Free internet and internet censorship: a setup of growth and checks

Two news made headlines almost at the same time: the pulling down the video of the controversial Roast from the Youtube channel AIB after an First Information Report(FIR) was filed against its creators at Pune Police station; and the launch of the Internet.org android app in India, by Facebook and Reliance Communications, which aims to provide basic internet access to people who aren’t yet connected for free.

The internet penetration of India goes from being 0.53% in 2000 to 19.19% in 2014. As the internet’s reach and impact increases, so does the number of cases of internet censorship. The FIRs are generally filed under Section 67 (A) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which states that any information sent via a computer-like device which is grossly offensive or has menacing character is punishable. The faulty Information Technology Act which was passed off in a hurry, and have misleading terms without proper explanation can be misused.

Not only do the movies and books banned in the country are easily accessible on torrent and other file sharing websites whose servers lie outside the Indian domain, the content uploaded on the internet itself have started to come under scrutiny. According to Google’s Transparency Report, the Indian government asked the company to remove content 68 times between the first half of 2011 itself, and 51% of those requests were at least partially complied with.

The growth of the internet and ease of access, and ease of upload, obviously needs to be checked by laws and regulations, but a better alternative than banning content altogether has to be figured out. An age bar, as suggested by actor Amir Khan, could be an alternative. Similar to ‘adult’ and ‘parental guidance’ ratings for movies, a similar alternative should be introduced for the internet content as well. Though, how can such a setup be implemented in cyber space is questionable. In the end, it comes down to parental observance and individual moral stance.

But, while we talk about not banning questionable content altogether, the Indian government has gone as far as banning the websites itself on which the content in question was uploaded. In July, 2014 about 219 file-sharing and torrent websites were blocked. And if nothing else works, the Indian government has the power to use the internet kill switch. In Vadodara, Gujarat the state government (and not the Central Government) shut down the internet for 3 days in September last year due to communal clashes between two communities, and that too, without prior formal announcement.

Major reasons given for censorship in India:

  1. Criticism of politicians and government, termed “offensive”
  2. Demeans Indian culture
  3. Incites religious or communal violence/ “hate speech”

In the midst of aristocratic censorship that has been practiced lately in the country, the AIB Roast video criticism and controversy is only expectable (but not acceptable). The AIB team has even apologized, though only in their sarcastic style, which makes it all the more better!

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