Now everyone knows that authoritarian states go out of their way and suppress the Internet. In some cases, giants like Google oblige in countries like China. In other cases, giants like Facebook fight against officials hacking their websites like Tunisia.
This "government firewall" is present in many countries where democracy doesn't rule.
But probably the bigger story emerging is how the two largest democracies in the world, America and India, are using every trick in the book to suppress the Internet.
This is by far the more disturbing of the two and if they actually succeed, then cyberspace will be a totally different place.
SOPA, PIPA & America
A few months back, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was introduced in the US House of Representatives. If this bill is passed then all that has to be done is to identify websites that infringe on copyright. After that, the government can ask ISPs to block them, block online advertising and even stop search giants from linking to the websites!
Even unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content would be a crime with possibilities of jail. This could apply to both commercial and non-commercial content and hit popular sites like YouTube pretty hard.
Critics have said that the language used in the bill is so “broad” that it could have a crippling effect on the whole issue of e-commerce and could lead to other inter-country complications.
The bill also has the potential of hindering the free and open source software movement along with invading the very privacy of citizens.
In fact, when web hosting company Go Daddy, also an Internet domain register, backed SOPA, it faced such a backlash that it soon changed its stance. Clients cancelled their services and a Go Daddy boycott movement was launched.
A similar Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 (PROTECT IP Act or PIPA) is pending in the US Senate. This has been opposed by the likes of Google, Facebook and even American Express.
And of course everyone knows how the US Government has gone after WikiLeaks, drying up all its financial sources to in a bid to shut it down. It has also used its political muscle vis a vis friendly countries like Australia, England and Germany to ensure that its founder Julian Assange is fixed.
WikiLeaks is banned in the US Library of Congress and federal staff members are not allowed to view the website. US Army Private Bradley Manning, the man who leaked documents to WikiLeaks, is also facing court-martial.
Social Networking and India
The Indian government has also been working behind the scenes to put a cap on dissent in cyberspace. The Indian media has largely been indifferent to this whole issue and the story was broken only by a foreign media source. That unleashed a storm against the Central government in cyberspace.
However that has made little impact on the UPA. Behind the scenes activities continue and offending websites are already being pulled down quietly.
In the backdrop of this, it is not surprising that the Delhi High Court warned that offending cyber companies could easily be shut down. The government has gone ahead and sanctioned the prosecution of a host of Internet firms.
It will be quite interesting to see how this whole case progresses as the targeted companies are giants such as Facebook, Google, YouTube, Microsoft and Yahoo!
While nobody will deny certain material that is viewed as universally derogatory, the danger is that in the long run, the same laws may apply to far less offensive content and fall right into the hands of governments that have a hidden agenda.
Netizens went out of their way and heaped tonnes of criticism on IT Minister Kapil Sibal and his attempts at censorship. Articles, blogs, status updates and hashtags ruled the roost for many days. But Mr Sibal remains undeterred and is still planning to have the last laugh. There’s a chance that he may well succeed.
2012 will be a very crucial year for Net freedom.
If the world’s largest democracies manage to suppress the Internet in whatever way they are planning, then the very fabric of cyberspace will be ruptured.
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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/