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Freedom of Speech And Expression In the Age Of Internet

Introduction

In the 21st Century, we are living in the age of internet where the information is in our figure tips. The internet is the new source of information in the era of technology. It allows people to share their opinions and participate in global affairs. Today, the internet is a source that offers diverse services ranging from education to employment but as it is rightly said that great power comes with great responsibility. The article is based on the discourse of several aspects related to the impact of the internet on the Right to freedom of speech and analysis the following propositions. These propositions are whether the internet violates the right to freedom of speech and expression or the internet makes the right to freedom of speech and expression an absolute right without any reasonable restrictions.

Right To Freedom Of Speech And Expressions

Right to freedom of speech and expression[1] is a fundament right guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution. In the Indian Constitution, Article 19 is the fundamental right of the citizen and enforceable against the State. It is one of the basic human rights in a democratic state where people have the fundament right to express their opinion and expressions through gestures, artistic work, speech, theatre plays, music, painting, or other sources of communication. The objective of the right to freedom of speech and expression is to ensure that people express their emotions, feeling and expression freely without any fear of threat or apprehension from authorities.

The right to freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed by the constitution of India and the international statutes. It ensures that the right to speech plays a crucial role in a democratic society. International statutes which guaranteed freedom of speech are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, the International Covenant on civil and political rights the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom. The right to freedom of speech also includes the right not to speak which is the foundation of the right to self-incrimination under Article 20(3) of the Indian Constitution. 

Significance Of Right To Freedom Of Speech And Expression

Right to freedom of speech and expression empowers citizens to express their opinions and criticize the government for its arbitrary actions. In a democratic state, the government is formed by the choice of people through a voting mechanism. Right to freedom of speech and expression prevents the government to establish the monarchy rule in the state. In a Monarchy rule, a single authority can expand across the domains of executive, legislative, and judiciary, contrary to a democratic country. In a democratic country, the voice of the people plays a crucial role in the election of the government. It also ensures a free and transparent press in the country which is the fourth pillar of democracy. According to the Supreme Court of India, Right is an integrated part of the right to life under article 21 of the Indian Constitution. In case of violation of Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution, it is enforceable against the state.

Restrictions On The Right To Freedom Of Speech And Expression

Right to freedom of speech and expression is not an absolute right but is subjected to reasonable restriction under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution. The restrictions are in the interest of the security, sovereignty, and integrity of the nation, friendly relations with the foreign nations, public order, decency and morality, hate speech, defamation, and contempt of court. The restrictions are imposed to keep the interest of the nation and allow citizens to exercise their right to freedom of speech and expression with caution and responsibility.

Right To Internet

In last few decades, the internet has emerged as one of the basic needs of people around the world. The Internet offers various services for its users which may sometimes lead to trouble. The Internet allows us to share our thoughts and opinion with people but it does not amount to an absolute right to express oneself freely in the virtual world. There is still a limitation on the right to freedom of speech and expression labeled as reasonable restrictions.

Violation Of Right To Internet In India

The recent internet shutdown in Jammu & Kashmir in 2019 was a violation of the Right to the internet[2] under article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The arbitrary suspension of internet services restricts the residents of Jammu and Kashmir to exercise their right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1) (a) and right to trade, commerce, and business under Article 19(1) (g) along with violating right to privacy and right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. It also restricts access to information that is linked with Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution. Article 19 of the Indian Constitution ensures that the right to go online would make the right to access the internet an unsaid fundamental right. In that case, an internet shutdown is a violation of basic human entitlement.

Government’s Stand Over Internet Suspension

The government frequently suspended internet services in Union Territories and States for different reasons. The reason might be the nation’s security concerns, public disorder, or some other major cause that create chaos in the state. The government suspended internet services under section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973[3] empowers the magistrate of any State or Union Territory in India to pass an order prohibiting gathering of four or more people in a specified area. It is also invoked in urgent cases of nuisance or apprehension of danger in some events like public disorder or internal disturbance. The order can be passed against a particular individual or the public at large. The imposition of Section 144 of CrPC, 1973 remains in force for more than two months and may be extended up to six months. The restriction imposed by Section 144 of CrPC, 1973 can be levied at any time by the magistrate.

The government imposed Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000[4] to curb the internet freedom of the people in a particular State or Union Territory. Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 confers the Central and State Governments the power to issue directions to intercept, monitor, or decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received, or stored in any computer resource. Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 enables to Central government to ask any agency of the government or any intermediary to block or restrict access to the public of any information generated, transmitted, received, stored, or hosted on any computer resource. The government also invoked website blocking rules to restrict public access to the internet.

In most cases, the objective of shutting down internet services is to maintain law and order in the state. The absolute suspension of Internet service in a particular area amounts to an abuse of power by the authorities. The government suspends internet services without exhaustion alternatives to maintain law and order in the State. The Supreme Court of India observed that the significance of internet services should not be underestimated. Most basic activities are enabled by the use of the internet. Today, we are dependent on the internet and cannot imagine our life without cyber freedom. The Internet enables information sharing, trade and commerce, and other activities.

In the case of Anuradha Basin V. Union of India, Supreme Court held that the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1) (a) and the right to freedom of trade and commerce under Article 19(1) (g) through internet is constitutionally protected but subjected to reasonable restrictions.

In the case of K.S. Puttaswamy V. Union of India, Supreme Court of India held that any restrictions imposed by the state on the right to freedom of speech and expression and right to practice any profession or occupation over the medium internet under Article 19 have to pass the proportionality test. The proportionality test is used to measure the reasonability of the government’s decision.

Kerala High Court held that right to have access to the internet is an integrated part of the fundamental right to education and the right to privacy under article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Cases Of Right To Internet Outside India

Many countries recognized the right to internet is a basic human right and shall not be subjected to unreasonable restrictions. Every individual has a right to access the internet and it is the responsibility of the state to avoid unreasonable suspension and blackouts in the state to curb citizens’ right to the internet.

United Nations has declared that online freedom is a human right and the right to internet must be protected from unreasonable interference. The Apex court of Costa Rica[5] has ruled that access to the internet and information technology is a basic tool to facilitate participation in society and access to public services. Estonia declared the right to internet is a basic human right in an attempt to expand internet service in 2000. According to Estonia, the internet is an essential requirement of the 21st century. France highest court declared that internet access is a basic human right. Article 5A of Greece’s Constitution, states that everyone has a right to participate in the information society. Spain declared that there should be a reasonable price for internet broadband connections for at least one megabit per second throughout the country. According to United Nations Human Right Council, the Right to access the internet is a fundamental freedom and a tool to ensure the right to education.

Conclusion

Right to freedom of speech and expression must be exercised cautiously and carefully. The Internet is open cyberspace where you can make and share your opinion with people around the world. The right to freedom of speech and expression is subjected to reasonable restrictions to maintain law and public order in the state. The constitution of India also guaranteed the right to the internet as an integrated part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. We have seen multiple cases where the internet is a basic human right of an individual. Right to internet is subjected to reasonable restriction by government arbitrary orders to suspend internet services is an abuse of power. Government should adopt alternative remedies to deal with public disorder and avoid an absolute ban on internet services. An absolute ban on internet services leads to the disruption in sharing of information, trade, and commerce through the internet and other services that are completely relied on the internet.

FAQs on Freedom of Speech And Expression In the Age Of Internet

Can we file writ petition for the violation of right to internet?

Yes, the Right to internet is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the constitution. On the violation of an individual’s fundamental rights, an individual can approach the high court under Article 226 of the constitution and Supreme Court under Article 32 of the constitution

Is absolute ban on internet services an infringement of the right to internet?

Yes, an absolute ban on internet services is infringement to the right to internet guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Is the right to freedom of speech and expression is an absolute right?

No. The right to freedom of speech and expression is not an absolute right. It is subjected to reasonable restrictions.

What are the alternatives to maintain public order in the state apart from the absolute ban on internet services?

Government can restrict public access to some websites or resources in cyberspace. Government can restrict public access to the internet for a short period of time which mitigates the effect of public disorder.

[1] Freedom of speech and expression, LexForti Legal Journal, 2 June 2022, Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression – LexForti Legal Journal

drishtiias.com/daily-updates/daily-news-analysis/section-144-crpc#:~:text=Section 144 prohibits the gathering of four or,puts a complete restriction on traffic as well.(opens in a new tab)

[2] Right to freedom of speech and expression on the internet, Dhyeya IAS, 2 June 2022, Freedom of Speech and Expression on the Internet : A Fundamental Right – Current Affair Article for UPSC, IAS, Civil Services and State PCS Examinations | Dhyeya IAS® – Best UPSC IAS CSE Online Coaching | Best UPSC Coaching | Top IAS Coaching in Delhi | Top CSE Coaching

[3] Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, Drishti IAS, 22 June 2022, Section 144 CrPC (drishtiias.com)

[4] Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, Drishti IAS, 2 June 2022, Indian Laws and Blocking of Internet Content: Centre vs Twitter (drishtiias.com)

[5] Cases of Right to Internet outside India, 2 June 2022,  Freedom of Speech and Expression on the Internet : A Fundamental Right – Current Affair Article for UPSC, IAS, Civil Services and State PCS Examinations | Dhyeya IAS® – Best UPSC IAS CSE Online Coaching | Best UPSC Coaching | Top IAS Coaching in Delhi | Top CSE Coaching

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Prashant Sharma

Prashant Sharma is a law student at Government Law College, Mumbai. He secured AIR 46 in MHCET 2021. He used to write content based on legal issues, social issues, economic aspects, current issues, maritime industries, technology and other related topics.

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