Every year, India brags about its increased internet penetration in the TRAI reports, but is it offering Internet freedom to its citizens? Well, it doesn’t seem so. The country has recently recorded the highest year-on-year decline in online freedom among all the countries in the world, as reported in the annual ‘Freedom on the Net’ report by a non-profit organization Freedom House.
The decline has been attributed to the deliberate interruptions of mobile and internet services to limit unrest, excessive blocks on content during riots in the northeastern states and an uptick in the filing of criminal charges against ordinary users for their posts on social media sites.
Freedom House conducted a study to measure the level of internet and digital freedom in 60 countries around the world. It then, gave rankings to them on a scale of 0 to 100.
|Points Range||Freedom Status|
The ratings were categorized according to three broad categories viz. Obstacles to access, Limits on content and Violations of User Rights.
As per the report, with a population of 1.3 Bn, India has internet penetration of only 13% and has an unchanged status of ‘Partly Free’ since 2009, with a score of 47 (scored 39 in 2012). Among 14 Asian countries, India is ranked 7 (ranked 3 out of 11 in 2012) and has got an overall rank of 25 (ranked 20 out of 47 in 2012) in a joint with Cambodia among 60 others.
The report criticised India on affairs such as the arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi for making anti-corruption cartoons and filing a charge on atleast 11 people for posting social media content under the IT act’s vague ban on annoying, offensive or menacing messaging.
Also, the country is being accused mostly for the violation of user rights, for instance – DOT blocking 39 websites supposedly targeting inflammatory content, Central monitoring system to monitor any electronic communication in real time without informing the target and many more. Thus, denoting a clear violation of the democratic country’s basic fundamental right, the ‘Right to speak’.
The report also cites its concerns regarding the lack of transparency in the surveillance system.
Talking about Asia, the region overall does not seem to be doing much well, with most countries having the Partly free and Not free status, and with only Japan and Philippines rated as Free.
Among the other nations, Iceland, Estonia and Germany came out to be the most free with 6, 9 and 17 points respectively, while China, Cuba and Iran made their place at the bottom with 86, 86 and 91 points respectively. US’ ranking also dropped at number 3 in a joint with Germany, due to the NSA surveillance revelations. Australia took the fifth place and UK, tenth.
The Chart below represents the internet freedom status of all 60 countries. Have a look.
As tracked by this project, the global internet freedom has been in decline for three consecutive years. In some countries, even posting a cynical rap song could draw the police to the user’s door. Nonetheless, in a handful of countries, such as Morocco, Burma, Georgia and Rwanda etc., efforts have been taken to open government engagements with civil societies, resulting in the passage of laws perceived to protect internet freedom.
Within the last few years, the Internet has become a powerful tool for sharing information and articulating dissent in India. However, lack of transparency, unsystematic restrictions and unjustified content blocking- have always held back its power to be fully utilized in a more positive manner. As India approaches towards its 2014 elections, these issues may become even more pressing with the Internet taking the centre stage and different political parties accusing each other of manipulating online discourse. Whether the next government will be receptive, remains to be seen.
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