ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Internet in the Age of Mass-Surveillance: The Domestic Dimension

In the wake of the shocking revelations about the covert cyber-surveillance programme PRISM, run by the National Security Agency of the United States, the time is ripe for an evaluation of the current debates on digital rights and privacy and internet governance in India.

In what can only be summarised as an irony, a majority of Indians avoided becoming the victims of the United States cyber-surveillance programme PRISM.[i] Not because they had kept themselves well-guarded against any possible breach of their privacy, but simply because they had not yet had a chance to be online. Given that most Indians still have no access to a computer, let alone an email address or a profile on Facebook or Twitter, their very offline-ness ensured that their privacy was unharmed by covert programmes run by the world’s most powerful surveillance agency. But surely this is no consolation; neither for the state nor for the citizens of India.

The revelations about industrial scale international cyber-espionage by the American National Security Agency, first made public by the Guardian newspaper and now being followed up in the US by various civil liberties groups, have finally started a global conversation on digital rights and privacy. As a result these issues, long considered “first-world problems”, are now increasingly visible in the common lexicon of  netizens, a majority of whom now reside outside Europe and America. While it might still be many years before these issues gain any traction in India’s mainstream electoral politics, as they already have in many European countries,[ii] the time is ripe for an  evaluation of the contours and drift of the current debates on internet and its governance in the country. And not in the least because these revelations, instead of promoting a more open society, could end up harming the very freedoms that Snowden apparently wants to promote.

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