India is gradually coming down to the draconian path of Internet governance – a fact that is a tremendous cause for concern. The Internet is meant to be a free platform but India is now lending her voice to a growing cacophony from China, Cuba, Russia and the UAE to set up a democratic Internet governance structure in place. This structure is supposed to “balance private, commercial and public policy interests” but what does this mean for the end user? We have already witnessed several proclamations from the Indian Government accusing user comments across various platforms of disturbing religious and political sentiments. But will this really be the end of the road for the world’s biggest democracy? Freedom of speech is a fundamental right of democratic citizens and the proposed moderation of the World Wide Web is a direct violation of this right.
Undeniably, there are a few individuals who hide behind a mask of anonymity to vocalize disturbing thoughts but these constitute a minority. The opinions are clearly divided. There are certain sections of the Government sensationalizing offensive statements on public platforms. There are others like Dilip Sinha, Indian envoy to UN Committee on Science and Technology (UNCSTD), whose statement throws a rather confusing spanner into the proceedings. It goes, “Given the nature of IT networks, continuous coordination is required by all stakeholders including governments to maintain its open character. India wishes to emphasize the need for global coordination to ensure that Internet continues to be a free and secure medium for the whole world.” While his statement suggests a worldwide coordinated governance policy to maintain freedom, there are factions that condemn these very facets of the web. You can read more about this here.
How this process is executed and what will be the aftermath is yet to be seen. However, it will be a sorry state of affairs if as a democratic nation we are forced to accept Internet censorship. As for now, we can only hope that the policies being framed by the Committee for Internet-Related Policies (CIRP), formed in Geneva a few days back consisting of the countries mentioned above, are not fully implemented. Once this is administered, it is bound to disrupt the right to free speech over the Internet.