A case of unchecked power to restrict e-free speech

Source– The post is based on the article “A case of unchecked power to restrict e-free speech” published in The Hindu on 3rd July 2023.

Syllabus: GS2 – Indian Polity

Relevance: Right to free speech and digital rights

News-The Karnataka High Court judgment against Twitter subverts the procedural safeguards that must be employed while restricting the freedom of speech

What are the issues with Karnataka HC judgement in this case?

The Supreme Court of India upheld the validity of Section 69A and the Blocking Rules in Shreya Singhal vs Union of India.

However, the Karnataka High Court has held that observations in Shreya Singhal don’t call for providing notice to the users of the content. It is contrary to judicial precedent set by SC.

The High Court’s judgment reveals that one of the reasons was that the content could lead to the spread of “fake news” and “misinformation”. These are not grounds under which free speech can be restricted under Article 19(2) and Section 69A.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that there must be a direct link between the speech and the potential threat to public order.However, the High Court is convinced that these blocking orders are “well-reasoned”, even though no nexus can be established with public order and the security of the state.

Moreover, the High Court rejected Twitter’s contention that Section 69A only permits the blocking of specific tweets. Wholesale blocking of Twitter accounts amounts to limiting freem of future speech and expression.

What are the implications of this decision for freedom of speech?

It has the potential of inducing a chilling effect on the freedom of speech of online platform users.

The Karnataka High Court’s judgment erodes the principles of natural justice which dictate for the affected party should be allowed to present their case to the best of their abilities.

Along with the recently amended IT Rules on fact-checking, the judgment has the dangerous potential of reposing untrammelled power in the State to remove any content that it deems to be unfavourable.

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