Image credit: Aseem Trivedi / saveyourvoice.in.
Image credit: Aseem Trivedi / saveyourvoice.in.

Editorial: Don’t let the Govt. Take Away Your Freedom of Expression

I believe the greatest fear for any authority figure — from the people he/she/it has authority over — is the freedom they may have to challenge that very authority.

 

Image credit: Aseem Trivedi / saveyourvoice.in.

And although, theoretically speaking, we accept the authority of the state over us in order to be free — which it does make us in many respects — it however, does not like its authority to be challenged. So any means at the disposal of a citizen to do just that becomes a threat for that state to be dealt with. Because after all, it is in the nature of power to be beyond reproach.

And during the course of human history, it has always been new technology that has given the common man a tool to question and challenge authority, and as a consequence change the existing social order.

If it had not been for the advent of the printing press during the middle ages in Europe , the European renaissance would not have happened.

If it had not been for the printing press, Martin Luther could not have challenged the authority of the Catholic Church, and the protestant reformation, in all likelihood, would not have happened.

The power of expression the printing press offered to the common man was unparalleled to anything the commoners had had before it. All means of public expression were under the control of the then existing power elite.

It was only after centuries of legislations and placement of state mechanisms of control over this technology that the state was able to take this new found freedom away from the people. They turned this freedom into a liberty granted by the state. We lost that freedom when the state had the power to decide what was permitted to be printed and what was not.

And now the same thing is happening with the advent of the Internet. The freedom of expression the Internet has given us is on the same level of that of the printing press; if not more. And the challenge it posses to the existing social order is also on the same scale. It gives the common man the freedom to question and challenge the authority of the existing power elite.

What is at stake here is not just our freedom to express ourselves, but  the possibility of holding back the progress of man. Just like the printing press, the Internet has the potential to bring about a new renaissance, and a new kind of reformation. And if we let people in authority control this new technology before that renaissance ever takes place, humanity will remain stuck in the modern dark ages.

Just like all governments in the world right now, the Indian government is also trying to take away your freedom of expression. They are devising laws and mechanisms to turn this freedom into a privilege granted by the state. Unfortunately, it is just a matter of time before they figure out a way to control this new technology. All we can hope for is to prolong the inevitable just long enough for a fundamental change in the existing social order to take place. It is for us to resist state censorship as best as we can and as long as we can.

And the irony is, the best way to fight state control over the Internet is to make use of the very freedom the Internet provides us. It is for us to talk about this issue as much as we can. Run awareness campaigns, speak against all those who are trying to take away this freedom from us. But whatever you do, do not remain silent. Because silence is usually taken as consent.

Take Action

Taking my own advice, I’d like to make you aware of what the government is doing to limit your freedom of expression.

There is this organization called the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) that, in their own words is defending your “digital freedom.” One of its aim is to educate people on what the government is doing in terms of legislation to curb your freedom on the Internet.

Visit their site at: www.softwarefreedom.in, to learn more.

Image credit: Aseem Trivedi / saveyourvoice.in.

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Also, SFLC is running an online petition campaign to have the IT Rules of 2011 annulled. According to SFLC, this law gives the government “a free pass to censor our Facebook posts, listen to every Skype conversation we have, monitor our tweets or blogs or access private photographs and documents we store online, or track our location using our mobile phones or surveil all of your online activity.”

I don’t know how effective this online petition to stop Internet censorship is, but I feel we should do whatever we can to stop the government from taking away our right to speech. It’ll take less than a minute to sign it. Just sign it and hope it has some influence on somebody, somewhere.

Visit the website, www.IT2011.in, to sign the petition.

Another noteworthy website leading “a movement against web censorship,” as the tag line on the site reads, is: www.saveyourvoice.in.

Stay in touch with such websites, and be aware of what is taking place. Being aware is half the battle.

About Khalid Jaleel

Khalid Jaleel is a PhD student in the Department of Political Science. He can be reached via email at: khalidj [at] jamiajournal.com

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