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Tough neighbourhood tests India's e-tolerance

by Prasad Krishna last modified Jun 15, 2011 10:51 AM
The combination of having restrictive neighbours as well as security threats could make freedom on the web in India a casualty, writes Anahita Mukherji in this article published by the Times of India on June 12, 2011.

While Indians have enjoyed relatively free cyberspace, growing security threats have resulted in new laws that may tighten the screws on India's freedom on the web. This is one of the findings of a global report titled Freedom on the Net 2011.

There is a widespread fear that the lack of internet freedom in neighbouring countries, like China and Pakistan, may adversely impact India. "If restrictions are placed in certain countries, information links get weakened. Also, governments tend to copy moves of other countries when it comes to a restriction of freedom on the net," said Ketan Tanna, the India researcher for the report.

However, Sarah Cook, Asian research analyst and assistant editor for Freedom on the Net, said that while India may be in a tough neighborhood, it is also possible to seek out the "best practices from countries further afield, or even design its own, and not follow the 'worst practices' from the countries next door".

"It is ultimately up to the Indian government and people to decide how adversely they let being in a tough neighborhood impact internet freedom. It is true that there are objective threats that India faces. All of these can be used as justifications for why the government should be given wide authority to block certain content or monitor internet traffic. But in a democratic society, such needs must be balanced against citizens' rights to free expression and privacy. Ensuring transparency, accountability and legal specificity in any measures taken to restrict the free flow of information is an important way of balancing those factors," said Cook in an email interview with TOI.

Recent regulations have given the government more freedom to censor content. In 2008, Parliament passed amendments to the IT Act, which came into effect in 2009 and have expanded the government's monitoring capabilities. Two months ago, the government enforced another set of guidelines on internet usage. They make it mandatory for intermediaries (ISPs, websites, blogs etc) to notify users not to publish or use information that could be harmful, defamatory or cause annoyance in any way. If an intermediary is informed of such information by the government, it has to block it within 36 hours.

According to the new rules, content that "threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states or public order" is entitled to a ban.

An RTI activist from The Centre for Internet and Society managed to get a list of 11 officially banned websites in India in April 2011.

Nikhil Pahwa, the founder editor of Medianama, a digital media portal, feels the new guidelines could result in a further slide in India's rank.

Read the original published in the Times of India here

Filed under:
ASPI-CIS Partnership


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