A workshop presented in collaboration with the National Law University, Delhi

After the widely publicised revelations by Edward Snowden, India has been alarmed by the discovery that its move to digital communication has resulted in confidential government information becoming easily accessible to the United States of America. The new digital public sphere which was embraced enthusiastically over the last decade, suddenly looks fragile. It appears that the covert and widespread monitoring may have a chilling effect on speech.

If many now see seemingly-confidential communication on the Internet as vulnerable to intruders, there have also been increasing concerns about more public forms of Internet speech, such as the spread of rumours or images which allegedly incite violence between different communities. The most recent manifestation of this is the Muzaffarnagar violence in India, which has been attributed both to the social media and to inflammatory public speeches. Similar concerns were raised about the role of speech during what was popularly known as the ‘North Eastern Exodus’ in Bangalore. In both situations, the Internet was accused, along with other media, of being responsible for spreading harmful speech.

This panel will engage with these contemporary issues that envelop both the digital and the traditional media. It will look at the effects of surveillance, prior restraints on speech, intermediaries and other key factors on the public sphere. It will also consider, in this context, the relationship of the traditional media with the Internet. This discussion will take place in the backdrop of evolving democratic engagement in India, and the constitutional jurisprudence that attempts to keep pace with it and with developments in communication technology. It will offer comparative perspectives from other countries grappling with similar concerns.