PAVAN DUGGAL, Monday, February 13, 2006, Financial Express.
The recent developments in China concerning censorship of the Internet have once again brought to the forefront the entire issue relating to Net censorship. I believe that the Internet is possibly one of the most important developments in human history after the advent of fire. Internet has changed the way we all perceive, think, learn, do commerce and govern our self. Internet today is the manifestation of expression of free speech and is a common repository for all sources of knowledge and information.
I have strongly advocated against any kinds of Net censorship and there are valid reasons for doing the same. The Internet represent the inherent medium symbolising the freedom of expression of thought and speech. Any restriction on Net amounts to restriction on freedom to share and express ideas and opinions freely. Net censorship works against the basic string of principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Even otherwise, the architecture of Internet is such that a foolproof policing of information or data being shared on the Net cannot be done. Today, Internet has become an integral part of our life. It’s no more a medium for the privileged class of the society only. Even a common man uses this medium to access information. For example, a litigant can get information regarding his or her case just by a click of the mouse or a farmer can access information about the rates of his crop in the worldwide market. So, in another way this medium has also become a means to empower the marginalised section of the society.
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In the context of Indian economy it would not be any exaggeration if it is said that, one of the major reason for this phenomenal growth of the economy is Internet. In fact this medium is more useful for the common public as it makes information available at a minimal cost to their doorstep thereby saving their time, money and energy. As such, it would not be in the interest of any country to look at the issue of Net censorship. In any way, given the dynamic nature of internet as a mass medium to share and express ideas, opinions, it would not be possible for any country to impose censorship of internet for a long period of time. Many countries have tried to censor some particular sites but given the enormity of cyberspace it has turned out to be a futile exercise.
Today, Internet stands for freedom of speech and expression. As far as India is concerned, Article 19 of the Constitution guarantees Freedom of Speech and Expression and the same is applicable for the Internet also.This right can only be curtailed under specified circumstances mentioned in Article-19. As per Article 19, the Government can impose reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right to Freedom of speech and Expression in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. Net censorship violates the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression, guaranteed under the Indian constitution.
By and large, the Indian government has been very supportive of this medium and used this medium as a means of development. In a couple of cases, the government has tried to block certain websites and has realised that blocking of any site on the internet is an ineffective phenomenon and invariably, lands up giving far more mileage and attention to the blocked website, that what it would have ordinarily received in the ordinary course of business. It’s very clear that there is no alternative to the Internet.
The author is a Supreme Court advocate specialising in cyberlaws.