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How free are we?

, by Infochange

From the jailing of a person for allegedly defaming an Indian historical figure online to blocking of popular adult site Savitabhabhi without granting the creators an opportunity to defend their right to free expression, there are increasing concerns over the government’s power to monitor, control and censor the communications sector. This is the India chapter of the recently-released ‘Freedom on the Net 2011’ report.

Introduction

Although India’s Internet penetration rate of less than 10% is low by global standards, the country is nonetheless home to tens of millions of users and has become an important leader in the high-tech industry. Meanwhile, access to mobile phones has grown dramatically in recent years, with penetration reaching nearly 60% of the population. In the past, instances of the central government and state officials seeking to control communication technologies and censor undesirable content were relatively rare and sporadic. However, since the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which killed 171 people, the need, desire, and ability of the Indian government to monitor, censor, and control the communications sector have grown (1). Given the range of security threats facing the country, which also include a persistent Maoist insurgency, many Indians feel that the government should be allowed to monitor personal communications such as telephone calls, email messages, and financial transactions (2). It is in this context that Parliament passedamendments to the Information Technology Act (ITA) in 2008. The changes came into effect in 2009 and have expanded the government’s censorship and monitoring capabilities.

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