Right to access internet is not a fundamental right and the state can curtail the freedom of speech and the right to trade through internet, the Jammu and Kashmir administration has told the Supreme Court while opposing restoration of 4G services in the union territory.
The administration told the apex court that a very reasonable quantum of restrictions have been imposed by reducing the speed of internet to protect the sovereignty, integrity and security of the country.
“It is submitted that the right to access 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 through the medium of internet can be curtailed,” an affidavit filed by the Jammu and Kashmir administration said.
The submissions were made in response to a plea filed by Foundation for Media Professionals seeking restoration of 4G internet services in the union territory in view of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.
The administration told the apex court that contentions raised by the petitioners in respect of an alleged deprivation of access to education, healthcare facilities and to justice itself with 2G internet speed are incorrect and it is taking all possible steps to ensure that minimum impact of COVID-19 situation is felt.
The increase in internet speed is verily apprehended to lead to swift uploading and posting of provocative videos and other heavy data files, the affidavit said.
“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.
“Various Pakistan-based outfits are leaving no stone unturned to exploit the present situation as seen by recent infiltration attempts in handling of which many personnel of security forces have lost their lives,” it said.
The Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is taking all possible steps to ensure that minimum inconvenience is caused to citizens while keeping the vital issues of national security and internal security as a paramount consideration, it said.
The misuse of data services, applications like WhatsApp and Facebook for mobilising crowds by anti-national elements has the potential to cause large-scale violence, disturb public order and indeed threaten the security of the country.
“It is submitted that the administrative authorities concerned are the best suited to assess and handle the situation depending upon the peculiar needs and facts brought within their special knowledge,” the affidavit said.
The administration said that restoration of 4G mobile data services will substantially increase the use of social media and other online platforms in uploading or downloading of videos and other propaganda material and their fast circulation, with resultant deterioration in law and order situation in the Kashmir Valley.
It added that miscreants were using different VPNs, but because of low-speed mobile data services, they were not able to upload files of heavy data containing incriminating and other objectionable videos.
“Pakistan-based handlers like TRF and TMI, instigating youth to join terrorism, are using messaging applications to communicate as also to raise the morale of terrorists; however, 2G mobile data services considerably restrict the use of such applications,” the affidavit added.
The administration further submitted in the court that restoration of 4G mobile data services will substantially increase the use of social media and other online platforms in uploading/downloading of videos and other propaganda material and their fast circulation, with resultant deterioration in the law and order situation in the Kashmir Valley.
Internet is being used to support fallacious proxy wars by raising money, recruiting and spreading propaganda/ideologies and prevalence of internet provides an easy inroad to young impressionable minds, the Jammu and Kashmir administration said.
Giving details, it said that till April 25, 108 militancy-related incidents took place with 99 incidents being reported from Kashmir province, while nine others from Jammu province.
“Thirty civilians lost their lives, while 114 civilians were injured in militancy-related incidents. Twenty Security forces personnel were killed and 54 SF personnel were injured. Seventy-six militants were killed apart from arrest of 132 militants/ suspects,” it said.
The administration also said the right to access internet is not a fundamental right in itself but an enabler of the right to free speech and carry out trade and business.