Disinformation Has Serious Impact On Rule Of Law, Emerging To Be Most Severe Global Risk : Justice K V Viswanathan

Update: 2024-06-12 15:04 GMT
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Justice, K V Viswanathan (Judge, Supreme Court of India) spoke about the 'Emerging Areas That Impact Law And The Legal System' in Justice T S Krishnamoorthy Iyer Memorial Oration held at the Kerala High Court today.One of the major emerging legal areas that was discussed was Disinformation. Justice Viswanathan said that digital media has its advantages and disadvantages. He stated that...

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Justice, K V Viswanathan (Judge, Supreme Court of India) spoke about the 'Emerging Areas That Impact Law And The Legal System' in Justice T S Krishnamoorthy Iyer Memorial Oration held at the Kerala High Court today.

One of the major emerging legal areas that was discussed was Disinformation. Justice Viswanathan said that digital media has its advantages and disadvantages. He stated that many issues have come up regarding the regulation of disinformation in the digital era. 

He referred to the World Economic Forum's Report on the Global Risk to state that disinformation was also identified as an emerging global risk. “Disinformation is emerging to be the most severe global risk anticipated over the next two years”.

Justice Viswanathan went on to state the effects of disinformation in society. “There is no conversation happening here. It is one sided, you are given the information and people get polarised on that basis, people tend to believe it depending on what they want to do with it, people don't check it, and this information is widely circulated, opinions are formed and actions are being taken on it.”

Other emerging areas of law that were discussed were Climate Change, Artificial Intelligence, Data Protection and Privacy.

On climate change, he stated that we must understand legal dimensions and issues. Justice Viswanathan discussed that climate litigations are increasing around the globe. He mentioned that the effects of climate change such as food or water shortage would affect the vulnerable and poor communities more than others. He stated that climate change litigation is a growing area of jurisprudence of law and quoted cases about climate change damage duty imposed by Courts in New Zealand.

Disinformation, he said some call it as truth decay. Justice Viswanathan discussed how to regulate disinformation without compromising on the right to freedom of speech and expression. “ How do you check this with the media explosion?On one hand you have guaranteed free speech and it is completely non-negotiable right subject to reasonable restrictions…deliberate disinformation has serious impact on rule of law.”

He stated that we are all subjected to disinformation. He stated that we stand at a critical juncture in the digital age that is characterized by explosion of information through the emergence of non-traditional sources of information like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and so on that are capable of giving information at breakneck speed.

He stated that the problem would arise later which he called as trust deficit. He said that people would not believe any information and that would affect normal conversations.

He said that in the digital era, people are not able to figure out the source of news and there is an increasing struggle to separate facts from fiction.

He went on to state that the tussle would arise between the interpretation of Article 19 and reasonable restrictions. He stated that free speech cannot be compromised but there should be some measures in place to regulate the menace of disinformation. He stated that there is also an issue in determining what is disinformation since it is subjective.

“While laws exist against hate speech, incitement to violence and defamation exist, extending this to disinformation is controversial and is difficult to enforce uniformly, added Justice Viswanathan. 

He referred to laws in Singapore and Germany that regulate disinformation. He stated that the German model is based on self-regulation and referred to the Protection from Online Falsehoods And Manipulation Act of Singapore.

“They have a mechanism where if a certain information tantamount to disinformation is aired, they have an authority now vested in the government who have a power to direct that medium to publish alongside the false information the correct information. the logic is answer to free speech is more speech. There is a theory, instead of suppressing free speech you must have more speech and I have always wondered, apart from handling hate speech by law, why cannot it be done by harmony speech? …..i think if answer to free speech is more speech, the answer to apart from legal sanction, should also be harmony speech.”

Justice Viswanathan went on to state that ultimately we should also make changes in everyday life on an individual level. He stated that many legal battles will come up in future in the arena of countering disinformation such as judicial review of laws seeking to regulate freedom of speech, legality of take-down measures by an intermediary, and petitions seeking directions to take down harmful and false content. He said that we should take ideas from other countries to equip ourselves to deal with these legal battles.

He concluded by saying that, “while the right to express ideas is really a corner stone of democratic values, disinformation seems to erode the very foundation of those values.”

Coming to the area of Artificial Intelligence, he stated that there is a tendency to believe that it will substitute humans. He referred to certain AI tools used in other countries which are used to predict questions asked by a judge, another tool used to filter cases to prevent unnecessary litigations. He also said that AI could help persons draft petitions intelligently who choose to approach Courts on their own, without aid from lawyers.

AI is not a disruptor, if responsibly employed that is going to be the approach”, he said while using the example of the High Court of Kerala and District Courts in the state that employ AI tools to make faster dispensation of justice. He referred to the AI tool called Anuvadhini that is used to translate judgments from English to Malayalam enabling the common man to understand the law.

He also said that AI could not be used without having legal compliances, accountability, governance frameworks, data quality and security, regular interaction with stakeholders, human monitoring and so on. He said that one of the main issues faced is the pendency of cases, which could be resolved using AI mode of resolution with sufficient human monitoring. 

“our problem is pendency, and I personally feel AI can be responsibly and intelligently partnered that could be in the absence of any other solution we could think to seriously address the issue of pendency of cases. We will do it carefully, but we need to seriously think of it", added Justice Viswanathan.

Coming to Data Protection and Privacy, he stated that there are many litigations arising on information privacy, Data Protection laws, the Right to be Forgotten etc. He referred to accepting cookies and targeted advertisements based on information shared online. He stated that these are issues of privacy which would be generated, and we should be able to deal with them.

Justice Viswanathan concluded his speech by saying that his only intention was to flag these issues which are crucial and emerging that could impact law and legal systems so we could take consious steps to act upon them.

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