NEW DELHI: In a report on the state of internet in 60 countries, Freedom House, a US-based organization, said that in 2013 India saw the “most significant year-on-year decline” in terms of the web freedom.
The report said that that the internet in India was “partly free”. This is the same status that India had in 2012. But the country’s score is now 47 points (higher means more censorship) in 2013 compared to 39 in 2012. The 8‑point fall is the steepest Freedom House found among all 60 countries that the group surveyed. Freedom House said it recorded 5‑point fall in Brazil, Venezuela and the US.
Despite mass surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden, a former contractor for National Security Agency in the US, Freedom House calls the web in the country “free”.
The Freedom House report said that in 2013 India “suffered from deliberate interruptions of mobile and internet service to limit unrest, excessive blocks on content during rioting in northeastern states, and an uptick in the filing of criminal charges against ordinary users for posts of social media sites”.
In 2013, India’s commitment to the web freedom has not only been worse than developed countries but has also been inferior to countries like Malawi, Tunisia and Mexico.
In the case of India, Freedom House particularly singles out Central Monitoring System, which Indian government is putting in place to regulate and monitor the web usage within the country. “Surveillance (under CMS) requires no judicial oversight. While some of this activity might be justifiable, the lack of transparency surrounding the system, which was never reviewed by Parliament, is concerning,” it notes in the report. “The system’s potential for abuse is also disquieting, as is its inadequate legal framework.
The report cites the case of the girl who was arrested for liking a Facebook post in Maharashtra, blocking of some Twitter accounts belonging to Indian users, overly broad court directives that have resulted in blocking of websites and a general lack of transparency in how Indian government blocks or filters content reach a conclusion that Indians now have less freedom on how they use the web.
Sunil Abraham, director at Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society, says that Freedom House reports are not very accurate because they don’t factor in censorship by copyright holders. But he agreed with its basic premise that in India conditions for web users are getting more difficult.
“The report is absolutely right in pointing out that censorship and surveillance in India is increasing. Despite protests from many quarters, it is a real pity that the government is not taking steps to amend the IT act and has joined other nation states in the global race to the bottom of the internet freedom,” said Abraham.
Anja Kovacs, founder of Delhi-based Internet Democracy Project, agrees. “I have some issues with Freedom House reports due to how they are prepared and their methodologies. But yes I can say that last year has been very eventful and difficult,” said. “But at the same time, there has also been a lot of push back from web users and activists. There have been conversations around the issue of web censorship, which is good.”
Globally, the web surveillance is on the rise. “Broad surveillance, new laws controlling web content, and growing arrests of social-media users drove a worldwide decline in internet freedom in the past year,” noted Freedom House.
Overall, 34 out of 60 countries part of the report saw a decline in the web freedom. “Vietnam and Ethiopia continued on a worsening cycle of repression; Venezuela stepped up censorship during presidential elections; and three democracies — India, the United States, and Brazil — saw troubling declines,” noted the report.
Iceland and Estonia topped the list of countries with the greatest degree of internet freedom. China, Cuba, and Iran were found to be the most repressive countries.