Freedom of expression

To balance freedom of expression with other human rights is, at times, a difficult and delicate task. From hate speech to intermediary liability, we tease out and shed greater light on the various challenges that make this task particularly complicated, proposing ways forward that can further strengthen and promote the right to freedom of expression, in India and beyond, as well.   Read More

As the Internet has provided states (and corporates) with evergrowing 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: hate speech, the verbal online abuse of women and the use of the Internet to spread rumours of violence all have emerged as important concerns in India. 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 and ISPs - if anything at all? And what can people do to protect the right to free speech - their own and that of others?

To balance freedom of expression with other human rights at times is a difficult and delicate task. We investigate challenges that make this task particularly complicated, and by shedding greater light on these and their internal mechanics, aim to contribute to further promoting and strengthening the right to freedom of expression, in India and beyond.


Posts & Reports

  • Corporate actors must not facilitate human rights violations through new Chinese rules

    Recent efforts by Verisign at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in response to China’s new draft Internet Domain Name Management Rules present a serious threat to the right to privacy and freedom of expression online. By facilitating the implementation of real name policies for domain name registration in China, the rules risk seriously encroaching on Internet users’ rights, and Verisign’s technical and policy proposals to comply with them don’t include any consideration of potential human rights impacts. There is a whole constellation of actors involved in making this policy possible, all of whom have a responsibility to respect human rights.   More

    02 December

  • India’s Universal Periodic Review - third cycle: Stakeholder report by the Internet Democracy Project

    The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a United Nations Human Rights Council mechanism to assess how member States fare on their human rights record. Every 4.5 years, each member state of the UN is reviewed by the UPR Working Group for the State’s performance under international human rights obligations. The review is based on (a) a national report submitted by the State under review (b) reports of independent human rights experts and treaty bodies (c) reports from other stakeholders including non-governmental organisations. In this report, the Internet Democracy Project has highlighted the challenges to realising human rights on the Internet, in India. More information on the UPR process can be found here.

    Report 10 Oct 2016

  • Coalition report of Universal Periodic Review for India - third cycle: Internet rights

    A coalition of organisations submitted a report towards the Universal Periodic Review of India for consideration at the 27th Session of United Nations Working Group to take place in 2017. The coalition includes Digital Empowerment Foundation, the Internet Democracy Project, Point of View, Nazdeek and Association of Progressive Communications. More information about the Universal Periodic Review process can be found here.

    Report 22 Sep 2016

  • Podcast: Greg Macdougall interviews Anja Kovacs on Internet rights, political economy and social justice

    On 8 August 2016, Anja Kovacs was interviewed by Greg Macdougall of EquitableEducation.ca. It was the first full day of the World Forum on Free Media in Montreal, which happened in conjunction with the World Social Forum happening Aug 9-14. Greg and Anja discussed a wide range of topics, including ‘zero rating’ and net neutrality; state surveillance; public dissatisfaction with Facebook and creating alternatives; and how the internet, capitalism, communications and the link to broader struggles for rights, justice and humanity. You can listen to the full interview here.   More

    16 Aug 2016

  • Coalition letter: High quality connectivity and net neutrality go hand in hand

    Not only in India is net neutrality getting regulatory attention. In the EU, for example, it is as well. This letter is an effort by a global coalition of civil society and user organisations to respond to the 5G Manifesto promoted by telecoms operators in the EU to water down the recently adopted EU Regulation on the open internet. In short, the EU’s telecom operators have stated that if strong net neutrality rules are passed, they will not support the development of the planned 5G infrastructure - which the EU institutions are so excited about. But as we argue in this letter, in the EU as elsewhere, 5G and net neutrality should go hand in hand! The letter urges lawmakers in the EU to ensure that rules to protect net neutrality adopted around the world - including in India, Chile and the US - should be upheld in the EU as well.   More

    08 Aug 2016

  • Towards setting goalposts: Our comments to pre-consultation paper on net neutrality

    The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India issued a pre-consultation paper on network neutrality, and invited comments from stakeholders. The Internet Democracy Project made a submission, asking that the consultation result in a clear and overarching framework that strengthens the freedom of expression that the Internet has enabled, and makes strong protections for user privacy, secures user choice by minimising Internet service provider interference and ensures healthy competition in the telecommunications and applications market.

    Report 16 Jul 2016

  • Against the undermining of discriminatory tariffs regulation: Our comments to TRAI consultation paper on Free Data

    The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) invited comments on their consultation paper No. 7/2016 on Free Data. The Internet Democracy Project submitted comments to TRAI, asking the regulator to take steps that would lead to the strengthening of the Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services, 2016 Regulation, by giving business models which do not come under that regulation, but run the risk of having similar harms as discriminatory pricing, the same regulatory treatment. In general, we urge TRAI to develop a principle-based framework to preserve the Internet’s ability to function as an open and free infrastructure, which expands and refines principles that it has started to develop with the discriminatory tariffs regulation.

    Report 01 Jul 2016

  • End-to-end ka The End: Our response to TRAI Consultation Paper on Differential Pricing for Data Services

    The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) invited comments on their consultation paper No. 8/2015 on differential pricing of data services. The Internet Democracy Project submitted comments to TRAI, outlining why differential pricing of data services in the Indian mobile telephony market further jeopardises the goal of wider access to a free, open and secure internet, and runs against consumer welfare and competition.

    Report 09 Jan 2016

  • We stand with Moroccan free expression advocates

    The Internet Democracy Project has joined the Global Voices community in a statement of support for seven Moroccan journalists and human rights defenders who will face trial on November 19, on charges ranging from defamation to harming national security. Morocco has seen a wave of defamation cases against news websites in particular. Some cases have …   More

    19 Nov 2015

  • All of the Internet for all of the people: Our response to TRAI consultation paper on regulatory framework for Over-The-Top services

    The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) invited comments on their consultation paper No. 2/2015 on regulatory framework for Over-The-Top (OTT) services. The Internet Democracy Project submitted comments to TRAI, outlining the importance of an unadulterated understanding of network neutrality as a necessary precondition for an open and free Internet.

    Report 24 Apr 2015

  • Digital India abroad: India’s foreign policy and digital rights

    THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN CO-AUTHORED BY ANJA KOVACS AND SAIKAT DATTA. If India has supported economic, social and cultural rights far more vocally at global fora than civil and political rights, this is a result of both domestic security compulsions and historical foreign policy positions. Internet rights advocates’ strategies will need to take into account India’s preoccupation with sovereignty and an improved international stature to gain the country’s full support. This article was co-authored by Anja Kovacs and Saikat Datta, and first published in Lettinga, Doutje and Lars van Troost (eds.) (2015), Shifting Power and Human Rights Diplomacy: India. Amsterdam: Amnesty International Netherlands.

    Report 08 Apr 2015

  • Re-Interpreting Document 98: India’s proposals at the ITU Plenipot 2014 and the evolution of Internet governance

    At the recently concluded ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Busan, India proposed a controversial new resolution that sought to contribute to realising a more secure information society. But while some criticisms of the draft resolution were justified, much of the discussion at the ITU Plenipot overlooked the considerable merit that India’s proposed new resolution has when considered against the backdrop of the larger politics of global Internet governance. For its attempt to find solutions to long-standing concerns of developing countries while at the same time recognising the value of existing internet governance institutions, India’s proposal deserves a second reading, argues Anja Kovacs.

    Report 02 Feb 2015

  • A civil society statement on network neutrality regulation in India

    Together with a group of civil society organisations from India, the Internet Democracy Project has issued the following statement, a copy of which has been sent to the Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad, and to the Chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, Dr. Rahul Khullar. Airtel India, one …   More

    02 Jan 2015

  • Civil society statement on the 2014 Internet Governance Forum

    The Internet Democracy Project has joined forces with a range of civil society organisations and individuals from across the world to release, during the Internet Governance Forum, the following statement on the Internet Governance Forum, related processes and human rights and development. The complete list of signatories to the statement can be found here. We, …   More

    05 Sep 2014

  • Regulating social media or reforming section 66A? Our recommendations to the Law Commission of India

    A Consultation Paper on Media Law was floated by the Law Commission of India in May 2014 to elicit views from all stakeholders, to be submitted to the Commission by mid-August 2014. The Consultation Paper covered a wide range of areas: from opinion polls to methods of media regulation, from media and individual privacy to cross media ownership. The Internet Democracy Project made the submission below to the Law Commission in response to this call, focusing on one of the central areas of the Consultation Paper to touch on freedom of expression on the Internet in India: social media and section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. The questions we answer below are the questions that have been raised by the Law Commission in the Consultation Paper.

    Report 21 Aug 2014

  • Lyon Declaration on Access to Information and Development

    The Internet Democracy Project is proud to be a signatory to the Lyon Declaration on Access to Information and Development, which was developed by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions and which has been publicly released today. The Declaration calls on the UN Member States ‘to make an international commitment to use the …   More

    18 Aug 2014

  • Keeping women safe? Gender, online harassment and Indian law

    From sexual harassment to rape threats to gender-based hate speech, women face disproportionate levels of abuse online. This briefing paper by Richa Kaul Padte and Anja Kovacs asks: how and to what extent can the law in India help? And what amendments could be made to the law to improve support for women in their fight against online abuse? We investigate. (A shorter version of this paper has been published in EPW (Economic and Political Weekly), 29 June 2013).

    Report 29 Jun 2013

  • Global coalition Of NGOs call to investigate and disable FinFisher’s espionage equipment in Pakistan

    The Internet Democracy Project is part of a coalition of national and international human rights organisations supporting a call by Bolo Bhi and the Digital Rights Foundation against espionage and surveillance in Pakistan. If you would like to add your signature, please contact sana@bolobhi.org or nighat@digitalrightsfoundation.pk. The full text of the call is below. This …   More

    03 May 2013

  • Mapping Digital Media in India

    We are happy to announce the publication of the Open Society Foundations’ Mapping Digital Media in India report, to which Anja Kovacs contributed her expertise on digital media and society. The Open Society Foundation’s Mapping Digital Media project examines the global opportunities and risks created by the transition from traditional to digital media. Covering sixty countries, the project examines how these changes affect the core democratic service that any media system should provide: news about political, economic, and social affairs.

    Report 30 Mar 2013

  • Quotable Quotes from #SAFoE

    This blog post is the final one in a series of ten blog posts to report on the ‘Third South Asian Meeting on the Internet and Freedom of Expression’ recently concluded in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The discussions during the two day Third South Asian Meeting on the Internet and Freedom of Expression in Dhaka were rich and …   More

    29 Jan 2013

  • Statement of solidarity on freedom of expression and safety of Internet users in Bangladesh

    This is a statement by the participants in the Third South Asian Meeting on the Internet and Freedom of Expression that took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on January 14–15, 2013, following a violent attack on blogger Asif Mohiuddin. Bangladeshi blogger Asif Mohiuddin was brutally attacked in a stabbing last evening. His condition is currently said to be critical. Violent attacks …   More

    15 Jan 2013

  • Digital and social divides: mutually reinforcing?

    I recently attended the first India Internet Governance Conference (IIGC) convened at the FICCI Federation House in New Delhi. Among the various issues that fall under the umbrella of Internet Governance, the most important to me, personally, is freedom of legitimate political expression over the Internet. Many people of my age and background also identify …   More

    12 Oct 2012

  • Perspectives on censorship: the Netherlands

    BY AMRUTA MEHTA In an earlier post, Amruta Mehta wondered whether censorship is the new sterilisation. Since then, she has taken her quest to find out whether censorship is indeed the latest global fad a step further by inquiring about this among friends from around the world. Today, written for Make Blog: a perspective from …   More

    08 Apr 2012

  • Perspectives on censorship: Canada

    BY AMRUTA MEHTA In an earlier post, Amruta Mehta wondered whether censorship is the new sterilisation. Since then, she has taken her quest to find out whether censorship is indeed the latest global fad a step further by inquiring about this among friends from around the world. Today, written for Make Blog: a perspective from …   More

    02 Apr 2012

  • Perspectives on censorship: Mexico

    BY AMRUTA MEHTA In an earlier post, Amruta Mehta wondered whether censorship is the new sterilisation. Since then, she has taken her quest to find out whether censorship is indeed the latest global fad a step further by inquiring about this among friends from around the world. Today, written for Make Blog: a perspective from …   More

    31 Mar 2012

  • What is it that you would never blog about?

    BY INDIAN HOMEMAKER In her second post for Make Blog, Indian Homemaker asks her readers: what is it that you would never blog about? You can find the full text of her post below. However, to read the fascinating and extremely informative discussion, with more than 70 contributions, that followed in the comments section after …   More

    27 Mar 2012

  • ‘Censorship is the new sterilisation’

    BY AMRUTA MEHTA What do censorship and sterilisation have to do with each other? At first sight, nothing. But maybe…. Hmm. Discover more in this post by Amruta Mehta for #Makeblog. You can read the original post, published on 29 February 2012, here. Censorship is the new sterilisation. Illustration by Anand Philip   More

    23 Mar 2012

  • Contextualising #MakeBlog: Voice and censorship

    BY RAGHAVENDRA - SILENCE BEFORE THE STORM In his first post for Make Blog Not War, Raghavendra contextualises the event, arguing that the Internet has helped more people to find their voice, and that government censorship is a reaction against that. Read the original post on Raghavendra’s blog, Silence Before the Storm, where it was …   More

    19 Mar 2012

  • #MakeBlog: Speak now

    BY ANNE - A TENTATIVE STEP In this second post in our #MakeBloggers series, Anne lists out some of the actions any blogger anywhere can take to defend his or her right to free speech. You can read the original post on Anne’s blog, A Tentative Step, where it was published on 26 February 2012. …   More

    16 Mar 2012

  • Kathmandu Statement

    Today, participants in the South Asian Meeting on the Internet and Freedom of Expression that took place in Kathmandu in early November released a statement reflecting their main areas of concern and shared agreements in each of those areas. Here is the full text of the statement: KATHMANDU STATEMENT We, participants in the South Asian …   More

    09 Dec 2011

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