Centre for Internet & Society

The Indian government provides leadership, both domestically and internationally, when it comes to access to knowledge.


This article by Sunil Abraham was published in Deccan Chronicle on September 16, 2012.


Our domestic patent policy ensures that generic medicines are available and largely affordable not only within India but also in Africa and elsewhere. It also allows Indians to consume a wide range of technological innovations without worrying about legal bans that are an otherwise common feature in the developed countries, thanks to phenomena such as the ongoing mobile phone patent wars.

Copyright policy, including the last amendment of the copyright act, has ensured that fair dealing and the rights of students, researchers, disabled, etc., are protected. Texts, audio and video for education and entertainment are relatively affordable, especially in comparison to other countries in the Asia-Pacific.

Even at the World Intellectual Property Organisation, other developing countries look to India for guidance. The interventions of the copyright registrar G.R. Raghavender and the Indian team won praise during the most recent round of negotiations for the Treaty for the Visually Impaired. An excellent example of India's soft power protecting public interest at home and abroad.

In diametrical contrast, India has a terrible track record when it comes to freedom of expression, especially expression mediated by networked technologies such as telecommunications and the Internet.

Our policy-makers seem determined to extinguish the privacy of communications and also anonymous/pseudonymous speech through such devices as Know Your Customer (KYC) and data retention requirements for accessing the Internet through cyber-cafes, mobile phones, dial-up or broadband, ban on open wi-fi networks, plans to tie together Aadhaar and NATGRID and Central Monitoring System (CMS) to track a citizen using his/her UID across devices, networks and intermediaries, and requiring real-time interception equipment to be installed at all network and data centres.

All these without any horizontal privacy law or a data protection law that is compliant with international best practices. Security hawks argue that this pervasive, multi-tiered surveillance regime helps thwart criminal and terrorist attacks, but its poor design extracts a terrible price in terms of freedom of expression.

Citizens who cannot express themselves anonymously and privately begin to censor themselves, seriously undermining our democracy, which is most importantly founded on an anonymous expression, the electoral ballot.

In addition, in April 2011, rules under the amended IT Act were notified for intermediaries that have a chilling effect on free speech via unclear and unconstitutional limits on freedom of expression, encouragement of private censorship without any notice to those impacted, missing procedure for redress, and lack of penalties for those who abuse the rules to target legitimate speech. This was followed by calls for proactive censorship of social media, which caused much outrage amongst the twitterati.

Even when the government had legitimate grounds (the recent exodus of North-East Indians) to censor free speech, it overreached and acted incompetently, cracking down on parody accounts on social media rather than carefully configuring the text message ban. As if that weren't enough, the government beats up a cartoonist and jails him for sedition.

There’s a plan behind such attacks on free speech. The powerful in India, with their fragile egos, can afford expensive lawyers who can ensure that for those who dare to speak their mind, “the process is the punishment”, as Lawrence Liang of the Alternative Law Forum put it. Needless to say, cartoonists and others that dare to speak their mind cannot usually afford the time and expense of courts.

An experiment featuring monkeys, bananas and ice-cold water, commonly attributed to the late American psychologist Harry Harlow, explains what’s being attempted by those who attack free speech. First, five monkeys are put in a cage with bananas hanging from the top that can be reached by climbing a ladder. Every time one of the monkeys try to climb the ladder, ice-cold water is thrown on all of them. Soon, the monkeys learn not to climb the ladder.

Then, one of them is replaced with a monkey that has never been drenched with ice-cold water. When the new monkey tries to climb the ladder, the other four monkeys attack it and prevent it from reaching the banana. This is continued till all the original monkeys are replaced with new ones.

When that’s done, although none of the monkeys left in the cage has ever been drenched with ice-cold water, they continue to enforce the regulation on themselves. This is what has happened in China. This is what is being attempted here – to social engineer the Indian netizen.

https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawlKRoPgdlYeYDiI8qGdm0M3lrXdLTgXffs
https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawlKRoPgdlYeYDiI8qGdm0M3lrXdLTgXffs says:
Oct 30, 2012 10:43 AM

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