EDITORIAL. Ashutosh Bhattacharya. VII. VII. X
by Ashutosh Bhattacharya
China's President Hu Jin Tao and Tao of Jeet Kune Do inventor Bruce Lee: Walls apart.
Bruce Lee, the Little Dragon’s finest of films are unavailable in China via youtube. Does this have the bohemian icon disturbed in heaven? How unfair. Cozenages and controversies no more happen in real and reel life alone - they are instead happening in the virtual world as well. And thus, the theatre becomes vile and leviathan. China with its much publicized Google ban sometime ago has been quite at the centre of this international debate about who is the real enemy – is it the internet that unleashes unlimited democratised power that we pined for before the 3 Ws era or is it the ‘cyberreal’ beings who are sharing too much as fodder for the cyber criminals’ minds and even contributing to the proxy war being fought online.
With over 348 million internet users in China (as of early Jan 2010) and heavy penalties on people found using banned sites, the Chinese government is cocksure about what it wants - a strict control on the information they receive and the information they share online. Notwithstanding the human rights activists who are lobbying to bring more open internet laws in the country, calling China one of the most regressive countries when it comes to internet practices.
China’s stringent internet censorship, christened the ‘Great Firewall of China’ recently also banned its soldiers from online dating, personal websites, visit to internet cafes and blogging even in an individual capacity. While some may frown at it, branding it as another attempt of the communist government to censor peoples’ right to expression but to give them some credit, in today’s world where virtual life has literally taken over the one in flesh and blood; many would look at it as a much needed virtual fence to ensure social stability and country’s security. After all, the internet affords you the freedom to share/say things one may not have been able to get away with elsewhere. Does that not call for more accountability, more responsibility, more security and a strong legal framework? You might laugh at this analogy but even Spider Man was told once by his uncle that ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’
With a 2.3 million strong Chinese armed services, dominated by youth, Chinese military experts term the move of series of restrictions necessary. They also claim that there were cases where soldiers indulging too much online were divulging military secrets. Closer home, the case of the Indian diplomat Madhuri Gupta, booked for sharing sensitive data with Pakistan is hounded by many questions including if she was a victim of a honey trap laid by her Pakistani handler. Not to ignore the odds of a number of Indians officials she allegedly lured to get sensitive data out. This is a classic example of why it is imperative to maintain the sacred ‘S’ word (security) in various communication channels, amongst which one can confidently rate internet being one of the most vulnerable channel.
Experts have raised numerous alarms with an explosion of porn sites on the Internet, and an ever growing population falling prey to the obsession. More than the potential of it ruining relationships, the growing erotica-hunger could lay down a perfect trap for people with information to walk right into the honey trap 2.0. If KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, Soviet Intelligence agency) in 1960s and East German secret police with "Romeo spies" (who were sent to seduce women of the west), exploited this weakness ruthlessly, the magnitude can only be imagined with virtual domination. With internet, the need of a foxylady in a black backless sexy dress with shiny long hair or a hunk in his Tuxedo is diminishing, infact I wait for the day when James Bond will not really travel in those classy BMWs but would be sitting in a popular chat room creating and compromising assets.
With most of today’s youth having grown up in the cyber boom era and being extremely computer savvy, internet can develop into a real threat if not used with utmost care. Youngsters are particularly drawn towards the networking sites where they can keep in touch with their friends, share, exchange etc. But the country was shocked by the death of the 16-year-old, Adnan Patrawala in a case of kidnapping, where he was reportedly enticed by a fake profile on Orkut alias ‘Angel’ scrapping to be a girl interested. Call me a cynic but this boy was clearly a victim of unwatched, untamed internet.
Have you ever thought what if your latest profile picture reaches the hands of those with twisted intentions? Scary isn’t it? The internet era has made us all voracious consumers of needless information and fueled our insatiable desire to know about what’s going on with our neighbours – the latest addition in a movie star’s wardrobe, a politician’s involvement in a scam, even the minute details of a sport star’s extra marital affairs. All of this comes to us served up in a pretty cache where we decide who all we want to know about and it finds us, literally on our desks’ screens.
With terror suspects like David Headley being spotted in virtual chat rooms, I shudder to even imagine the consequence if a person holding an important position whether in the polity, armed forces, or even celebrities share excessive information online. He/she might end up giving so much without realising the millions of people who could use that information to serve his/her own intentions. The speed with which internet can pass sensitive data to millions is almost scary and that too without any one ever knowing your true identity. Insecure for vulnerable and a lot security for predators online is what we need to stop internet from becoming. We must become more aware of our responsibilities (more than our rights) to ensure we are a model netizen.
It might not be such a bad idea to put some level of controls on the internet especially if it involves possibility of critical information being leaked. We must view the situation from both sides of the spectrum to ascertain what is best for us. Where some holding back must be considered, it must not come in the way of our personal expression. The dangers of internet are real today. Self censorship and being responsible for our words on the internet is a very critical part of being a free netizen. Treading the middle path might be the worthy option.