Indian Netas want to prescreen user content before it goes online
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Indian Netas want to prescreen user content before it goes online

Bar & Bench

According to the New York Times, the Indian government has asked Internet companies and social media sites like Facebook to prescreen user content from India and to remove disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory content before it goes online.

According to the New York Times, the Indian government has asked Internet companies and social media sites like Facebook to prescreen user content from India and to remove disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory content before it goes online. Read Here.

For sure, there will be arguments for and against such a move by the government.  While the issue can be analyzed threadbare, the fact that internet has empowered the common man and provided the platform for diverse issues including for instance the recent anti-corruption movement.

Internet as a platform that allows people to discuss and debate; agree and disagree; bring out facts, figures, images and video’s to substantiate their claims. Many a times healthy discussions take place (which rarely happens in the Lok Sabha).  The power of internet is such that no one can hide information from you.

In some sense, internet is the only platform where democracy truly exists today. A true and real exercise of freedom of speech happens only over the internet. All other platforms are controlled by groups with a certain vested interests.

It appears the Indian Government is not happy with the way people are receiving/reacting to the news/data /information. What the government wants is a regulated internet where the political class and the corporate remain untouchable. No comments should be made or passed against them! The New York Times reported that Union Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal recently met with representatives from companies like Yahoo and Microsoft and at the meeting Mr. Sibal  reportedly showed attendees a Facebook page that maligned the Congress President, Sonia Gandhi. “This is unacceptable,” he is said to have told the attendees.

The issue here is not about regulating the internet. But it is about regulating the cyberspace to protect the interests of certain class of people.

Yes, there are rogue elements in cyberspace. To catch hold of them we need to strengthen and modernize our cyber forces. The government should focus on building an efficient, effective and speedy mechanism to address these issues.

Cyber crime administration in the country is in a mess. It is a shame that the Cyber Appellate Tribunal (CAT) is lying vacant since its last Presiding Officer, Justice Mr. Rajesh Tandon retired on June 30, 2011. As days pass by the files are only piling up in the CAT office. There is not even a whisper being heard on the appointment of a new presiding officer.

The common man too becomes victim of cyber frauds and derogatory remarks are passed against him/his actions as well. However, he remains helpless in his fight.  He has no other remedy but to approach the authorities under the IT Act and patiently wait for his turn. This is the law of the land and there is only one law for all. There cannot be double standards on the same issue.

Section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) Act provides a form of safe harbor protection to the intermediaries. However, the recently released intermediary guidelines require intermediaries ‘to act’ within 36 hours if a complaint is received against any content. This does not necessarily mean that the content has to be taken down. But ISPs, due to the fear of being dragged to the courts for each and every compliant, act immediately by taking down the content. Bloggers, activists and sections of the media vehemently protested against these inconsiderate rules. These protests forced the Indian government to issue a clarification note stating that the government will not regulate content. Read Here. Now the Indian government wants the ISPs to employ additional manpower to screen user content before it even goes online. So where are we heading…?

The political class and corporate cannot dilute the valued principles enshrined in constitution. They cannot dictate on the standards applicable to them. The Indian government cannot create a separate law / mechanism to protect the interests of a few. If it does, it is undoubtedly going to be a blow on the face of democracy and lead towards a totalitarian styled government.

Epilogue

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it – Voltaire

Shojan Jacob is an alumnus of NUALS, Cochin. He holds an MS in Cyber laws and Information Security from IIIT, Allahabad. He is a lawyer and a Techno Legal Cyber Security Consultant based out of Kerala. He also blogs on cyber security issues at www.eSuraksha.net.

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