When considering what level of freedom a country wants, government bodies may want to avoid emulating China. Yet that is exactly what the Delhi High Court, which seems to take its role as a censor as seriously as the high court in its brother city Lahore, has done, saying, “You must have a stringent check. Otherwise, like in China, we may pass orders banning all such websites.” The websites in question refer to Facebook and Google, two websites that have also been under threat in Pakistan for their apparently dangerous belief that information should be freely shared. The Delhi High Court made this case for internet censorship on the grounds that the websites need to screen all images to make sure there is nothing religiously insensitive or that fake nude pictures of politicians are not uploaded.
The danger of online censorship being practiced in the largest democracy in the world is even more acute because the Indian government has also thrown its weight behind this case, all in the name of inter-religious harmony. For a country that touts itself as a hospitable environment for technology companies to operate in, this would be a profoundly self-defeating move. Google saw no compunction in pulling out of China, one of the largest markets in the world, when authorities there tried to censor its search results. India cannot afford to do the same. A law passed last year by the Indian parliament holds companies responsible for content uploaded to sites by users. Given that it is nearly impossible for sites to monitor everything, this law needs to be repealed.
As we have seen in Pakistan, once the authorities decide they have the power to censor the internet they always go too far. And the way the internet is structured and works, such bans simply do not work. Petitions that call for the wholesale censorship of the internet need to summarily for precisely this reason: giving governments so much power always leads to abuse of that power.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 16th, 2012.