&K administration tells SC

In an affidavit filed with the Supreme Court on Wednesday, the administration of Jammu and Kashmir has maintained that the right to access the internet is not a fundamental right and the degree of access for exercising free speech or for carrying on any trade or business can be curtailed, as per media reports.

The affidavit came as a response to the petitions filed with the Supreme Court that sought the restoration of 4G services in the Valley. A not-for-profit organization, Foundation for Media Professionals also filed a plea, which said the lack of high-speed mobile internet is acting as an impediment for uninterrupted information regarding the Covid-19 outbreak, keeping people in the dark about the latest information, guidelines, advisories, and restrictions related to the pandemic.

The petitioner challenged the order issued by the J&K administration on March 26 restricting the internet speed in mobile data to 2G and prayed that 4G internet services be restored in the Union territory.

High-speed internet was suspended post the abrogation of Article 370 in the Valley that ripped its semi-autonomous status and declared it a Union Territory under the Jammu Kashmir Reorganization Bill with effect from October 31.

“The right to access the internet is not a fundamental right and thus the type and breadth of access for exercising the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) and/or to carry on any trade or business under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India (CoI) through the medium of the internet can be curtailed”, the affidavit read.

Protection of the sovereignty and integrity of India and ensuring the security of the country are sound grounds to reduce the speed of the internet, the affidavit said.

“The information regarding Covid-19 is also available on various social media platforms which can be easily accessed on low-speed 2G internet. Various government websites like the website of WHO, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, etc. associated with timely information flow in the form of awareness/advisories/orders can also be easily accessed at low-speed internet”, the affidavit said.

The affidavit further said that after the January 10 judgment by the apex court, various orders were passed by the administration that led to the gradual lifting restrictions in J&K. Mobile phone services – initially post-paid and thereafter pre-paid – were restored and restrictions on internet access were progressively lifted.

The Supreme Court in a judgment passed on January 10, had maintained that access to information and the freedom of trade and commerce via the internet are fundamental rights under the Constitution of India.

“High-speed internet services (4G) decrease the time of circulation of various photographs, videos, propaganda audios and hence enable the associated content to go viral, with the reaction time of law enforcement agencies to such situations decreasing”, the affidavit claimed.

―The Hindu Business Line

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