Subject Of Compelling Debate, Says Chief Justice DY Chandrachud On Surveillance vs Right To Privacy

'With Advent Of Troll Armies...': Chief Justice On Free Speech On Internet

Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud addresses the 14th VM Tarkunde Memorial Lecture in Delhi

New Delhi:

Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud on Friday raised concerns over overwhelming barrage of speech that distorts the truth with the advent of troll armies and organised disinformation campaigns across social media platforms.

“Traditionally, freedom of speech and expression was deemed to be an essential part of civil rights activism because of the fear that the government would prevent certain kinds of speech from entering the marketplace,” Chief Justice Chandrachud said at the 14th Justice VM Tarkunde memorial lecture.

“With the advent of troll armies and organised disinformation campaigns across different social media platforms, the fear is that there is an overwhelming barrage of speech that distorts the truth,” the Chief Justice said.

“This epistemological battle of sorts was explained eloquently in the New York Times in 2020, where it said ‘the spewing of falsehoods isn’t meant to win any battle of ideas. Its goal is to prevent the actual battle from being fought’. Therefore, we cannot fall back on traditional notions of free speech and must find new theoretical frameworks to locate free speech on the internet,” he said.

Chief Justice Chandrachud said the intricate interplay between surveillance by the state and an individual’s right to privacy has been a subject of compelling debate within Indian jurisprudence. The first case that dealt with privacy was R Rajagopal vs State of Tamil Nadu, he said, adding the court determined that a magazine has the right to publish an autobiography penned by a prisoner, even in the absence of the prisoner’s consent or authorisation.

“Despite efforts by prison officials to hinder the publication by compelling the prisoner to request its non-publication, the court underscored the need to maintain a delicate equilibrium between press freedom and the right to privacy,” Chief Justice Chandrachud said.

On Justice Tarkunde, the Chief Justice said the core emphasis of the civil liberties movement that Justice Tarkunde championed is mirrored by digital rights activism today.

Chief Justice Chandrachud, looking back on Justice Tarkunde’s dedication to civil liberties, said he inspired him as a young lawyer.

“…It continues to inspire me as I serve as a judge of a constitutional court. That Justice Tarkunde is regarded as the ‘Father of the Civil Rights Movement’ is no surprise. In every role he donned – as a senior advocate, High Court judge, and activist – he was steadfast in his commitment to democracy, radical humanism, and civil liberty,” Chief Justice Chandrachud said.

“… No book, academic article or chronicle of the internal emergency imposed in the 1970s is complete without a reference to Justice Tarkunde’s spirited defence of personal liberty and democracy, both inside and outside the courtroom,” the Chief Justice said.

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