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Keep it neutral

Keep it neutral
Highlights

Who owns Internet and who should own it? Should it be for classes or for masses? We are in the midst of a raging debate over control of the world’s greatest invention since fire and wheel. It has revolutionised our existence and made the world one large village. Indians have an obvious stake in this global discourse, being among the fastest-growing ‘netizenry’,

Indians have an obvious stake in net neutrality, being among the fastest-growing ‘netizenry’

Who owns Internet and who should own it? Should it be for classes or for masses? We are in the midst of a raging debate over control of the world’s greatest invention since fire and wheel. It has revolutionised our existence and made the world one large village. Indians have an obvious stake in this global discourse, being among the fastest-growing ‘netizenry’, despite large gaps in access and affordability.

After years of living off dot.org, dot.com and others, India has its own dot.in. Internet is determining our access among and around us. But it does not have a law to regulate its control and working. The medium itself has become the message with a million people responding to the consultation process initiated by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. We are close to the deadline set for that process.

It was, perhaps, inevitable that the government’s effort to consult before working out controls would invite politics, like just about everything else in this country. The latest to jump into the arena is Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi who demanded that TRAI stop consultations and change the policy that, he alleged, is being utilised to “carve out the net and hand it over to crorepatis.”

Gandhi may, or may not be right. But his charge is similar to what he makes about land acquisition from the one who tills or lives off it, by one who wants to acquire it to build roads, set up factories and much else. Gandhi is himself not known to be net-savvy. He is not on social media, unlike most people in public life. But that cannot take away his right to speak on the issue. One is taking at face value his support, along with the huge silent majority of netizens, to total net neutrality.

The role of the government run by his party, however, had been sordid. The Section 66A of the IT Act, which was recently struck down by the Supreme Court, is a case in point. Crafted in 2008, its violation could invite imprisonment for as innocuous an act as liking a Facebook post. In 2012, the UPA-II went a step ahead and reportedly blocked Twitter handles and web pages. This was pointed out by current Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

Without getting into politically motivated claims, the wisdom of the netizens lies in keeping a strict vigil and ensuring fullest possible neutrality. The crucial rider stems from two things: that the freedom of expression granted in the Constitution is not absolute, and that, contrary to popular perception, crime on the Internet is punishable under the law. It is, and should be, freedom tampered by restraint. The netizen should still push the limits as part of its vigil to guard its freedom.

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