Thursday, January 29, 2015

Block and filter Internet information in India - How culture and speech rights collide

The Internet was pretty much invented by the American belief in free speech. As an unregulated communication technology, it has been promoted as a vehicle in which anything can be uttered. The libertarian impulse driving this approach has been codified in US Constitutional Rights, most commonly the First Amendment of The Bill of Rights:

.Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Rights and related documents
The claims therein are barely contestable for Americans. The free flow of information on the Internet seems to approach the realization of this "code." In the US, entire enterprises are built around the free exercise of speech.

What happens when those same rights move off-shore? If the US Constitution applies strictly to US citizens on US soil, What happens when US citizens and their enterprises promote speech rights outside the United States? Such an act would surely qualify as improper, because the US Constitution is not the same as the European Union's, or India's or China's.. any other nation.

To make the story more complex, what happens when US speech rights are embodied in the Internet? As a global phenomena, does this amount to the imposition US speech values on all Internet users? In such an instance, is the Internet a means of extending US Constitutional ideals everywhere?  

There are increasing instances where US speech rights operating within US Internet firms are merely taken up in the system regardless of their suitability for other cultures. Informational Free Speech is assumed as a global good.

There are several areas for discussion: Constitutional Law, International Law, Jurisprudence - the theory of law itself and its application, United States Government ideals, Culture, Internet Studies, Media Studies, History, Theology and Heritage. The list can be extended of course. It illustrates the importance of interdisciplinary research.

Imagine the surprise Speech Rights advocates and libertarian political activists had when the Indian Supreme Court ordered three major US Internet firms to stop carrying information. The information was culturally specific and sensitive to India.

It is information that gives Indian parents details about the gender of a fetus. Acting on that information has meant aborting a female fetus in favor of keeping a male one.

Here is the report.    

Foreign Policy South Asia Daily, January 29.
The Indian Supreme Court ordered companies including Google Inc., Yahoo! Inc., and Microsoft Corp. not to advertise sex determination tests that reveal a child's sex, according to news reports on Wednesday (BBCLivemint).

The interim court order came after the central government said the three search engines have "relevant technology and deep-domain knowledge and expertise to block/filter the words/phrases/expressions and sponsored links" (NDTV).

The Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994, prohibits advertisements related to prenatal determination of sex due to the widespread practice of aborting female fetuses in India.

According to the 2011 census, there has been a decline in the number of girls under the age of seven. Activists claim that as many as eight million female fetuses in India may have been aborted in the last decade.

-- Neeli Shah
The agreement among Indian legislators is that female abortions, should be stopped, by stopping information about it in that country. US Internet firms are thereby drawn into this cultural collusion.

A great research project would be to list all the informational exceptions to Internet Free Speech such as this one, by nations outside the US. what speech is not allowed that collides with US ideals. The list in the US is extensive as well...