Court action follows new internet laws . . .
The Facebook-owned messaging app WhatsApp has lodged a court action against the Indian government over internet laws New Delhi passed in February that weaken user privacy and give the Indian government increased power to monitor online activity. Tech companies had three months to comply with the new laws that remove encryption, make messages traceable, and allow the government to act against senders of messages it believes to be unlawful. The laws were due to come into effect yesterday. WhatsApp, the most-used messaging app in India, contends the laws “severely undermine” the privacy of its estimated 450 million users in India.
Restricting anti-government dissent . . .
Prime Minister Narendra Modi insists the new laws are in the best interests of law and order and national security. Critics maintain the government is clamping down on anti-government speech. Dissent has been rife in the country since record-breaking daily COVID infection numbers began ramping up this past month while hospitals and funeral homes struggle to keep up. The Modi government’s attempts to stifle criticism are nothing new. It has, for example, repeatedly clashed with Twitter, demanding that it remove tweets critical of the government’s handling of both the pandemic and farmers’ protests earlier in the year.
Of free speech and restricted speech . . .
At the best of times, determining the limits of free speech is a complex and contested task. It is inevitable that the rights of citizens to freedoms and privacy, the need for stability and security, the functioning of business, and governments’ desires to limit criticism, especially online, will at times come into conflict. But many analysts, both in India and internationally, see the Modi government’s move as an overstep that unnecessarily curbs speech they feel should be free, or at least freer. Elsewhere in the Asia Pacific, governments have undertaken similar moves at restricting internet use, such as in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia (see story below). Asia Watch will continue to track the latest in privacy and free speech across the region.