Internet freedom has "improved" in India in the last one year due to the Supreme Court's landmark ruling on the IT Act, a US-based independent watchdog has said which placed the world's largest democratic country under "partly free" category.
"Internet freedom improved in India for the second consecutive year in 2015, even as more governments worldwide censored information of public interest and expanded surveillance," said the 'Freedom on the Net 2015' released by Freedom House in a statement yesterday.
In the 2014 report, India scored 42 points which came down to 40 points in 2015. More points means more restrictions on internet freedom. For instance, China with 88 points was the world's worst abuser of internet freedom followed by Syria (87) and Iran (87). Since June 2014, 32 of the 65 countries assessed in Freedom on the Net saw internet freedom deteriorating.
Notable declines were documented in Libya, France andfor the second year running Ukraine, amid its territorial conflict and propaganda war with Russia. Iceland is the most internet free country with six points. Freedom House attributed India's improvement in Internet freedom to the Supreme Court's March 2015 ruling on the IT Act, which it said provided critical improvements to the legal framework protecting internet freedom.
"The Supreme Court's ruling on the IT Act was a long awaited victory for free speech activists in India," said Sanja Kelly, project director for Freedom on the Net. In 2014, internet penetration in India was 18 per cent of the population. At the same time, network shutdowns in the name of security and a lack of transparency about blocking and surveillance are limits on internet freedom that kept the country's rating "partly free", the report said.
"In 2015, India's internet users spoke out to defend net neutrality in record numbers, demonstrating a real commitment to equal, open access to online content," said Madeline Earp, Freedom on the Net's Asia research analyst. "Shutdowns and murky information about authorities' blocking and surveillance practices violate the same fundamental internet freedom principles," Earp said.
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"The Supreme Court judgment in the Shreya Singhal case was a big step for internet freedom in India but it came from the judiciary," said Chinmayi Arun, research director of the Centre for Communication Governance at National Law University Delhi, which authored the India portion of the report.