The influence of the Internet on our generation is comparable to that of printing press in the late 15th century. It is the only purely democratic entity that exists among us. Since independent groups of people and institutions help its growth, it is the only entity which is by, for and of the people. The free and open source movement and the growth of the Internet have gone hand in hand until today. The Internet has also enabled people with tremendous knowledge, more so than what printing press did for the Renaissance. No wonder governments and corporates across the world have become suspicious of the Internet.
Governments across the world are becoming desperate to regulate, censor and restrict its free and open nature. In popular belief, the mobile manufacturers and search engines are playing spoilsport in attempts to keep the Internet free and open. While mobile manufacturers are misusing their ability to control what their users are able to see by breaching their privacy, the search engines as virtual gatekeepers of the Internet are increasingly listening to governments unlisting numerous websites.
India recently discovered a third player, who is playing spoilsport – the Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The ISPs, especially in India are owned by big corporate houses. Recently Torrentz, Vimeo, The Pirate Bay, and many other websites were blocked by Indian ISPs. While Reliance Internet services stated that it is due to an order from the Department of Telecom, Airtel said, that the blocks were as per Court Orders. Airtel did not even reveal which state High Court passed the order. It was an interesting to observe how the government and the stakeholders of the regulation, happily chose not to speak on the issue, as if the ISPs were taking these steps by themselves.
Eventually most of the blocks were lifted but the drama in those few days, have left us with numerous alarming questions.
Blocking websites and technologies based on the presence of some copyrighted material is preposterous. Pirate Bay, for example is registered as a sharing website. It does not even identify itself as an adult site. Many authors and film makers choose to publish or release their work through these sites. In public opinion, films absent on peer to peer sharing sites do not exist at all! People browse on sites like these to figure out which film is trending and must be watched.
In legal terms, blocking a website is as much as a function of safeguarding a private right as much as it is interfering with the right to access of the general public. The matter is debatable but bringing websites down overnight, on anonymous grounds is ridiculous!
Interestingly, The John Does of the world fail to understand the nature of the Internet. They fail to understand that denying access to parts of it is technically impossible. They fail to understand the freedom of the Internet itself has enabled masses beyond their control. No wonder the popular hacktivist group Anonymous launched denial of service attacks against websites of the Indian Supreme Court, the All India Congress Committee and Copyright Studios to stage their protest.
Governments and corporates, apart from the likes of dictatorial China, are incapable of controlling the Internet. Of course, they can put many hurdles in the way, but those who are determined enough will get through. When the UK government ordered ISPs to block The Pirate Bay, traffic to the site went up by 12 million unique visitors the day after. New and curious casual Internet users became familiar with the legal use of bypass softwares and proxy addresses. Many sites by governments today are already being optimized to work with proxies, and the proliferation of bypass software is growing at great rapid rate. The Pirate Bay is even considering a project where they could keep their servers in a drone aircraft and out of any country’s jurisdiction to escape prosecution.
Governments fail to understand that the Internet in the 21st century, represents the Citizen’s media. Citizen media has always been active, well before the time of the Internet. People’s media is as old as civilization. It has always been there, while mass media came up only after renaissance. The dis-empowerment and injustice reinforced and sustained through mass media has always been resisted by civil initiatives for creating alternative modes of communication and information. While mass media capitalizes on change, people’s media triggers change which can break authoritarian and repressive structures.
Despite its encompassing nature, people’s media has thrived through the ages. Intellectuals today see it in the form of the Internet, but it has much deeper roots. Citizen media has the proven potential to escape controls of any kind. People’s media has proven itself to be capable of surviving as semi-legal, illegal and underground communication arenas in the face of hostility. They are virtually impossible to destroy! Like they say, means may be destroyed, but ideas are imperishable. Ideas are timeless.
Let the enemies of the freedom of Internet know, that they are fighting a lost battle!
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