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India: Cyber censorship should be opposed

by Dr. (Fr.) Ambrose Pinto SJ, 26 April 2012

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Deccan Herald

25 April 2012

It is sad that the Central government has enacted moved to censor Facebook posts, Skype conversations, monitor tweets, blogs, private photographs and documents stored online and track even mobile phones.

This is an attack on freedom of speech and expression. No government can take the liberty to enter into the private sphere of citizens.

On April 13, 2011, the government has notified the new Information Technology Rules, 2011 prescribing various guiding principles to be observed by all Internet related companies. These rules will lead to a clampdown on the freedom of speech and expression enshrined in the Constitution of India by providing for a system of censorship.

This will affect the right to privacy of citizens by allowing government agencies to access private information. The provisions of the rules are unconstitutional as they affect the right to freedom of speech and expression as well as right to privacy of citizens. They are arbitrary and violate Article 14 of the Constitution of India and are ultra vires.

Technological spies

With the new rules, the government has all the powers to control and monitor every action, every thought, and every aspect of citizen’s life. There will be technological spies monitoring whatever one does.

The latest effort of the government to monitor content on the Internet on the basis of what is ‘objectionable’ and ‘defamatory’ shows that the government is uncomfortable with the internet.

According to the new Information Technology Guidelines notified by the government the internet service providers are expected to store every online activity-related data that the government agencies can access any time without notification.

All private conversations via e-mail and Skype, all private photographs and messages will be accessible to the government agencies. If the content on a blog or Facebook or anywhere else is found ‘objectionable’ it has to be taken down within 36 hours.

Anyone can say that the content is ‘defamatory’ and get it removed from the World Wide Web. Every tweet, every Facebook post, every video, every search on Google and other search engines are going to be monitored.

The Governing Class is clearly nervous. Those who govern are too uncomfortable with the internet. Wikileaks has exposed several governments and global leaders. Twitter, Facebook and social networking has caused support to civic unrests in several countries. With increasing corruption and intrigues, the Indian ruling class is terribly afraid of what is going to happen to them.

The government has invested Rs 450 crore of people’s money to track the undersea cables for encrypted data and more than 53 modules have already been established. This is not just an India specific problem.

There are efforts also in the USA to censor the Internet. Many of the Arabian countries given the unrest in their countries have already convinced the rest of the world why the Internet is to be censored.

No media has impacted the world as the Internet. Even the biggest governments feel sort of powerless in front of its reach. Besides, one can no longer have to depend on computers and laptops in order to access the Internet and social networking applications.

One can interact on Twitter and Facebook even from cheapest mobile phones these days and post blog posts from smart phones. It hardly takes a few seconds for the news to spread across the country. The zeal to control, to censor, to severe its most important vein freedom of expression is to preserve the interests of the ruling class.

It is also interesting to note that a professor of chemistry of the Jadavpur University was arrested recently along with his neighbour for allegedly posting a cartoon on a popular social networking site and forwarding emails. Cases were booked on him under the IT ACT as well.

Rajya Sabha member from Karnataka Rajeev Chandrashekhar has moved an annulment motion to get these rules abolished and the motion has been admitted. He has also spoken in Parliament in support.

There should be collective efforts to stop this censorship. We can approach our local MPs and MLAs and convey to them what we think of this censorship drive and tell them that they must raise their voice in Parliament. We can write against it on blogs and create online forums to discuss the matter.

Once the damage is done, it will be nearly impossible to undo it. We cannot allow our representatives to treat us as pawns because freedom of thought and expression disturbs them and their questionable actions.

(The writer is a fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla)


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