India needs to improve the right to freedom of online expression: report

The report, titled Limited Access Restricting Expression also makes a case for expansion of quality Internet access and last mile connectivity in both urban and rural India


New Delhi: India needs to improve the right to freedom of online expression, according to recommendations of a report by the Digital Empowerment Foundation.

The report, titled Limited Access Restricting Expression, and released on Thursday, also makes a case for expansion of quality Internet access and last mile connectivity in both urban and rural India.

“Internet access is the prerequisite for Indian residents and citizens to exercise their right to freedom of expression and speech,” the report said. “Civil society and other stakeholders will have to collaborate to make rural citizens aware of these rights online and how they can exercise these rights to contribute to the Indian democracy.”

The report on the status of Internet freedom in India is the outcome of the first year of an Impact Project funded by the Association for Progressive Communications and supported by the European Union under the Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights.

“This report is driven from the fact that how much can one express himself offline without any hindrance. As more and more people go online, incidents of blockage, data removal and criminal action against the (online) user are increasing,” said Osama Manzar, founder-director of Digital Empowerment Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation. Mint has a strategic partnership with the foundation.

APC is a global network of civil society organisations whose mission is to empower and support organisations, social movements and individuals in and through the use of information and communication technologies to build strategic communities and initiatives for the purpose of making meaningful contributions to equitable human development, social justice, participatory political processes and environmental sustainability.

The report comes at a time when various policy changes in the Internet domain are on the horizon such as the net neutrality framework, the privacy bill as well as regulation of mobile apps.

Digital Empowerment Foundation interviewed 600 people between 15 and 64 years of age in 10 states besides holding consultations with stakeholders to prepare the report.

The number of government requests for data and content removal have increased, according to the report. “The details of these requests are not shared by the government. However, internal adjudication is allowed at the intermediary level and therefore, compliance rates vary across different platforms,” the report said. “Civil society groups argue that the lack of transparency from the government’s end is a major issue. Temporary blocks of mobile and internet access are still relatively common in the country. Most recently, Internet & SMS services in Nagaland were blocked after a video of the lynching of a rape accused went viral.”

The report recommends that the government should recognise the importance of Internet rights within the rights paradigm in India.

“The capacities of the National Commission on Human Rights and State Commissions should be built up to incorporate internet rights and to allow them to provide guidance and training on internet-related violations of freedoms,” the report suggested. “Law enforcement bodies should be held accountable for online human rights violations to an independent democratic oversight body.”