As the Internet has provided states (and corporates) with ever-growing surveillance capacities, it is crucial that this power is balanced by strong protections of the right to freedom of expression of Internet users. The balance between state powers and citizens rights has, after all, always been the hallmark of a democracy. But the Internet has also thrown up its own share of challenges for free speech - including hate speech, gendered online abuse and the use of the Internet to spread rumours of violence. When, then, is it justified for the government to intervene? When can and should the law play a role? What can be expected from Internet intermediaries, such as social networks, if anything? And what can people do to protect the right to free speech - their own and that of others?
Censorship measures are frequently justified by concerns to safeguard morality or protect women. Such targeted measures to protect women may at times be required. After all, it is true that, while the Internet provides women with important new opportunities to express themselves, the medium also poses them with considerable challenges as old forms of harassment materialise in new shapes online. But where such measures end up restricting women’s free speech in ways beyond the strictly necessary and legitimate, they only become counterproductive. Ultimately, it is precisely in its potential to give women — as all of us — voice that one of the great strengths of the Internet lies. And so the question arises: do existing measures actually support women in confronting the considerable challenges they face?
Online speech that is offensive, abusive or hateful has attracted great attention in India and elsewhere, and often leads to calls for its criminalisation. But while the right to freedom of expression is subject to reasonable restrictions both under Indian law and international law, these are fairly narrowly defined, and much of what might be considered hate speech socially is not necessarily so legally. How, then, to deal with and move forward on this difficult and sensitive issue?
Be it online or offline, the illegitimate criminalisation of freedom of expression is one of the biggest threats to the right to freedom of expression. We analyse its impact on on freedom of expression online and the free and open Internet in general. We also look at the particular consequences criminal law in India in particular has had in this regard, examining not only Internet-specific laws, such as those regarding intermediate liability, but laws that predate the Internet as well.