The present Congress led UPA Government is leaving no stone unturned to be social and open with the citizens. One of the initiatives that the Government has been running for a while now with the tech giant Google is the Google Plus Hangout - a way in which 10 people can do a group video chat. The initiative has seen ministers jumping into the Hangout and discussing policies and making the Governments stand clear on certain subjects.
In the month of February after the yearly budget was passed, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram joined for a Hangout and discussed the budget. A similar approach was taken by the Railways and Road Transport Minister, Dr. C.P. Joshi. The latest to join the bandwagon is the young and socially savvy Minister of State, Communications & IT and Shipping Milind Deora.
The Hangout that took place yesterday evening was hosted by the funny man Cyrus Broacha and with him were 8 people from India as well as from Australia with interesting questions for the minister. The hour long Hangout touched upon various issues like the rural and urban digital divide, the governments stand on freedom of speech and most importantly the debate on the controversial IT Act 66-A.
For me the entire discussion was interesting basically for the three major discussions – 1) How will the government handle democratized chatter and is it also ready, 2) Is the government curbing freedom of speech, and 3) Need for having a Central Monitoring System.
How will the Government handle the democratic chatter on social media?
The question was put across by Shekhar Kapur and he thinks that the government is not ready for such discussions to happen as there have been incidents in the past to prove its unreadiness.
In reply, Milind said that he himself believes in technology and social media but the disadvantage he sees with social media is that the opinion cycles specially for the young people including him has shrunk. Today in the Internet age, opinions are made in two minutes unlike the newspaper age when it took twenty four hours and the six to eight hours in the television age. So people on social media will have to decide on their own what they should take and what they should avoid.
However, he added that politicians, not only in India but all over the world, even in the developing nations, have been off guard in this new medium and at times have struggled to find measures to deal with it. But things are changing as today many minister’s departments are being active and trying to evolve on social media.
Is the government curbing freedom of speech?
Nikhil Pahwa, Founder at Medianama who was on the Hangout, was clearly not happy with Milind’s statement that the IT Act 66-A was a good one and needed no change. While sharing his disappointment, he further asked why the government has not made amendment to the law after making promises and at the same time why is the government tracking locations and monitoring conversations of people on social media. Isn’t that scary and breach of individual security as well as curbing freedom of speech?
Milind started by saying that no law is perfect and the 66-A has been a law that has been created after lot of deliberations and consulting with industry, stake holders, a department standing company and eventually the Parliament. The law that was created in 2009 was misused recently and when the government saw the misuse it issued an advisory to all states.
He stated that laws are not bad but sometimes the implementation of the laws in India sees trouble. And he reassured that there have been no incidents after the Palghar case with regards to the misuse of the law.
However, I was surprised when the Minster stated that there has been no such case of misuse of the law after the Palghar case. The statement definitely took me in surprise, as either he was unaware which is quite rare or he was deliberately hiding the recent arrest of Jaya Vindhayal, GS of PUCL who was arrested for an objectionable post on Facebook. The arrests were made under IT Act 66A when there was already a PIL pending in the court. In fact when the incident was highlighted, the Supreme Court made a statement that no arrests should be made without the permission of senior officials.
Need for a Central Monitoring System (CMS)
Milind took the opportunity to clear the misconception on the idea of building a CMS system as not of invading individual privacy but to safeguard it along with the national interest.
At this point Milind briefly shared how the CMS system is going to eliminate the age old traditional approach. In the traditional approach if the government wants to track a number then it has to ask mobile operators to track them and the entire process takes a lot of time. In the CMS system the long process of approval is reduced and also checks have been placed so that even the officer who is monitoring the CMS has no access to the data. A feature that was not possible to implement in the traditional system making the CMS system much more reliable and safeguarding individual privacy.
Although Nikhil seemed to be not so pleased with the answer, the minister finally assured that one can freely crack jokes about politicians on social media and one should not have any fear in using the medium. But make sure that things you can’t do offline are not permissible online too. An interesting statement but things get blurred when you try to define good or bad because what may be good for me may not be good for you.
Nevertheless, social media is sucking inertia out of the system and forcing people to address issues a lot quicker. But one thing that everyone might have a consensus on is that the Hangout was done in quite a peaceful manner unlike what we see when the ministers debate in the Parliament. A thought that was accepted by Milind and he also expressed the desire to be part of such initiatives in future too.
Image courtesy: Milind Deora Facebook page