Another Falls to indirect US Government: Lessons that can be learnt

The most recent news in the Wiki Leaks expose is: owing to indirect pressure from the U.S. Government, Tableau Software has dropped Wiki leaks’ data from its site for people to use for data visualization.

Data visualization simple gave the readers the convenience to view data on the basis of categories like Secretary of state, Embassy Ankara, Embassy Baghdad etc.

According to an announcement posted on Tableau’s blog, the company decided to drop Wiki leaks’ content after reading Sen. Joe Lieberman’s public request that companies hosting Wiki leaks’ data remove it. According to the announcement: “Our terms of service require that people using Tableau Public do not upload, post, email, transmit or otherwise make available any content that they do not have the right to make available.” It does not appear that Tableau was contacted by the senator directly, nor that it received a cease-and-desist order or any other official request to remove the visualizations.

Interestingly the reasons put forward by Tableau look strikingly similar to the ones cited by, which just announced its own reasons for dropping Wiki leaks’ main site from its servers.

Let’s call it US Government’s indirect pressure (than anything else); run by world’s most powerful man.

Now, interestingly the visualizations that were removed, were getting 35,000-80,000 hits per day for individual category. But as many political thinkers of the past and the present say, no one is above the sovereign; so no matter how popular something can become it cannot stand against a sovereign for long (exceptions are there, for reasons)

That said; there are certain lessons to be learnt from this Wiki leaks expose; other than the ones we are learning through Indian News channels (I’m not saying they are not worth learning; I’m just pointing to some other perspectives) all through the past one week. Although a private company choosing not to host content on its servers is not a violation of the US’ First Amendment; this news is bound to be marketed as an attack on free speech;

Hence the need for other perspectives.

Imagine what would have happened if such an official data if Indian Government would have been leaked?
Would the Government be able to exert similar pressure on the companies assisting the expose?
Yes I agree, a democratic government should not exercise such a control on freedom of speech.
But what if there’s utmost need to exercise some culling?
Majority of us are made to believe that, if India finds itself in such a situation, it’ll do a better job than what US is doing right now. This in fact is a wrong perception.
The perception that India culls free voice now and whistleblowers now and then is wrong. Influential people in the country may be having their way when dealing with common man and political rivals. But if India has to deal with Big businesses operating in the country – it’ll fare badly.
There are keen observations and reasons to this assertion. If you remember:
1) The division of business between Ambani brothers some year ago; compelled the Indian government to intervene. The Finance minister of the country held many separate meetings with each brother.
2) In 2007, Vodafone acquired 67 percent of
Hutchison’s Indian mobile phone operations for $10.7 billion.

The transaction took place between Netherlands-based
Vodafone International Holdings BV and Hutchison, based in Hong Kong. The
Hutchison stake Vodafone acquired was owned
by a Cayman Islands-based holding company. After the deal, Indian tax department told Vodafone that it
has to pay $2billion to Indian Government. Vodafone argued that since the
transaction took place between two overseas companies (Netherlands-based
Vodafone International Holdings BV and Hutchison, based in Hong Kong.) and the target asset was registered in the Cayman
Islands, hence it doesn’t owe taxes in India.
Countering the argument the Indian Government told Vodafone that although the
share transfer was of a Cayman Islands entity, the deal
had an Indian nexus. The case is still subjudice.
3) Courtesy Wiki leaks, Nira Radia was shown brokering for Tata to evade tax.
4) The Telecom scam is nothing but big businesses bribing least credible Raja to get their way in spectrum allocation.
Lessons to be learnt: Why did Government have to intervene in the Ambani brothers dispute, why did Vodafone devised a way to evade tax and then fight a court battle with the Indian Government? Why Tatas appointed someone for something which they should have paid in first place? Why companies did paid a person crores in some spectrum allocation?
The answer is Size.
It’s risky to leave a company grow unhindered to the extent that it starts making 2-3 percent of your GDP. Such a company not only deforms the level playing field for the other competitors, it also has the ability to put unjustified pressure on the sovereign. Existence of a business monopoly is not only bad for competition, consumers; it’s also bad for the country. So a country should always be vigilant on monopolistic practices and be ready to break an entity if it starts becoming larger than what is desired.
Another lesson to be learnt is:
Businesses would not be doing philanthropy at the cost of paying taxes. The Nira Radia tapes, a PR for Tatas, is testimony of the fact that Businesses evade taxes and to present a better face, engage them in philanthropy or act for society’s welfare, in the country they operate in.
This is nothing but working for one’s vested interest.
Look at the recent LIC housing scam. It is believed that the parties to the scam duped the Indian exchequer of more than Rs 16000 crore. If looked at the figure, this is the same money The Government can spend on its mid-day meal scheme, if that was not lost. In the same way, if Tatas or Anil Ambani’s Reliance (they are also defending a tax evasion lawsuit) pay their taxes honestly; they don’t even have to do any philanthropy at all. The sovereign will do it more equitably; and the businesses will be saved from unwanted posturing.
Philanthropy comes only after paying taxes; if one wants to give back to the society still then that’s a virtue.

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