Internet Censorship- Does India Need One?

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The World Wide Web isn’t the same across the wide world. Well, technically it’s the same network but Internet censorship limits what people around the globe can access. So, what is Internet censorship? And does India need one?
What Is Internet Censorship- Delik House
Illustration Credits: Andrew Rybalko

Censorship has no explicit definition but it is mainly regarded as suppression of speech, information or other public communications or scraping out of any particular part of a movie or book because it is inappropriate or obscene.

Any material that is considered insensitive, objectionable or harmful to the people for any reason can be controlled by a government or a private institution. The institution in charge usually hides amends or alters the data which they think might cause any sort of instability in the society.

The main purpose of scraping out sensitive data from the internet is to make sure it doesn’t contaminate young minds or spread unnecessary negativity in society. 

Illustration Credits: International Herald Tribune

The process of censorship involves reviewing something and excluding the parts that are regarded as sensitive for the general public, for instance, movies, books or even the internet. 

Internet is the most widely used tool across the globe. Almost the whole human population, starting from pre-school children to our grandparents, are dependant on the internet, especially in the post-pandemic scenario. Children are attending classes online and have full access to the internet to fulfil their educational needs and the parents are left with nothing but the troublesome thought of opening their children to a world of the internet. 

However, censorship is not just for protecting children. It can monitor the spread of fake news or in other words the spread of false negativity. It can be very difficult to track down the source and curb such negativity from its roots and in cases like these, censorship may come in handy.

For instance, after the WhatsApp privacy policy update, there was a message being circulated that the chats can be read by the government, which was in direct violation of the ‘end to end encryption’ policy that WhatsApp continued to promise and this news did nothing but spread superfluous panic.

Another simple instance would include people posting news on their Facebook and Twitter handles mentioning “According to Sources”, conveniently missing out on the exact source, once again normalizing the spread of false news.

To prevent the repetition of such instances, censorship is necessary.

People on social media and other internet sites often use harsh comments that can hurt someone’s religious, political or social sentiment but censorship eliminates any such content, thus avoiding conflicts in society.

When we discuss censorship in pornographic content, its history dates back to 2013 when an advocate, Kamlesh Vaswani filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) appealing the courts to step in and ban porn as it encouraged violence and crimes against women.

He also recognized it as the leading cause of sex crimes in India. Following this, the Supreme Court of India said that watching porn in one’s private space is not a crime. Entering that sphere would be a violation of the right to privacy.

However, the government blatantly overlooked this and banned 857 porn sites in 2015.

So, if one sets aside all the positives of censorship, and looks at the ground reality, one cannot help but notice that this concept of scraping out sensitive data completely coincides with one’s right to privacy as well as with freedom of speech and expression. The constitution of India guarantees Freedom of speech and expression [Article 19(1)(a)] and the Right to Life and Personal Liberty [Article 21] and barring people from expressing themselves freely would stand in direct violation of these articles.

However, the constitution has left room for ‘reasonable restrictions’ using which any insensitive data can be removed but cannot be censored before uploading.

So, the final question arises – Does India really need Internet censorship?

The internet is an open space that is growing increasingly toxic each day and therefore we require censorship but in a very restricted form. Banning or censoring extremely sensitive content like brutal murders, child pornography, sex trafficking is justified but anything beyond it must be backed up by proper data and logic.

There should be a specific board for censorship and it must fall under the ambit of the Right To Information Act, 2005 so if and when any person or organisation questions censorship, it can not only be backed up but can also be challenged in a court of law. This system would also permit courts to take up suo moto cognizance to challenge any move by the censorship board of India.

If censorship were made a part of our country, it would also affect the press freedom of India.

Illustration by David Cowles

In 2019, India was ranked 140 in the Press Freedom Index. Moreover, India is a developing country and censorship is a very expensive affair and experts suggest investing that sum in the welfare of the people by providing food, clean water, shelter, education or electricity.

China spends $2 billion on maintaining its internet and curbing the development of proxy servers. 

Red key with text Bunned and closed padlock icon on blue digital laptop keyboard.
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Censorship also places a lot of power in the hands of the censor, almost as if it were his/her personal preference to decide what could be appropriate and what not. They can erase anything out of the internet, dominate what people see and perceive, they can even mould the truth in their favour as well as strip an individual of his/her independent perspective or from expressing themselves. 

Every pro of censorship can be assisted with an alternative, for example, even if children are dependent on the internet, the parents can use various parental locks that can be easily accessible by all parents. If false news does spread, it can always be taken down (limited censorship) and at last, sex education should be introduced instead of banning of pornographic content for a healthy environment amongst the youth.

So yes, India needs censorship to curb all the negatives but with proper laws.

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19 days ago

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