We are living in the era of the internet which creates a lot of opportunities
for human beings and allows them to share their opinion online about anything.
We see people commenting their opinion on political matters, fashion, music,
movies, etc on a regular basis. We live in a democratic country where we have
freedom of speech because of which we can state our opinion freely without any
fear. It helps in the discovery of truth and also strengthens the individual to
take part in the decision-making of the government.
Freedom of speech is the
backbone of a free society. In today's world, we can express what we are feeling
about the government or anything that's happening in the country which
influenced the political world greatly. the Internet as compared to other
mediums of communication gives an individual a platform to share his view
without paying much.
Posts on social media can reach millions of people so
that's why there must be reasonable restrictions on the internet and freedom of
speech because many people use the platform to spread hate, misinformation, and
indecent content. Freedom of speech is our fundamental right but we should not
cross the line of morality while exercising this right and absolute individual
rights cannot be guaranteed in any modern state because absolute freedom can be
injurious to society as a whole.
Freedom Of Speech In The Indian Constitution
Article 19 of the Indian constitution explain the freedom of speech and
expression given to the citizen of India however they are not absolute. As
stated in A.K Gopalan v. state of madras, AIR 1950 "man as a rational being
desires to do many things, but in the civil society, his desires have to be
controlled, regulated and reconciled with the exercise of similar desire by
another individual� so that's why there are some reasonable restrictions on this
right. The supreme court has laid down the following guidelines to check if the
restriction is reasonable or not
Grounds for restriction
- Only the court can judge the reasonableness of restriction, not the legislature.
- The restriction should not be arbitrary.
- There is no exact standard or pattern of reasonableness that can be laid down.
- Restriction must be reasonable from a substantive as well as a procedural standpoint.
- Reasonableness must be by an objective standard not by a subjective standard.
Grounds on which freedom of speech and expression according to Clause (2) of
Article 19 of the Indian constitution can be restricted:
- Integrity or sovereignty of India.
- Security of the state.
- Friendly relationship with a foreign state.
- Public order.
- Decency and morality.
- Contempt of court.
- Incitement of an offence.
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Offensive Comments on the internet
In the Shreya Singhal vs Union of India
AIR 2015 SC 1523 case, the supreme court
quashed section 66A of the information technology act which makes an offensive
comment on the internet punishable with jail. This section was challenged on the
ground that it violates Article 19(1)(a) and 14 of the Indian constitution. This
section empowered police to arrest any person who makes comments that are
offensive or menacing or for the purposes of causing annoyance, inconvenience,
obstruction, danger, hatred, injury, etc.
The court observed that this section
does not aim at a defamatory statement because for defamatory there must be an
injury to a person's reputation and an offensive comment can be made without any
injury to reputation. The court also said that section 66a has no proximate
connection with incitement to commit an offence and the court declared this
Government control over internet serviceInternet suspension
We have seen the government suspending internet service in different parts of
India, especially in the union territory. The reason can be the security of the
state or public order or any other reason that can create nuisance among the
public. The objective of internet suspension is to maintain law and order in the
Information received or stored - section 69 of the information technology act
2000 grants power to the government to issue directions to monitor or intercept
or decrypt any information stored or received in any computer resource and
section 69a of the IT act grants power to the government to issue direction for
blocking or restricting to the public access for any information through any
computer. These powers can be use in the interest of sovereignty or integrity of
India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states or public
order, or for preventing incitement of any cognizable offence.
New rules issued by the government under IT Act
Last year government issued some new rules and guidelines under the information
technology act which give the central government power to regulate online
platforms like WhatsApp, Netflix, amazon prime, digital news media, etc. now the
government has the power to control the content on these platforms. The OTT
platforms and digital media also have to set up a three-tier grievance redressal
- The media house and OTT platforms have to appoint a grievance officer.
- Secondly, they have to set up a self-regulating body which should be approved by the government.
- Thirdly, they have to set up an Inter-Departmental Committee. This
committee consists of representatives from the Ministry of Information
and Broadcasting, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of
Law and Justice, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Electronics and
Information Technology, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of
Defence, and such other Ministries and Organisations
These rules have been criticized and challenged in the Indian courts because it
gives a wide range of power to the hand of the executive. Even The UN body also
slammed the Indian government over these new rules. According to them these
rules violates freedom of speech and expression. Apart from this, one of the new
rules empowers the central government to direct the intermediary to reveal the
originator of a message which violates the right to privacy of the user. These
rules can put activists and journalists on social media under the threat of
state oppression and backlash.
In a big democratic country like India freedom of expressing your thoughts and
opinions is very important and plays a significant role in the development of
the nation. People should be able to express their opinion fearlessly. But we
should be careful while exercising our rights. Think before sharing something on
internet as our rights are not absolute , your content should not be offensive
or indecent or in any way harm the security and integrity of our country.
Written By: Shruti Gaur,
- Do Not hyperlink: Information technology act, 2000
- Constitutional law of India, Dr J.N. Pandey 58th edition
Ideal Institute Of Management And Technology And School Of Law