Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is this year’s keynote speaker at The Sydney Dialogue, an annual summit for ’emerging, critical and cyber technologies’.
Days before his keynote address at The Sydney Dialogue on Thursday this week, Indian Prime Minister has been accused by the head of Human Rights Watch Australia of using technology to curtail rights in India.
In an opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald, Elaine Pearson, Australia Director – Human Rights Watch, has made a scathing attack on the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, who will be delivering the keynote address at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Sydney Dialogue, along with the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The dialogue is billed as a “world-first summit for emerging, critical and cyber technologies.”
The inaugural dialogue will be hosted virtually from Australia and will begin on 17–19 November 2021. The Sydney Dialogue will have an Indo-Pacific focus and seeks to ‘bring business, government and technology leaders together with the world’s best strategic thinkers, to debate, generate ideas and work towards common understandings of the challenges posed by new technologies.’
The program will commence with an opening address from Australian Prime Minister the Scott Morrison. PM Modi will be giving a keynote address on Thursday at 2.30 PM AEDT.
Ms Pearson wrote, “Australia is deepening trade and investment ties with India, and technology has emerged as a key element in their growing bilateral and multilateral cooperation. Modi will describe how India’s technology industry is solving global problems. His administration has called his flagship program Digital India – transforming India into an empowered digital economy with an emphasis on better delivery of government services – as one of India’s biggest success stories.“
However, Ms Pearson cautioned, what the audience will not hear is how the Modi government has been using technology since it came to power in 2014 to curtail rights at home as part of an escalating crackdown on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
“Even as his government promotes a more digitally connected India, it shuts down the internet more than any other country in the world, increasingly to silence peaceful protests and criticism of the government. This has not only denied millions of people their fundamental rights, but has also affected businesses and cost the Indian economy billions of dollars in losses,” Ms Pearson added.
“As part of its playbook to quell dissent and gain greater control over online content, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Hindu nationalist government enacted new internet rules targeting social media companies, digital news services and curated video streaming sites that will most likely have global consequences. These rules include overboard restrictions on content, encourage self-censorship and require traceability of information that compromise end-to-end encryption on platforms such as WhatsApp or Signal,” she wrote.
Ms Pearson argued that strengthening bilateral ties through technology should come with a frank discussion on shortcomings and a deepening commitment not to compromise on fundamental rights, including freedom of speech and assembly, and privacy, encryption, and data protections. She urged Australia to ask the Indian government to drop criminal charges against activists and critics in politically motivated cases, roll back internet rules and enact a data protection law that restricts the government’s discretionary powers.
Ms Pearson concluded that instead of using technology as a tool for repression, the Indian government should act in a manner befitting a rule-of-law-based democracy and use technology to shore up rights, make governance more accountable and lead to a more just and equitable society.