Asserting that Internet freedom will help attack corruption, Google' s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt has asked India to embrace "transparency and openness" of the web that will have a potentially game-changing impact on governance.
"At Google , we believe that in fact the freer a country's Internet, the better chance that country has of exposing deep-rooted problems and confronting them honestly," Schmidt said in an essay written for the book 'Reimagining India: Unlocking The Potential of Asia's Next Superpower' edited by global consulting firm McKinsey.
"Will India embrace an open network or a closed one. The political impulse to try to shield people from inflammatory, obscene or defamatory commentary and images in a country as diverse and often fractious as India is understandable but misplaced," Schmidt said.
He said while India is known for its "freewheeling" democracy and "boisterous" political debate, a Google search of 'India Internet censorship' generates thousands of hits documenting episodes in recent years of government authorities demanding the closure of websites or dispatching law enforcement officials to intimidate people for posted material deemed to be objectionable.
"These actions are often well-intentioned especially when they are aimed at suppressing ethnic violence. In general though, such policies are misguided and inimical to India's broader national interests. But trying to control what people say is a losing proposition. It is much better to let good speech overwhelm bad speech, using the kinds of principles that have worked reasonably well on the free and open Internet we enjoy in the US and other developed countries," he said.
Given the progress made by India over the past decade, it is "hard not to be optimistic" about the next 10 years.
"Global success and a vast improvement in living conditions for hundreds of millions of its citizens are within the country's grasp but only if India's leaders invest in the right infrastructure and embrace the transparency and openness of the Internet," he said.
The former Google CEO said it is "no secret" that India is plagued by corruption, which impedes the country's economic progress, frustrates ordinary people's efforts to advance themselves and seriously infringes on individuals' rights to fair treatment by the authorities.
He argued that Internet freedom will produce information and images that are displeasing and even appalling to many segments of society.
"False accusations and hateful commentary are inevitable if unfortunate components of the Internet mix," he said adding that democratising Internet access has a potentially game-changing impact on governance.
Schmidt said one of the Internet's "great virtues" is that it empowers individuals and groups to expose the excesses and abuses of those in positions of power.
"As the Internet penetrates India...we will see dramatic improvement in the status of women, access to education and the transparency in public life necessary to improve governance and attack corruption. All of those are necessary preconditions to the economic and commercial success that India's remarkably talented people deserve."
India's "ambivalence" about Internet freedom often surprises those who do not live, travel or do business in the country since other countries like China are far more famous for exerting command and control over cyberspace, he said.