The Supreme Court’s judgment on Friday asked authorities to review the suspension of Internet services in Kashmir within seven days was seen by experts as a small step in reducing the government's indiscriminate shutting down of internet access.
The court had held that complete suspension of services should be considered only if “necessary” and “unavoidable”. It further said the freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to practice any profession or carry on any trade, business or occupation over the medium of internet enjoys constitutional protection under Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(1)(g), thus making it a fundamental right.
NS Nappinai, Supreme Court advocate and cyber law specialist, said India has already gained global notoriety as an enforcer of internet shutdowns. “We’re glad that the ruling recognises the importance of communication channels.
There are only very specific stringent processes that could invoke these shutdowns,” she said.
“But we have seen rampant and very casual use of these processes. These shutdowns that India has seen, as a trend, need to stop and this SC judgment becomes the first step in reversing the trend," Nappinai said.
Apar Gupta, executive director at Internet Freedom Foundation, said the ruling lays down the basic principles and safeguards to be followed by the government in such cases.
“It also says shutdowns cannot be made indefinitely and cannot be applied indiscriminately...Much now depends on
further government action, and much falls on future actions of the government to comply with the ruling, as well as the court’s own enforcement," Gupta added.
The Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC), a non-profit legal services organisation which maintains an internet shutdown tracker for India, estimates the number of shutdowns between 2012 to now at 381. Of these, 106 were recorded in 2019, including the one in Kashmir, which is the longest recorded shutdown anywhere in the world.