Washington: Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Silicon Valley to promote 'Digital India' campaign, more than 100 prominent US-based academics have raised privacy concerns about the project.
In a statement, these academics, said 'Digital India' seems to ignore key questions raised in India by critics concerned about the collection of personal information and the near certainty that such digital systems will be used to enhance surveillance and repress the constitutionally-protected rights of citizens.
"We are concerned that the project's potential for increased transparency in bureaucratic dealings with people is threatened by its lack of safeguards about privacy of information, and thus its potential for abuse," said the statement signed by about 137 academics, a significant majority of whom are of Indian-origin.
"Those who live and work in Silicon Valley have a particular responsibility to demand that the government of India factor these critical concerns into its planning for digital futures," the statement said.
"We urge those who lead Silicon Valley technology enterprises to be mindful of not violating their own codes of corporate responsibility when conducting business with a government which has, on several occasions already, demonstrated its disregard for human rights and civil liberties, as well as the autonomy of educational and cultural institutions," the two-page statement added.
Among prominent signatories to the statement are Meena Alexander, Distinguished Professor of English, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York; Arjun Appadurai, Paulette Goddard Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University; Shahzad Bashir, Professor of Religious Studies, Stanford University; Akeel Bilgrami, Sidney Morgenbesser Professor of Philosophy and Director, South Asian Institute, Columbia University and Partha Chatterjee, Professor of Anthropology and South Asian Studies, Columbia University.
The views expressed by these academicians were dismissed by Indian-origin entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley, who hailed 'Digital India' and said that India under Modi has finally woken up to the potential that innovation and technology can bring to the country.
"Only technology and innovation can enable massive changes that are needed in India. Prime Minister's visit to Silicon Valley is a long overdue acknowledgement that the government in India has finally woken up to the potential that innovation and technology can bring to India," Venktesh Shukla, president of TiE Silicon Valley, told PTI.
TiE or The Indus Entrepreneurs is one of the most powerful and prestigious organisations in the Silicon Valley.
Top Silicon Valley companies and entrepreneurs are its members.
Shukla said the entire Indian American community in Silicon Valley is geared up to welcome the Prime Minister.
"We are delighted that, for the first time after Independence, there is a government in India that won the election on the platform of growth and development and not based on identity politics or competitive populism," he said.
"We at TiE stand for wealth creation through entrepreneurship. A government in India that espouses growth, development and entrepreneurship is well aligned to our mission of creating wealth and fostering entrepreneurship," he said.
In their statement, the academics also raised the issue of Gujarat riots, and also allegations related to restrictions on non-governmental organisations, and freedom of media.
"Under Mr Modi's tenure as Prime Minister, academic freedom is also at risk: foreign scholars have been denied entry to India to attend international conferences, there has been interference with the governance of top Indian universities and academic institutions such as the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, the Indian Institutes of Technology and Nalanda University; as well as underqualified or incompetent key appointments made to the Indian Council of Historical Research, the Film and Television Institute of India, and the National Book Trust," they alleged.
"A proposed bill to bring the Indian Institutes of Management under direct control of government is also worrisome. These alarming trends require that we, as educators, remain vigilant not only about modes of e-governance in India but about the political future of the country," the statement said.