A digital India can’t be constructed on the rubble of private freedoms. (Supply: Thinkstock)
When Tim Berners Lee, the acknowledged architect of the World Large Internet, offered the primary blueprint of an open web, he had prophesised that it will be a revolutionary technological protocol. Lee had a romantic imaginative and prescient for the democratisation of the web, which was primarily a closed community with antecedents in navy espionage, warfare, and cryptographic switch of confidential data. For Lee, the emergence of various, polyphonic voices would represent digital freedom, reinforcing the worth of particular person freedom afresh.
Nevertheless, we’ve got seen that digital freedom just isn’t simply acquired. As soon as possessed, it wants steady guarding towards authoritative governments, autocratic political events, and mercenary companies who supply us the imaginative and prescient of collective freedoms which might be lower than the sum whole of our particular person freedoms.
A method of they guarantee that is to limit the best way during which we think about using the web. In most debates, we focus on the web as one thing that permits us to do and say issues. The main target is on motion and phrases. We neglect that the web can be about being and residing. The digital applied sciences aren’t nearly performing duties. They’re additionally defining how we stay and love, how we are able to suppose and specific ourselves and who we join with. When our proper to do and say supersede our proper to be and to suppose, we enter a delirium the place the scope of digital freedom is severely restricted and diminished by circumstances of elimination and risk. If we look at the Digital India coverage propositions, it ought to strike us that we appear to have misplaced monitor of who we need to be and who shall be chargeable for our modes of life and residing. It has resulted in a brand new notion of selective freedom, which shall be bestowed as a reward for individuals who say and do what the powers that be command, fairly than freedom as a constitutional and foundational proper enshrined within the netizens of the nation.
Maybe, probably the most hanging examples of that is the Aadhaar challenge that refuses to be outlined and continues to defy the doctrine of privateness rights which might be endemic to our constitutional id. Virtually all defence of Aadhaar rests on what it may well do, what it may well allow, who can do issues round it and with it. Within the blinkered concentrate on transactional information economies, nearly all concern about particular person rights and freedoms, like privateness, are dismissed. Because of this the deliberations of the Supreme Courtroom concerning the validity of privateness in Digital India are extraordinarily essential. The courtroom shall hopefully look upon privateness not as a transactional commodity which might be traded off for comfort, however as an inalienable proper that defines our very circumstances of being. The indicators that it provides us about privateness of our information have a transparent correlation with the privateness of our selves. Whereas information privateness is certainly about what might be achieved and mentioned, our particular person privateness is about who we might be and the way we are able to stay. And, one set can’t be separated from the opposite.
Thus, once we hear about one more information breach in Aadhaar, by an engineer who was capable of promote non-public data for private revenue, we have to consider it not as a query of knowledge safety however particular person security. The defenders of Aadhaar will shortly level out that the info breach is about expertise, entry, circulation, and possession of knowledge. They’ll mount investigations about information safety and new measures to penalise such hacks.
On this technocentric focus, they may ignore as soon as once more the truth that private security, particular person privateness, and our rights to life and dignity are compromised by a system that’s unable to guard the very individuals it seeks to serve.
The questions of privateness aren’t separate from or tangential to Aadhaar — they’re basic to the very creativeness of a challenge that determined to sacrifice particular person security and freedom within the quest of a techno-solutionist imaginative and prescient, one which engineered course of as a substitute of partaking with individuals. As we rejoice our 70th Independence day, this isn’t one thing that we must always even must spell out, however particular person freedom must be the one most essential proper that our authorities protects.
There’s a continued rhetoric that there’s an illusory nationwide or collective freedom that should take priority over particular person freedom and liberty — a sentiment that was acutely expressed throughout the demonetisation debacle, which demanded that the person rights of livelihood and monetary safety be sacrificed on the governmental altar of digital doing and accounting.
Digital freedom stays a goalpost that we should maintain transferring in the direction of. Nevertheless, digital freedom, when posited as an adversary to non-public freedom, ought to at all times lose. Our governments, policymakers and technosocial leaders owe it to us to create a digital India that places individuals’s freedom first.
Nishant Shah is a professor of recent media and the co-founder of The Centre for Web & Society, Bangalore.