Dear PMO: Don’t ‘break’ the Internet

Dear PMO,

Your party has used social media very well for your campaign in this election. Your side campaign project ‘pappu’ was also popular, perhaps even contributing to your victory for who wants to vote for a ‘pappu’. You did leverage the power of Internet and social media. People acknowledged your promise of ‘digital India’ and ‘progressive India’.

Earlier this year, I noticed TRAI took a very good decision in favour of net neutrality. The mobile service providers’ lobby had wanted all over-the-top (OTT) apps such as Whatsapp, Viber, Skype etc to be charged. However, TRAI wisely rejected the proposal. Whatsapp may in future want to monetize and that is okay. At least government didn’t bow to business lobby.

Yet two issues related to Internet and freedom bother me. Two ongoing policy decisions by your government may threaten the very spirit of ‘digital and progressive’ India.

Internet censorship

We hear our Telecom Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, is contemplating how to implement web filters for the country. As Medianama reports, he has been quoted saying: “larger issue of respecting cultural values of the country and sentiments of the Indian society need to be considered and all possible ways and means may have to be devised in this context.”Censorship_wiki

It leaves me speechless. First, I didn’t know our cultural values were under threat. Second, is the perceived need to ‘save cultural values’ more important than the respect for citizen rights? I can’t fathom why a government would want to regulate personal lives of adult citizens. So what if they watch porn? What is this to the government?

A state’s role is to prevent crime and maintain law and order. It is not to maintain ‘cultural values’ as they define it, especially in a diverse country like ours where definition of values are debatable. Does government have any case of porn leading to criminal/civil offenses? Until it is proven so, a blanket ban is infringement of individual rights, and your decision to use web filter to stop porn is arbitrary. (There are more productive/effective ways of preventing violence and rape, tho I notice you didn’t mention it since you were more preoccupied with protection of cultural values.) I won’t get into pros and cons of porn; but I expect any government to respect an individual’s choice to deal with their sex lives. Please don’t impinge on personal liberties of us individuals. Respect our rights and wisdom as adults and spare us the moralizing.

My objection to censorship is not even about porn. This ‘web filter’ also opens risk of banning anything arbitrary. Who decides what is ‘objectionable to cultural values’ and worthy enough to be banned? What if it is misused (and once technology and power is available it will be open to misuse) to block anything that opposes government or powerful people. By rights granted by our Constitution, I have a right to freely say I don’t like your government, should I feel so. What if posts like these are not possible ever in future as a result of censorship? Is this not more important that this may violate the sacrosanct spirit of democracy.

When in opposition, you assured us you didn’t believe in censorship (all those FIRs for FB, whatsapp posts), and yet here you take a U-turn. History proves that censorship never helped any country, let’s us learn from examples of Cuba, Iran and China. I am sure these countries would rate the lowest on happiness index, and worse they can’t even talk about it. Please don’t get us there. We don’t want to be that nation where our artists/thinkers accept Nobel prize while in exile or in jail.


Let me begin this by saying I have disliked Uber right from the start. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate such services when public transport is not robust in most Indian cities. I was in fact an early adopter of TFS/Ola apps but Uber wanted me to add my credit card details which I was reluctant to. I was happy when RBI intervened and changed their payment system. That two-step verification system, annoying as it maybe, is there for a reason. I hated that Uber, a US company, violated that in India. It was even more annoying that most users in India, fan boys as they tend to become for foreign products/services, didn’t even notice it.

Uber’s brand positioning is around safety. So, when they admitted that they didn’t conduct background checks for drivers in Delhi; I think that makes them liable.

I didn’t outrage against ban because Delhi government was clear Uber was banned due to violation of Radio Taxi Scheme, 2006 (and not because of rape). Though it is silly that until the rape they didn’t know that Uber and such app-based taxi services existed. Now all app-based cab services are banned in Delhi and government is contemplating an all-India ban.

But here’s the hard truth, we, the citizens, need these services since public transport is inadequate. The ban cannot be permanent. It is not a solution. It can just be a time-out to work these things out. You must find a way to make operators, in this hitherto unregulated space, that they meet expectations around safety, pollution, permits and fare regulations. You owe that to your citizens.

You campaigned on progress; understanding and leveraging technology for the benefit of citizens is a part of it. Please keep knee-jerk moralizing and demonizing away. Don’t ‘break’ the internet. It was never such a good aspiration to begin with.

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