India's position on Internet freedom is expected to "fall" due to the government's proposed curbs on social media websites such as Facebook and Google, claimed Bridget Welsh, a professor of political science at the University of Singapore.
Welsh had access to the yet-to-be-published Freedom on Internet Report-2012, where countries are ranked in accordance with their policies on the Web, such as obstacles to Internet access, limits on content, and violation of user rights.
The report is published every year by US-based think tank Freedom House. In the 2011 report, India was ranked 14 among 37 nations with a score of 36, meaning "partly-free" on Internet freedom. Countries are ranked from zero to 100 on the scorecard, with zero depicting the highest level of freedom and 100 depicting the lowest.
A year later, Welsh said, India's rank is likely to fall several notches down to "not-free" or poor level of Internet freedom. It is primarily on the basis of telecom minister Kapil Sibal's December 2011 bid to censor sites such as Facebook and Google.
Sibal had asked these websites to submit content for screening before placing it in the public domain, much to the outrage of netizens. He also wanted these sites to prescreen user content from India and remove disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory content before it went online.
In her presentation at the workshop, organised by the Tamasek Foundation for journalists from Asia, Welsh described Sibal's action as a direct curb on freedom of expression on the Internet. "It is sad that in a democratic country, the government has imposed new restrictions on websites," Welsh told HT.
The Freedom on Internet Report is likely to be released in August 2012. India is among the 12 Asian countries, whose policies on the Internet were analysed. The Freedom House assigns each country a score based on those criteria. While countries scoring anywhere between 0-30 are designated "free", those scoring from 31-60 are designated "partly free", and those with a score between 61-100 are labelled "not free".
While countries such as Estonia, United States and Germany have been designated as free, countries such as China and Iran are branded as "not free".