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Dear Sir,

I wish to write to you on an issue of vital interest to our country, the freedom of speech on the internet. We have a sizable population on the internet, and it is slated to grow phenomenally within the next decade. I don't presume to speak about things you know better than I do, our constitution, our laws. Instead, I would like to draw your attention to the value of freedom of speech, something that has captured imaginations over the ages, always. Free Speech is something that has made heroes out of ordinary men for simply standing for it, because it holds value to populations.

Today, our country is in a precarious condition. There are concerns on every possible front from economy to human rights. We have let our country deteriorate to the point where there is frustration in the population. This frustration emerges as angry speech. There is a movement in the government to strangle the emerging flood of criticism.

I wish to make a case that freedom of speech is vital to the health of a society and to strangle it is worse than the evils of allowing it voice. Worse for the people, worse for the government, worse for the country as a whole. Blocked, anger can only accumulate out of sight and explode in unpredictable ways.

Where there are people, there are differences. A fundamental of co-existence is the ability to negotiate these differences and move from polarization to a shared objective, however minor. Be it a couple in a marriage, political parties in the parliament, or people with different fundamental views on things on the internet. These negotiations are a case of learning, and like all learning, don't emerge perfect. The internet is not a special case in this regard, though it is being specially targeted.

The internet is particularly well suited to accommodate differences. The ability to choose what we see is of enormous significance. To object to the very existence of any content not palatable, when it can easily be avoided is intolerance.

This, when it happens among random netizens is the equivalent of children fighting over something. They figure it out with time, they settle down. There are people offended, sure. But they learn to handle that, just like we learn in real life. We are all the more mature for it. In the process of interacting about some subject, we are also learning the principles of interaction on the internet itself.  But once there is the expectation that offensive content will not be allowed, then offensive content starts seeming like an injustice. Till then, it is simply something ugly to be avoided. Allowing the use of the law as a weapon against another citizen may serve a political class rooted in taking advantage of differences rather than bridging them or other criminals who prefer misuse of power over accountability, but it is always citizens being hurt.

In a democracy, unaccountable power with a few people is far more worrisome than people offending each other. Yet, there are relentless efforts in that direction. Every few months, our Minister Kapil Sibal comes up with a new rabbit out of the same hat. Sometimes over terrorism, other times over religious offense, but any statistics of use that we do have indicate political censorship, which has to date never been openly given as the reason. Increasingly, the methods are being designed to operate under radars.

Today, we are seeing increasing and unpredictable censorship. Be it cartoonists being arrested, cartoon websites being banned, cartoons to be removed from text books, or the infamous IT Rules, which give anyone the power to censor content on the internet, bypassing not only any court of law, but any authority whatsoever. This has to be the singular application of law in our country where it is impossible to collect any reliable statistics on its use, because it touches no government body of any kind in its application. There is no way of saying if this law is useful, how it is useful, how much it is used, or how it is used unless the law actually gets defied. In other words, people will have to flaunt the law of the land if they even want to escape being wrongly targeted.

That is, if they actually fight being victimized at all. A simple research project by CIS-India showed that not only were wrongful takedown requests complied with, in six out of seven cases, they were over complied with. The common man has been left high and dry by a legal process designed to create that. It defies every explanation of democracy.

Another example exists on this blog itself. I had written a post about scams in sailing. A whole range of small but profuse evasions of dues to the country over a long period of time. It was based on documents obtained through RTIs. I received a notice pointing out minor inaccuracies and blatant false claims. I corrected any inaccuracies immediately, but the very next day I received a second notice, this time as the owner of the blog to take down the content through the IT Rules. Now, as the author of the blog, I am not an intermediary. The notice wanted me to take down the post on charges of defamation. It was printed on a letter head with the names of seven advocates on it. I am a mother with a special needs child, no income, and on the verge of divorce. I have no money to hire a lawyer and fight for my ACCURATE content in courts. I have no way to know how a judge would view this, or any authority laying standards on what is allowed and what is not.

My missing post will not be recorded anywhere as a use of the law. There is nowhere to record. The procedure is intended completely among citizens. It needs no claims or even intent for justice. Vague terminology like "offensive" or "harmful" or "defamatory" is enough. Your guess is as good as mine what anyone will find offensive or harmful, and how much speech will be wiped off from the public domain silently. It isn't defamation, if I can prove it right, but unless proven right, what is it? This naturally suits a political class intent on censorship without dirtying their hands. However, this is not in the interests of fundamental rights of the people. A person should not require to afford lawyers in order to protect their words. It is the opposite of free speech.

To the cohesive growth of any society, dialogue is important. Offense, negotiation, accommodation, compromise are all important. Without these, there are no bonds formed. There may be a superficial silence, but it is one of lack of any communication rather than harmony. When there is conflict, it is likely to become a question of one upsmanship rather than a solution seeking process. This requires greater and greater applications of power. In essence, democracy becomes slave to power. To a diverse country like India, this arbitrary handover of control over the citizen's voice is a recipe for disaster. In the short term, it may allow power holders to score cheap points through politics of "saving honor". In the long run, the country will be dishonored.

As the foundations of democracy itself are being bulldozed by one pillar intended to uphold it, it falls upon the other pillars to stand firm for the survival of all. It is my humble request to you to join us in our fight in restoring the right to have a voice to the common man. To do everything in your power to see that the IT Rules are overturned, and while that happens, to at least add an expectation that before finding something problematic, a minimal effort was made to avoid it at the very least.

Thanking you for your attention,

Vidyut

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As the scams started coming out of the woodwork, so did the government's desire to limit the travel of information. To governments worldwide, bloated in their sense of impunity, the internet was a devastating blow. Castles of fakery started to crumble and governments waged a relentless war on their own people.

It is easy in a country like India, where the common man is largely servile when it comes to powerful people, and the low penetration of the internet in the country guarantees that this number is not significant... yet.

In the last few years, the government has waged a steady war on its internetizens. This war has been on many fronts and in insidious ways that never rang true.

  • There are seven alphabet soup agencies (RAW, CID, MI, etc) who can intercept the phonecalls, SMSs and emails of citizens without any proof of guilt or warrant required. This was quietly pushed in from the periphery in the shadow of 26/11 when it was easy to sell anything in the name of anti-terror initiatives. You cannot expect a terrorist to actually be sending emails that can be picked up saying "oh, I'm going to bomb this place on such a date". Indeed, so far, the only internet related investigations - at least publicly have been those of people who emailed claims of attacks. It has been over two years since this power was with our agencies, but there is no particular intelligence in evidence.
  • We have the government making requests to various websites to take down content. It is unclear what laws are used in this situation, since only a part of them are court orders. Interestingly, these were promoted with a false religious harmony excuse while a majority of the content for removal was political in nature. In our country with its bloody history of religious disharmony, we haven't got any dead people from religious offences on the internet so far. Strange that religious fundamentalist organizations are not meddled with to curb religious extremism, but the internet is.
  • Then came Sibal's utterly outrageous demand for prescreening, which got laughed out of front pages of all but the most loyal newspapers. He quickly withdrew it realizing that he had made an ass of himself, but surprisingly, a journalist had problems with the kind of content he wanted censored, so the court gave an order asking for exactly that.
  • We have the IT Rules, which are really strange in that they allow anyone to govern anyone. In a bizarre way, it makes sense, since the government is not doing governance anyway. The IT Rules are probably the only ones where the enforcement of law does not require any government or judicial interaction whatsoever. Much has been said of the harm from such rules, so I will not repeat it here, but it should be interesting to realize that there is absolutely no way to monitor the use of these rules. No way to know what and how much content has been taken down by using them. This is no coincidence. The government doesn't want us to know how heavily we are being censored.
  • Protection of Intellectual Property is going to such extents that a court order from the Madras High Court led to a nationwide ban on content sharing sites - the ones that hadn't gone to the "meetings" with our government. Youtube can pirate - no problem, because Google is entertaining content takedown notices routinely - the objective is the control, not the piracy. Sites that can't be controlled are delegitimized. The High Court clarified that it did not mean entire websites should be blocked, which was no surprise. Still, vimeo.com is not working for me - blocked - MTNL Mumbai 3G. There are three further questions about this.
    • Does a High Court have nationwide jurisdiction at all? In the sense of ISPs in Mumbai blocking content because of an order from Madras High Court - I don't know. I used to think that High Courts were regional, but I may be mistaken.
    • Why should the cost of safeguarding the property of those who own it be foisted on those who don't earn from it? If an illegal url has been notified and still not removed, it makes sense to hold the site responsible, but why should the considerable manpower and expense of monitoring content on a public medium be the cost and responsibility of those not earning from it? The point is coercing large sties into interfacing with the government or being banned.
    • Where did the list of urls to block materialize from? Who made that list? The court order makes no mention. Whose interests were served with these strong arm tactics?
  • And then there is the entire "class apart" with the jailed cartoonist in West Bengal, and protesters for internet freedom being harassed by police, their personal information recorded, intimidation, illegal photographing in spite of their refusal.... treated like criminals, even though the right to protest is present in theory.

And the net is tightening. There are no signs of relenting. As we speak, the Indian government has made a proposal in the UN for government control over the internet. It is not only on the internet, all kinds of citizens are being labeled enemies of the state.

Take for example the extreme irony of Kudankulam protesters being accused of foreign interests for opposing the government on a Russian reactor. No proofs needed. Simple declarations are enough. A similar declaration had started the free for all on Maoists that led to government formed militia that they no longer are able to control along with the original problem. It is not rocket science to realize where the question of control on the internet is headed.

After every terrorist attack, there are tales of incompetence. Intelligence received was not used. No matter how much the rights of people are eroded, this cannot be fixed without actually doing jobs. And the government simply lacks the will or ability to do anything about it. Instead of developing the ability, there is a pretense of being capable by bullying people into increasingly tight prisons.

  • We do not manufacture any of the computers and most softwares we use. In other words, we have no clue as to what we are trusting by default.
  • Government sites are primitive at best. Ignorance is blatantly evident in the lack of ToS on the site of Kapil Sibal - the guy who made it mandatory for sites to have ToS.  There is little comprehension of how the laws translate into reality.
  • China recently hacked into US servers and identified as our Military Intelligence. Apart from the security issues for both US and India, this also is an international relations risk. Censorship will not fix this.
  • Recently, there is the question of a foreign firm being hired at extra cost to handle cyber security for India. So let us get this straight. Foreign nationals will handle cyber security for India, and the elected government will pretend to know enough to legislate it. What does this mean, exactly beyond creating some handly legislation to apply at will if needed?

The problem of censorship is not really a problem in terms of citizens freedoms, in my view. Like the government has no resources or coherent plan to monitor underage drinking, it has no coherent way of monitoring the magnitude of content on the internet. Such laws are grey areas no one applies, unless you want to attack someone and need to throw the book at them.

This, in my view is less dangerous to individuals than it is for the country, where its laws are rendered into incoherent tools for enforcing the will of the government rather than the constitution  of the country. This kind of arbitrary law making devalues the legal system itself and erodes its legitimacy.

As for the religious offenses, it is only people who want to get offended that fixate on the offensive. Normal people simply avoid what they don't like. This isn't like TV, where content is linear or limited in choice. As for the terrorists, they have their codes and secure methods of communication right under the noses of the clueless people now wasting time spying on all kinds of people because they can rather than developing more targeted methods to crackdown on exactly the ones that need caught. As for citizens who want privacy, they use TOR, https, fake identities and other anonymizing methods and will possibly be far more damaging while safe in their anonymity and reckless in their outrage than they would with real identities.

As for the enemies of the state, the real enemies of the state are sitting in the Parliament, brazenly ignoring real issues for opportunistic exploitation and facades of "doing something".

Note: I make no distinction between the ruling party and the opposition unless they have vocally opposed and prevented rights from being violated.

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The freedom of speech and expression is said to be the mother of all liberties. This right is recognized as a basic human right and is a constitutional guarantee in India.

Unlike the United Sates constitution, the freedom of the press is not found expressly mentioned in the Indian constitution. However, ‘press freedom’ has been culled out by the Indian judiciary as the country needs an informed citizenry. An informed and educated polity is essential for a healthy and vibrant democracy.

However, the power and duty to sell news is vested in the hands of a few groups. News can be suppressed and manipulated by these groups. The reporting can be biased and selective.

People - The Supreme Power

This country belongs to its people. The people are supreme. The opening words of the Indian constitution “We, the people” speaks volumes about it. The people of this country want a change. There is a huge expectation from the leaders and political class of this country. There is anger, disappointment and frustration as regards the state of affairs in the country.

Last year, the country witnessed the civil society coming out voluntarily in large numbers seeking a strong Lokpal bill to end corruption. It was the youth of this country who supported and participated in the movement. They used the internet and social media to plan and organize this massive movement.

The Lokpal campaign, made the government realize that news can no longer be hidden. Issues which the main stream media ignored and suppressed were discussed and debated on the social media networks. The movement demonstrated the power of social media. Undoubtedly, Internet and social media has empowered the people. It has given a voice to voiceless.

The country wants the ‘corrupt’ and ‘criminals’ out of its governance system. The country wants the ‘right to call back’ the non-performing representatives. The ‘Young India’, which constitutes the largest chunk of the population, think and discuss over the internet. Internet and social media networks have provided a platform for the youth of this country to connect and communicate. They are building hopes and aspirations of a better future. They are positive and optimistic of a better tomorrow.

The people have the right to know and the freedom to think, discuss, debate and criticize. They have a right to agree and disagree on issues.

We find reflections of all these thoughts on the internet and social media.

Free speech on the Internet

Art. 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Internet has been recognized as a human right by the United Nations. Some nations have even recognized the right to internet as a fundamental right.

While the internet provides the facility for every person to speak his mind and engage in a dialogue, the Indian Government has devised a strategy of ‘invisible censorship’ to curb discussions on the internet. The government has introduced laws to arbitrarily block, ban and censor content. The corrupt ones in power fear the internet. Yes, and that’s how it should be. The people should not fear the government; instead the government should fear the people.

The country has been protesting against the undemocratic internet rules for more than a year now. (Read here and here) The international hacker collective, Anonymous in its phase II operation, (Read #OpRTI) has urged citizens to file applications under the right to information Act, 2005 and bring out every possible detail of the censoring activity taking place.

The fight for freedom of speech on the internet is a fight against the current establishment controlled by a few groups. The recognition of this right will transform every citizen into a publisher and broadcaster. The people are going to reign supreme and enjoy democracy in its real meaning.

The lassitude and lethargy on the part of the government in recognizing this right is thus understandable.

Shojan Jacob is an advocate. He holds a post graduation in Cyber Laws and Information security. He has challenged the internet censorship rules in the Kerala High Court. Read more on that Here and Here

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Keeping this short and straight.

The blocks on the websites that happened recently, are not about controlling piracy, but about controlling the internet itself. If you look at the top popular sites where anyone can post content, you will see that increasingly, there are three kinds of sites. The first are those that have understandings on content removal with our government - think Google, Facebook, etc. The second are those whose access comes under threat - be it The Pirate Bay or pastebin. And of course, the third kind of site is the one directly or indirectly influenced by the government - news sites, for example.

In other words, if anything gets said that needs to be silent, the accessible part of the web can be forced into compliance one way or the other. Sites without such understandings either have to have content that will not bother the government or are at risk of being banned. If it were about piracy, it makes no sense to ban VIMEO, where there is very little pirated content, but keep access to YouTube, where you can get uploaded videos of just about every Hindi song ever - and by multiple users who are not the rights owners for those songs. Let alone other piracy. However, it makes sense when you factor in the fact that Google routinely takes down content on the demand of the government. It is an alarming worldwide trend. There are 250000 content removal requests on an average **per week* at Google. This is more than all of 2009. That is how rapidly censorship is growing.

It is less of censorship and more of control freakery. The government's interest is in knowing that they can take down content that they want to silence efficiently. This content may or may not be pirated, as is clearly understood from the large number of content removal requests for political reasons from India. Of course, at that time the reason was offending religious sentiments - a small fraction of the actual removal requests. In various ways and for various reasons, the government is making sustained attacks on free speech.

Do the math.

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Greetings People of India

Anonymous for the past many weeks had been protesting against the attack by governments and corporations on the freedom of speech and expression
guaranteed to to every Indian citizen by the Constitution of india.

The protest began when the Indian ISPs began blocking file sharing sites and other websites under the order of the madras high court.

But was understood as and over done circus due to the fact that entire websites became unavailable when in reality specific URLs were to be blocked.

This we see as an attack on the right to free speech.

The government today censors almost all medias, the press is heavily controlled and hence is unable to speak the truth frankly without taking sides.

During this time it is the Social Media that exist on the Internet that helps people share and know the truth. This is the reason why the government is desperately trying to control the internet.
Once the INTERNET is censored we will loose the last and final tool we have left to exercise  our freedom of speech and opinions.

Saying that we have right to speak freely and not giving us a tool is a totalitarian system where a sense of false freedom is induced.
Hence we Anonymous are today calling to the Indian public to stand up and start fighting.

You the people are the power that should be ruling your country.
And not a group of powerful and wealthy corporations and politicians.

On June 9th we will be organizing massive protests in multiple locations all over the country and we are calling every one who can be there to be there.
We remind the Indian public that trusting a corrupt government to solve corruption and other problems is like expecting a serial killer to catch himself.

The movements will assigned within the title of Occupy India that will be kicked off this June 9th

The Cities that are getting ready to take part are Bangalore Delhi Mumbai Culcutta Chennai Kochi Mumbai Hydrabad and many more.
Any one who feels they need this movement needs to be in their city can start a FB page for the Occupy City movement and let us know about it.
We call on the people to help spread this message and get your friends and family to join this noble cause.

 This is to be a 100% Non-Violent Civil rights protest.

We will be updating the all the required information to http://opindia.posterous.com/anonymous-to-stage-street-protest-on-9th-june
Our twitter handle @OpIndia_Back can be used to communicate with us any time.
As planned the protest will take place by 3PM IST on June 9th the Saturday.

The directives for the safety and proper functioning of the protest is available at  http://pastehtml.com/view/bzi0nxrkz.html

 Remember people of India if you do not wake up and fight, No One Else will do it for you.

We are calling for the 99% to rise against the 1% who is trying to steal from their great nation and make them their slaves.
We call to you India Rise India
We are with you and let us together start the revolution to make this place a better one

We ALSO CLEARLY DISCLAIM ANY CLAIMS BY POLITICAL PARTIES OR GROUPS IN SUPPORT OF US
WE DO NOT LINK WITH ANY GROUP AND ANY GROUP THAT TRY TO LINK SO IS TRYING TO FOOL THE PEOPLE

 Time to rise up

 WE are Anonymous

 We Do not Forgive

 We do not Forget

 And Yes We are a Legion

 EXPECT US

 Jai Hind