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Freedom on the Net

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VoicenData Bureau
New Update

We are a democratic country, and we are fiercely proud of it. But it is naïve

to believe that media covers each and every bit of what we would like to know.

Some things are better left untold, but many things are just left untold. Sure,

with the onset of private channels and aggressive publications, things have

changed, but there are direct and indirect controls still working. Some of them

valid for reasons of social norms, communal harmony, national unity-and others

for invalid reasons of vested interests.

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So free speech evangelists were happy when the Web came. With its limitless

spread, which hops across servers all over the globe, information just could not

be contained. Or so they thought. As the Web grows and its power to influence

increases, the controls are creeping in. And there is every chance that these

will increase.

Going by the OpenNet Initiative (ONI)-a collaboration between four leading

academic institutions of the world (departments or schools at University of

Toronto, Cambridge, Oxford and Harvard Law School)-many countries it tracks have

filtering policies and Internet censorship in place. Various techniques are

followed to block sites which are thought to carry inflammatory, derogatory or

otherwise unsuitable content. Countries also get search engine service providers

to omit undesirable websites from the search results. This makes locating the

sites itself a tough task. According to ONI, China has the most extensive

filtering systems that have blocks at many network levels and across a wide

range of topics. Iran's filtering activities are also considered extensive.

Dubai filters not just sexual content, but also content that is politically

oriented. Turkey has been banning YouTube off and on in the last two years

because of videos considered offensive to the country's hero Kemal Ataturk.

Shyam malhotra



editor-in-chief


VOICE&DATA


shyamm@cybermedia.co.in

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While many countries ensure that all voices of dissent are curbed through

Internet censorship, many block stuff that is considered not suitable. There is

a distinct distinction between the two. While some level of moderation and

censorship is certainly desirable, complete blocking of sites could be

counterproductive. They would just spring up under some other name.

India has relatively little of political or social filtering, but there is

some selective conflict or security-related filtering. In addition, Internet

tools like VoIP are not permitted. Overall, the Indian record is pretty good as

far as censorship is concerned. That means there is very little of it. One

reason could be that we have relatively low penetration rates and therefore this

is not a high priority. That would change as the reach increases. More debate

and relevant action could happen at that stage.

An emerging challenge is posed by social networking sites. These, by

definition, provide forums for people across the world to share their views,

posing a challenge of their own. Should they be moderated? If yes, how? By whom?

Unfortunately there are no norms, conventions or rules that exist.

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Globally, activists are working to make sure that Internet censorship doesn't

turn oppressive. Dr Vint Cerf, one of the founding fathers of the Internet, says

that it is not possible for one agency to control the harmful activities on the

Net. For that a multi-stakeholders structure is required. Governments need to

have international agreements on what is acceptable and what is not. On the net

that is essential because the reach is universal. You just cannot have physical

controls. And controls based on technology will always be broken. It is a bit

like international agreements on nuclear power.

Unfortunately, we all know how difficult it is to get such agreements. And

that means there is a lot of work to be done. Unfortunately, we do not seem to

have any sustained efforts being put in.

An emerging challenge is posed by social networking sites. These, by

definition, provide forums for people across the world to share their views,

posing a challenge of their own. Should they be moderated? Unfortunately, there

are no norms, conventions or rules that exist

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