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Right to anonymity under threat

October 26, 2016

London, UK (October 26, 2016). The right to anonymity in India is under threat, reports a new article in the latest issue of Index on Censorship Magazine, launched with a speech by blogger and activist Cory Doctorow this week.

In July, India’s women and child development minister, Maneke Gandhi announced a creation of a new “cyber cell” to monitor instances of women being abused by online trolls. However, although this would not be used specially to target anonymous users online, it has led many to ask how it will affect those wishing to speak freely online without fear of repercussions from the state or society.  

“There really is a problem with online abuse, but we have to be careful how we tackle this,” Anja Kovacs, the director of the Delhi-based think-tank Internet Democracy Project told Index. “Law enforcement in all countries tends to make citizens believe that anonymity is somehow harmful. But democracy virtually demands anonymity.”

“The state could demand compromised anonymity because it perceives a ‘crime’ in someone tweeting threats, sure, but also if it chooses to perceive a ‘crime’ in someone criticizing a party ruling, expressing homosexuality, political dissent, or any of an array of inconvenient national truths,” Rega Jha, the editor of Buzzfeed India, told Index.

According to free speech expert Gautam Bhatia the only principled way to tackle hate speech on the internet, while preserving a larger right to anonymity, would be to grant judicial powers the right to reveal the identity of a person when they engage in illegal speech:

“The default should be that you lose the protection of anonymity when you engage in unlawful speech; [but] it should not be the other way round, that you lose the protection of anonymity in order to prevent you from potentially engaging in unlawful speech.”

The article is part of a special report from around the world on the right to anonymity with pieces from the USA, Turkey, Bangladesh and the UK, among others. It also looks at the threat to “fixers”, who provide assistance to foreign correspondents in war zones, once the international media pulls out. Fixers are facing death threats and accusations of being spies for working with the global media.

At the launch Doctorow said: "We're nearing the point of no return for privacy: all the data we've collected and retained will almost certainly leak, and now we're radically expanding the collection and retention of data as computers move inside our bodies and our bodies move inside computers. Can we decarbonize the surveillance economy before the seas rise and drown us all?"

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Articles published in Index on Censorship Magazine, will be free to access for a limited time and can be read here.

Index on Censorship Magazine celebrated the launch of its latest issue ‘The unnamed: Does anonymity need to be defended?’ on the 25th of October. The event included talks from writer, blogger and activist Cory Doctorow, as well as tech journalist Geoff White. Find out more here.

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Sara Miller McCune founded SAGE Publishing in 1965 to support the dissemination of usable knowledge and educate a global community. SAGE is a leading international provider of innovative, high-quality content publishing more than 1000 journals and over 800 new books each year, spanning a wide range of subject areas. A growing selection of library products includes archives, data, case studies and video. SAGE remains majority owned by our founder and after her lifetime will become owned by a charitable trust that secures the company’s continued independence. Principal offices are located in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC and Melbourne. www.sagepublishing.com

Index on Censorship launched in 1972, has reporters around the world. International in outlook, outspoken in comment, and publishing some of the world’s finest writers, Index exposes stories that are suppressed, publishes banned writing, investigative journalism and new fiction. Previous contributors include Margaret Atwood, Noam Chomsky, Nadine Gordimer, Aung San Suu Kyi, Salman Rushdie, Tom Stoppard and Ai Weiwei.www.indexoncensorship.org

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