Internet freedom in India slightly improved in 2015

New Delhi(PTI): Internet freedom in India has improved slightly under the Narendra Modi-led government even as censorship and surveillance of the Web increased world over, an independent organisation for freedom and democracy Freedom House has said in a report.

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India’s score has improved by 2 points to 40 in 2015 from 42 a year ago (where 0 is the best possible rating), the report said. A low score is indication of the reduction in barriers to freedom. However, across the world censorship and surveillance of the Internet increased, leading to a decline in overall online freedom for the fifth year in a row, the report titled Freedom On the Net 2015 said.

“The Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) swept to electoral victory in 2014 under its leadership candidate Narendra Modi, and the new government completed its first year in May 2015.
“In the reporting period, India maintained its position as the third largest Internet consumer base after the United States and China, and saw positive developments in terms of the regulatory framework, declining detentions for online speech, and burgeoning digital access,” the report said.

Increased website blocking and intimidation of Internet users, however, threatened to hamper India’s steadily improving Internet freedom. The report labels India among countries where the Internet is only partly free. “There were no reported instances of unlawful surveillance in the present reporting period, although this may be due to the extreme opacity of the regulatory framework governing surveillance,” the report said. The report said that news reports indicate that the government is continuing to develop the Central Monitoring System, its ambitious nationwide mass surveillance programme directed at monitoring individuals’ digital communications.

It also said that the Supreme Court ruling on Section 66A of Information Technology in 2015 dramatically impacted the regulatory framework governing the Internet. The section had resulted in several arrests of individuals for political or social content published on social media between 2012 and early 2015, it said. The report underlines that, in the meantime, Indian law remains inadequate for the effective protection of privacy. Although a privacy bill is being drafted, reports indicate law enforcement agencies are seeking to be exempt from the law, leaving its scope and effectiveness under question, it said.

*Editor’s Note: It’s important to note, however, that the report also states that the blocking of 857 websites by the government in August is outside its coverage. It’s likely that will show an effect only in next year’s survey.