Centre for Internet & Society

A recently released global report on the internet freedom rated India 39th in 2012, a slip from two places last year.

The article by Dilnaz Boga was published in DNA on September 27, 2012.

The report titled, Freedom on the net 2012 (FOTN): A global assessment of internet and digital media by Freedom House, a Washington-based monitoring group conducted a comprehensive study of internet freedom in 47 countries.

Quoting Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society, the report said 309 specific items (URLs, Twitter accounts, img tags, blog posts, blogs, and a handful of websites) have been blocked by the government. But officially, the government has admitted to blocking 245 web pages for inflammatory content hosting of provocative content.

Ketan Tanna, India analyst for Freedom House told DNA, “A reflection of the downward spiral in the freedom on the net that Indians enjoy is evident in the upward revision of scores for India in the FOTN 2012 report. India was one of the only 4 of the 20 countries that “recently experienced declines” and are democracies. The other three are Mexico, Turkey and South Korea.”

Internet usage in India continues to increase, with tens of millions of new users getting online each year. According to the International Telecommunications Union, internet penetration was 10% — or about 120 million people at the end of 2011. Among internet users, 90 million were ‘active,’ accessing it at least once a month (70 million urban and 20 million rural).

The report has mentioned that in India, “amid several court cases regarding intermediaries’ responsibility for hosting illegal content, much evidence has surfaced that intermediaries are taking down content without fully evaluating or challenging the legality of the request”.

Citing an example, Tanna said in December 2011, the website Cartoons against Corruption was suspended by its hosting company after a complaint filed with the Mumbai police alleged that the site’s cartoons ridiculed parliament and national emblems. “As a result of such dynamics, large swaths of online content are disappearing, and the losses are far more difficult to reverse than the mere blocking of a website,” he added.

More common than website blocking is the removal of content based on judicial orders, government directives, and citizen complaints. This phenomenon that has increased in recent years and in some cases, targeted content on political, social, and religious topics, the report said.

The Indian authorities had submitted 68 removal requests covering 358 items between January and June 2011. According to Google, 255 items related to what it categorised as “government criticism,” while 39 involved defamation and 8 pertained to hate speech.

In January, responding to a freedom of information request, the home ministry reported that the government orders 7,500 to 9,000 phone interceptions per month, the report disclosed. Criticising this practice and the government’s disregard for the Constitution, the data revealed, “Established guidelines regulate the ability of state officials to intercept communications, but India lacks an appropriate legal framework and procedures to ensure proper oversight of Intelligence agencies’ growing surveillance and interception capabilities, opening the possibility of misuse and unconstitutional invasion of citizens’ privacy.”

As another method of controlling speech and activism online, governments have imposed temporary shutdowns of the internet or mobile phone networks during protests or other sensitive times. Localised internet shutdowns and mobile phone shutdowns occurred in India due to security concerns, the report said.