In the internet age, digital rights are essentially human rights. The rights to digital privacy and freedom of expression, for instance, are just extensions of the equal and inherent rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations. Disconnecting individuals from the internet, as per the UN, is a violation of these rights and a violation of international law as well. In the case of India “Right to Privacy” is a part of “Right to Life” under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
The topic has a high probability of being asked as a Current Affairs Question as well as Indian Polity Questions in IAS Prelims and Mains.
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About Digital Rights
“Digital Rights” is a vast superset of basic and sophisticated rights related to the digital world. It encompasses many issues within it such as but not limited to: equal access to the internet, freedom of online expression, protection from online abuse/troll/harassment, privacy rights, data protection rights, and many more.
An individuals’ human and legal rights to access, use, produce, and disseminate digital media, as well as to access and make use of computers, other digital devices, and telecommunication systems, are known as digital rights. In the context of digital technology, particularly the Internet, the concept is especially relevant to the protection and fulfilment of existing rights, such as the right to privacy and freedom of expression. Several nations’ laws acknowledge the right to access the Internet.
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European Union’s Digital Rights
Building upon the European Pillar of Social Rights, these declarations are deeply rooted into the EU law such as the “Treaties to the Charter of Fundamental rights”. The EU is considered to be one of the strictest with respect to digital rights laws, it already has in place the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) which binds every online platform be it a website or an app to conform to certain stringent principles so as to protect the consumer..
The European Commision of the EU (European Union) has proposed one if its kind a declaration of digital rights and principles to the European Parliament. The draft declaration addresses key rights and concepts for the digital transformation, including putting people and their rights at the centre, promoting solidarity and inclusion, securing online freedom of choice, cultivating involvement in the digital public space, increasing individual safety, security, and empowerment, and encouraging the digital future’s sustainability.
These rights and concepts should complement individuals in the EU in their daily lives: affordably priced and high speed online connectivity everywhere and for everyone, well equipped schools and digitally skilled educators, smooth access to public services, a secure digital atmosphere for children, disconnecting after work time, obtaining easily understandable information about the environmental impact of our digital goods, and controlling how their personal information is used.
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Digital Rights in India
Digital rights in India are not as clearly laid out or structured as in some other parts of the world. Instances have been witnessed when the government has tried to bring in regulations and codification of these rights. For example the “Data Protection Bill” is still in making and is expected to be tabled sooner in the Parliament of India. Various High Courts as well as the Supreme Court of India has stipulated the inherent existence of a few digital rights within the current Fundamental Rights present in the Constitution of India. For example the “Right to access Internet” is a fundamental right available to Indian citizens under the following articles:
- Article 19: Right to freedom of Speech, Expression, Peaceful Assembly, Form Associations/Unions, Move Freely, Reside, Profession etc.
- Article 21: Right to Life and Personal Liberty
- Article 21A: Right to Education
Similarly, the “Right to Privacy” comes under the broader ambit of Article 21 too.
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Enjoyment of Digital Rights in India is not as secure and straightforward as it could’ve been if there would’ve been a clear cut policy present in this regard. To add upon this, frequent and prolonged Internet Shutdowns by the district/state authorities hamper the very Right to Access Internet.
As per a report by Access Now (a non-profit organisation dedicated to digital rights and online liberty on a worldwide scale), in the year 2020 alone, India accounted for 109 out of 155 internet shutdowns registered globally. The above figure corresponds to about 70% of total Internet Shutdowns. In the year 2021, India saw more than 1,157 hours of Internet Shutdown which cost roughly Rs. 4,300 crore to the Indian economy.
Laws relating to Internet Shutdowns
Both the State as well as Union Government of India are authorised to shutdown Internet services in a specific part of the country, but in most of these cases, the orders pertaining to this are given by the State Government authorities. Following is the list of a few laws that are used by the executive to impose internet ban:
- Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017
- Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
- Indian Telegraph Act, 1885
- Information Technology Act, 2000
Kindly note, that the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017 was framed by deriving powers from the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 only.
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