Censorship and Free Expression

The Internet has reduced barriers to communication. It is a great enabler of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. This needs to be protected for everyone. Working to strengthen free expression online IFF hopes to be guided by certain key values listed below.

Censorship today is carried out by a whole host of persons and entities beyond the bounds of law. We strongly oppose any illegal censorship by government and non-state actors on the internet.

The Indian legal system contains a number of provisions which limit free expression. Some - like the erstwhile Section 66A - are laws specifically made to censor online speech. We oppose vague, medium specific laws that have a chilling effect on online speech.

There are several other laws which criminalise speech. Many such laws are inconsistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Reports of the Special Rapporteur on Free Expression and several other sources of human rights law which bind India. Our hate speech laws, the penal provision for defamation requires urgent reform. We support this growing movement away from criminalising or penalising speech to promote a web of free and fair discussion.

New laws create the potential for intermediary liability which can chill free speech and expression. Such laws also lead to pro-active takedowns and content filtering. We support laws which promote immunity for intermediaries. We also expect intermediaries to be transparent in their content takedowns supporting the interests of end users.

Internet shutdowns are extraordinary measures which are used by repressive, authoritarian regimes to limit flows of information. Even in times of public disorder they lead to censorship of content that is otherwise legal and can be used to calm and assure large numbers of people. We support the right of Indians to constant flows of information and oppose internet shutdowns and curfews.

Internet filters even though not implemented in India are increasingly being advocated to implement censorship. We believe that any filter would lead to a disproportionate system of censorship which would only grow with time.

Website blocking today is carried out in a secretive process in which authors and end users of content do not get notices or an opportunity to respond. Secret orders are passed which deprive persons of legal remedies. We will work towards reforming website blocking to make it proportionate, transparent and implemented by following the principles of natural justice.

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