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Millennium Post

Internet freedom in peril

The recent attacks on the sites of the Supreme Court, the Congress, the Delhi government and the department of telecommunications by online hackers to protest Internet censorship once again highlights the issue of freedom on the Internet. Though these attacks are reprehensible, they do raise a point. The Indian government has not done much to reassure the public about its stand on Internet freedom about which it appears to harbour conservative views. Some months ago Kapil Sibal, who, as minister of human resources, may be said to represent the government’s point of view, had suggested that the Internet be monitored and ‘objectionable’ content be censored. It is not entirely clear what he meant by objectionable content. If by this phrase he meant criticism of the government, criticism of leading politicians and dissent, then what he has said is in itself objectionable for such discussions are to be welcomed in a democracy.  Of late, the Indian government has even begun to push for the creation of a forum called ‘Committee for Internet Related Policies’ to develop internet policies, oversee internet standards, bodies and policy organisations, negotiate internet-related treaties and sit in judgment over internet-related disputes. Most interestingly, this is to a purely government-run multilateral body that will relegate civil society, private sector, international organisations as well as technical and academic groups to the fringes. This proposal has been floated without public consultation, despite there being millions of users of the Internet in India.

The Indian government is taking these stands despite the information superhighway having been seen for years by the informed public as a medium of true democracy. The Internet allows information exchange and the free exchange of ideas to takes place without being contaminated by identifications of race, colour or sex. Censorship or control of information dissemination online is seen as contrary to democratic processes and practice. The information superhighway has functioned happily without government filtering, or commercial intervention in an age where participatory democracy has been on the decline. The Internet has emerged as a tool for democratic communication and empowerment, allowing those who do not normally have a voice, to have their say. This is mass communication and political participation at its best. The Indian government must move with the times and realise that the Internet, as a medium without centralised control, has inherent democratic strength. It must not act in opposition to democracy.
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