The Global Struggle against Free Basics

//CGCS Visiting Scholar Till Waescher explains that India’s recent ban on Facebook’s zero-rating initiative is a huge victory for both domestic and transnational privacy advocates

While many have voiced concerns surrounding Facebook’s Free Basics service’s violation of net neutrality principles, digital rights activists across the world also oppose the service due to privacy concerns. These activists highlight that for impoverished citizens of the ‘Global South’ the data plan is not actually ‘free’ as they pay with their personal data. Although Facebook has pledged to store the data for only 90 days, advocates worry that the company may permanently monitor the Free Basics traffic. A brief look at the debate in India also reveals that the fear of online surveillance was central in the anti-Free Basics movement. For example, Anupam Saraph, a Professor of Systems, Governance and Decision Sciences at the University of Groningen, and an advisor to the World Economic Forum, has called Facebook’s service “more dangerous than the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) Prism Project,” essentially threatening Svarajya, India’s founding narrative of self-rule developed by Gandhi during the struggle for independence.

Critiques of Free Basics being a masked form of ‘digital colonialism’ have accompanied the project from the start—even a major, largely friendly profile in TIME magazine called aspects of Free Basics “distasteful”. (An unfortunate, quickly deleted tweet by board member Marc Andreessen seemed to confirm critics who accused Facebook of having a colonial mentality.) Activists around the world have noted that Free Basics effectively resembles the British Empire and brings in algorithms from the ‘North’ to data-mine the ‘South.’  While the Indian government’s eventual decision to not greenlight Facebook’s initiative was mainly the result of national discourse and activism within India, the international attention the issue received certainly helped. One of the core mechanisms of any form of transnational contention – lifting local or national concerns to the international level[1] – is applied in this case as well. Through globally coordinated efforts, activists and advocates within and outside of India managed to put the Free Basic controversy on the international news agenda.


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Public Opinion on Censorship of Internet in India: A View from UP

//Dr. Pradeep Kumar Misra is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education and Allied Sciences of M.J.P. Rohilkhand University, Bareilly, India. In this post, Dr. Misra discusses internet censorship in India. 

Internet censorship is one of the most widely debated issues of the present day. Citizens, researchers, academic institutions, and governments across the globe are discussing and coming to different sets of observations and conclusions concerning censorship. For example, a UN Report based on a poll of twenty nations stated that, “With just a few exceptions majorities say that the government should not have the right to limit access to the Internet.” report from U.S.-based Freedom House observes, “Restrictions on Internet freedom continue to expand across a wide range of countries. Over the past year, the global number of censored websites has increased, while Internet users in various countries have been arrested, tortured, and killed over the information they posted online.”  The Freedom House report further observes that in three democracies – India, the United States, and Brazil –it had seen troubling declines in internet freedom.

In light of the fact that India is the world’s largest democracy and has a rapidly growing number of netizens…

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Security, Internet Rights and Principles: Power Shifts and Implications for Internet Policy-Making in India

Colin Agur, Valerie Belair-Gagnon and Ramesh Subramanian are undertaking a research project about internet policy in India as part of the CGCS’s Internet Policy Observatory.[i]

Of the South Asian countries, India alone has a record as a strong democracy that protects free expression in its law and constitution.[ii] Nevertheless, its record on internet free speech has been uneven, with a history of overt censorship and blocking of sites. A 2007 report by the OpenNet Initiative tested several internet service providers (ISPs) in India and found evidence of government filtering for sites whose contents related to national unity or national security. Other incidents include: the blocking of all Yahoo Groups in September 2003 after Yahoo refused to block access to a the group Kynhun, which promoted the secession of Meghalaya from India; the blocking of the extremist web site in April 2004; and the blocking of seventeen web sites, including blog sites, after the 2006 Mumbai bombings.

Government attempts to filter and block sites have usually encountered strong resistance from activists and the media. However, in December 2008, in the weeks following the Mumbai terrorist attacks, Indian lawmakers hurriedly passed an amendment to the IT Act of 2000 with little debate or…

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Guidelines for the Protection of National Critical Information Infrastructure: How Much Regulation?

Jonathan Diamond analyzes recent developments in India’s national cyber security policies.

This summer was a busy period for cyber security in India. Beginning with the release of the country’s first National Cyber Security Policy on July 2, followed shortly by a set of guidelines for the protection of national critical information infrastructure (CII) developed under the direction of the National Technical Research Organization (NTRO), India has made respectable progress in its national cyber security mentality. However, the National Cyber Security Policy, taken together with what little is known of the as-yet restricted guidelines for CII protection, raises troubling questions, particularly regarding the regulation of cyber security practices in the private sector. Whereas the current Policy suggests the imposition of certain preferential acquisition policies, India would be best advised to maintain technology neutrality to ensure maximum security.

According to Section 70(1) of the Information Technology Act, Critical Information Infrastructure (CII) is defined as a “computer resource, the incapacitation or destruction of which, shall have debilitating impact on national security, economy, public health or safety.” In one of the 2008 amendments to the IT Act, the Central Government granted itself the authority to “prescribe the information security practices and procedures for such protected system[s].” These two paragraphs form the legal basis for the regulation of cyber security within the private sector.

Despite this basis, private cyber security remains almost completely unregulated. According to the Intermediary Guidelines, intermediaries are required to report cyber security incidents to India’s national-level computer emergency response team (CERT-In). Other than this relatively small stipulation, the only regulation in place for CII exists at the sector level. Last year the Reserve Bank of India mandated that…

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