Censorship in India

Although proudly highlighted as the World’s Largest Democracy, India has a propensity for internet censorship. Both the central government and the state governments are engaged in it. The country has no specific policy for censorship but the government and the Internet Service Providers alerted by the authorities block the contents extensively. Common reasoning against censored contents is that being obscene, socially objectionable or being threat to national security. However, the blocked sites can be accessed via proxy servers.

According to OpenNet Initiative classification in 2011, India while being a stable democracy but with a strong tradition of press freedom is engaged in selective internet filtering in the political, security, social, and Internet tools areas. The censoring of blogs and other content under the guise of security is often met with strong opposition. OpenNet Initiative states “Indian ISPs continue to selectively filter Web sites identified by authorities. However, government attempts at filtering have not been entirely effective because blocked content has quickly migrated to other Web sites and users have found ways to circumvent filtering. The government has also been criticized for a poor understanding of the technical feasibility of censorship and for haphazardly choosing which Web sites to block.”

Observing the developments in the aftermath of the Mumbai bombings of November 2008, Reporters Without Borders added India to its list of “countries under surveillance” in March 2012. India is engaged in this “while publicly rejecting accusations of censorship. The national security policy of the world’s biggest democracy is undermining freedom of expression and the protection of Internet users’ personal data,” states the Reporters Without Borders.

After Mumbai incidents, which killed 171 people, the Indian Parliament passed amendments to the Information Technology Act (ITA) expanding the government’s censorship and monitoring capabilities. Central government as well as the states also has powers to issue directives on interception, monitoring, and decryption without prior judicial approval. All Internet Service Providers are obliged by law to sign an agreement paving way for the government authorities to access user data.

Under the Intermediary Guidelines on Information Technology instituted in April 2011, all intermediaries including search engines and social-networking sites are legally obliged to remove content within 36 hours in case of an individual complains that the content is offensive. The categorization of offensive content is both extensive and vague including terms such as “disparaging,” “harmful,” “blasphemous,” “pornographic,” “encourages gambling,” “infringes proprietary rights,” or “threatens the unity, integrity, defense, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states or public order.” Content producers are neither needed to be informed of the removal nor can they contest the decision.

Cybercafé owners are required to arrange the computers in the cafes in a way the government wants and they should also photograph their customers, store their identity details and their browsing histories for one year and forward this data to the government monthly.

Censoring under new regulations revealed in March 2011 with banning of several websites like Typepad, Mobango and Clickatell. File hosting websites were blocked by Internet Service Providers to prevent piracy of the films Singham and Don 2. Government urged Google, Facebook and Yahoo!, to manually prescreen user content from India and to remove disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory contents in advance. A Delhi Court issued summons to Google and Facebook headquarters for objectionable content in January 2012 and the Delhi High Court proclaimed websites such as Google and Facebook were liable for the content, posted on their platform by users.

A number of well known websites that pave way for sharing of content were also blocked under the new regulations. However, the Madras High Court passed an order on 15 June 2012 stating that entire websites cannot be blocked on the basis of “John Doe” orders.

Struggles against internet censorship and prevention of freedom of expression are underway in India.

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