A few months ago, a report came out that India wanted to exert more control over the Internet, specifically social networking sites, in a bid to control the flow of discussion about it’s political leaders. A huge ruckus was created by the media, calling India the next China in Internet censorship. The whole ‘mela’ lasted a couple of months with wide online harassment of the political leaders behind this scheme. Then, the dust settled down and the Indian government got what they wanted. Facebook and Google agreed that they already regularly monitor and remove content that is negative towards famous people or towards religious sentiments of the people. They did not, however, as requested by the Indian government, hand over censorship controls to the Indian government, calling the idea outrageous and not feasible. (Further reading here)
This time, the Indian government wants to go one step ahead in their control of the Internet. According to this news report by the Indian newspaper The Hindu, the Indian government is pushing the United Nations General Assembly for government control of the task assigned to the non-governmental, non-profit organization ICANN. For those who don’t know, the ICANN is responsible for handing out IP addresses to websites so that they can operate on the Internet. Currently, this task is accomplished at lightening speed because of limited governmental intervention and bringing in government bureaucracy will only slow down the growth of the Internet. The task ICANN performs is vital because the impartial handover of IP addresses to those who require them is directly responsible for the free speech model of the Internet. If India has it’s way, all businesses will have to go to the government to get IP addresses, adding another layer of corruption to the already weak model of economic growth in developing countries like India. Also, such a move will allow the government to exercise undue control over the Internet such that it can threaten to cut off any website that it deems harmful to itself. The consequences to free speech are only one imaginative step away.
It is clear that when direct intervention failed them in the case against social networking sites as well as when popular social change leader Anna Hazare chose the Internet to channelize supporters, the Indian government chose to go behind the scenes in order to try and cut off their opponents directly by gaining control of the Internet. It is to be seen whether the leaders of the first world decide if this is a viable proposal on May 18th when the UN General Assembly meets in Geneva. With any luck, this proposal will be tossed out the window.