Censorship & Internet shutdowns violate rights to free expression & affects one’s occupation: IFF

Chandigarh, Mar 31 (Representative) Internet Freedom Foundation has criticised internet shutdown and blocking of tweets and twitter accounts of journalists during Punjab police crackdown on ‘Waris Punjab De’ chief Amritpal and his associates, saying that Internet shutdowns impact fundamental rights to free expression and to carry one’s occupation over the medium of internet. Tanmay Singh, senior litigation counsel at IFF, a digital liberties organisation based in New Delhi, while speaking to UNI on phone on Friday, said the Supreme Court has recognised right to free speech on the internet as well as right to carry on one’s occupation over the medium of internet which are constitutionally protected fundamental rights under Article 19. He said Internet suspension can only be ordered on the occurrence of a public emergency or when there is a threat to public safety and in Punjab’s case, it seems, shutdown was to arrest one person. He said initially, it was for one day but over three days orders kept extended and 28 million people were affected. Mr. Singh said original order and it’s subsequent extensions did not specify any particular reason for issuing the suspension nor provided any details that could rise to the level of public emergency, which does not meet the legal standards.

He asserted that the Telecom Suspension Rules, 2017 are law of the land and must be followed even by governments. Mr. Singh said that besides, numerous tweets and twitter accounts were taken down or suspended on the orders of Indian government. He said that one legal request to withhold tweets/accounts in India was on March 19 by Indian government, which contained a list of several accounts and tweets belonging to politicians, journalists, reporters and even poets related to Punjab.He said the censorship, internet shutdowns were a matter of serious concern especially when done in an arbitrary, illegal and opaque manner. Mr. Singh said the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information and Technology has noted in it’s report that internet shutdowns cost India nearly 2.8 billion dollars in 2020 because of losses to app-based economies, IT, tourism, hospitality etc. ‘Any measures by the government that restrict the fundamental right of 28 million Indians must be lawful, proportionate and be treated with as much transparency as possible,’ he added.