We Indians are proud of the fact that we enjoy freedom of speech in our country and enjoy certain liberties that people in neighbouring China simply cannot. But before we pat ourselves on the back for being better off than our neighbours here’s what we need to know about the government playing #BadeBhai to what you and I do on the internet:
Every second and third person using the internet in India is under government surveillance. Though the number of internet users in India have increased and overtaken the United States in absolute numbers this has not translated into greater internet freedom.
According to Freedom House, a US-based think tank, governments keeping an eye on the internet activities of its citizenry is seen all over the world. Internet freedom has declined for the 6th year in a row, said a report by the organisation because of the way in which governments have cracked down on social media apps and messaging platforms.
The fact that the draconian Section 66A of the IT Act was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, was a progressive step. We also have good net neutrality protections in place.
Local authorities have blocked internet use under various pretexts such as section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (prohibition of assembly). At least 23 reported incidents point to curbing of personal freedoms.
It is various pretexts under which our freedoms are curtailed: morality, Indian culture, offence to certain people. One glaring example is the Indian porn ban; also referred to as the Tilibanisation of the net. John Oliver may be hilarious, but this type of government interference and control is undemocratic and tantamount to treating the citizenry like unthinking, recalcitrant children.
There is of course the fact that there are obstacles to access and that internet penetration in India is only 26%. Limits of content and violations of user rights are other reasons why India scores low on internet freedom. Slow broadband speeds and manipulation by telecom service providers compounds the problem.
Earlier this year, there were reports that the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) proposed the setting up of a a National Media Analytics Centre (NMAC). This was to monitor and analyse blogs, publications, social media and any online content round the clock and to counter any news or comments deemed provocative or negative. So is #BadeBhai watching you while you read my words? Watch out.
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