Thursday, 21 August 2014


Life without internet has become unthinkable. A day without it can become quite a hassle for the modern-day man. Unless something drastic happens, it is safe to assume that internet will be prominent in the lives of a majority of Earth’s citizens for the next 10 years. Like the proverbial Damocles sword, internet has a darker side to it: Cyber Bullying, Child pornography, drug trading. Therefore, not having a set of precautions or guidelines for the usage of internet set by a government authority is unthinkable.

The concerns about private details of individuals being made available to the public have never been this grave since the concept of internet had been conceived of. Let’s take an example. Ubisoft, the company known for producing games like Prince of Persia, Assassin’s Creed etc., recently launched a website ( which mapped unprotected social data. It gathered urban and unprotected personal information to create an interactive real-time map of 3 major cities, namely, London, Berlin and Paris. Geotagged Flickr and Instagram pictures popped up, as did geolocalised tweets. Even train schedules and stuff like the location of a particular railcar at a point of time showed up. One can imagine the kind of alarm it created, and Ubisoft were at pains to point out that all the personal content in use on the site was publicly available via site APIs and other sources.

Now, Ubisoft was operating well within the legal framework. Still, it was able to get so much information about the workings of a city (details about subway, hospitals, and traffic lights) that one cannot help but wonder what would happen if trained hackers- the ones adept at taking down websites and accessing private records of unsuspecting people, would decide to take up such an enterprise. These hackers could be working for international terrorist groups, who could use this information to carry out unmitigated attacks on independent nations. Social networking sites like Facebook have been used by mischief-makers to co-ordinate wide-scale riots. This implies that even seemingly innocent sites can be used in a malignant manner. The threat of global terrorism has never been this real before.

Initially, the governments were hopelessly outmatched and outmanned in this fight against cyber terrorism. The need of the hourwas to set up new tactics and waysto counter this threat. This could only be done if there was some form of internet snooping and profiling of suspicious people. If one might think rationally, a certain degree of online surveillance appears to be inevitable. States already regulate other forms of media that can be used perniciously. Even we, as people, set boundaries on “free speech” ourselves. For example, we endorse an individual expressing him/herself as long as it does not impede the ‘protection of other human rights’ – specifically, the right not to be abused. Speech involving racism, stereotypes are deemed to be outside the boundaries of free speech. So, it is hypocritical not to even consider the regulation and censorship of internet.

But, an excess of anything is deplorable. This seems to be the case today whenever we think about this topic. Newspapers and News channels are filled with reports about the misuse of power by central intelligence agencies like NSA, CIA etc. These agencies have been accused of mass surveillance and taking private details of individuals who have no criminal records. Even private companies have been shown to be in league with them and are releasing private data given to them. A case in point is PRISM- a top secret NSA surveillance program, offering the agency access to information on its targets from the servers of some of the world’s biggest technology companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Yahoo. UK’s spy agency also had access to this data.

In this age, some form of censorship and regulation of internet is necessary. The activists campaigning for a totally free internet, where nothing is regulated, are starry-eyed enthusiasts who are out of touch with reality. But, the current stance of the governments of the world on this issue is tending to totalitarianism. Both the extremes are rebarbative and an effective common ground needs to be struck. The internet may be a global resource, but if information on it can have a detrimental effect on a particular country, it is that government’s responsibility as well as right to tackle it. But, instead of banning websites outright, a better way to tackle derogatory and prejudicial speech can be to engage with it in a public forum and point out the flaws and ignorance it embodies. In this way, the victims would feel as if the government is actively protecting them. Also, it would be more effective than banning websites and desperately trying to hide information from the public eye. Also, intelligence agencies need to have stronger rules and regulations regarding public snooping so as to ensure that the unsuspecting, ordinary citizen feels at ease as well as protected. An overhaul of the security system is an overwhelming need and only if this done will the interests of everyone, be it the common man or the policy-makers, be served.

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