Saturday, 21 April 2012

FoE: 2011 to 2012 and whats happening in India, April ‘12

Its been a little more than a year since the seeds of democracy began pushing out of the dirt and protests bloomed across the world, in what we called the Arab Spring. The Protestor was the Person of the Year, in 2011. The internet established itself as a force to be reckoned with.

It is more than a coincidence then, that 2012 is rapidly snowballing into the year of Containment. ACTA, SOPA, PIPA, CISPA are working over-time to draw in the nets of freedom of expression (FoE). Governments everywhere, seem to be responding to 2011’s vocalization of dissent, with a gag order on free expression. Look how far we have come from last year's clenched fists to this years cowering.

By April, we have already seen Wikipedia register its protest with a blackout of its English services. Apart from the drop in academic productivity on that day, Wikipedia's symbolism was deep- can we imagine a world without free information. Would we like to?

In India

India saw a peculiar protest in 2011. Anna Hazare’s fast to protest corruption, was powered by web 2.0 but employed 1947 tactics. And it worked. By 2012, the Indian government is hitting back, much like its contemporaries around the world. The new rules they are pushing are not very dissimilar in intention from its global relatives. They introduced the Information Technology Rules 2011.

A few years ago, several things flew under the radar, but come 26/11 and India stepped up its surveillance in many ways. The internet’s formlessness began to be institutionalized. Cartoons Against Corruption whose head rolled as a result, is one such example. The website was suspended. This kind of banning can happen as easily as ordering a burger and fries if the IT Rules come to pass.

On April 11, 2011, the Government notified the new Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 prescribing various guiding principles to be observed by all internet related companies. Government has enacted laws that gives it a free pass to censor our Facebook posts, listen to every Skype conversation we have, monitor our tweets or blogs or access private photographs and documents we store online, or track our location using our mobile phones or survey all of your online activity. [Friends Of Internet]
There are a range of reasons why the IT Rules are extremely problematic. Anyone can file a complaint with an intermediary, such as Facebook, Google or Yahoo!, about content they find, among other things “disparaging”, “grossly harmful”, “hateful” or “ethnically, racially objectionable”. The company has to act on the complaint within 36 hours. The initial poster of the content need not be informed about the complaint or the fact that his or her content has been taken down. And an appeals procedure is not provided. Why is all of this problematic? For one thing, terms such as “disparaging”, “grossly harmful”, “hateful” or “ethnically, racially objectionable” are extremely vague and in many cases not part of Indian jurisprudence. It’s thus difficult to decide when they apply to a particular tweet, YouTube video or Facebook status update. It could also well be argued that these terms entail restrictions on freedom of expression that go well beyond what the Indian constitution allows for. In that sense, they have the potential to significantly harm the right to freedom of expression of India’s one billion plus citizens. Moreover, when a complaint is filed on the above grounds, it is not the Indian courts who will decide whether or not the complaint is legitimate: it is private companies such as Facebook, Google and Yahoo! who have to do so. And their first interest is not your right to free speech, but their profits. As a consequence, when these private actors need to take decisions such as these, it is likely that they will err on the side of caution, thus further aggravating the chilling effect on free speech these rules will have. Yet when someone believes their content has been taken down for the wrong reasons, the rules do not provide a mechanism for them to argue their case. The only recourse they have will be to go to court – a process that takes money, time and other resources, and thus for many people is an intimidating prospect. [Internet Democracy]
Its all going down this April
Parliament Session
The annulment motion is going to be discussed in Parliament on April 24, 2012. Before this happens, there are a few events happening around the country, aiming to get more information out, register dissent and pressure MPs.
The Centre for Internet and Society and the Foundation for Media Professionals is having a discussion on 'Resisting Internet Censorship: Strategies for Furthering Freedom of Expression in India,' today, April 21, 2012, 2pm to 6pm at the Bangalore International Centre, TERI Complex, Domlur Stage II.
Friends of the Internet is holding a protest at Town Hall today, from 5pm onwards.
Delhi is protesting tomorrow, with 'Freedom in the Cage' at Jantar Mantar.
May 13, 2012 will see a rally at India Gate in Delhi, called the 'Disability Parade: ' लंगड़ा मार्च' (A March Against Web Censorship).'
Both the Delhi events are being organised by Aseem Trivedi, whose 'Cartoons Against Corruption' was taken down last year, and 'Save Your Voice.'
Details awaited

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