As part of the 2015 GV Summit, we invited our community members  and partners to write essays that explain and illuminate the real-world effects of an Internet-related policy on citizens in a specific country or region. The goal of this competition was to amplify the voices and perspectives of our community and to help show the world the effects of law and practice, and that they did. You can read the winning entries  here.
Below are all essay submissions that focused on South Asia. Enjoy!
RAHMA THAMAN – SRI LANKA
Media freedom and policies that affect information sharing in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is well known for its diverse socio-political, economic and cultural harmony. Power and politics, above all, plays a crucial role and at times a villainous role in deciding the role of media and information with iron bar. Particularly the present regime which came to power in 2004 was crowned for winning the war and bringing an end to the situation where people were reluctant to move out due to fear of explosions. But the same government, owning the victory of war, controlled the media and information freedom unofficially banning the public from knowing the truth. A number of blogs and news sites have been banned from public view in Sri Lanka which is for a certain extent curbed by the free flow of facebooking and proxy VPNs. Although there are ground level interventions taken to track down viewers who access such sites sharing such news bringing out the fact regarding government as well as the ministers, ministries and the president himself, framing them as a threat to national security. Hilarious it is, the people in power are so corrupt that they can do anything and everything they want until they remain in power, which they want to do under any cost, curbing any news that brings out their own corruption that threatens the national security and economy, as news that threatens the national security. Also people, who are caught in the circulation of such news in the form Short Messaging Service (SMS) with each other, brought down and questioned in the government authorities responsible for criminal investigation.
As an individual working 400km away from capital and living 320km away from the work place, I found it awkward and funny and in extreme case threatening when called to be present at the Criminal Investigation Department to give a statement regarding a SMS criticizing a certain unofficial wing of the government which has been spurring hatred thoughts against the minority community in the country and responsible of instigating thugs claiming lives and properties of the minority community. Funnier is that those who really instigated violence around the country, were not questioned but let to go alone and surround institutions with dire authority. But innocent civilians who just pressed few buttons and used the satellite facility available with a trivial cost to share a ‘received’ message regarding a potential threat is brought to question.
The potential threat posed to sharing of information and the right to know by people regarding their own wellbeing is rampant. The case is more severe with a government who has enjoyed an unlimited wealth of authority more seriously moulded to suit the present regime and its subordinates bringing the limited group of 1000s out of the 20 million population to control 80% of the country’s wealth and institutions. In case of Sri Lanka media institutions have either migrated from the country and functioning or have closed down permanently with owners nowhere to be found or have sidelined with the government not only to survive but to achieve the state of existence.
Media either in print, virtual, audio or video have one single purpose in common. Bring unbiased, non-manipulative and factual information to the general public. In the contrary, Sri Lanka consist of all the opposite attributive media institutions merely due to the fear for life. All those who define the true media institutions are offshore as refugees functioning with limited resources. The constitution of Sri Lanka provides ample protection to the freedom of speech which has been inculcated in almost every sphere of the administration, education and judiciary. But the same constitution provides unlimited power to the president which questions the durability and validity of the provisions of the constitution. Hence the political spectrum of Sri Lanka has always been a manipulative element instead of a protective one which makes every freedom entitled in the constitution dependent on the one most powerful person in the country with unlimited authority, power and immunity from all legal frameworks during or after power. There is a 97% of population who are connected to media in 2014 (compared to 96% in 2013) access with at least a TV and/or radio.
But when it comes to internet, only 21% of the population in 2014 (compared to 18% in 2013) is connected. Provided the condition that all media institutions are devoid of unbiased reporting and with the online news stations being banned in Sri Lanka that not the majority knows to access them through proxies. This argument can be further supported by the fact that there is around 12% (lirneasia.net) of the population use facebook in Sri Lanka and it is difficult to assess who have access to such news agencies in the web who report unbiased news regarding the current government and corruptions. For an example one news agency to which I subscribe, called Lanka E-News has been subscribed by 52,000 facebook account users. It can be assumed that all of them are Sri Lankans since it is mainly reported in Sinhala language. Hence out of the total facebook users, only 2.2% subscribe to a randomly selected news agency and which is only a 1.2% of the total internet users. More shocking is that this is only a 0.26% of the total population. And most of the subscribers and those who comment openly and share posts which target the corruption and injustice of the government are merely migrants and refugees offshore. Those within Sri Lanka tend not to share such posts due to fear being tracked and sealed as conspirators against the government.
To move out of this conspiracy it is every citizen’s, including those who reside outside, to effectively advocate the international institutes and governments to push the Sri Lankan government to change its current stance with regards to curbing the threats and investigations against free flow of information. Also advocacy efforts should be made to lift bans which are currently imposed on certain media institutions whereas the pornographic sites are free for access irrespective of age restrictions. Whilst attempting to resolve the problem from its branches, the root cause should be also be addressed. The powers entitled by the constitution on the single person or institution called ‘the president’ should be receded so that the freedom of speech and movement of its citizens should stand up above all. These efforts will take a long time substantially but the attempt given constantly will one day pave way to achieve it.
Dilip Kumar Roy – India
Impact of Internet Policies in India on Freedom of Expression & Privacy online.
Internet is a globally distributed network comprising many voluntarily interconnected autonomous networks. It operates without a central governing body with each constituent network setting and enforcing its own policies. Its governance is conducted by a decentralized and international multi-stakeholder network of interconnected autonomous groups drawing from civil society, the private sector, governments, the academic and research communities and national and international organizations. They work cooperatively from their respective roles to create shared policies and standards that maintain the Internet's global interoperability for the public good.
Even though no one person, company, organization or government runs the Internet, in India the situation is slightly different. Here, it is the Establishment or the Government of the day which has the dominant say in Internet related policies & Governance (IG). The Technology Companies and the Regulatory Body generally fall in line.
In June 2000, the Indian Parliament enacted the Information Technology (IT) Act to provide a legal framework for IG and to regulate Internet use and commerce, including digital signatures, security, and hacking. The act criminalises several defined activities in cyberspace and grants police powers to arrest & launch criminal proceedings against individuals for violation of the Act. A 2008 amendment to the IT Act reinforced the government's power to block Internet sites and content and criminalised sending messages deemed inflammatory or offensive.
Internet censorship in India is selectively practiced by both federal and state governments. While there is no sustained government policy or strategy to block access to Internet content on a large scale, measures for removing content that is obscene or otherwise objectionable, or that endangers public order or national security have become more common in recent years.
Government of India (GOI) like governments everywhere else have the same instinctive fear of the internet – because it represents free and unfettered views, and unlike conventional media which is vulnerable to coercion, is completely unmanageable for the establishment. And that, predictably, makes governments try to fetter this free and vibrant medium; a natural instinct for those in power who fear being challenged. In this context, GOI’s approach both to the internet and to the millions of Indians using it, though defies logic, is understandable. GOI simply does not adhere to the values of our republican democracy and constitutional guarantee of free speech. Its approach has been to ‘managing’ the many opinions and views on the internet – through, amongst other things, by a vague and draconian legal framework, the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011.
The misuse of vague rules in the Shaheen Dhada case is a glaring example of how Internet related Policies of GOI has now started coming home to roost. Ms. Shaheen Dhada was arrested along with a friend under Section 66A of the IT Act as well as other sections of the Indian Penal Code on the basis of a Face book post she had made – has clearly out-raged the country. This complaint and the complainant would not have a leg to stand on if it were not for the vagueness of the IT Rules.
Examples galore. Whistle blower Savukku's is an anti-corruption activist whose website www.savukku.net had exposed the taped conversations between a corrupt local Member of Parliament and senior police officials, political functionaries and head of a TV channel incriminating them in a nationwide telecom scam. This web site was blocked by a judge of the Madras High Court after an interim order on a petition filed by a local news reader, even though it contradicts an earlier order by the same Court against banning entire website instead of specific URLs. The Judge is considered to be close to the ruling political family.
Laws that are not precise in terms of scope and action of the crime will always be subject to interpretative action and overreach by vested interests and frivolous complainants. It is precisely in this area that the IT rules fail. They are vague and it’s not clear who they intend to punish; this can lead to tremendous amounts of discretionary power being handed to complainants and the often inexperienced policing authorities.
Given this, they represent a serious risk to our democracy and are now widely perceived as intimidation of citizens (activists, bloggers, journalists or others) and entrepreneurs by the government, established political and business interests and religious and cultural bigots. They are also violative of the constitutional rights of the freedom of speech and expression of internet users in the country. To cite such one example of the ambiguity of the Rules, GOI do not define the term ‘grossly harmful’ giving far too much room for interpretation to the authorities.
The dangers about the likely use of discretionary powers has been highlighted by US Supreme Court judge Harry A Blackmun who said: “By placing discretion in the hands of an official to grant or deny a licence, such a statute creates a threat of censorship that by its very existence chills free speech.” Therefore, there is no doubt that these rules need to be changed and reframed.
Issues of cybercrime require inter-governmental mechanism and cooperation and seek a separate resolution. It need not be mixed with IG in general. Cybercrime is a significant, but very small part of cyber security, which in turn, is one of the many important, enormous and complex aspects of the IG dialogue spectrum between cyber libertarianism and cyber conservatism along with issues like access, multilingual content, and critical Internet resources, Internet for growth, e-governance and emerging issues such as IPv6, Cloud and M2M.
Rules are required, but they should be created through multi-stakeholder consultations. The rule-making body must have the ability to genuinely engage and accept diverse views while making guidelines. It must also be specific where restrictions on citizens are concerned in order to eliminate the possibilities of misuse. The way forward is to have a group of experts or a committee working together to aid the Ministry of Information Technology in outlining how the language of the rules may be changed. It needs to engage in a full-scale, merit-based, multi-stakeholder consultation within the country. This should be without attributing motives to those advancing their positions. Everyone should be invited, and only merit-based arguments should be accepted. Based on these discussions and drawing from the industry and our premier academic institutions experienced with questions of law, technology and regulation, such a group can work with the government to put out their final draft on the Internet Policy in a time-bound manner. This is an important process without which we will remain exactly where we are today.
Fortunately the political and social environment in India today, is exactly conducive to such a change. Internet followers, national statistics & global vacuum of leadership places India in a premiere position to become the world’s face & destination, to discuss the future of global Internet and social media. India represents not just the aspirations of its 1.2 billion people, but the citizens of the world at large on the issue of Internet Governance (IG) – which impacts all 7 billion citizens on the earth – 3 billion online and 4 billion yet to be connected to the Web.
India is concentrating on the positive aspects of social media, amongst others, the ways to utilize Facebook for running a national cleanliness campaign on the eve of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth centenary. The mind-set, focus and personal experience of the present Indian leadership gives India a rare opportunity to gain global recognition as the country which can provide a neutral platform for global dialogue on all aspects of IG. After all it impacts every global citizen, and especially, the poor, unconnected and youth. If corruption and governance were the big platforms for the Indian National elections held in 2014 – IG equals that, beyond climate change, global trade & disarmament at an international level.
By giving the world a neutral destination for discussion, India will be trusted by the world, for being a benevolent and a neutral platform. After attempting a national consensus, we have every opportunity of stating our view on Internet related Policies and Governance that affect not only our community of activists, bloggers, journalists or others in India but also across the world. Every global citizen feels about this issue, unlike other challenges, with unparalleled passion and a sense of personal involvement.
kavita garg – India
How do corporate and government policy decisions affect Internet users?
How do corporate and government policy decisions affect Internet users?
As soon as a common citizen think about corporate or government policy and its effect on internet users it comes to mind can government or corporate world control the demand of internet users or netizens today? Answer is a big no. All over the world citizen are now becoming more powerful. Now reign is in hands of the citizen and government. Netizens or internet users are guiding government and corporate to work as per their requirements and governments and corporates have to frame policies and product as per popular citizen demand to survive. Yes, exceptions exist for example China. But here also if they have controlled google or Facebook or YouTube their citizen demands are answered by other social networking channels such as we chat. Government and corporate policies are preparing citizens’ for the next century, making them ICT literate, more demanding and more aware about their rights. If policies are not as per their expectations they can generate mass campaign against that and result is revision in policy.
No one person, company, organization or government can run the Internet and rule the citizen mind. It is a globally distributed network comprising many voluntarily interconnected autonomous networks. It operates without a central governing body with each constituent network setting and enforcing its own policies. Its governance is conducted by a decentralized and international multi stakeholder network of interconnected autonomous groups drawing from civil society, the private sector, governments, the academic and research communities and national and international organizations. They work cooperatively from their respective roles to create shared policies and standards that maintain the Internet's global interoperability for the public good.
However, there are policy impacts may be large or small depends on number of internet users in the country. If we discuss about the impact of government and corporate policies on Indian citizens, I want to highlight some statistics. India has 1.25 Billion populations, out of which 69% is rural and 31% is urban. Only 19% Indians have access to internet. Only 8% uses social media. So practically we are talking about impact of policies on this small segment of population in India. In effect most of the policies are making powerful more powerful and powerless more powerless. But yes there are government and corporate policies related to broadband speed, its access at village level; various government services over internet, e-commerce/e-business, lowering of mobile cost, providing internet services over mobile etc definitely affect citizens’. These policies related to information penetration at the endmile has brought third revolution and really changed the world. Especially policies related to mobile governance as mobile with internet are becoming cheaper and cheaper with more and more advanced features and has become integral part of everyday life. It is reshaping the way individuals live, bringing a larger variety of digital goods and services to him at lower prices, improved information gathering, more distribution channels and so forth.
In this context, it is relevant to mention that in 1973, Martin Cooper, a researcher at Motorola, made the first call from a handheld mobile phone prototype. This phone weighed 1.1 kg, took 10 hours to re-charge and was limited to 30 minutes of talking time. When it was commercialized in 1983, the phone cost approximately 7,000 USD. Today, only 30 years later, mobile phones are not just smaller and more affordable; they are also much more powerful. Smartphones now function as small computers and allow us to do everything from shopping online to programming complex applications. Increasingly affordable, adaptable and powerful ICTs have influenced all aspects of our lives. Out of 243 million internet users in India, 185 million use internet over mobiles. Hence, people with no access to water, electricity or other services may have access to the Internet from their mobile phone. The Internet is a multi-billion dollar industry in its own right, but it is also a vital infrastructure for much of the world’s economy. Hence, it can be said that the corporate and government internet and mobile policies are affecting nearly all sectors of the economy, from making hard-to-find data available online to transforming entire markets, as is occurring with music, video, software, books and news. Businesses were among the earliest adopters of the Internet and helped lead the upgrade to higher speeds and its penetration to citizen welfare.
Some of the government decisions of providing services only electronically through one stop portal has really changed the face of that community and government and provide a way forward for others. Further, government policies such as Right to Information, National data sharing and accessibility policy, Information Technology Act, Cyber Security Policy, Open data policy, Electronic Delivery of Services Act, Right to citizen service Act etc have large impact on Internet users. It is a motivation for population who is far behind in the name of digital divide. Opening of online shopping and delivery by corporates has saved people time and given them wide choices and changed their lifestyle. At one instance they are now consuming more and more on the other hand wider choice and the time saved in going and picking up the things (opportunity cost) is being utilized in more effective work. For online services by corporate there is no need to keep sales personnel at premises and it save electricity, manpower, inventory cost. Further, policies related to flexi timing at work, working from home facility etc is a golden move for citizens as it saves time and energy.
The purpose of such policies is to ensure the legal, moral, and ethical use of computer and internet resources. As economies and societies become increasingly intermeshed with devices that continuously communicate with each other and provide information to users, data will be processed and delivered as a myriad of signals across multiple devices and networks. It will increasingly inform people about their surroundings, but also provide information about people to third parties. The privacy considerations are therefore significant. Further, the problem is unguided use of social media by youth or antisocial elements and also its effect on personal privacy. However, to control negative impacts government policy related to control of social media can negatively affect internet community as well as corporates. It is just like control over other print and electronic media such as newspaper, TV Radio etc. But its unguided use by antisocial elements and to defame other people and move into private life are against moral value and ethics hence, some collaborative guidelines from government and corporate have to be there. If government desires to control this and corporate is not agreeable it affects citizen badly. Here the corporate should not only think about their profit but also their responsibility towards society and make society more educated to take positive advantages of these policies and not misuse them.
As with government the corporate policies of lowering broadband and mobile rates, propagating user friendly software, online tutorials, automatic updates, investing in corporate social responsibility, etc can create an enabling environment for internet users. Availability of different type of social media such as Social networking- facebook, myspace brings groups of people together share common interests. Content sharing media- you tube, flickr share content to anyone or restrictive community. Blogging social media- Twitter, Bloggershare facts and values, emotions and expectations. Volunteer technology community (VTC) for e.g. Ushahidi and sahana- for risk and crisis communication have changed internet users thinking. Collaborating knowledge sharing media- wikis and podcasts enable participants to ask questions and wait for answers from different users. Information provided over social networking platforms are profoundly changing the citizen thinking.
Availability of different services online as a matter of policy, make government and corporate more open, transparent and inclusive as it opens channels for participation and citizen feedback and critical overview by public. Policies related to availability of health records online, teacher and students attendance, prices of crops, fertilizers in market etc can generate trust on public services being delivered by government Hence, it can be summarised that Government and Corporate policy decisions create an atmosphere of innovation, critical thinking and revisiting existing norms and practices and bring government and businesses closer to citizen. Now citizen cannot think about life without technology whatever policy is there.
MOHAMMAD ZAHIRUL ISLAM – Bangladesh
EFFECTS OF THE INTERNET: CLICK AND RELAX
Hardly until the magic of the Internet became easy of approach in the last 1990’s the people of marginal communities surviving on disconnectedness and inflexibility had even imagined the relief with a click ever before. The very dot (.) net technology has been bringing Bangladesh, a South-Asian delta nation once undergoing natural disasters and hardcore poverty, a new high-tech epoch. Bangladesh, the unapproachable land once encumbered with adverse geographic outlines, is now towards a horizon of digital advancement.
BANGLADESH IN WWW
The people of Bangladesh had to be late to be connected to www because of unavailability of the Internet service. The VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) based data circuit was first commissioned on 4 June 1996 corresponding to the invitations from the government of Bangladesh in late 1995. Hereafter, the usage of Internet has been multiplying day-to-day, with the following consequences.
• 1993-1996 Off line Email Era (UUCP)
• 1996 VSAT Based Internet Service
• 1996-2002 Dial Up Internet
• 2000 First HFC Deployed in Dhaka
• 2001-2005 xDSL Service
• 2005 SANOG IV
• 2002-2008 Cybercafé and Ethernet based local provider mushroomed
• 2004 BDIX starts
• 2005-Optical Fiber based Connectivity starts for Metro
• 2005 GPRS/Edge started
• 2006 SMW-4 starts
• 2008 ILDTS Policy (IIG/IGW/ICX)
• 2008 Formation of BDCERT (Bangladesh Computer Emergency Response Team
• 2008 IPTSP(IP Telephony Service launched by ISPs)
• 2009 WiMAX starts
• 2009 NTTN appears in value chain
• 2009 FTTH Deployment starts
• 2013 3G Roll out begins
Bangladesh, nearly with 4,40,81,942 Internet users up to October 2014, is, at present, an emerging digital workplace, which is likely to play a noteworthy role in the South-East Asian region in near future.
Over the last two decades, the Internet has been facilitating the social and economic perspective of Bangladesh at a remarkable level with a u-turn from once disadvantage and disconnectedness to the present-day digitalization.
THE INTERNET POLICY
The Internet policy does affect different communities in different ways. Well, the major effects emerge from interconnectivity and access to global knowledge, capable of bringing across-the-board social and economic changes. Let us focus on the advancements formulated by interconnectivity.
(i) Removal of remoteness is one of the key developments transpiring from interconnectivity. Bangladesh is, by nature, an unapproachable region held back by so many rivers, old-fashioned roads and highways, outdated transportation system, disfavored infrastructure, and so on. The Internet technology tends to lead to riddance of such inaccessibility by interlinking. Various time-consuming tasks that once required physical presence of the relevant doers can nowadays be carried out virtually by the Internet. Such lengthy jobs include banking, application to the universities and jobs, payment of utility bills etc. E-governance, e-commerce, e-learning, i-banking etc. are the updated version of the said efforts.
(ii) Easygoingness of communication has been replacing the old-time mailing system, which was once the only system of communication without physical presence. Notwithstanding the fax machine hereafter demeaned the traditional postal system, yet it could not stamp the system out. The traditional mailing system was altered only then when the e-mail system came into action. E-mail has, so to say, brought the mailing system a revolution.
(iii) Nationwide digital database may be cited another outstanding achievement that is likely to get Bangladesh under a digital umbrella. This digital umbrella, i.e. the nationwide digital database, is a stroke of luck for overpopulated Bangladesh, capable of finding out anyone if enrolled in the database. The said nationwide digital database has recently been extended to the specialized ones, when needed, such as database for overseas employment, for widow and abject women, for freedom fighters, and so on. Any capable persons can enroll themselves at the relevant databases.
(iv) The Internet technology has initiated an era of “e” that is accelerating the contemporary digitalization process. Once ill-famed for its lengthy filing system and red tape, Bangladesh may now be quoted as a role model of an era of “e” enriched with e-governance, e-commerce, e-learning, i-banking, and so on among the developing nations. E-governance has lessened the erstwhile red tape mind-bogglingly, with implementation of online filing and approval. E-commerce and e-learning has facilitated the disadvantaged communities with mainstream facilities of business and learning.
(v) Increase of money circulation is one of the remarkable contributions from the Internet. i-Banking, online money transfer etc. have speeded up money circulation that plays a substantial role in an economy, while customary money order or demand draft by bank, which required a few days for encashment, were the only way for money transfer in the past. Several virtual money transfer systems have brought the present-day economy more swiftness.
Access to global knowledge is another endowment from the Internet technology. The disconnected communities are nowadays enjoying access to global knowledge by means of the Internet. Now let us have a light on various effects revealed from access to global knowledge.
World Wide Web (www) is a global knowledge library itself! Access to www can find someone an infinite horizon of knowledge anywhere on the globe. Anybody can have access to the said horizon anytime, once logged on to the Internet. Unlike in the past, studying and rummaging around for books with physical attendance at library are less significant today by means of Universal Resource Library (URL) marked as web address.
Access to Information (A2i) is a UNDP and USAID supported program realized by the government of Bangladesh, with overall objective of providing support in building a digital nation through delivering services at the citizen’s doorsteps, zooming in on quality improvement, widen access to information, and decentralized delivery of public services to ensure responsiveness and transparency.
e-Encyclopedia is one of the latest additions dished up by the government of Bangladesh in light of Digital Bangladesh. It is an online encyclopedia in Bangla, which offers several kinds of information about agriculture, health, education, law, human rights, disaster management, non-agricultural enterprise, tourism, employment, service to citizens, science and technology, and so on.
Different kinds of e-services have created splendid opportunities for marginal communities. The earlier underprivileged communities can nowadays have access to e-learning, e-tender, e-application, i-banking, and so on. These digital services have opened the universal window furnished with global views before the disadvantaged communities.
Worldwide digital marketplace is a distinctive contribution of the Internet policy. The job-seekers once restricted only within domestic marketplace can now look for works anywhere in the world. Not only full-time works but also freelance job offers can also be sought out online. Freelance job offers, i.e. outsourcing, is nowadays one of the greatest sources of foreign currencies in the developing countries like Bangladesh.
Thus, the Internet policy assumed and practiced by the government of Bangladesh has been benefiting the social and economic organizations of Bangladesh by means of interconnectivity and access to global knowledge.
In today’s high-tech as well as high-tech economic world order, the Internet policy is a second-to-none scheme that is likely to bring Bangladesh outstanding success. Utilization of this wonderful technology can lead Bangladesh to develop into the real Digital Bangladesh – i.e. a nirvana free of hardcore poverty, frustration, unemployment, unrest etc.