The Government wants social networking sites including Facebook, Twitter and Google, to have servers in India so as to keep tabs on objectionable content, reports India Today. It said that all such websites host content that is uploaded abroad, which creates a jurisdictional issue, hence the move. The issue will be taken up by the newly established Cyber Regulatory Advisory Committee in an upcoming meeting, according to the report.

The court was hearing a PIL which argued that the Centre should take steps to block over two crore porn sites as its “among the biggest reasons for the increase in crime against women and children.” The court decided that easily accessible porn sites were indeed “polluting young minds” and since it would be impractical to block two crore website as they “pop up in foreign countries and are hydra-headed”, servers based in India are the only option.

A dangerous game

It is unclear yet how the government plans to implement this move. Will it mandate that all “Indian” content accessible in India should be hosted locally, or mirrored locally? How will this impact Indian businesses that host internationally? How will this impact privacy and anonymity? What happens to nudity that is art? As we had mentioned earlier, while it is one thing to argue that pornography should be banned, the collateral damage of that is much greater.

Note that the national co-convenor of BJP’s IT cell Vinit Goenka believes that online companies need to store data of Indians in servers within the country for “security and data sovereignty”. More here.

Even if such a law is brought into force, websites choose data centres based on high speed broadband networks, cheap power and cool climates, customer location is rarely relevant in this matter. Given this, how many websites will choose to have data centres in India, which traditionally has a hot climate, has infrastructural issues (electricity, water etc.) and expensive broadband?  India was ranked one of the most risk prone location for hosting Data Centre Operations in ‘Datacenter Risk Index 2013’ survey conducted by Cushman & Wakefield. While India ranked high on parameters like Cost of Labour (4th) and Sustainability (6th), it emerged 13th on Political Stability and 16th on International Bandwidth. It failed to score high on crucial parameters with higher weightage in the survey, scoring low on key factors such as Energy Cost (25th) and lying last (30th) on the parameters of Ease of Doing Business, Inflation and GDP per capita. It also ranked 28th of Natural Disasters, Energy Security, Corporation Tax and Education Level. 

Brazil and Germany: Germany had previously outlined ambitions to wall off its Internet after the Snowden leaks had revealed the scope of US data collection, in 2013. The idea was called off after plans of a European Internet, that would bypass US networks, were discussed earlier this year. Brazil too had planned a national law that would force websites to store Brazilian data locally creating concerns that it would encourage other governments to create their own walled-off Internet. The idea was finally dropped as Brazil passed its Internet Bill in March this year without the local data demand.