Internet freedom has “improved” in India in the last one year due to the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on the IT Act, a US-based independent watchdog has said, placing the world’s largest democratic country under “partly free” category.
“Internet freedom improved in India for the second consecutive year in 2015, even as more governments worldwide censored information of public interest and expanded surveillance,” said the ‘Freedom on the Net 2015′ released by Freedom House in a statement on Wednesday.
In the 2014 report, India scored 42 points which came down to 40 points in 2015. More points means more restrictions on Internet freedom. For instance, China with 88 points was the world’s worst abuser of Internet freedom followed by Syria (87) and Iran (87).
Since June 2014, 32 of the 65 countries assessed in Freedom on the Net saw Internet freedom deteriorating. Notable declines were documented in Libya, France and-for the second year running Ukraine, amid its territorial conflict and propaganda war with Russia.
Iceland is the most Internet free country with six points. Freedom House attributed India’s improvement in Internet freedom to the Supreme Court’s March 2015 ruling on the IT Act, which it said provided critical improvements to the legal framework protecting Internet freedom.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling on the IT Act was a long awaited victory for free speech activists in India,” said Sanja Kelly, project director for Freedom on the Net.
In 2014, Internet penetration in India was 18 percent of the population. At the same time, network shutdowns in the name of security and a lack of transparency about blocking and surveillance are limits on Internet freedom that kept the country’s rating “partly free”, the report said.
“In 2015, India’s Internet users spoke out to defend net neutrality in record numbers, demonstrating a real commitment to equal, open access to online content,” said Madeline Earp, Freedom on the Net’s Asia research analyst.
“Shutdowns and murky information about authorities’ blocking and surveillance practices violate the same fundamental Internet freedom principles,” Earp said.
“The Supreme Court judgment in the Shreya Singhal case was a big step for Internet freedom in India but it came from the judiciary,” said Chinmayi Arun, research director of the Centre for Communication Governance at National Law University Delhi, which authored the India portion of the report.
In its report, Freedom Now said India maintained its position as the third largest Internet consumer base after the US and China, and saw positive developments in terms of the regulatory framework, declining detentions for online speech, and burgeoning digital access.
“However, increased website blocking and intimidation of Internet users threatened to hamper India’s steadily improving Internet freedom,” the report said.
Freedom Now, however rued, that Indian law remains inadequate for the effective protection of privacy. Although a privacy bill is being drafted, reports indicate the law enforcement agencies are seeking to be exempted from the law, leaving its scope and effectiveness under question.
“There were no reported instances of unlawful surveillance in the present reporting period, although this may be due to the extreme opacity of the regulatory framework governing surveillance,” it said.
News reports indicate the government is continuing to develop the Central Monitoring System, its ambitious nationwide mass surveillance program directed at monitoring individuals’ digital communications, it added.