The Narendra Modi government's standoff with social media companies, including its legal battles with WhatsApp and Twitter, have led to scrutiny on the direction of internet regulation in India.
The perception that the Modi government is moving to tighten internet regulation is gaining steam globally. On Monday, Matthew Prince, the CEO and co-founder of Cloudflare, noted India appears to be moving towards a "Chinese model" on internet regulation.
Cloudflare is a major US-based IT corporation specialising in web security and networking. Prince made the comment in an online 'fireside chat' with Joyce Hakmeh, a senior research fellow on cyber policy at British think tank Chatham House. The fireside chat was organised by RightsCon, a platform on human rights in the digital age.
Prince said, "What we are seeing out of India, so far, it appears to be erring more towards a Chinese model. And that's something that we all need to pay attention to... to think about whether that is what we want the entire internet to follow."
China has maintained strict control over the internet, with most global social media platforms not available in the country.
Prince emphasised, "Watch India extremely carefully; that's where a lot of the future of internet regulation is going to be thought through."
Referring to increased risks of hacking and other cyber threats, Prince observed, "There will be a temptation, as governments start to think about how to control cybersecurity, to lump in other things such as journalism that they don't like and dissident behaviour... It's important for this community (internet rights activists) to be watching very carefully and wearily as governments take action... we have to make sure that doesn't slip into other censorship and control."
Prince batted for freedom of social media outlets, noting that "ultimate" responsibility for content lies with the individual publishing it. Prince said, "The ultimate responsibility is with the individual that publishes that content, below that is the platform (e.g. Twitter, Shopify, etc.), and below is the actual hosting provider, and below that would be the network provider, etc. We think it's important to make sure that the underlying internet itself [the network] is not being used as a way of censoring what content is online because that creates enormous challenges and risks."
Prince stressed that internet regulation was a diverse topic. "The challenge right now is the world is not totally happy with either of those models [the American or Chinese model] of regulation," Prince said, adding, "The internet is more costly, and as a result, more fragile to administer than I think the average person knows... It's important that everyone understands that the internet isn't 'magic' so that we can create effective policies, regulations, etc."
Prince warned activists should watch for "governments slipping in content regulation by hiding it in the form of cybersecurity regulation".