Is it Justified to censor Internet content?

By Hemant Pande: In this era of globalization, Internet is a dominant force in our day to day life. It is the largest tool for mass communication and information distribution at a minimal cost.

Admittedly, social network through internet is reality, we can’t ignore it. Twitter, Face book, Orkut etc. are powerful mediums to serve billions of users across the globe.

The unprecedented growth of the online world brings two major problems for law enforcement – anonymity and dispersion.

In recent time, there is an increasing concern about degrading Internet content from violence and sexual content to bomb-making instructions, terrorist activity to spread hatred against other community and pornography. Such content demeans and degrades women, victimizes children and ruins the society at large.

In December 2011, Communications Minister Mr.Kapil Sibal  had voiced concerns about the ‘defamation’ of political leaders on some Internet sites, including fake pictures of the President of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, and Prime Minister, Mr. Manmohan Singh, in a compromising position. One shows their faces plastered onto a painting of the Madonna and child, while another has Singh dancing on a string for Gandhi like a performing monkey. He acknowledged that it is justifiable to censor where harm is caused to others by the speech, words or art of an Internet user.

So question arises, Should it be illegal to publish literature with “indecent” content on the Internet but perfectly legal to publish that same work in print? This question has spawned the debate over Internet censorship in the political forums.Indiahas a vibrant democracy and free media. So, why would a democracy likeIndiapick a fight with the internet content?

The proponents of Internet censorship are in favor of putting strict laws into place regulating selected the Internet contents such as obscene, pornographic, pedophiliac, libelous, invasive of another’s privacy , hateful, racially and ethnically objectionable internet contents in order to preserve our age old social norms and values, and national security concerns.

According to them, Internet can be used to insight people for organized riot, communal trouble etc.Indiahas suffered religious violence in the past, and it’s just trying to keep the peace by taking down some hateful material.

But the opponents critically analyze that such regulations will makeIndiaa censored state, just like China. They assert that the pro-censorship calls among the politicians seem to be reserved for websites for their own political mileage. Their aim appears to be not just to censor the dangerous stuff, but to polish the government’s image, too. The censorship is a tool to suppress the freedom of speech.

Both sides base their respective arguments on how they view the new information medium.

Despite the generally prevailing principle of freedom of speech in democratic countries, it is widely accepted that certain types of speech are not given protection as they are deemed to be of insufficient value compared to the harm that they cause.

Censorship is generally an evil and should be avoided wherever possible. Pornography is an extreme example and there is already sufficient legislation to deal with those who attempt to produce, distribute or view such materials. Other forms of speech may well be truly offensive but the only way a society can deal with them is by being exposed to them and combating them. Otherwise, these groups are driven underground and become martyrs.

But censorship inSaudi ArabiaandChinahas shown that, it is possible to exercise considerable control over the internet and its users. Other Asian countries have experimented with requiring citizens to provide identification before posting content on to the internet; such a system if universally adopted could be a relatively simple way of enforcing laws against truly offensive and harmful content.

Even allowing for the extreme problems surrounding freedom of speech, Internet censorship would be more or less impossible. Governments can attempt to regulate what is produced in their own country but it would be impossible to regulate material from abroad. What is the point ifIndiaremoves all domestic reference to hardcore pornography when it is possible to access material from theUnited Kingdomor theUSA?

True freedom of speech requires anonymity in some cases to protect the author; the governments who have introduced ID requirements for Internet use also deny many basic rights to their citizens. The Internet allows citizens to criticize their government and distribute news and information without reprisal from the state; such a system clearly could not survive with ID requirements.

Internet Service Providers are certainly the wrong people to decide what can and can not be placed on the Internet. There is already far too much control of this new technology by big business without also making them judge and jury of all Internet content.

The issues at stake in Internet contents are protection of children, terrorist activity, crime, communal hatred etc. are all international concerns. If a global solution is required then it can be achieved by international co-operation and treaties.

Many ISPs have shown themselves to be responsible in immediately removing truly offensive content whenever they were alerted. What is required is self regulation by the industry recognizing their responsibility to internet users but not imposing arbitrary and draconian restrictions upon its use. It is already possible for parents to use “Net nanny” browsers that will edit out offensive and inappropriate material for younger users.

However, the Internet is an unprecedented medium of information exchange which will revolutionize the way in which people work, play, and socialize. Censoring the Internet would be a terrible disservice to current and future generations.

There is a need for balance approach in the policy-making so as to promote free expression without undue interference while at the same time criminal offences are dealt with appropriately. Merely blocking content is an impractical and unrealistic method to crack down on internet misuse.

On the whole, the question as to whether the Internet should be censored will continue to be debated for many years to come.

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