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CIS Para-wise Comments on Cyber Café Rules, 2011

Posted by Prashant Iyengar at Feb 25, 2011 03:30 AM |
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On February 7th 2011, the Department of Information Technology, MCIT published draft rules on its website (The Information Technology (Guidelines for Cyber Cafe) Rules, 2011) in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 87(2) (zg), read with Section 79(2) of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Comments were invited from the public before February 25th 2011. Accordingly, Privacy India and Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore have prepared the following para wise comments for the Ministry’s consideration.

A. General Objections

These rules have no nexus with their parent provision, namely s.79(2).  Section 79(1) provides for exemption from liability for intermediaries.  Section 79(2) thereupon states:

79. Intermediaries not to be liable in certain cases—
(2) The provisions of sub-section (1) shall apply if—
(a) the function of the intermediary is limited to providing access to a communication system over which information made available by third parties is transmitted or temporarily stored or hasted; or
(b) the intermediary does not—
(i) initiate the transmission,
(ii) select the receiver of the transmission, and
(iii) select or modify the information contained in the transmission;
(c) the intermediary observes due diligence while discharging his duties under this Act and also observes such other guidelines as the Central Government may prescribe in this behalf.

Therefore, by not observing any of the provisions of the Rules, the intermediary opens itself up for liability for actions of its users.  However, the provisions contained in these rules have no rational nexus with due diligence to be observed by the intermediary to absolve itself from liability for third-party actions.

While the government may have authority to regulate cybercafes, that regulation should not be promulgated as rules under s.79(2).  Doing so would be ultra vires s.79(2) itself.

Recommendation

These rules should be deleted in toto.

B. Specific Objections

These specific objections are in addition to the above-stated general objection, and do not detract from out recommendation that these rules should be deleted in their entirety.

Rule 2(c)

(c) “Cyber Cafe” means cyber café as defined in clause (na) of sub-section (1) of section 2 of the Act

Comment

The Act defines a cyber cafe as meaning “any facility from where access to the internet is offered by any person in the ordinary course of business to the members of the public”.  This would include internet access provided in airports, in restaurants, and in many other places where the provisions of these rules (such as those about height of partitions, etc.) just will not be practicable.  Thus, this provision will have unintended consequences.

Rule 3

Agency for issuance of license: Appropriate government will notify an agency to issue license to cyber cafes.

Comment

Rule 3 requires the issuing of a license for the establishment of a cyber café. We believe this is unwarranted since cybercafes, like most commercial establishments are already subject to registration and licensing under the “Shops and Establishments Acts” which have been enacted in all states. These Acts already specify an elaborate procedure for the application, registration and monitoring of all establishments and there is no need to multiply the levels of permission a cyber café must obtain. The current rules do not specify an application procedure, fee, and a maximum or minimum time frame within which such a license must be granted or denied nor does it specify the criterion on which such license applications will be evaluated. We think that in the absence of such legislative guidance, this provision is likely to be abused.

Cyber cafes in India contribute greatly to India’s increasing internet penetration and inserting a licensing regime would greatly impede access to the internet.

We believe that cyber cafes should be allowed to be established in the same manner as other shops and establishments, without the requirement of a special license.

Rule 4(2)

...When an user cannot establish his/her identify to the satisfaction of the Cyber Café as per sub-rule (1), he/she may be photographed by the Cyber Café using a web camera installed on one of the computers in the Cyber Café for establishing the identity of the user.

Comment

Sub-Rule 4 (2) Requires that if an individual is unable to establish identity, their photograph must be taken if they wish to use cyber café facilities. We believe that an individual’s photograph should be taken only as a last resort, where identity has been established.

Rule 4(3)

Children without photo identity card shall be accompanied by an adult with any of the documents as prescribed in sub-rule (1).

Comment

We recommend that children below 18 years should be specifically exempt from proving their identities to cyber café owners. Children are usually the quickest to adopt technology, and the requirement of possessing a valid identity might prove to be a deterrent to their developing computer skills. Likewise, being accompanied by an adult is also an onerous obligation since children’s access to the internet would depend on the availability of an adult/parent who may be too busy to accompany the child on every occasion the child wishes to access the internet or use a computer.

To reiterate, we feel that the current provision specially and adversely targets children from poorer classes (since they are most likely to routinely access internet through cyber cafes) and denies them the opportunity of developing their computer skills which are crucial for the growth of the “knowledge economy” that India is trying to head towards.

In addition, we believe that children are more susceptible to exploitation and consequently have a heightened privacy expectation which must be honoured. We recommend that the current sub-rule be deleted and replaced with a clause which specifically exempts children from proving their identity and forbids taking photographs of them under any circumstance.

Rule 5(1)

... Log Register: After the identity of the user has been established as per sub-rule (1) of rule 4 above, the Cyber Café shall record and maintain the required information of each user in the log register for a minimum period of one year. Also, Cyber Café may maintain an online version of the log register.

Comment

Rule 5(1) Provides a minimum period of one year that Cyber Cafes must retain their log registers. The rule does not specify the details which the log register must provide. In the interests of minimising threats to privacy, we recommend that these details recorded be confined only to the name and duration of use.

In addition, we believe that there should also be a coinciding mandatory deletion clause for the log register requiring details to be purged after the minimum retention period.

Rules 5(3)and 6(2)

5(3): “The cyber café owner shall be responsible for storing and maintaining following backups of logs and computer resource records for at least six months for each access or login by any user :

·    History of websites accessed using computer resource at cyber cafe

·    Logs of proxy server installed at cyber café

·    Mail server logs

·    Logs of network devices such as router, switches, systems etc. installed at cyber café

·    Logs of firewall or Intrusion Prevention/Detection systems, if installed.”

6(2): “The screen of all computers, installed other than in Partitions or Cubicles, shall face ‘outward’, i.e. they shall face the common open space of the Cyber Café.”

Comment

We recommend deletion of this rule since it is an unreasonable intrusion into a person’s privacy and an indirect attempt to censor content which users may wish to access. There are many uses of the internet for which a user may legitimately require privacy: For instance, patients, including HIV patients and those with mental illness, may wish to obtain information about their condition. Similarly sexuality minorities may wish to seek support or reach out to a larger community. Enforcing the architecture stipulated in this rule would discourage their access to such vital information. In addition, this architecture would make it easier for cyber crimes such as identity theft to take place since it would be easier to observe the login details of other users at the cyber café.

Rule 7(1)

Inspection of Cyber Café : “An officer, not below the rank of Police Inspector as authorised by the licensing agency, is authorized to check or inspect cyber café and the computer resource or network established therein at any time for the compliance of these rules. The cyber café owner shall provide every related document, registers and any necessary information to the inspecting officer on demand.

Comment

We recommend this clause be omitted since it confers unfettered and unsupervised powers on any Police Inspector to examine any cyber café premises he may choose without any restriction on time.

Additionally, the provisions of Shops and Establishments Acts of most states already prescribe a procedure for inspection of establishments and examination of records. The current rules merely add another layer of supervision to the existing laws without adequate safeguards.

Comment

Sub-Rule 5(3) holds cyber café owners responsible for the storage and maintenance of back up logs concerning the following information: history of websites, logs of proxy servers, mail server logs, logs of network devices, logs of firewalls installed. We believe that the maximum length for retention of this data should be defined and a mandatory deletion clause should be inserted requiring cyber café owners to delete these logs periodically. We further believe that access to the history of websites and mail server logs is a serious invasion of a person’s privacy, and should be omitted from the back up logs.

This is especially so when currently there is no requirement that cyber café owners maintain their logs under conditions of utmost secrecy and confidence.

 

 

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