FREEDOM OF SPEECH & EXPRESSION ON THE VIRTUAL SPACE
In this technology driven society of human existence there is a rapidly growing threat to freedom of speech and expression and individual protection from being made vicariously liable for their acts online. Various problems arise because of social media being non-regulated. Although, India has recently adopted new guidelines for the regulation of digital media which is a welcoming step. Though these platforms serve great purposes still they pose equally savage threats. The minors are fully conversant to put themselves at risk and on the other hand, they are also vulnerable to the virtual world. The right to Human Dignity and Privacy is also compromised as there are cases of incitement to racial or religion-based hatred and other instances. Information security remains under threat, also these platforms are used to pose threat to nations, and therefore national security is also at risk.
For sharing and debating knowledge, social media primarily consists of internet and mobile phone-based tools. It is a platform that combines technology, telecommunications, and social interaction to enable people to communicate using words, images, films, and music. As per the Freedom House’s latest report2– India has secured a score of 67 on a scale of 100 with ‘0’ being the least free and ‘100’ the freest and is the best Asian nations in terms of freedoms.
As a result, proper control of social media is beneficial, as long as it does not infringe on the constitutional rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. However, total freedom should not be granted; instead, a middle ground of control rather than censorship should be pursued. An examination of the latest Information Technology laws reveals that the government wields unchecked and enormous power when it comes to cyberspace defense. As a result, unique legislation is required to govern it. There is a razor-thin line that separates one’s enjoyment of one’s right from the infringement of others’ rights in the process. On social media, exercising one’s right to free speech and expression can lead to invasions of privacy and defamation of others.
For example, a cartoon is a harmless form of entertainment, but the offender can take offence. Hate speech, racial comments, and religious sentiments, on the other hand, have various connotations for different people. This is due to the fact that freedom of speech is not absolute and comes with specific roles and obligations, so it can be subject to legal restrictions. Similarly, people of India have the right “to freedom of speech and expression” under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution.
“Free Speech is the foundation of a democratic society. A free exchange of ideas, dissemination of information without restraints, dissemination of knowledge, airing of differing viewpoints, debating and forming one’s views and expressing them, is the basic indicia of a free society.”
To suppress unwanted messages, governments have used blocking or filtering technology to restrict access to particular websites or to fully shut down internet access. While these restrictive actions can be legitimately used to target unwanted data, there is a risk that they will be used in arbitrary, secretive, and unnecessary ways. This impedes the freedom of expression as set out in Article 19, paragraph 3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Today, the exercise of the right to the freedom of speech and expression by one and all without any duties are becoming a source of discomfort, for if people can be easily reached then public opinion can be changed very easily which at times is bad news for the political health of the democratic countries. Restricting the use of free speech and expression over the internet is a challenging task as concentrating too much power on surveillance and monitoring might cause misuse of power by authorities and limits to people’s human rights. It is this tightrope walk that the law has to undertake when it comes to monitoring cyberspace.
Thus, let us not be pessimistic that the existing legislation is cyber criminal friendly or paves the way to increase crimes but the coincidence of clash with the constitutional framework regulated by Article 19 of the Indian Constitution for freedom of speech and expression is a burning factor between individual liberty and state censorship. Isn’t it the responsibility of the citizens of the country to protect and respect their constitution and democracy? Or will the government will be in-charge every time. Think about it.
- Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Media Ethics, Pg.354,(New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012).
- Freedom House, https://freedomhouse.org/countries/freedom-world/scores, last visited on 11/03/2021.
- Union of India v. Motion Picture Association, (1999) 6 SCC 150.
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
PhD Scholar, N.L.I.U, Bhopal.
LL.M, P.G.D Cyber Law,
Cert. Internet Crime Investigator