Report: India ranks 39 on Internet freedom scale

A report released by Freedom House, a Washington-based internet monitoring group has ranked India (39) in Internet freedom, down by two places from last year (37). The study conducted by the group covers Internet centric freedom spanning across 47 countries.

The report points out the government’s growing interest in controling, monitoring and censoring communication including internet after 26/11 terrorist attack (read: Indian Government now mulls over Cyber Surveillance Agency to monitor web). Further it says that many Indians feel that the government should be allowed to monitor personal communications such as telephone calls, email messages, and financial transactions. It is in this context that Indian parliament passed amendments to the Information Technology Act (ITA) in 2008, expanding censorship and monitoring capabilities.

This trend continued in 2011 with the adoption of regulations increasing surveillance in cybercafes. In fact, yesterday, the government of Meghalaya issued a notification asking all cybercafes to install CCTV cameras to control the cybercrimes originating from them.

The government and non-state actors have intensified pressure on intermediaries, including social media applications, to remove upon request a wide range of content vaguely defined as “offensive” and potentially pre-screen user-generated content. Despite new comprehensive data protection regulations adopted in 2011, the legal framework and oversight surrounding surveillance and interception remains weak, and several instances of abuse have emerged in recent years.

The study mentions that there were no reports of government-imposed Internet connectivity disruptions in 2011 and 2012. However, in January 2012, mobile phone providers in Jammu and Kashmir shut off their services for one day as part of security precautions in  place for Republic Day, reportedly due to fears that mobile phones could be used by terrorists to remotely detonate bombs.

According to the report, in April 2011, the Center for Internet and Society obtained a list of 11 banned websites from the DIT in response to a freedom of information request.  Apparently, all of the blocks were implemented after a judicial order from a low-level court. Importantly, with most of the blocked websites, users encountered a technical error alert rather than a message explaining that inaccessibility was due to a court decision or governmental request. The list of block websites include grassroots news organization Indymedia, a Facebook group called “I Hate Ambedkar”, Bloggernews.net and Zone-H, an Italian security company serving as a repository for hacked websites.

Today, Prime minister Manmohan Singh issued a statement on the recent blocking issue of an Islamic video.

“I condemn in the strongest of terms the making of the offensive video and its dissemination through social media. India can never condone any act which disparages religious sentiments or hurts religious feelings. The Ministry of External Affairs is in touch with US officials who share our concerns on the matter. Google India has in compliance with Indian law, blocked access to the offensive material”.

Download the report from here.

PS: The report has messed up India’s map and we have reached out to the organization regarding the same.

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