Content:

  1. Editorial: In bad faith: On the ongoing farmers agitation
  2. The threat of deepfakes 

Editorial: In bad faith: On the ongoing farmers agitation

Context:

  • The NIA’s decision to summon people associated with the ongoing farmers agitation as ‘witnesses’ in a sedition case is definitely out of the ordinary, even if not entirely surprising.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 2: Fundamental Rights

Mains Questions:

  1. Question 1: State intimidation of protesting groups cannot serve as a substitute for political dialogue. In this context, discuss the sedition law in India. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • What is Sedition?
  • About sedition law in India?
  • About Section 124A of Indian Penal Code (IPC)
  • Issues related to Sedition in India:
  • Supreme Court views regarding sedition:
  • Way Forward:

What is Sedition?

Sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that tends toward rebellion against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent toward, or rebellion against, established authority.

About sedition law in India?

  • Sedition, which falls under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, is defined as any action that brings or attempts to bring hatred or contempt towards the government of India.
  • Origin and evolution – It was added through Special Act XVII of 1870 to suppress freedom of speech and expression during colonial rule. Mahatma Gandhi called Section 124A “the prince among the political sections of the IPC designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen”.
  • Recent statistics on Sedition Law:
    • Compared to other offences, sedition remains a rare crime (it accounts for less than 0.01% of all IPC crimes).
    • But within India, some parts are emerging as sedition hotspots. Assam and Jharkhand, for instance, with 37 sedition cases each, account for 32% of all sedition cases between 2014-2018.
    • As per National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB),there were 47 cases of sedition in 2014 but that number increased to 70 in 2018.
  • Significance of Section 124A: The continued existence of the government established by law is an essential condition of the stability of the State.
    • Section 124A of the IPC has its utility in combating anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements such as, many districts in different states face a Maoist insurgency and rebel groups virtually run a parallel administration.

About Section 124A of Indian Penal Code (IPC)

  • It was drafted by Thomas Babington Macaulay and included in the IPC in 1870.
  • It states that , “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”
  • Punishment under Section 124A Sedition is a non-bailable offence.
  • A person charged under this law can’t apply for a government job. They have to live without their passport and must present themselves in the court as and when required.

Issues related to Sedition in India:

  • Colonial Era law: It is a colonial relic and a preventive provision that should only be read as an emergency measure.
  • Right to Freedom of expression: Use of Section 124A by the government might go beyond the reasonable restrictions provided under fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression as per Article 19 of the Constitution.
  • Democratic foundation: Dissent and criticism of the government are essential ingredients of robust public debate in a vibrant democracy and therefore, should not be constructed as sedition. The sedition law is being misused as a tool to persecute political dissent.
  • Lower Conviction Rate: Though police are charging more people with sedition, few cases actually result in a conviction. Since 2016, only four sedition cases have seen a conviction in court which indicates that sedition as an offence has no solid legal grounding in India.
  • Vague provision of sedition laws: The terms used under Section 124A like ‘disaffection’ are vague and subject to different interpretation to the whims and fancies of the investigating officers.
  • Other legal measure for offences against the state: Indian Penal Code and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (1967), have provisions that penalize “disrupting the public order” or “overthrowing the government with violence and illegal means”. These are sufficient for protecting the national integrity. o Similarly, the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act is also there for offences against the state.
  • Perception of law: Globally, sedition is increasingly viewed as a draconian law and was revoked in the United Kingdom in 2010. In Australia, following the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) the term sedition was removed.
    • Even in India, in August 2018, the Law Commission published a consultation paper recommending that it is time to re-think or repeal the Section 124A.

Supreme Court views regarding sedition:

  • The constitutionality of sedition was challenged in the Supreme Court in Kedar Nath Vs State of Bihar (1962). The Court upheld the law on the basis that this power was required by the state to protect itself.
    • However, it had added a vital caveat that “a person could be prosecuted for sedition only if his acts caused incitement to violence or intention or tendency to create public disorder or cause disturbance of public peace”.
    • The court held that “a citizen has a right to say or write whatever he likes about the Government, or its measures, by way of criticism or comment, so long as he does not incite people to violence against the Government established by law or with the intention of creating public disorder”.
  • In the 1995 Balwant Singh case verdict, the Apex Court said, ‘The casual raising of slogans once or twice by two individuals alone cannot be said to be aimed at exciting or attempt to excite hatred or disaffection towards the government”.
  • In September 2016, the Supreme Court had reiterated these necessary safeguards and held that they should be followed by all authorities.
  • Essential ingredients for a seditious act: Various verdicts in Romesh Thappar case, Kedar Nath Singh case, Kanahiya Kumar case re-defined a seditious act only if it had essential ingredients as
    • Disruption of public order
    • Attempt to violently overthrow a lawful government
    • Threatening the security of State or of public.

Way Forward:

It is abundantly clear that freedom of speech and expression within the Indian legal tradition includes within its ambit any form of criticism, dissent and protest. Dissent acts as a safety valve in a vibrant democracy and every restriction on free speech and liberty must be carefully imposed weighing its reasonableness. Therefore, as suggested by the Law commission of India, invoking 124A should be restricted only to criminalize acts committed with the intention to disrupt public order or to overthrow the Government with explicit violence and illegal means.


Editorial: The threat of deepfakes 

Context:

  • The protesters who created chaos in Capitol Hill on January 6 believe that the 2020 U.S. election was stolen by the Democrats. This is largely due to misinformation and disinformation of which deepfakes are a part.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 3: Basics of Cyber Security; Role of media and social-networking sites in internal security challenges; Internal security challenges through communication networks

Mains questions:

  1. It is crucial to enhance media literacy, meaningful regulations and platform policies, and amplify authoritative sources. Discuss the statement in context of Deepfake. 15 marks
  2. Disinformation and hoaxes have evolved from mere annoyance to high stake warfare for creating social discord, increasing polarisation, and in some cases, influencing an election outcome. Elaborate. 15 marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • What is Deepfakes?
  • What are the threats related to Deepfakes?
  • Measures to address the challenges related to Deepfakes
  • Way forward

What is Deepfakes?

Deepfakes — synthetic media, meaning media (including images, audio and video) that are either manipulated or wholly generated by Artificial Intelligence — even have the power to threaten the electoral outcome of the world’s oldest democracy. Several social media platforms blocked President Donald Trump’s accounts after the attack.

Deepfake is a portmanteau of “deep learning” and “fake”. It is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) software that superimposes a digital composite on to an existing video (or audio).The origin of the word “deepfake” can be traced back to 2017 when a Reddit user, with the username “deepfakes”, posted explicit videos of celebrities.

Deepfakes are the digital media (video, audio, and images) manipulated using Artificial Intelligence. This synthetic media content is referred to as deepfakes.

What are the threats related to deepfakes?

A cyber Frankenstein: Frankenstein is not a computer virus, which is a program that can multiply and take over other machines. But, it could be used in cyberwarfare to provide cover for a virus or another type of malware, or malicious software. Therefore it has multiple challenges:

  • Deepfakes, hyper-realistic digital falsification, can inflict damage to individuals, institutions, businesses and democracy. They make it possible to fabricate media — swap faces, lip-syncing, and puppeteer — mostly without consent and bring threat to psychology, security, political stability, and business disruption.
  • Nation-state actors with geopolitical aspirations, ideological believers, violent extremists, and economically motivated enterprises can manipulate media narratives using deepfakes, with easy and unprecedented reach and scale.

Targeting women:

  • The very first use case of malicious use of a deepfake was seen in pornography, inflicting emotional, reputational, and in some cases, violence towards the individual.
  • Pornographic deepfakes can threaten, intimidate, and inflict psychological harm and reduce women to sexual objects. Deepfake pornography exclusively targets women.

Damaging individual dignity:

  • Deepfakes can depict a person indulging in antisocial behaviours and saying vile things. These can have severe implications on their reputation, sabotaging their professional and personal life.
  • Malicious actors can take advantage of unwitting individuals to defraud them for financial gains using audio and video deepfakes.
  • Deepfakes can be deployed to extract money, confidential information, or exact favours from individuals.

Harming social fabric of society:

  • Deepfakes can cause short- and long-term social harm and accelerate the already declining trust in news media. Such an erosion can contribute to a culture of factual relativism, fraying the increasingly strained civil society fabric.
  • The distrust in social institutions is perpetuated by the democratising nature of information dissemination and social media platforms’ financial incentives.
  • Falsity is profitable, and goes viral more than the truth on social platforms. Combined with distrust, the existing biases and political disagreement can help create echo chambers and filter bubbles, creating discord in society.

Challenge to internal security:

  • Imagine a deepfake of a community leader denigrating a religious site of another community. It will cause riots and, along with property damage, may also cause life and livelihood losses.
  • A deepfake could act as a powerful tool by a nation-state to undermine public safety and create uncertainty and chaos in the target country.
  • It can be used by insurgent groups and terrorist organisations, to represent their adversaries as making inflammatory speeches or engaging in provocative actions to stir up anti-state sentiments among people.

Undermining democracy:

  • A deepfake can also aid in altering the democratic discourse and undermine trust in institutions and impair diplomacy. False information about institutions, public policy, and politicians powered by a deepfake can be exploited to spin the story and manipulate belief.
  • A deepfake of a political candidate can sabotage their image and reputation. A well-executed one, a few days before polling, of a political candidate spewing out racial epithets or indulging in an unethical act can damage their campaign.
  • A high-quality deepfake can inject compelling false information that can cast a shadow of illegitimacy over the voting process and election results.
  • Deepfakes contribute to factual relativism and enable authoritarian leaders to thrive. For authoritarian regimes, it is a tool that can be used to justify oppression and disenfranchise citizens. Leaders can also use them to increase populism and consolidate power.
  • Deepfakes can become a very effective tool to sow the seeds of polarisation, amplifying division in society, and suppressing dissent.

Measures to address the threats related to deepfakes:

Collaborative actions and collective techniques across legislative regulations, platform policies, technology intervention, and media literacy can provide effective and ethical countermeasures to mitigate the threat of malicious deepfakes.

Media literacy:

  • Media literacy for consumers and journalists is the most effective tool to combat disinformation and deepfakes.
  • Media literacy efforts must be enhanced to cultivate a discerning public. As consumers of media, we must have the ability to decipher, understand, translate, and use the information we encounter.
  • Even a short intervention with media understanding, learning the motivations and context, can lessen the damage. Improving media literacy is a precursor to addressing the challenges presented by deepfakes

Legislative regulations:

  • Meaningful regulations with a collaborative discussion with the technology industry, civil society, and policymakers can facilitate disincentivising the creation and distribution of malicious deepfakes.

Technological solutions:

  • We also need easy-to-use and accessible technology solutions to detect deepfakes, authenticate media, and amplify authoritative sources.

Way forward:

Deepfakes can create possibilities for all people irrespective of their limitations by augmenting their agency. However, as access to synthetic media technology increases, so does the risk of exploitation. Deepfakes can be used to damage reputations, fabricate evidence, defraud the public, and undermine trust in democratic institutions. To counter the menace of deepfakes, we all must take the responsibility to be a critical consumer of media on the Internet, think and pause before we share on social media, and be part of the solution to this infodemic.

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