Parties give short shrift to privacy

Both the Congress and BJP vision documents disappoint, but the real surprise is the CPI-M document that deals with cyber issues in a substantial manner

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Pratap Vikram Singh | April 12, 2014



For civil rights activists in the internet and cyber space, the election manifestoes of major political parties including the Congress and the BJP have come as a disappointment. Both the parties are mute on privacy. In the recent past there has been a vociferous demand for a strong legislation on privacy. A draft bill on privacy has been making rounds of the bureaucratic circle for three years. Manifestoes are also silent on the need for correction in the information technology act, which activists say is characterised by 'arbitrariness and lack of processes'.

“A healthy democracy gives equal weightage to transparency and privacy. It’s disappointing that the two parties have overlooked these two,” says Sunil Abraham, director of the Bangalore based Centre for Internet and Society (CIS). Both Congress and BJP don’t mention about the lack of implementation of the open data policy. The policy, aka NDSAP 2012, requires all departments and ministries to put high value data sets in public domain within a few months of the policy enforcement. The parties are also silent on need for a balancing act on surveillance and civil liberty.
 
Nikhil Pahwa, founder of Medianama.com, a portal posting news and analysis on digital media, says “The parties could have talked about reforming the IT legislation, especially the Section 79 and IT Rules 2011 which gives the intermediaries—the ISPs, websites, and cyber cafes—the power to strike down content without even hearing the author.” The law, currently, doesn’t provide a redressal mechanism to the author.

Similarly both parties are mute on internet governance, which has become a major global issue after the US showed willingness to cede its monopolistic oversight over the body governing the internet ICANN.  

The Congress manifesto is also blank on making websites and systems accessible for specially-abled population, also called as e-accessibility. While the BJP too doesn’t talk about making government portals e-accessible, it speaks about the use of technology to deliver low cost quality education to specially-abled students. Issuance of universal identity cards for all applicable government benefits and disabled friendly access to public facilities are two other things which the party promises to implement if voted in power.

Both election manifestoes don’t mention concerns related to telecommunication sector. Broadband is the only term that appears in the two manifestoes. The Congress promises to bring high speed Internet to every village panchayat. This is not a new initiative; a project under DoT called national optical fibre network, NOFN, proposes to do the same. The BJP’s manifesto says, “Deployment of broadband in every village would be a thrust area.”
 
Both parties also talk about putting public services online. There is also nothing concrete about promotion of indigenous manufacturing in electronics and IT hardware. While there are serious omissions in the two manifestoes, the manifesto of the CPI-M surprises many, highlighting key issues concerning civil rights and liberty.  

The manifesto talks about ‘demilitarisation of cyber space’ and ‘protecting Internet and telecommunications networks from cyber attacks and surveillance by building indigenous capability’.  Edward Snowden’s revelation of the PRISM programme seems to be the context. It also talks about promoting ‘free software and other such new technologies which are free from monopoly ownership through copyrights or patents; knowledge commons should be promoted across disciplines, like biotechnology and drug discovery’.

Without elaboration, the BJP too also highlighted open source, open standard software and digital and cyber security in its manifesto. ‘Information technology for good governance’ and the Internet have been dealt in couple of lines in Aam Aadmi Party’s manifesto. “We will promote use of IT to promote transparency and reduce corruption in government functioning,” says the AAP manifesto.

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