This is an update to my last post on this blog which dealt with many of the same issues. Sadly, in the past few months, internet freedom has come under further attack.
The battle for internet freedom is ongoing. With the advent of bills like SOPA, PIPA, ACTA and now CISPA, governments around the world are cracking down on freedom. Iran plans to unplug the internet and create its own internal form. The UK government is attempting to enact legislation to snoop on all forms of communication to mass outrage. Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Daniel Ellsburg, Birgitta Jónsdóttir are suing the US government to protect internet freedom. People can now be arrested merely for the vitriol they enjoy posting on twitter.
None of this was possible even 10 years ago. The way information is created, shared and thought about has changed for the millions around the world with daily access to the internet. Internet freedom is being much debated all over the web this week, thanks to the Guardian’s series ‘Battle for the Internet’, but the mainstream Indian media seems to have decided to remain mute on the issue.
The Information Technology Act 2008 was surreptitiously passed with little notice by the Indian public. The Act grossly undercuts internet freedom and may soon be getting worse. Under the Act, the Government was given unprecedented powers of surveillance, intrusive monitoring and interception of encrypted information. Already, cyber café owners are required to keep backups of logs and computer resource records for at least six months for each access or login by any user – a serious invasion of privacy.
In December last year, the Telecommunications Minister, Kapil Sibal felt that any objectionable content must be “pre-screened” before posting on social media. Clearly, he failed to recognise the physical impossibility and blatant absurdity of such a move. However, his somewhat unhinged ideas about regulating the internet are evident in the IT Rules 2011.
According to the Information Technology Rules 2011, anything which is deemed to be “harassing”, “blasphemous”, “defamatory”, “disparaging” or “threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states, or public order” must be removed. With such vague parameters, almost anything offensive to the sentiments that the state wishes to perpetuate, to not just the public, but the rest of the world, can then be removed from the internet. It is almost impossible to patrol the web in such a manner, given the sheer amount of content, but that doesn’t seem to stop the government from wanting to try.
At the same time, the Rules require sensitive personal information to be disclosed to government agencies “for the purpose of verification of identity, or for prevention, detection, investigation including cyber incidents, prosecution, and punishment of offences.” This is an extreme privacy violation, but far more worrying is the ability of the government to lawfully create a profile on all of their citizens. If this happens, it is likely to result in a move from the presumption of innocent to a presumption of guilt. Monitoring, surveilling and profiling will become the norm.
These Rules violate both the Right to Privacy and the Right to Free Speech, and may in fact be in violation of India’s own constitutional laws to free speech, and are in violation of international human rights treaties, such as the European Convention on Human Rights (Articles 8, 9 and 10) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 12 and 19).
Moves like this reveal an avowal by the government to slowly but surely fritter away our human rights. We cannot let this happen. If we want to stop the government from legally censoring our web content, accessing our private data and monitoring what we say, then:
Sign the petition: www.it2011.in.
While an electronic signature might not seem like much, it could make a huge difference to stop the government from encroaching on all of our civil liberties and tell MPs that we refuse to have our voices stifled. Cracking down on free speech is just the first step.