Our government needs to befriend the Internet

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Today, can any one of us imagine a life without the Internet? Ever since people started using it at home in the 90s, the Internet has become an inseparable part of our daily lives. This technology is, in fact, one of the most useful innovations of all time. But the Indian government believes that it has become a public nuisance. The government has blocked about 250 websites, asked Google and Facebook to pull out some content, and Twitter to delete some accounts. It also threatened Twitter with legal action if it fails to do so. And all this in the name of public safety.

Are you appalled by these government moves? Thousands of Indian citizens are definitely not happy, and so is the US State Department. Many have also termed it as ‘Emergency 2012’. This government high handedness has been triggered by the riots in Assam, Mumbai and Uttar Pradesh, and the mass exodus of northeast Indian from Bengaluru. And these were prompted by objectionable content published on some social media sites.

Both the Central and state governments have been blocking objectionable content on the Internet, but there is no government policy or strategy to censor the Internet. However, experts say that any website blocked by the government or Internet service providers can be easily accessed through proxy servers.

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Data shows that over 2.3 billion people across the globe use the Internet in different ways—for research, entertainment, acquiring knowledge, networking, etc. The Department of Telecommunications, Electronics and Information Technology (DietY) has also recently asked government agencies to improve their engagement with citizens through the social media.

Even politicians have started using social media sites to address citizens. Recently Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi had a live chat with people on ‘Google Plus Hangout’. It, therefore, does not make sense for the government to take such restrictive steps with regard to the Internet.

Rather than blocking websites and social media sites, the government should use the Internet, particularly social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google to counter objectionable content. In fact, the government should monitor the misuse of Internet and not censor it.

Reacting to this government move, Sam Pitroda, advisor to the Prime Minister, said, “Information is the fourth pillar of democracy as it brings about openness, accessibility, transparency, accountability, networking, decentralisation, and as a result, democratisation.” Communications and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal said, “The government is against controlling the Internet but wants a consensus among stakeholders to deal with issues that may arise in the future. While some aspects of the Internet are completely protected by ‘freedom of speech’, other aspects may be subjected to reasonable restrictions permissible in the Constitution.”

DietY has now agreed to have talks with major Internet companies and social media giants like Google and Facebook to settle this issue.

However, before the government comes up with a policy to control the Internet, it should study, understand and befriend it. And, most importantly, learn to use it for the nation’s welfare.

By Srabani Sen

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