Since its advent in the 1960s, internet has evolved from a commodity to a necessity. People are no longer restricted by time or demographic constraints and have access to plethora of information and resources online. Over the years, internet has expanded its reach from the US to different parts of the world. The advancements in the field of internet and technology can be predominantly seen through the growth of Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things where A.I. is allowing computers to perform complex tasks such as – speech recognition, problem solving, learning and reasoning while IoT is enabling ‘smart homes’ to control different appliances and perform operations digitally. However, with recent cases of massive data breaches and the growing number of cybercrimes, the entire system needs to be put into check.
How does the government promote cyber sovereignty?
“Cyber Sovereignty promotes the notion that governments should be able to regulate and manage their country’s internet on their own terms.” Considering the recent developments in the field of technology and cyberspace, the ability of authorities to exercise control over the internet has become a trend that is being emulated by many countries. In January 2017, the government of Africa blocked the access to the internet following the atmosphere of turmoil in the country. The period between January 2017 and March 2017 was recorded as “Africa’s longest Internet Shutdown.” However, this decision made by the government was viewed as “appalling violation of the right of freedom of expression.” China has also been working towards achieving complete internet solidarity, famously termed as “The Great Firewall of China.”
In May 2019, Russia’s parliament signed a bill, which might enable them to completely seclude their internet from the rest of the world and create a “sovereign internet”. With the advent and implementation of new policies concerning the restriction of the network space, the authorities will be able to exercise control over information infrastructures and activities within its borders.
India and Censorship
According to a report, India is trying to emulate the model of “Chinese Style Internet Censorship”. The government is proposing a major amendment in Section 79 of India’s IT Act. Following this announcement, companies will have to remove “inappropriate” content from various platforms as deemed by the authorities. “This is very similar to what China does to its citizens, where it tracks every post on social media.” said Apar Gupta, executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation.
Following these announcements, the content will be filtered before being published online to prevent the public from seeing “unlawful information or content.” The government might also exercise its control over the surveillance of messages being circulated in the network space. “The instances of misuse of social media by criminals and anti-national elements have brought new challenges to the law enforcement agencies,” the government said in an official statement.
With these steps, right to information and security of its citizens stand threatened. The government can be expected to take stringent steps to filter the content on social media platforms, putting a ban on hate speech, fake news and child pornography.
What happens next?
If the internet is influenced by cyber sovereignty and restriction of cyber space, it will hinder the users from accessing information from many sources thus, curtailing its reach. With these changes in the field of cyberspace, we are inching a step closer towards an “era of cyber sovereignty” with stricter laws and surveillance, and less transparency in the digital world. These steps will not only affect the users of a demography but might even affect the sustainability of the digital world and civil rights for years to come. Digital sovereignty and net neutrality seem in conflict with increased censorships and decline of internet freedom.
In a time when restricting harmful content on the internet remains a challenging task, social media companies and tech giants should be held more accountable for the content that is published on their platforms.
With ongoing dialogue on restricting the access to internet, it is imperative to remember that internet is the only existing medium that can provide sustainable solutions to issues like education and economic growth and promote solidarity among the citizens at the time of distress.