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Published on February 8th, 2012 | by Jack N W Ellis
Image © [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="320" caption="Pieczęć "Censored" © Piotr VaGla Waglowski"][/caption] India is playing catch-up with China on several fronts. By imposing heavy web restrictions, it is endangering the one advantage it undoubtedly holds over the People's Republic. The Delhi High Court warned this week that it could take action to shut down websites deemed to be hosting 'objectionable content'. 'Deliberate malicious acts intended to outrage' as well as material that 'promotes enmity between groups' are two of the charges that may be levelled at the likes of Google, Facebook, and YouTube, among others. The Indian government would have been required to give approval of such action before it was announced, since some of the charges levelled at the social media providers don’t allow the possibility of bail. The threat of blocking websites parallels the policies of the Chinese authorities, which made headlines in 2010 when Google decided to end its compliance with China’s internet censorship regulations. It is clear to see why the Chinese government fears the internet - it allows the free and easy communication of ideas and information from around the world. Oppression tactics such as phone taps, overzealous border controls and impromptu visits from Party commissars have considerably less effect in the online world than they do in the physical world; what the state can do, however, is machinate to block out parts of the internet totally (as currently happens in China), either through outright prohibition or by forcing service providers into a position where they can no longer operate. While the reasons for the Chinese government’s desire to starve its subjects of information are obvious, the motivation of the Indian establishment is less clear. Significant sections of the vast and variegated Indian society are socially conservative and their views are well represented at legislative level by parties such as Bharatiya Janata and Shiv Sena. More worrying however, is the possibility that the Indian government is misguidedly targeting content providers and social media in an effort to dampen multifarious sectarian tensions in the country. India is perceived to lag behind its key competitor in several ways, especially when talk turns to which of the two Asian giants will inherit the world's economic top spot in the decades to come. However, the one very important metric where India beats China hands-down is democracy. Indian democracy has its faults. Much to the chagrin of the Indian public, bureaucratic and corporate corruption are all too common. A culture of bribes, often known by the more sanitary moniker of 'speed money', is widespread. Added to this is the persistence of the notion of caste; an effective democratic system can only be undermined while a deep-rooted class system continues to hold such credence as it does in India. Nonetheless, India is living proof that democracy can work well even in extreme situations. With a population of 1.2 billion, more than half of which are eligible to vote, it holds by far the largest free elections on the planet. In India, some of the richest people in the world go to the polling booth alongside some of the poorest; denizens of some of Asia's busiest and most populous cities have the same options on their ballot paper as some of the continent's most isolated tribespeople. By threatening global information providers like Yahoo! and Twitter with legal restrictions, India is following China's authoritarian line and is damaging the legacy of its own democratic success. It is restricting the rights of free speech and freedom of information, not just of its own people but of individuals and businesses all around the world - including those who bring valuable investment to its economy. India should be nurturing, rather than dismantling, that key competitive advantage it holds over its contender from across the Himalayas.

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India should think carefully before following China’s lead on web censorship

Pieczęć "Censored" © Piotr VaGla Waglowski

India is playing catch-up with China on several fronts. By imposing heavy web restrictions, it is endangering the one advantage it undoubtedly holds over the People’s Republic.

The Delhi High Court warned this week that it could take action to shut down websites deemed to be hosting ‘objectionable content’. ‘Deliberate malicious acts intended to outrage’ as well as material that ‘promotes enmity between groups’ are two of the charges that may be levelled at the likes of Google, Facebook, and YouTube, among others. The Indian government would have been required to give approval of such action before it was announced, since some of the charges levelled at the social media providers don’t allow the possibility of bail.

The threat of blocking websites parallels the policies of the Chinese authorities, which made headlines in 2010 when Google decided to end its compliance with China’s internet censorship regulations. It is clear to see why the Chinese government fears the internet – it allows the free and easy communication of ideas and information from around the world. Oppression tactics such as phone taps, overzealous border controls and impromptu visits from Party commissars have considerably less effect in the online world than they do in the physical world; what the state can do, however, is machinate to block out parts of the internet totally (as currently happens in China), either through outright prohibition or by forcing service providers into a position where they can no longer operate.

While the reasons for the Chinese government’s desire to starve its subjects of information are obvious, the motivation of the Indian establishment is less clear. Significant sections of the vast and variegated Indian society are socially conservative and their views are well represented at legislative level by parties such as Bharatiya Janata and Shiv Sena. More worrying however, is the possibility that the Indian government is misguidedly targeting content providers and social media in an effort to dampen multifarious sectarian tensions in the country.

India is perceived to lag behind its key competitor in several ways, especially when talk turns to which of the two Asian giants will inherit the world’s economic top spot in the decades to come. However, the one very important metric where India beats China hands-down is democracy.

Indian democracy has its faults. Much to the chagrin of the Indian public, bureaucratic and corporate corruption are all too common. A culture of bribes, often known by the more sanitary moniker of ‘speed money’, is widespread. Added to this is the persistence of the notion of caste; an effective democratic system can only be undermined while a deep-rooted class system continues to hold such credence as it does in India.

Nonetheless, India is living proof that democracy can work well even in extreme situations. With a population of 1.2 billion, more than half of which are eligible to vote, it holds by far the largest free elections on the planet. In India, some of the richest people in the world go to the polling booth alongside some of the poorest; denizens of some of Asia’s busiest and most populous cities have the same options on their ballot paper as some of the continent’s most isolated tribespeople.

By threatening global information providers like Yahoo! and Twitter with legal restrictions, India is following China’s authoritarian line and is damaging the legacy of its own democratic success. It is restricting the rights of free speech and freedom of information, not just of its own people but of individuals and businesses all around the world – including those who bring valuable investment to its economy. India should be nurturing, rather than dismantling, that key competitive advantage it holds over its contender from across the Himalayas.

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