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Net content needs global convention

Events over the past few days raised questions in my mind on the future of the Internet. N Madhavan writes.

india Updated: Jan 15, 2012 21:13 IST
N Madhavan
N Madhavan
Hindustan Times

Events over the past few days raised questions in my mind on the future of the Internet.

First was the Delhi high court case in which the government last Friday sanctioned the prosecution of Google, Facebook, Yahoo and other sites for allegedly promoting enmity between classes and working against national integration. The case also includes alleged crimes concerning sale of obscene books.

And then, on Sunday, media baron Rupert Murdoch tweeted that Google may be aiding piracy on the Net.

“Google great company doing many exciting things. Only one complaint, and it's important. Just been to google search for Mission Impossible. Wow, several sites offering free links. I rest my case,” Murdoch said, in effect accusing Google of irresponsibility in aiding illegal downloads of copyrighted content.

Now, in the age of “user generated content” and “throwing up of searches” the platform company — such as Facebook or Google — cannot be controlled or should not be. As I have argued, it is much like a hotel renting out rooms to guests — and cannot be held responsible for all that guests do.

However, it cannot be denied that there needs to be effective policing to enforce national laws to curb obscenity, content piracy, child pornography or communal strife.

Given the global, interconnected nature of the Internet, democratic-minded regulators and law enforcers and civil society groups need to work together to evolve an international convention that would ensure that authorities do not use local laws to crack down on Internet democracy — while at the same time ensuring transparent guidelines and best practices to curb abuse of the Net by lawbreakers.

After the Second World War, more than 190 nations joined to create the Geneva Conventions that threw up four treaties to establish standards of international law for humanitarian treatment of victims of war. We could do with something like that for the Internet. Or else anti-democratic governments will arbitrarily invoke national security, communal amity or obscenity as ground to crack down unjustifiably on critics.

First Published: Jan 15, 2012 21:09 IST