Why Indian Government Should Mandate Facebook, Twitter To Set Up Servers In India

Indian government is framing a legal framework mandating social media companies to set up local servers. We look at how this makes rational sense

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Should social networking companies like Facebook, Twitter and others like Google set up local servers in India, is a long drawn debate in the country. The debate took off during the UPA government when it was found that a certain riot had elements of social media support. The debate has resurfaced and it has been reported that the present NDA government is trying to formulate a stern policy making it mandatory for social media giants like Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus among others to set up servers in India.

While the Central government failed miserably to get the social media companies adhere to its request, it is now working alongside the ministry of law to formalize a legal framework to govern such unmonitored use of social media where Central security agencies have a hard time to crack down on any misuse.

The news comes right when the central government admitted in the Supreme Court that it cannot track down people uploading objectionable content on the Internet, because anyone sitting anywhere in the world can host material on a website in India, reported The Telegraph.

The government said it can at best block the sites hosting such objectionable content but tracking down the culprit is nearly impossible since there are several layers of hidden servers and virtual private networks through which such material is uploaded clandestinely to avoid detection.

The center’s admission comes in the backdrop of the Internet being widely used by militant groups and their sympathizers to post propaganda material. Bangalore youth Mehdi Masroor Biswas, who allegedly operated a pro-ISIS Twitter account, Sami Witness, for several years using hidden servers in foreign countries is the latest example.

UPA government also invested time and effort in building online monitoring systems such as Centralized Monitoring System, Netra, among others to track miscreants but they haven’t come to much rescue. It is also not clear if the NDA government is perusing them.

The only option left for the Indian government is to bring a framework whereby these international networking giants follow the law of the land and cannot get away with the flimsy excuse that they don’t operate from India.

Even if less than 13% use internet in India and less than 8% use social media, India is a big investment for all the social media giants. Facebook is the most popular social networking company in India, for Twitter India is the fastest growing market and so on and so forth. There isn’t a doubt that social media has opened a whole new way of communication and business. However, the medium also has its dark side, Internet’s big power of anonymity has powered miscreants and militants to regularly disrupt peace in civic society.

Today militants are operating these same networks, spreading the propaganda and recruiting people too. During riots these networks are often used to spread rumors. In such times since the servers are based out in US, tracking becomes impossible. Time has come for a legal framework to be in place.

If US is having access, why can’t India

Thanks to the whistleblower Edward Snowden and The Guardian that revealed through non-stop coverage on the National Security Agency having obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants since many years. It was also reported that the NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called PRISM, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats.

Snooping by the NSA was not only limited to US citizens; it also kept a tab on international users by accessing data with the help of tech giants such as Facebook, Google, Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc. In its reports, Guardian had stated that USA has collected 6.3 Billion data from India in March 2013 through its PRISM program by tapping into the servers of tech companies for information including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats.

After initially rubbishing the claims, companies including Facebook had no choice but to accept the truth. In fact the government was monitoring every other single person locally and globally with the help of the tech companies, who were even getting paid millions of dollars to cover the costs of the NSA surveillance. “Frankly, I think that the government blew it. They blew it on communicating the balance of what they were going for with this,” Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg regretted later.

US officials justified the mass snooping on the grounds of national security and pressed charges against Snowden. Going by that logic India has the rights to not only protect the data of its own citizens but also to monitor them on the grounds of national security.

“My Data In My Borders” policy

Last year Vinit Goenka, national co-convener of BJP’s IT cell had debated on having “My Data In My Borders” policy. In his blog post he spoke about how data physically located abroad is causing problems and highlighted how India is losing in the data center business. “The data center business value chain spans across real estate, equipment, applications and services. Going with a “self-all” policy will not only help create employment across all these parts of the value chain, but also maintain Data Sovereignty.”

He further added, “Another major benefit of this “My Data In My Borders” policy would be improved earnings in forex; as we would build capacities, given the economies of infrastructure and labour, and given the proposed simplification of taxes, our value benefit would be difficult to compete with. We would stand a great chance of pulling business from foreign locations. In an era, when it seems that we would be losing out on the BPO earnings, it’s time we thought of alternatives that would keep us in Forex surplus.”

India isn’t the only country requesting these social media companies to set up local servers. In 2013, Brazil demanded Facebook to open local servers in its country to store all data about their Brazilian clients on servers based in the country. However, there hasn’t been much progress.

There is an audience that believes setting up servers locally in the country will also mean the death of free speech. While Indians are ignorant about privacy issues, having servers in foreign locations which are being accessed by others, is doing no good to citizens and the nation. The time has come when we really need to support such a framework and get our data within our borders.

Image courtesy: thehackernews.com