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[Answered] It is argued that the internet should be regarded as an essential service, and access to it as a fundamental right. Discuss.

 

Demand of the question

Introduction. Contextual introduction.

Body. Discuss why the internet should be regarded as an essential service and access to it as a fundamental right.

Conclusion. Way forward.

 

Today we live in a global digital era, where boundaries carry no meaning when it comes to the internet. The Internet is a must in today’s world if one has to enjoy various rights and services. In the present digital world where almost every service is being digitised, it is important to recognise the right to

Internet access as an independent right.

 

Need for recognising Right to Internet as a fundamental right in itself:

  1. Social injustice: Digital inequalities lead to gross social injustice and hinder development of the individuals. With non-availability of Internet many Indian citizens especially poor are unable to access many services. It also prevents them many employment opportunities.
  2. Preventing exclusion: In recent times, several government and private sector services have become digital. Some of them are only available online. Thus internet access is a must to avail these services. The Internet is a right in a way to enjoy other rights.
  3. Digital economy: We are moving to a global digital 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 Sustainable Development Goals as well as by the Indian government and has led to the Digital India mission.
  4. Good governance: Accountability and transparency are two pillars of good governance. Lack of internet hinders For example, the Internet helps people know what the government is doing and enables them to keep the government accountable through various platforms like Twitter or grievance portals.
  5. Employment opportunities: Lack of internet access prevents many people from equal employment opportunities. For example, a rural seller could earn more by selling online through e-commerce like amazon, which he may not enjoy due to lack of internet. Further digital illiteracy leads to lack of required skills, as digital skills are must nowadays to get any job.
  6. Women empowerment: Digital literacy and internet access helps in furthering women’s rights and helps them to be aware of their rights. It helps in educating women. Also it provides employment opportunities for them, as many women work from home through the internet.

 

Way forward:

  1. Positive obligation: There is 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.
  2. Negative obligation: A negative obligation is on the government prohibiting it from engaging in conduct that impedes, obstructs or violates such a right. Thus, it will prevent unwarranted internet shutdowns.
  3. Accountability: Recognising the right to the internet 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.
  4. Reducing inequalities: A right to Internet access would also further provisions given under Articles 38(2) and 39 of the Constitution reducing inequalities and furthering the rights of every individual.

 

Recently, in Faheema Shirin v. State of Kerala, the Kerala High Court declared the right to Internet access as a fundamental right forming a part of the right to privacy and the right to education under Article 21 of the Constitution. Some states including Kerala have included the internet in the list of essential services. It is an important step to recognise the right to the Internet as a fundamental right, and allow citizens increased access to information, services, and the creation of better livelihood opportunities. The Internet is a right in itself today which one should be available to all.

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