Freedom Of Speech In Cyberspace


The only way where voice of a tongue-tied person could be heard is in cyberspace. Cyberspace is nothing but a hub of all networking sites, gaming platforms. Anew is the growing era of virtual communication where people try to exercise their rights of freedom of discourse and expression. Nothing comes without a cost, there are certain reasonable restrictions for the general speech and expression even if the discourse is over the networking sites. This right being also surefire under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights under Article 19, In India, the Constitution also has an endowment under Article 19(1)(a) both these come with a certain number of judicious restrictions.

Brief History Of Freedom Of Speech

In the mid fifteen century the cradle era for printing and publications the censorship on the publications was very strict it was in the case of Copernicus and Galileo vs. the Vatican; Galileo was sentenced to house arrest for proving the theory which was published by Copernicus and those books were subjecting to fire. It was the then enlightened being who was of the opinion freedom of expression is the alleyway for the liberal thoughts. Thus, the importance of freedom of speech and expression came to the limelight it was in year 1766 the first European country to abolish censorship was Sweden. India under British rule was imperiled to numerous restrictions on voice and expression such as a new section was added to the already prevailing hate speech act which suppressed the right to raise any voice against the colonial rule which could incite any freedom struggle. It was in the year 1907 Prevention of Seditious Meeting Act which was passed by the British parliament curtailed the fundamental rights of the Indians.

In the aftermath of the independence with the reference to the bill of rights from the American constitution (1st amendment), freedom of speech and expression was incorporated in part III of the constitution. Article 19(1)(a) which guaranteed the right to citizens of Indian was subject matter to a lot of supreme court cases, it was in the case of Romesh thapar v. state of madras[1] this freedom of discourse was extended to the press. In plentiful judgments, the apex court has decided on the matters relating to the voices of heard and unheard now in the contemporary times the point at issue if these rights and restrictions avail to cyberspace. Shreya Singhal v. union of India[2], the court struck down the criminalizing provision under section 66a of the IT Act 2000. This being the first-ever step towards the freedom of expression in the world of cyber. Internet is the nourishment for the growing cyber web.

Freedom Of Speech In Cyberspace

At present, cyberspace is also a platform for current affairs and issues all over the globe. Everyone can access it and will be allowed to have an opinion and share it with rest of the world. Finland being the first country to give the legal status to access of the internet. It was by the year 2016 the UNHRC had recognized access to the internet as one of the basic human rights.  In India, it is relatively a new concept though in the case of PUCL v. union of India[3], the right to speech and expression is guaranteed to all kinds of speeches by word, by pictures by or in any other manner. A petitioner named Faheema Shirin RK moved the court regarding the restrictions of using mobile phones in the UG hostel in which the outcome came to be access to the internet is the vital part of the education and part of Article 21 this was the first case where the legal status for the use of Cybernet was also a part of fundamental right for Indians. It was in the first amendment the reasonable restrictions for Article 19(1)(a) were imposed.

In the case of Anuradha Bhasin v/s Union of India[4], the reasonable restrictions on the use of cyberspace imposed by the President’s rule during the public emergency were held valid. The focus on the social networking sites is very huge these days, the political high drama, propagation of different ideologies, promotions of lot of cinema, such being the case, the Twitter wars are also being closely monitored and some might even be brought down, stating the reason that those tweets violate the rules and regulation or the privacy policy of their respective platforms.

Cyberspace is also a home for lot of web gaming sites, these gaming websites too have their own privacy policies and yet might be misused by many of their users. There are circumstances where the privacy policy is applicable to their country origin languages viz. English but their monitoring will not turn out to be that effective for the vernacular languages. For example, some of the games might have an option for either for voice or chat there are many an instance where the hate speeches or the abusive words might be used by the players while playing maybe even to just distract the other players, there might be even an instance to promote any kind of negative propaganda through these platforms though there only aim was to provide recreation. Thus, these restrictions are to protect public safety yet might be ineffective at times.

Human Rights In Cyberspace

Human rights are those which are necessary to lead a dignified life. These rights being amalgamated, no discrimination to whom it should apply, being universal in nature is protected by the States law as well. The international covenant of human rights i.e. UNHRC strives for the upliftment and protection of human rights in developing and developed countries. The UDHR docume nt i.e General Assembly resolution 217 A is the most imperative document to be passed by the General Assembly. This document recognizes human rights which also provides provision for freedom of speech and expression.

Article 1 of the UDHR talks about the dignity of life but, the cyberspace treats people as mere object level rather than as an individual or a being[5]. Right to privacy is a myth under cyberspace, how much ever the privacy policy we abide by yet there are certain loopholes and breach of privacy is for sure. Article 19 of the document talks about the right to expression as a human right, which is being immeasurably used. Though the right to fair trail is a human right yet during these contemporary times these social media trails become exhaustive and might defame the victim as well as the accused. We are the witness to a lot of social media trails, yet we choose to remain silent which is another human right which is also an implied right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian constitution.

Right against discrimination is a human right, which is being battered these days, even if there is not any direct discrimination there is a certain amount of discrimination on the ideology a person portrays over the social networking sites. Where that discrimination is ensconced under freedom of expression or under political participation. Right of children to special protection, being protected by numerous of legislations yet the child pornography an issue these days recently, a huge child pornographic website was brought down with the developers as well. That is a huge achievement in the field of cyberspace where the same source of nourishment i.e. the internet is also a problem solver.

Cyberbullying, cyber racism, sexual harassment, cyber homophobia are certain cons that one must face while working over cyberspace. Though there are certain stringent laws to protect yet the same is being still carried out due to the advantage being the anonymous identity for a very long time. The digital world is doing an immense favor for the better administration of the countries as digitalizing all the documents is obliging and made easily accessible. A huge number of property disputes can be avoided via these digitalized documents where the boundaries are crystal clear. Tax frauds can also be prevented through these technologies and the transparency of the governance can also be maintained through cyberspace. Thus, the effective use of cyberspace can cut down a huge loss of time and resources as well as be a burden on the right to privacy as well and a restriction on the freedom of discourse and expression.


Everything that is around us can be either be viewed as constructive or destructive. It is for us to decide the way we use cyberspace, the so-called human-created freedom or prison. We may never know we might be using cyberspace for watching simple videos yet might have agreed on ourselves to their page policies and might have allowed the websites to access our personal data which might turn into huge chaos if not utilized in a legitimate manner. Thus, though being in the era of growing cyberspace is a boon yet a bane in many ways. The only way we can protect ourselves is to be careful about the apps permission we provide and the apps we use the encryptions of those apps and the texts or the speech we use over the social networking sites.

[1] 1950 AIR 124, 1950 SCR 594

[2] AIR 2015 SC 1523

[3] 1997 1 SCC 301

[4] 2020 SCC online SC 25

[5] Universal declaration of human rights  United Nations (5th May 2021).

This article has been written by Divya V Hegde, 2nd Year B.A.LL.B(Hons) Student at University law college.

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