The advent of internet has completely changed the way people interact and work in daily lives andbrought the entire globe on one's palms.
Gradually,even the governments have started incorporating the facility of internet in their operations and dissemination of public services,whichhas ushered in the vibrancy of a participative population true to the character of democracy.
Its utility has become so pervasive that the issue of illiteracy and equality in policy decisions has taken another colour,that of 'digital illiteracy' and 'digital divide'.Infact,last year the UNHRC had passed a non-binding resolution condemning countries which intentionally disrupt internet and extolled it as a basic human right.Who knows that few years from now,our Apex Court might also interpret Article 21 on that touchstone?
For a nation which cherishes the liberty of speech and expression of individuals as its oxygen,the blessing of internet is priceless.It has enlarged the audience and critics of one's information and even the Supreme Court in 2015 inShreyaSinghalVs Union of India has held that the access which facilitates the fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) to be exercised to so wide a section of population is also an integral part of the said right.Further,the digital newspapers and blogs have given a stiff competition to the conventional printed ones as now the information whizzes at the speed of light.
Having curtly outlined the inroads which the internet has made,one controversy that doesn't seem tosettle is that of the desirability and extent of censorship.It is trite that the whole gamut of restrictions on one's speech is contained in Article 19(2) of Constitution.
Nevertheless,considering that electronic media is more emphatic because of its audio-visual impact and wide reach,The Information Technology Act was enacted to confront the internet specific concerns and give power to governments to block access to content.The Apex Court in the aforesaid case struck down Section 66A of the Act which provided extra-constitutional grounds on which one's content over online platforms could be penalised, and at the same time validated such an interdict on grounds such as public order, sovereignty of nation,morality,etc.However,since airwaves are a public property,they have to be used in the best interest of the society which may justifiably require regulation in the form of censorship,although it is a different matter that the absence of consistent guidelines has given leeway to the political interests supplanting the public interest as the governments prudishly commit excesses.
One ineluctable constraint over free net is the exploitation of children as unfettered network unshackles the expression of lecherous tendencies of paedophiles by spreading child pornography.
Similarly,it has increased crimes and their propagation as umpteen videos of heinous rapes and sex trafficking of women are uploaded by the perpetrators,whichif not blocked,would severely jeopardize the lives of the victims.
It is equally important to ensure that even the children are not exposed to adult pornography,which though is the duty of their parent,but when the medium is internet,then requires the role of state as patria.
Another reason is the interception of terrorist activities which havecranked up through the manoeuvre of social media worldwide by egging on the targeted individuals to join these outfits and by telecasting their grisly attacks.
The growth of covert contribution to ISIS has been pumped by such tactics.Today,a secessionist,racist or any other kind of miscreant is able to cut a much wider swath and enkindle mass support for his machinations which could significantly be snuffed out by censoring unsavoury communications.This also helps in saving lives and the huge costs of military counteraction.
Whereas an artist or an author can now gain a larger recognition for his work online,whichever corner of earth he may be in,but that comes with the peril of impingement of his intellectual property right.Free net ought not supersede the legit rights of this fraternity,especially in nations where the legal framework safeguarding the intellectual property rights is still inadequate,lest a great loss of opportunity to enjoy the un surveyed aesthetics should result.
Lastly,the biggest victim of unwatched access to net is the privacy of its user.Large-scale financial transactions take place through e-network and various loopholes in the existing mechanism facilitating cybercrimes like phishing,identity thefts,hacking,etc. can make this technology a Pyrrhic Victory for many.
Internet has added fervour to our freedoms,but what is often forgotten is that this comes with responsibilities of both the users and state.Recently,there have been many instances of indiscriminate suppression of content with even slightest deviations,only to sub-serve the parochial intents of the government.
Nonetheless,considering that many people have scant awareness of the possible digital encroachments,the power of government, if exercised legitimately,must not be questioned. At the same time,when we are forging toward a digital economy,the government should also fortify digital and online safety,a more feasible solution thanfrequent censorship.
- Bharti garg