The internet has prevailed! contrary to un-popular belief the internet has taken over our lives with more ease rendering us dependent on it. However this dependency seems to be too close for comfort for the governments who constantly develop technology; menacing our privacy and free speech giving birth to tyrannical regimes in cyberspace.
This mass surveillance method carried out by governments and other concerned authorities lend them unlimited access to the customers’ data accumulated by the companies. The data then becomes equivalent to a weapon to control a citizen’s conduct and participation in the economy and society.
In India, this digital tyranny has taken various forms that ultimately restrain any criticism against the government during decades of protests including:
- Restricting Internet usage at protest sites to prevent the public from spreading any information opposing the democratic ruling party.
- Issuing draconian orders against social media entities to redact the government censorious content
- Impeding journalists from conducting peaceful protests and pressing groundless charges against them.
- Constantly monitoring ICT tools and hindering the freedom of speech or free assembly.
In 2018, when Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual global Democracy Index stated that the democracy decline has ceased, India dropped a bombshell of at least 100 Internet blackouts in the rise of political unrest. Moreover, the 2021 status of the Index reveals the realistic view of India’s democracy relapsing gradually.
In addition, recently the Indian government turned the tide for the citizens by setting forth new IT rules. These regulations pressurised U.S tech companies (Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp) to comply with immediate effect or face jail time upon refusal. The basis of the clash was the government’s request to withdraw posts of activists and politicians on Farmers protest (another sensitive eventuality) and remove end-to-end encryption to catch hold of cybercriminals.
Another threat to democracy is technological advancement on the global scale. From smartwatches to smart cars, these digital devices are linked to the internet daily, in turn surfacing a tide of autocratic authorities, governments and organisations. These AI-enabled tools monitor every action, physical space, online space through real-time data analysis. Other features like facial recognition, fingerprint sensors, GPS trackers, etc. that provide a sense of ease and security to the citizens in public places have also become tools to spy and extract their information, geolocations, to worrying extents.
The burgeoning cyber authoritarianism is not only a titbit in India but many other countries too. The proliferation of these autocratic tools has been a challenge as they are being used to implement repressive schemes during protests, keep an eye on the political oppositions and a source of power over citizens.
As digital repression stemmed from China, it didn’t take long for other countries to fall into line and cease Internet Freedom. Let’s take a look:
- In March 2020, all social media servers including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram encountered partial restriction (22 hours) in the Republic of Guinea. These restrictions limited the mobile networks, messaging features, etc during parliamentary elections.
- In February 2020, Idlib in Turkey faced a military crisis and blocked the public’s access to social media after the attack on Turkish forces.
- In April 2019, to cease an opposition campaign, the Egyptian government blocked over 34,000 websites and developed certain laws to restrict and impel media outlets from accessing quality internet connection.
- In November 2019, Russia imposed a new bill that forbid the sale of all electronic gadgets that didn’t have the Russian software installed in them.
- In 2018, an international scandal hit the news, portraying a spyware attack on Jeff Bezos’ phone by the alliance of an Israeli group and the Saudi Arabian government.
These instances only recall a minimal illiberal action taken by the government all over the world. Furthermore, cyberspace has been increasingly kindled with espionage, hacking, mass surveillance and even fake news to mislead the citizens during elections.
These events not only prove to be the exemplar of cyber authoritarianism towards tech companies and media outlets but also to the end of civil liberties. On the whole, democracy and the open internet are not far away from becoming a dystopian reality.
1. India-leads-the-world-in-the-number-of-internet-shutdowns-report: Forbes
2. India falls to 53rd rank in EIU’s Democracy Index, dubbed as flawed democracy: The Economic Times
3. A feud between Twitter and government intensifies: A look at 6 flashpoints