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India ranks 14th on list of 37 in internet freedom

Sunday, April 24, 2011

/ Published by VIRTHLI

NEW DELHI: In its latest report on the state of internet, Freedom House — a US-based organization monitoring democratic changes, human rights and freedom of speech — ranked India 14th among 37 countries that were assessed on the basis of free and unrestricted access to the web. Estonia topped the list. 

According to the report, the internet is only "partly free" in India — even though there is no substantial political censorship, bloggers and online users have been arrested in the last two years.

Among Asian countries, India ranks second. The country scored 36 on a scale of 100. South Korea (32) topped in the continent. In 2009, India's score was 34.

"The Indian blogosphere is quite active and eloquent, complementing the rise in internet use by different interest groups and civil society actors. Bloggers are rarely forced by the government or private individuals to take down their writings, but there have been a few instances in which this has occurred," the report says.

It specifically makes an example out of Lakshmana Kailash K. "He was jailed for 50 days for allegedly defaming an Indian historical figure online. It later emerged that another person had posted the material, and Kailash was arrested based on the (basis of a) wrong IP address," it cites.

"In the past, instances of the central government seeking to control communication technologies were relatively rare. However, following the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai and with an expanding Maoist insurgency, the need, desire, and ability of the Indian government to control the communications sector have grown," the report states. "Pressure has also increased on private intermediaries to remove certain information. Though most requests have targeted comments that might incite communal violence, some observers have raised concerns of certain removals being unnecessary."

As far as global trends are concerned, in democratic countries like Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey, and the UK, internet freedom is increasingly undermined by legal harassment, opaque censorship procedures, or expanding surveillance.

"The new internet restrictions around the globe are partly a response to the explosion in the popularity of advanced applications like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, through which ordinary users can easily post their own content, share information, and connect with large audiences," the report says. "While mostly serving as a form of entertainment, over the last two years these tools have also played a significant role in political and social activism," it explains.

The report talks about wide gulf between urban and rural areas when it comes to internet penetration in India. "There is a pronounced urban-rural divide, with an approximate rural user base of just 6.46 million, and only 4.18 million active users. It indicates there are approximately 10 times more urban internet users than rural internet users in India," it adds.

~Javed Anwer, TNN
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