Atanu Dey On India's Development

SOPA, PIPA, and Indian Censorship


Sometimes looking at the way the government does things one wonders whether the lunatics are running the loony bin. But perhaps the truth is not funny at all, and more horrifying: the people running the country are not crazy but rather they are terrifyingly smart and know exactly what they are doing and why. Their game involves controlling the masses through lies and misdirection.

But not all people are gullible and stupid. Some see through the government’s game and sure enough, that’s when the government has to figure out how to shut those people up. Enter, government censorship. Since governments are a universal phenomenon, so is censorship. Not just in tin-pot dictatorships such as Pakistan or in cargo-cult democracies like India, governments of much celebrated democracies such as the United States of America also try to make the public behave by controlling what the people know.

Take SOPA, the “Stop Online Piracy Act,” a bill introduced in the United States House of Representatives last October (and its counterpart bill in the US Senate, called “Protect IP Act”, PIPA.) They are supposed to protect intellectual property. But opponents to the bills argue that it will have a chilling effect on free speech, that it violates the First Amendment of the US constitution (which guarantees freedom of expression to US citizens and is the first of the Bill of Rights), and that it amounts to internet censorship.

To protest SOPA and PIPA (remember that they are bills and are not yet enacted into law), prominent groups and companies are planning on taking action. Google will have something on their main page; Wikipedia will be off-line for 24 hours on Jan 18th; reddit is going down for 12 hours to protest SOPA and PIPA. That all is going on in the US. What’s going on in India?

India is an interesting case. Like that of the US, the government of India depends on a compliant citizenry: people who do as they are told, and to shut up when they are told to STFU. Of course, this is not all that difficult since a majority of Indians have been brainwashed into the belief that the government is a benevolent agency — mai baap — which hands out goodies to favored groups and therefore has to be obeyed. The trouble is (from the government’s point of view) that some people are not very cooperative and insist on exposing the government’s lies. This simply would not do. These people write stuff and say things that could be damaging to the government’s case.

The government has a two-pronged approach to this problem. First, do something about the “demand side.” If people cannot read and write, they are unlikely to be exposed to the truth. The way is therefore to control the education sector and make it dysfunctional enough that even after more than 60 years post independence, about half a billion Indians are illiterate. Destroying the future of the people just to keep them in the dark is one of the greatest crimes that the governments of India have committed against India. The Congress party has directly and indirectly held the reins of government for around 50 years, and mass illiteracy is one of their enduring legacies.

The Indian government has censored news reports, banned books and movies, and made it illegal for people to discuss current affairs on radio. That’s what I call the “supply side” of the matter: make sure that the supply of information is limited to what the government likes. But then came the new threat: the internet and with it access to the world wide web of information.

As long as the internet was just text based, the government was not too worried. What scared them into action was that the internet became multi-media. Not just text, you could watch videos and listen to a variety of opinions, and you did not have to be literate to do so. That, as you can imagine, put a spanner in the carefully designed works of the government to keep the people uninformed through illiteracy.

So here we are. The country is being run by a bunch of crooks, headed nominally by the most despicably dishonest man, the appointed prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh. His master is an Italian woman who rules her minions with an iron hand. Among her hand maidens is one Kapil Sibal, a man who is roundly despised and is perhaps a cretin. Sibal is in charge of internet censorship. He regularly tells internet firms to censor content that will damage the carefully built images of his master and her family.

The Center for Internet & Society has an informative article, “Invisible Censorship: How the Government Censors Without Being Seen” by Pranesh Prakash (dateline Dec 15, 2011.) Here’s an extended excerpt:

Government Has Powers to Censor and Already Censors

Currently, the government can either block content by using section 69A of the Information Technology Act (which can be revealed using RTI), or it has to send requests to the Internet companies to get content removed. Google has released statistics of government request for content removal as part of its Transparency Report. While Mr. Sibal uses the examples of communally sensitive material as a reason to force censorship of the Internet, out of the 358 items requested to be removed from January 2011 to June 2011 from Google service by the Indian government (including state governments), only 8 were for hate speech and only 1 was for national security. Instead, 255 items (71 per cent of all requests) were asked to be removed for ‘government criticism’. Google, despite the government in India not having the powers to ban government criticism due to the Constitution, complied in 51 per cent of all requests. That means they removed many instances of government criticism as well.

‘Self-Regulation’: Undetectable Censorship

Mr. Sibal’s more recent efforts at forcing major Internet companies such as Indiatimes, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft, to ‘self-regulate’ reveals a desire to gain ever greater powers to bypass the IT Act when censoring Internet content that is ‘objectionable’ (to the government). Mr. Sibal also wants to avoid embarrassing statistics such as that revealed by Google’s Transparency Report. He wants Internet companies to ‘self-regulate’ user-uploaded content, so that the government would never have to send these requests for removal in the first place, nor block sites officially using the IT Act. If the government was indeed sincere about its motives, it would not be talking about ‘transparency’ and ‘dialogue’ only after it was exposed in the press that the Department of Information Technology was holding secret talks with Internet companies. Given the clandestine manner in which it sought to bring about these new censorship measures, the motives of the government are suspect. Yet, both Mr. Sibal and Mr. Sachin Pilot have been insisting that the government has no plans of Internet censorship, and Mr. Pilot has made that statement officially in the Lok Sabha. This, thus seems to be an instance of censoring without censorship.

Backdoor Censorship through Copyright Act

Further, since the government cannot bring about censorship laws in a straightforward manner, they are trying to do so surreptitiously, through the back door. Mr. Sibal’s latest proposed amendment to the Copyright Act, which is before the Rajya Sabha right now, has a provision called section 52(1)(c) by which anyone can send a notice complaining about infringement of his copyright. The Internet company will have to remove the content immediately without question, even if the notice is false or malicious. The sender of false or malicious notices is not penalized. But the Internet company will be penalized if it doesn’t remove the content that has been complained about. The complaint need not even be shown to be true before the content is removed. Indeed, anyone can complain about any content, without even having to show that they own the rights to that content. The government seems to be keen to have the power to remove content from the Internet without following any ‘due process’ or fair procedure. Indeed, it not only wants to give itself this power, but it is keen on giving all individuals this power.

So what are we going to do about it? We, if we care, should make sure that Manmohan Singh and his cohorts like Kapil Sibal, and their master the Italian Antonia Maino aka Sonia Gandhi, and her puppy are stopped from destroying the nation. Let’s vote them out.

  • Sambaran Mitra

    The way government is going about censorship and free-speech-suppression is indeed maddening. All my pride about being better than China (at least in freedom aspect) is crumbling down.
    The disturbing aspect is that on the issue of free-speech/censorship, I do not find any significant support from any front. I do not blame politicians as they are indeed representing a majority when they go about censorship. “Freedom-of-expression is all fine but with limits” is the prevalent view (ironically myself included). I do believe that my limit is more reasonable than the majority’s (but so must the others).
    Having said that, I reiterate that I am disturbed over these censorships that hit us on a recurring basis. In spite of their many other drawbacks, United States is much better than my country, as far as freedom is concerned.

  • Eben

    You’re quite off the mark with the last sentence. If you think a different government will go easy on rabid media, you need to do your Ph.D again. Do it in Indian politics this time.

  • og

    “Majority of Indians have been brainwashed into the belief that the government is a benevolent agency” — How charmingly naive, Atanu. The majority of Indians suckle at all possible government handout teats and start badmouthing the government as soon as they are out of the ration shop. They are under no illusion whatsoever. The sheth who is putting his black money into an engineering college tells his wife “saale haramzaade (congress minister) hamara license nehi nikaal raha hai” then goes to meet said minister with a smile and (not a little) cash and declares that the place will be named XYZ Gandhi College of Engineering. Why do you even write about India if you know so little about Indians?

  • Austin Hoffman

    This is just terrible….SOPA is the equivalent of curing a headache with a guillotine. It may stop piracy, but it would shut down our economy and unconstitutionally erode our most basic freedoms in the process.

    I just hope that everyone realizes how important this is and does their part to save the internet & our economy! …here is another good video that explains the consequences of SOPA pretty well:

    1,000s of more websites have joined the force and went dark today, we need EVERYONES help!!!!

  • RC

    Looks like the pressure and spreading of awareness about SOPA might be working. Marco Rubio withdraws support for SOPA
    Rubio is a potential VP candidate so it matters.

  • Rusty

    I think you just forgot to mention the name of the famous puppet the PR of the govt. Mr Digvijay Singh.
    But I sincerely need to say one thing. If the govt does anything even if its against the democratic rights my humble request to the govt is please give viable reasons for the same. Atleast do the patch work properly. Just dont come on the media and say we did this bcoz BJP did this in their time or criticizing someone else. I agree making sense is a rare scenario for them but at some instances there is no harm in doing so. And if they want to project Rahul Gandhi as the next PM then why cant people like him address the press and the media or even Mrs Priyanka Vadra is a legitimate option. Why do they only get people as Mr Digvijay Singh and Kapil Sibbal to cover up the same on media who do not even know at time what they are saying.
    A request to the Govt pls think atleast twice before you speak publicly there is no harm in it. We can wait a while for u to think.

  • The Mindset

    i was searching on thistopicwheni got this :

    Gandhi dynasty has already banned a book that tells the public about their reality.

    So much for Freedom of Speech !!!

  • Vica