BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM) has finally given in by setting up a server in India. It will allow Indian Government to intercept messages and e-mails passing through its servers.
Governments all over the world want to snoop into private and public conversations of individuals on the pretext of security and restricted freedom of expression. I won’t mull over the ethical or moral aspects of this, but the very nature of internet poses a gigantic challenge to them.
Internet is fundamentally different from any other mode of communication, because it is not country-bound. Telecommunication, on the other hand, is very much country-specific. Telecom companies provide services in only a particular country where they have the licenses to operate. They can’t provide services in some other country with the same license.
Mass medias like print, radio or broadcast face the same kind of geographic restrictions. Hence, bringing these communication tools under surveillance by coercion or by law becomes a lot easier. But Internet companies, on the other hand, can provide services across the world by setting up operations in any one country.
Skype is based in United States. It does not have servers in India, but still caters to Indian diaspora. Possession, transmission and consumption of material that might lead to prurient excitement is punishable by the Indian law. But hundreds and thousands of foreign-based porn sites can be accessed from India.
Foreign companies can provide services to Indian netizens, though they are not governed by the Indian law. But if recent trends are anything to go by, this is going to change eventually. Government will force at least major companies to provide country-specific services.
After a long battle with the Indian government, RIM finally budged in. Skype is also rumoured to be in the process of setting up India-centric Skype, thus allowing the Government to intercept its video chat service. Google and Facebook already have Indian subsidiaries, Google India and Facebook India respectively.
Internet has today become the biggest mode of communication. It also may make many other communication tools obsolete. Snail mail is already on its way to extinction. Print may go the same way! Internet has also made the geographic boundaries obsolete.
In today’s scenario, there is no one entity which is in control of the internet. Also, there are no specific laws governing every aspect of it. But it has now become a medium too important to ignore. This has forced many Governments to slide into activism.