Dialogue October - December 2005 , Volume 7 No. 2
Internet and Democracy Today and Tommorow
Internet Today: Overview
In his well-known book entitled,
“the Future Shock” Toffler refers to Information Society as the “third
wave” of evolution of world history - the other two waves of evolution had
ushered in the Agricultural Society and the Industrial Society.
The ‘third wave’ touched a part of the globe about four decades ago. But the United Nations formally acknowledged this epochal development on 18 November 2003 at a World Summit in Geneva. The UNO adopted Principles and Plans of Action aimed at responding to the unprecedented challenges and opportunities held out to individuals, civil society and nation-state as well as the emerging “global” village by Information Technology in general but particularly by Internet.
Originally called ARPANET, Internet is a product of the US military’s demands to build alternate centre of command or control in the event of a nuclear war It was later extended to universities and research institutions and then it was discovered by commercial establishments in USA for e-commerce. Thus the present World-Wide Web (1) is an advanced version of military, educational and commercial use. Today it is at the heart of Information Age. It connects hundreds of thousands of smaller networks. It is an inter-connected system of computers all over the world that stores information in multimedia form - which presents information in more than one media such as text, still images, moving images and sound.
Technology-wise, it is still evolving by geometrical progression. There is not only a race to render Internet more effective and comprehensive, but also to replace it with a more sophisticated system. For example, America already boasts of two potential Internet successors, NASA and NSF have created vBNS. Then there is Internet-2, which has built network called Abilene. One hundred seventy American Universities and fifty corporations, including Microsoft and IBM, have joined forces in this initiative. The vBNS and Abilene operate independently but are inter-connected at some points. In one of the technology and media industry’s most ambitious design to reach TV viewers, Time Warner (TXW.N) plans to launch a free Internet TV service by 2006. Yahoo. INC and oogle INC threatens to by pass traditional media outlets by linking computer users with TV shows online. Further, the European Union has been trying to snatch the technological lead from Americans. A mega nformation super highway called GRID has been launched. There is not enough capacity (or bandwidth) to allow the vast amount of data to be moved around. Also reliability and security is not a strong point of the Internet. Hence these attempts to construct a completely new infrastructure. It is said, “building the Grid is a bit like tearing up the roads and replacing them with 100 lane motorways,” which would be optical fibres to carry information in the form of light pulses. This mega information super-highway would initially be monopolised by scientists working on vast information processing projects, like particle physics or the fledgling field of bioinformatics (the handling and processing of biological data, such as that from the Human Genome Project). But “ten years from now, thanks to the Grid, you will be able to design your house on computer. You won’t need a heating engineer to design your radiators, or a window specialist to design your windows. At the press of a button, the Grid will be able to hunt down the software you need to make the calculations for you.”
The Grid is also about setting common standards in computing, and this is where the competition comes in. If computers all over the globe are plugging into it, then computer scientists around the world must agree on the best protocols and software. The Grid Forum in America and the European Grid Forum will come together every six months in order to review progress and to decide which software is looking the most promising.
Who Controls internet?
operates through physical infrastructure of communication such as telephones and
fibre optic network. It is bound by territorial laws and regulations that apply
to these network. Either the state or the state sponsored companies and
corporations or national regulate this infrastructure. It is these agencies
which keep access to the Internet content and regulate the sites. They can
filter out or censor any references “subserive” or “morally polluting”
or “security risks” not palatable to them. This raises the question of
controls of the infrastructure of Internet.
Four decades ago Internet, a creation of the U.S. government’s Defence Advance Research Projects Agency, was initially handed over to a consortium of American academic institutions. By late 1980s the number of Internet users - and hence addresses - became unmanageable without some regulation. The U.S. Department of Commerce and the Post and Telecommunications Department established the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which in 1998 became the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Number (ICANN). It enjoys the world monopoly of regulating, domains, (such as ‘org’ and ‘com’) and protocol numbers and allocating addresses in the USA and the rest of the world. Thus one super power has in its grip over the levers of an entity on which the entire global economy relies. In recent years, the ICANN has been criticized for being dominated by corporate interests in the developed world, who had cornered the majority of available addresses.
The European Union has broken ranks with the USA.2 It supports the view that alternative control structure is needed. The USA is opposed to a global cooperative model for Internet governance. It rejected the suggestions for the handing over of ICANN to an appropriate agency under the UNO. Many nations, Brazil, China, Cuba and Iran, too have been uncomfortable with the implicit control that the ICANN exerts on the Internet. They have been advocating a monitoring role for a truly international agency, possibly a UN arm like the International Telecommunication Union. This idea of control was mooted at the first World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva, 2003, but was rather unceremonisouly set aside.
The World Summit on Information Society in Tunis on 18 November 2005 again debated the issue, “who will control Internet?” According to Kofi Anan, the Secretary General of UNO, it was acknowledged that the world needs Internet to unleash the potential of Internet, the lifeblood of digital revolution is freedom. Hence the advanced infrastructure should not deny full access on political or other grounds. And regards control, he said, the present dispensation (ICANN) was allowed to continue since, as the UN Secretary-General put it, USA has exercised, “oversight responsibilities fairly and honourably”. Nevertheless, it was decided that the UN will continuously monitor the mechanism for reform built into ICANN which will continue to be broad based and global. Also the UNO will see creation of Internet Governance Forum to ensure that all stakeholders, including governments, corporations and civil society have say I how to run Internet.
Internet and Terrorist
Rand Corporation terrorism
specialist, Bruce Hoffman, has described the Internet as the “ideal” medium
for terrorism today: anonymous but pervasive. In his 2003 works, “Islam In The
digital Age”, University of Wales lecturer in Islamic studies Gary Bunt coined
the name e-jihad to denote electronic jihad in its many forms, from the fights
over the definition of jihad to the concept of online fatwas.3
Terrorists have purportedly set up Websites, which gives instructions on how to shoot foreigners in the streets or throw grenades on motorist’s in traffic.
Internet and National Security
The dangers of unrestricted flow
of traffic on the Internet have been rudely brought home by the popular e
service provider Google which, after its successful e-mail service, has recently
launched “Google Earth - Explore, Search and Discover”4
- that has sent shivers down the collective spine of security establishments
across the world. The new service enables anybody with access to the Net to zoom
in on top security - till now strictly secret - military and other strategic
installations of a large number of countries, including India. The virtual visit
to these sites is facilitated with the help of satellite images that are sharp,
precise and amazingly detailed: the bulk of the images would be categorized as
“classified information” by governments concerned. President A.P.J. Abdul
has expressed concern over a free mapping programme from Google Inc. that, he
said could help terrorists by providing aerial photos of potential targets.
Access to Internet USA
Within a short period of ten
years in the USA the impact of the use of Internet has been twofold: one is
concrete or quite tangible, viz. build economy, Internet communication and
commerce, media etc; the second is creation of a “virtual society’ in which
everything is virtual.
In the U.S, the information-cum-communication revolution has permeated the entire production structure of the economy. In a recent speech, Mr. Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, described how IT has fundamentally changed the economy. He said, the uniqueness of IT in essence is its ability to provide ever more real time information that reduces uncertainty, which in turn reduces costs. With more up to date information and the capacity to process such information, manufacturers can cut down on raw material inventories, distributors can reduce delivery times and retailers can afford to hold fewer stocks. “IT raises output per hour in the total economy principally by reducing hours worked on activities needed to guard productive processes against the unknown and the unanticipated.”
However, the paradox is that in spite of all the talk of a new economy.there was no dramatic improvement in productivity. Growth outside agriculture in the decade that has just ended was only 2 per cent, compared to the annual 2.6 per cent increase during the 1960s.
The U.S. economy has been growing continuously since 1992. The speed and the power of the Internet now make possible faster growth that is not hostage of inflation. The innovations in IT combined with the innovations in finance have created new opportunities and made the existing ones more productive.
The business cycle is dead. To be sure, there are some rough edges in this rosy picture that are not always acknowledged. For example, households are carrying a mountain of debt that could crush them if growth were to slow substantially.
Availability of Internet even in
the developing countries is extremely limited and wherever it is available, it
is confined to urban areas. For example, in China, the state is keen to promote
the use of Internet.
Nevertheless by the turn of 20th century, not more than 0.97% of population had access to Internet Of the total number of users, 50% were graduates and 40% of the users were concentrated in three cities - Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong. It appears almost the rest of countryside in China had no access to the use of Internet.
It may be recalled that a few centuries ago printing press ushered in a sort of information revolution. A European missionary brought-printed books to the court of the Emperor Jahangir. The Moghal Emperor failed to note the significance of the printed medium and thus the “first” information revolution by-passed India while Europe surged for ahead in the centuries.
Fortunately, in a sense India has not missed the second information revolution ushered by IT in general and Internet in particular. Enterprising Indians have harnessed the talents and energies of Indian youth and carved out a niche as premier I.T. destination in the world. India today has a sophisticated “software” industry, which is well positioned to take advantage of the wave of e-commerce, IT-enabled services and software riding Internet platform. It has been successfully used for the empowerment of people in some fields, e.g., Kerala’s, Akshya e-literacy programme, Karnatak’s, Bhoomipuja Project to computerize land ecords and the reach of Andhra Pradesh ‘e-Seva’ for citizens. In Maharashtra, Milk Cooperative use Internet network. There is rural Internet in Dhar district in Madhya Pradesh. There are also the services and the spread of wireless-based rural telephony network all over India.
Information Technology is growing fast. A numbers of two tier cities are fast waking to the infotech dream- e.g., Chandigarh, Jaipur and Pune are promising new destinations of the future. A technology park in handigarh promises to generate employment for 20,000 professionals and it accounts for software export of 1000 crores. Mahindra Group is investing Rs. 10,000 crores to provide infrastructure for IT industry in Rajasthan. West Bengal once called it as ‘public enemy no one’. It now found IT to be a gold mine.
Indian Tobacco Company is using Internet to expand business in rural areas through E-Chaupalls, NIITs, ave Whole-In- the Wall experiments to teach children the computer use. The Government has introduced DTH which alms at covering 10 crores people. Scores of leading newspaper establishments have Internet editions of newspapers, portals and web pages. The use of Internet is being encouraged in research. Since 1999, IT Delhi, Mumbai, Kharagpur, Chennai and Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore are fast emerging as incubators for startups. The idea behind the incubator concept is to transfer or promote. Technology from R & D to enterpeneurship ventures by IITs students and faculty members.
There are few instances of the use of telecommunication including Internet in medicine.
An equity research firm projected that a decade from now, the IT industry alone would lift GDP growth to etween 7 and 8 per cent a year, employ 15 per cent of the private sector work force and take software exports to the equivalent of 50 per cent of merchandise exports.
There are certain special features of IT that India is capable of taking advantage of. In software evelopment, the ‘relatively’ low Capital costs and overhead expenses mean that anyone with the skill, enterprise and nowledge of English has a chance of participating in the boom. This is what makes IT attractive to the young and educated India. It is expected to increase exponentially for another two decades. It may even appen that it will be used, as a tool in the domestic economy and it will cease being solely a source of growth of the software export sector. Who knows, even distance education may make a difference to illiteracy in the country.
The IT infrastructure, however, is far too limited for anyone to talk of a revolution in India. There are only three PCs for every 1,000 Indians. And on the average only one-tenth of the PCs are connected to the internet. This is too small a number to afford talk of any new economy in India. There is a long way to go before IT can bring about even a semi-balance of an improvement in productivity. India’s presumed strength in the area, spread of English, is a weakness when it comes to spreading computer literacy. Since the export sector of the computer industry is thriving with English, there have been only isolated efforts to develop systems that will enable the users to access software in Indian languages.
Internet and Civil Society
The history of the pace of
diffusion of the use of tools for work has been even and long. In the earliest
hases of evolution the diffusion extended over centuries, nay eons. In modern
times, particularly during the 19th and first half of twentieth century, it was
relatively fast. Though unevenly, the “major new scientific technologies have
taken 50 to 60 years to penetrate through a whole society.” If we consider its
use for military purposes (for exchange of strategic information in the USA
since late sixties), it is forty year old. Internet, however, is hardly thirteen
years old, if we acknowledge the launch of WWW. portal in 1991 as the point of
commencement of large-scale diffusion of its use in several fields. During last
decades of 20th century Internet has swept across a few developed countries like
Some observers have declared that Internet and IT have ushered in the age of communication and entertainment. This is debatable. However, it can not be denied that Internet has been extensively used in many fields. For example, in the field of governance, commerce, banking, media, education and performing arts and culture etc. Millions of individuals have access to the use of Internet in private life. In many developed countries at macro level many facets of economic and political and the social life have been transformed by the use of Internet.
We should like to focus attention on a few less conspicuous but rapidly expanding impact of Information Technology, specially Internet, viz., (I) creation of dual polity in the geographical space on the planet, (2) strong signals of the emergence of a virtual society, (3) implications on the use of Internet on democratic institutions and the process of democratization.
Internet has created cyber space, which encompasses not only the online world and the Internet in articulars, but also the whole wired and wireless world of communication in general. It also includes things such as conference halls and automatic teller machines etc.
We are tolds, there are clear indications that the world is heading creating “Virtual Reality” in the Cyber Spaces towards. In these cyber spaces “Virtual Reality” (VR) is a computer generated artificial reality; it projects a person into a sensation of three-dimensional space. Virtual Reality technologies are applied a great deal in training - training pilots on various aircraft’s, to prepare air traffic controllers for equipment failures; surgeon-in-training can develop their skills through simulation on digital patients Virtual Reality therapy has been used for autistic children and treatment of phobias.
There is even Artificial Life ((A-life) and Artificial Intelligence, A- life is a field of study concerned with “creatures” computer instructions or pure information that are created replicate, as if they were living organisms. Thus A-life software tries to simulate the responses of a human being.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a group of related technologies used for developing machine to emulate human qualities such as learning, reasoning, communicating, seeing and hearing. To day the main areas of AI are virtual reality, robotics, natural languages processing, fuzzy logic, expert system, neural network genetic algorithms and bongs. At Tunis the International Telecommunication UNION (ITU) unveiled a report called “Internet of Things “which predicted that the world was heading towards a “new ubiquitous net work society where-in everything is virtual” - virtual libraries, virtual books and newspapers, virtual surgery, virtual sexuality, virtual criminality, virtual marketing and virtual commerce, virtual entertainment and virtual language etc.
Electronic publishing and printing have come of age. (8a) Creation of a global virtual library is under active consideration. A few American universities and European libraries have agreed to launch a multi-million project to digitise millions of books and make them freely available online. In fact, Microsoft and Google plan to amass all the world’s books and world’s printed material in online archives. Discussions going on with publishers to assuage concerns about legal implications of thus project, for example, copyrights. Although there are many operational difficulties, technologically visual news and information can be offered more cheap and without ‘dead trees’, (that is without the news print produced by cutting trees). Moreover, it offers access to a range of added value services, such as private members forums, closed discussion groups, browser-based e-mail etc. More and more portals in the West are organizing hordes of information and inventing dynamic models of Information dissemination. For example, one such project aims at providing e-text of copyright free material to netizens; the other one is a big ever-changing encyclopedia. These projects have the potential to break down the bars of ignorance and illiteracy and it claims to be ‘by the people for the people of the people’ project - viz. democratizing knowledge. For example, Wikipedia aims at “making free content encyclopedia written elaborately by people around them”.
Hand-held wireless devices play an increasingly important role in retail business giving consumers another way to shop, through catalogs and on the Internet. Consumers in Japan and Europe, which have the elecommunications infrastructure in place, are far ahead of Americans with m-commerce. Scores of consumers, mainly young people, use the devices to send e-mail, chat on the phone and buy compact discs nd books. The expected growth in m-commerce reflects the need for retailers to deal with consumers who have less time and patience for shopping and more choices than ever. “It will require becoming all things to ll people all the time.” By creating a shopping experience that’s virtual, interactive and personal, it is xpected that new technology, not necessarily through hand-held devices, will allow retailers to keep track of products a consumer usually buys.
Cinema and theatre has been brought together by using digital scenography and animation, which stitches the theatre play together. It is well known that theatre, props need to be moved to show a change in scene, hich is a cumbersome process. With digital scenography computer images are projected onto screens on the stage and the images can exchange at the click of a button. As a director puts it. “The technique is a marriage of theatre and cinema where physical props used in theatre are replaced with projected imagery. The digital images create a three-dimensional sense of the backdrop of the scene being stage.”
Take the domain of language, which is different from what we have able to do with written languages. You can send an e-mail without captivation and punctuation. This is a new variety of language - a variety where informality has been taken to extremes. It is a technology inspired informality of expression that did not exist before. Technology has taken language to a new level of brevity and brought with it a revolution of sorts in the art of communication. From acronyms to symbols to punctuation marks - there’s been a glut of new age ways to communicate in the shortest way possible.
According to a recent study, e-mail is promoting rampant illiteracy across the world. The study points out that some people are using technology as a power-tool by using abbreviations and being careless with their spelling to show that they are too busy to make the effort to be correct. In the years to come there will be deterioration in language due to technology. There will come a time when those who can spell will be ocially superior as opposed to the majority who can’t, just as those who are well read are considered superior to day. Technology has made people lazy, people don’t even try to figure out the spelling - they use the spell check. They have lost the joy of using a dictionary. But some linguists and experts say that technology has fostered creativity among young people and that it is the beginning of a new stage in the evolution of the written language.
That means, there is need to examine the nature of Internet language - the domain of language experiences. It involves knowing what goes on the Internet. What actual forms of languages are used there, describing the language of email, chat room language, what goes on the World Wide Web, in the virtual games that people play on the Internet. There is a descriptive stage in the field of Internet linguistics and then there is an explanatory stage. With the Internet, what’s happened is that we have a new medium, something that is completely different from anything that has been there before. However, that does not mean that we have not got a medium which is unlike speech and unlike writing because it uses new properties of language that do not exist in traditional speech and writing.10a
After spending billions of pounds on networks that will allow the transmission of high-resolution stills and video images, the companies need to find uses for the technology that will persuade customers to part with their money. Thus entertainment services will be crucial and that mobile fun (cyber sex) will come before mobile commerce etc. By way of illustration, we give some facts about China and India in this regard.
In China unabated cyber crime has hogged attention in recent times (net online gambling, nude shows, online cheating and frauds and setting up of fraudulent Websites of banks and finance companies.) The number of cyber crimes in India10b has increased steadily, from 1992-93 to 2002-2003; during this period 411 cases of cyber crimes were recorded and the total loss was forty fives crores. Though the total number of such crimes and the losses are low according to a knowledgeable source, “malice in wonderland is growing cruiser and cruise by the day.” The range of the type of cyber crimes is quite wide; for example, data related crimes, diddling or tempering, theft, blackmailing by using data; unauthorized locking, entry into data base system; tempering with programmes; changing programme logic, trojan horse programmes, having mail box bombing. There are also instances of number of credit card frauds gaining in ‘popularity. The criminals find banks a lucrative target. The Harshad Mehta mega bank scandal in early nineties involved hundreds of crores.Indians, for all their reputation for sexual conservatism are ardent patrons of Internet porn ever since advent of the Net. Cyber cracking reveals that most sites (with Indian content Hard core. India can desichik.com) have been established in past five years with a huge upsurge in the past three. The boom for porno in India began in the eighties.11
Sexuality is part of our heritage but its marketing is a western phenomenon. In India porn websites are extremely popular. In fact, spurred by a growing demand, pornography centrered on India and Indians has become a global phenomena. A regular fledgling porn industry has emerged.
The more worrisome aspect of the phenomena during the past few years is that Internet has also come to stay among the adolescents. According to a survey with increased accessibility and penetration, teenager, dominate the category of citizens for maximum Internet. In fact, this trend is explicated to surge by 10% in 2007; 25% of Internet time is an online gaming.
Says an expert, “technology in areas of electronic communication has developed to such an extent that it is capable of being misused and abused.” For example, mobile phone companies lure subscribers by offering hat the call “adult services” which cover “everything from text message flirting and strip games at one end to virtual mistress at the other Porn MMS has become a full-blown fetish among the Indian youth. More ver, this time, Adams are not the sole perpetrators. The female fraternity has no qualms stripping, dancing and posing nude to the camera like a porn star.”
A 2000 survey revealed that 12 per cent of Internet users “cyber”, that is, have virtual sex (explicit chat and/ or webcom exhibitionism). In deed, some people say that the flush from ‘distance sex’ has a positive spillover into relationships. Cybering per se is not the distillate of an ancient evil. The Net is (theoretically) a great place for millions of singles to meet someone like-minded and new. Simply put, this is ‘cyber affair’. The fact that there is no physical contact (not yet, anyway) does not change the reality.
It may be noted that out of 10 million sms currently sent daily on the Airtell network, mms is only one percent. So it is wrong to blame MMS for spreading the porn culture. It is mostly the Internet that needs to be blamed or curbed as that is the platform from where these videos are transferred pornography.
Internet and Democracy12
There is blind faith in the real
and potential worth of Internet. It is believed by an ever- growing section of
people and policy-makers that Internet by virtue of its vast capacity for
empowerment and liberation of people is going to change our lives forever on a
scale unimaginable in the past. It is about to bring an electronic democracy,
which will be structurally different from any other earlier form of democracy.
Internet has the potential to revolutionize political activity. It provides a
public space for debate that is out side the control of the state. It is more
difficult to regulation than other media, which are amenable to control.
This uncritical optimism about Internet is based on the assumption that democracy is inherent in Internet or that democratic forces can harness the full potentialities of Internet to consolidate, deepen and expand freedom.
What is true of the a few advanced countries is perhaps more true of other countries where the penetration of Internet is in its infancy. More over, there is enough evidence that the new opportunities for access through Internet has not only proved to be a liberating too, but, on the contrary it has rendered the nation-state stranger vis-à-vis the citizen.
A study of available limited data shows that the impact of IT and Internet in democracy is confined to only perational aspects and not structural aspect. There are practical handicaps because of which the ransformative role of Internet in regard to democracy will be on a limited scale. First, the cost of Internet access is very higher; it is capital intensive. Further, society as a whole is suffering from digital divide. The full impact of Internet can be assessed when all almost all citizen have at least roughly are equal, in their access to all new channels of information as well as skill in use them.
The Internet also poses a series of paradoxical challenges to the development of culture of democracy on-line. “It makes information easier to obtain and knowledge more difficult. It facilitates both privacy and surveillance. It makes communication more freely available, but it does not result in public discussion of policy choices. It may encourage a sense of community or anomie. Expert argues for the need to create spaces on the Internet for public deliberation so as to enhance democracy not just e-commerce. Otherwise the virtual world will be one of information, not knowledge, privacy without intimacy and networks without community.
Nevertheless, we should like to focus attention on some of the experiences of the use of Internet in the unctioning of democratic institution and the process of democratization of system of governance in some parts of the world.
The limited achievements of Internet has been assessed by way of analyzing its impact upon selected American political campaigns since 1996. A study reveals six features that might affect its application campaigning on the Internet is cheaper than using other forms of media; it shrinks distance; it can store and apply much greater volumes of information on individual voters and groups of them, allowing much more targeting of political messages; it can amalgamate messages from various types of media.
Internet has also been used to render bureaucracy more responsive to citizens.
There has been a gradual evolution in the direction of more complex applications and away from simple recruitment of members, although all the parties in Germany are confronted by declining and aging memberships. Party headquarters now attempt to present a more co-ordinated picture of news as it affects them so as to turn it to their advantage. They are also beginning to use the Internet for intra-net iscussions of topical issues, to which non-party members may get access. In Germany Internet has been tried to modernize the working of political parties, e.g., to stimulate policy debates within the parties. In Europe there has been increasing interest in using Internet to create a new sense of community, especially at local levels; and formation of new network of local authorities is encouraged.
It has been shown that parliaments in U.K, Australia, Germany, the USA and South Africa have embraced new technologies to bring greater efficiency to parliamentarian’s office work as well as in terms of resenting their activities to the electors. All of them have their Website to enable the citizens to get a clearer picture of their activities and their legislative procedures. The Parliaments can tap wider spectrum of public opinion than previously e.g., the European Parliament introduced the innovation that it would post details of new discoveries and procedures on the web and it would invite response from any scientist who wished to comment. In short, Internet has broken down barriers between parliament and the citizen and intellectuals.
In short, so far the use of Internet neither had any impact on the structure nor on institutions. For the moment, the chief roles of the Internet are two-fold: disseminating information on recent developments in abroad more rapidly than was previously possible, and facilitating the co-ordination. The use of Internet by and large has been confined to managerial innovations to render the functioning of the democratic system more transparent, responsive, participatory and economical. It has also bee used to improve the functions of parliaments. Political parties, and electioneering etc.
up, Toffler has been proved right, indeed, the world has stepped into the age of
Information Society. Within a few decades IT in general and Internet in
particular have emerged as a “colossal extra-territorial and post-geographical
The process of globalization deepens and broadens democracy and economy. Further, having penetrated the economic, political, social and cultural spheres in the North (US and Europe) and East (Japan and East Asia) Internet it is now poised to bring about basic changes in the structure and character of civil society and political society in these countries.
However, a more significant than this is the fact that just as Pottermania has spread among the adolescents all over the world, the demonstration effects of the use of Internet in the advanced countries has fired the imagination of opinion leaders, decision makers, rising middle classes and ambitious lower classes in the third world, specially those in India and China who believe that it as an engine of economic development, a cure-well of economic backwardness.
Nevertheless many new problems have been thrown by the large scale use of IT. The United Nation has identified critical areas for global action as well as action at domestic level. These are: reduction of Internet access costs for countries located away from international network backbones; standardised protocols for stability and security of the Net; recognition of the right to freedom of expression; data protection and privacy; consumer rights; and encouragement of multilinguilism. The UN also acknowledged that many countries need help to build the capacities necessary to use the Internet for improved delivery of healthcare, education, and citizen services.
An overview of the landscape described above indicates that the United Nation agenda for IT is incomplete because it excludes some macro-level challenges, which have to be factored into any analysis of the impact of Internet on democracy in particular and the polity in general. These challenges are. (a) the need for a democratic mechanism for the control of Internet at international level; (b) how to prevent and control the abuse of Internet by terrorists; (c) implications of the emergence of “virtual society” vis-a-vis “virtual reality” and thus consequences of the creation of another variant of duality in collective life; (d) the need for a new system of ethics and a new legal framework to cope up with growing cyber crime, (e) how these new elements have to factored into the any analysis of the future of democracy in the Information Society.
The percent mechanism for international control and regulation of Internet is inadequate mere monitoring of the US-controlled mechanism by the UNO does not ensure that it can not be abused. The history of the past seven decades does not inspire confidence that US can remain “fair and responsible” for the sake of the world community when its security is involved. Hiroshima, Vietam and Iraq in particular raise deep fears and apprehensions. Centralized control of an important means of communication like Internet is as menacing as the proliferation of nuclear energy for military purposes. The minimum that is required is that a UN specialized agency should be set up on the lines or pattern of International Agency for Energy which regulates nuclear power. Similarly, the abuse of Internet by international terrorists can not be prevented within the present framework of the policies of the UNO formulated to exclusively with reference to political factors. A broad based strategy is needed.
As a matter of fact, the UN does not seem to have examined a fundamental issue, viz. Violence and inequalities and unfreedom are embedded in modern science and technology. The UN has failed to take cognizance of the impact “technological determinism” on society. On the contrary it has frittered away its resources in dealing with only symptoms. Finally, the UN system as a such is showing signs of being anachronistic. It needs basic reforms in the light of changes in the post-cold war world or to be more precise in the Information Society in 21st century.
The political classes all over the world do not seem to have taken cognizance of a historic development, viz. emergence in “cyber spaces” of ‘virtual society’ which is distinct from “real or literal society” in geographical spaces. The new technology “by virtue of its nature and the variety of flow of data re-invents or recreates the ‘real’ or literal in the cyber spaces. Nevertheless, the virtual is not merely an extension of the literal or the real. The political class has failed to recognize the fact that virtual society is “as complete an environment” or universe as is the “real society” in the geographical space. Hence, the problems created by “virtual society” in the real society need a different perception and approach and policy frame. For example, take the current perception of property, crime, territory and security. These do not help in having a correct understanding of cyber crimes It calls for a re-definition or re-interpretation of the concept of properly criminally, territorially with reference to cyber crime.” Cyber space is a technological space and a symbolic medium a world of fantasy. In short, the relation between the literal real and virtual need deeper exploration before laws on cyber space are worked out. Therefore, the model provisions recommended by the UNO and the laws so far promulgated in India to deal with the implications of the large scale use of Internet in the realms of economy and civil society can not deal with the growing incidence of cyber crimes.
We should like to illustrate this point by the Indian experiments and experience in this regard. In order to regulate and to monitor the functioning of IT including Internet, the Indian government promulgated the IT law in 2000: (India is one of the twelve nations which have IT laws). This law seems to be focussed on security and protection of trade, commercial business transactions and communications. The law also provides legal protection against fraud and copyright violations excluding the providers who are guilty of offences committed without their knowledge. The law also provides for the blocking out of websites and monitoring those, which endanger public order and the security of the nation.
The provisions for dealing with hackers and the cyber crimes and cyber terrorism and the monitoring of the users of cyber cafes were included in the report of the parliamentary committee on the draft bill. But the government withdraws the clauses relating to these cyber crimes in the bill while retaining the clause, which grants wide ranging, powers to the police to decide whether cyber crime has been included. It is intriguing that the parliament also endorsed the withdrawal of the clauses relating to cyber crimes.
It is said while parliament did not apply its mind to this issue, the bill, was debated mostly outside parliament in media and industry circle. This apparent disinterest in parliament should make us uneasy, that India’s the lawmakers as yet are not familiar with the nature of new technology.
Shiv Vishwanathan, a perceptive sociologist examines IT law in a larger perceptive.
Thus the Indian law is based a wrong assumption that the cyberspace is not different from the geographical space. But “cyber society” is a complete environment and it impugns on the real society. Given this, we need to redraw the social contract. Earlier the social contract was seen as constitution men and men in the generic sense. What we now need is a re-drawing of general relation between man-nature, man-man, man-technology, man symbol. And man-god. We need a manifesto of cyber space suited to India when the 14th, 20th and 22nd future are contemporaries. In short, we are witnesses to the “tartoise versus rabbit - like race - the former representing the incidence of cyber crimes and the later represent the law-makers engaged in making laws aimed at tackling cyber crimes and cyber abuses.
Moreover, software structure in India does not have backbone, basic research IT is far behind not only Western countries but also China and South East Asia. For example, the Bandwidth availability in China is fifteen times; it is 30 times in the UK. More than 99% of India website are imported from outside India.
Another fundamental point that since every additional doze of scientific knowledge and scientific technology injected in a polity has far-reaching political, social and cultural implications, which call for corresponding changes. India’s dominant political class doesn’t have the swadeshi perspective or vision to undertake this. They do not also have the mindset to use Internet to reach the under-powered rural millions and avoid the unwholesome implications of the use of Information Technology?
world advances into Information Society under circumstances, which hamper the
process of harnessing the potentialities of Internet for empowerment and
liberation of people. For instance, international terrorism has compelled even
the well-established liberal states like Britain and the USA and even India to
give high priority to national security at the cost of freedom. Terrorism puts
great strain on the ingenuity and material resources of the liberal states to
balance the growing claims of national security and freedom.
Further, on account of galloping globalization more and more liberal democracies are becoming multicultural. This creates social tensions and conflicts, which, in turn, compel the democratic governments to dilute their commitment to freedom for the sake of promoting stability and peace and preserving “identity”.
The United Nation is being held in ransom by a hegemonistic super power, which is rendering it unfit for implementing, charter based on liberal values. The US grip on the control of Internet can pose a threat to freedom any time that suits the USA. The centralized control of Internet is as dangerous as the proliferation of nuclear energy. The least that can be done today is to set a UN specialized agency like International Atomic Energy Agency, which regulates the use of nuclear energy.
Civil society is getting debilitated on account of the loosening of moral inhibitions, mindless hedonism - which are favourable for the abuse of Internet. Then there is they adverse impact of virtual society on real society. Information society being preponderantly technology driven and knowledge driver creates more problems than it solves. There is a challenge to the current theory and practice of democracy. For example, the rapid of abuses of Internet in social, cultural sphere is posing several legal and moral and problem which call for new perception of crime, property and sexuality, unfortunately the intellectual resources of lawmakers and the executive and judiciary at present are not commensurate with the needs.
Thus, while high levels of speedy connectivity achievable by the use of internet demands the state to be more liberal and open, fundamentalism, cultural nationalism reinforces each other and compel a liberal state to adopt to illiberal policies.
It appears democracies, the world over, have touched the limits of growth and are showing signs of exhaustion. Their source of self-renewal are getting depleted. More over, it seems to be under siege of corporate power, militarists and cultural nationalists, and chauvinist Internet may be used as an instrument of enslavement. To sum up, democracy is fighting for survival on many fronts. First, against its ownself, that is, against its inherent weaknesses as well as its managerial and operational inadequacies and shortcomings. Secondly, it is fighting against terrorism and other types of violence. Thirdly, it is pitted against rapid globalization, marketisation and corporationization of economies. Fourthly, it is fighting against authoritarianism. Fifthly, it is fighting against civil society plagued with hedonism and agnostic positivism. Sixthly, it is up against technological determinism which has thrown up new social challenges thrown up by large scale use of Internet - say the impact of virtual society on real society.
Now-a-days a political systems can not operate in vacuum. But non-political, forces, for example, social and cultural ethos and scientific technology (specially Hi-Tech) play a critical role in determining the political culture and the political system. This is particularly true of liberal systems, like democracy were-in high speed communication systems call for not only rapid continuous managerial and administrative adjustments and innovations, but also continues re-examination of political and social philosophies.
The future of democracy in Information society will depend up how democrats all of the world respond to these challenges, which in a fundamental sense calls for the new social contract, new economic theory new ethnic and new technology.
The Internet might have remained in text book realm and the province of
academicians and researchers
had it no been for the contribution of Tim Berners-Lee who came up with the coding system (HTML),
linkages and addressing system (URL’s) that debuted in 1991 as the graphics-laden and multimedia
World Wide Web. He turned elitist Internet into mass medium. The arrival of Web quickly led to
e-Commerce the Buying and selling of products through computer network.
2. David, Henden, Quoted Kieren McCarthy “Breaking America’s Grip on the Net. Hindu, 7 October
2005, New Delhi.
3. Simon, Countering Militant, Islam in Cyberage, Statesman 19 October 2000.
4. Pioneer Editorial, www.terror.com New Delhi dated October 2005.
5. ‘Kalam’s concern over Google Earth Service, Hindu 10 October 2005.
6. “The B. Brigade,” 26 October 2005, Times of India, New Delhi.
7a. Dutta, Sujata, “Scripting success stories, the IIT way,” 24 November 2005, Times of India, New
7b. Sabab and Farah are conjoined twins and may stay joined as long as they live in a hospital in Delhi
surgeons planned to take the latest pictures of Sababs and Farah’s brains with machines and send them
along 64-side CT angiogram and the MR. Venogram to Colorado where three dimensional modal of
their brains and blood vessels would have been created. The model could have then be studied by the
surgeon and a practice virtual surgery carried out to separate Farah /Sabab.Besides physicians, patients
and health consumers are also going online. Inspite of risks, a growing number of consumers are
seeking medical advises on the Internet. For example, the Centre for Development of Advanced
computing (C-DAC) provides for telemedicine. A patient in a Malahar Cancer Centre can talk to a
specialist at Regional Cancer Centre in Thiruvantapuram Kerala.
8a. Anwar, Jawad, Smooth Surfing, Statesman, 13 October 2005, New Delhi.
9. Chowdhary, Asha Hi-Tech Language, Times of India, 27 October, 2005, New Delhi.
10a. Crystal David, “We live in a new Linguistic World,” the Hindu, 17 October 2004, Chennai.
10b. O Brien, Allen, “Innovation, Time for India’s Cyber crime,” Chennai 12 November 2005, New Delhi.
11. Gahlaut, Kanika porn.com. India Today, November 2004, New Delhi.
12. Data on democracy and Internet based on Ferdenand, Peter (Ed). The Internet, Democracy and
Democratization, London, 2000.
14. “Regulating the Net Economic” and Political Weekly, 13 May 2000, Mumbai.
15. Vishwanathan, Shiv, ‘An invitation to a Querrel’. Economic and Political Weekly, 27 May 2000,
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