Internet Censorship In India



The society with the adoption of transformative constitutionalism has moved into the regime of the global village where no person irrespective of wherever he is residing in one second away. Whatsoever is happening in any rural place in India can be easily promulgated to the highly developed urban countries.

The upshot of globalization has put forward everyone on to the same platform by the concept of comprehensive connectivity. Though, with such open-ended technologies, there is certainly a need to keep a check on the dichotomy of expressions. But, the question is how far the control shall come under the purview of law.

Numerous debates between Autonomy versus Paternalism; active, choosing citizens versus passive, consuming subjects; cultural democracy and dissent versus uniformity and conformity; constitutional principles versus public morals has divided the freedom of speech along the two lines of jurisprudence.

This has put the society of India under the distressed situation of where freedom to speech is just like a shell without substance.

When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar,
You’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”
–George R.R. Martin

In the present time, changing measures of innocence and moral standards have led to a rapid paradigm shift in the status of the world. The society at large has now grown into a global village.

Your one statement, one opinion, or maybe one expression on social media shall echo to the whole world, no matter how far you are sitting in any corner of India. The upshot of the globalization era has filled every loophole that was hindering the comprehensive connectivity amongst the nations.

Now, within a span of a few seconds, an expression of thoughts can travel wholly around the world. As we know, nothing interesting is ever completely one-sided. Abuse of the freedom of expression and opinion can be a double-edged sword.

Certainly, due to the semantic gap, one’s positive expression can cause a negative impression on the other or in the other case; one can intentionally defame or can enunciate agitating statements. For the well-being of national security and to save the public morality and dignity of a human being; scrutiny is an essential element.

Here the scrutiny comes in the form of censorship. The intention of Internet censorship is to inspect, control or suppress the objectionable content what can be accessed, published, or viewed on the Internet. The issue that stands upright here is, what comes under the scope of scrutiny and whether Censorship is violating the access to free speech?

The term “censor” was initially introduced in the ancient Roman Empire. According to the etymological dictionary, censere is a Latin word which means to appraise, value or judge. Censorship was an official duty and censor was a title given to a public official in the Roman government.

The chief job of the censor in Rome was to keep an accurate count, or census, of the citizens of Rome. He has an additional work comprising of regulation and supervision of public morality. The censors had the autonomous power to examine the actions of an individual.

They had to determine if the actions were the cause of degradation in citizenship or rank, regardless of its legality. In the past times, censorship was looked on as ‘honorable’ since it helped in shaping the moral character of people. The most renowned case in history was of Socrates who had been a victim of Censorship.

The Greek philosopher Plato forcefully armoured that any art that could corrupt morality should be censored. “Let the censors receive any tale of fiction which is good, and reject the bad”. In the contempt to this, Socrates was prosecuted for his corruption of youth and his acknowledgement of unorthodox divinities and was sentenced to drink poison.

The test on the grounds of morality and political code determined the content that had to be censored and in fact, the authority was never misused.

With the changing times, Yesteryear’s definition of censorship cannot prevail in contemporary time. What had been obscene earlier has become tastefully moral today. The populated states out there are now with high literacy rates and are more aware of their rights to speak, to know, to watch and to silence as well.

A country that runs on the spirit of democratic liberty cannot decide the scope of morality. Gone are the days when people would settle for the “beeps” and “blurs”. Today, society functions on the theory of Un-cut and Un-inhibited.

Under article 19 of the Indian constitution, the right to freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right. In the same article, the application of reasonable restrictions is also mentioned. The freedom to express is given but the freedom to the medium of expression is still in the hands of the dominating regime.

There is no sagacity of giving a voice to the person who has been locked into a dark isolated room. Half freedom is in no sense better if it’s bottled up with the tag of half restriction.

The status of India’s overall Internet freedom as “Partly Free” has not been changed since 2009. Information Technology act with its amendment in 2008 has turned out to be a totalitarian law. These stringent laws such as section 66-A (repealed by Shreya Singhal v. UOI ), section 69-B has directly attacked the provisions defined in article 19 of the Indian constitution.

Further, the thorny issue of ‘who gets to decide to censor content and under what circumstances’ is a nuanced argument which unfortunately tends to be hijacked by arguments based on security concerns and need for broad emergency provisions. Lack of transparency has halted the autonomy of an individual.

Numerous debates between Autonomy versus Paternalism; active, choosing citizens versus passive, consuming subjects; cultural democracy and dissent versus uniformity and conformity; constitutional principles versus public morals has divided the freedom of speech along the two lines of jurisprudence.

The very first refutes the ability for autonomy and self-determination, and vests the power in the hands of government to decide what forms of expression these individuals can or cannot be relied upon having exposure.

The second debates about the notion of non-interference and the commitment to not destroy the freedom of expression lest the situations created by permitting the freedom are pressing and hence, the public interest is in danger.

The primary function of a free speech is to protect a man from irrational fears. The idea works on a principle of non-interference and giving space to independent thoughts.

The whole philosophy behind the free speech will be desecrated if the censorship is totally justified on grounds of serious injury that could be caused. Unless the restriction is favoured with rational reasoning, it would not be an intelligible reason to censor the content.

Internet censorship has transferred the process of scrutiny in the hands of private authorities without any mediation by organs of the state. The jurisdiction has been given to private holders. When a person makes a complaint to the intermediary, an action has to be taken by the authorities within 36 hours.

It burdens the task of regulating for itself whether the offending speech violates the guidelines. The danger of arbitrariness is at peak here because for a certain reason. Private parties would tend to avoid the possibility of any legal actions against them and will try not to put itself in a weaker position; hence, it would undoubtedly censor the content reported as offensive.

Though control is a copyright of totalitarianism and the mechanism should be dealt with utmost sincerity and with the lowest probability of committing an error.

Bad laws can sometimes curtail your positive actions. Ideally, a provision of law that leads people to self-censor their thoughts for fear of criminal sanction wilfully violates the liberty and such laws should be termed as unconstitutional or should at least have a constitutional validity check.

Either a user or an intermediary would err in favor of quashing content for fear of criminal sanction is incompatible with the ethics of constitutional democracy.

An overhanging threat of criminal prosecution merely for the applicability of civil liberties, ensured by the constitution, by virtue of a vague and extensively worded law is in violation of Article 21 of the constitution of India. “We could justify any censorship only when the censors are better shielded against error than the censored.

Internet Censorship is a reflection of the curbs on freedom of expression which comes with the abject fear of free and independent debate and discussion. It is an irrevocable damage when a government decides what I should see on the Internet and what should I restrict from myself.

Democratic spirit will be impeded by the dictatorial laws if they aren’t questioned now. Increasing politics and decreasing freedom shows the authoritative traits of the government. In fact, negative sanctions would only hamper the functioning of government and a motion of non-acceptability will be chanted.

Internet in the current time is being used by more than half of our population. Most of the people use this out of want and some had to use because of their needs. Censorship with strict laws will only give space to the ones who are technological experts. They would know how to circumvent it.

For the majority of people, it would be discriminatory in nature. “The danger of such laws is that the society will be polarised between people who can enjoy freedom of expression and those who cannot.”

Laws are required to scrutinize the content so as to protect the welfare and the morality of the nation. In fact, excessive freedom can also led to damage. More people would try to use for their own benefit.

A more mature, reasonable and painstaking ways of dealing with objectionable material than the knee jerk reactions that government has involved themselves in should be looked for, so that the relationship between the government and the citizens remain intact and the morality, as well as the security of the nation, is not been compromised by providing fundamental freedom.

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