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Resisting Internet Censorship: Strategies for Furthering Freedom of Expression in India

by Prasad Krishna last modified Jun 21, 2012 05:29 AM
The Centre for Internet and Society and the Foundation for Media Professionals invite you to an open discussion on 'Resisting Internet Censorship: Strategies for Furthering Freedom of Expression in India' at the Bangalore International Centre on April 21, 2012, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. The discussion will be moderated by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta.

Event details

When

Apr 21, 2012
from 06:00 AM to 10:00 AM

Where

Bangalore International Centre, TERI Complex, Domlur Stage II

Contact Name

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Participants include:

  • P. Rajeeve, Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha, CPI(M))
  • Rajeev Chandrashekar, Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha, Independent) [tbc]
  • V.R. Sudarshan, Member of Legislative Council, Karnataka (Congress)
  • Na. Vijayshankar, Cyber Law College
  • Mahesh Murthy, Pinstorm
  • B.G. Mahesh, OneIndia.in
  • Sudhir Krishnaswamy, Centre for Law and Policy Research
  • Siddharth Narain, Alternative Law Forum
  • Ram Bhat, Maraa
  • S. Senthil, FSMK [tbc]
  • Deepa Dhanraj [tbc]
  • Arati Chokshi, People's Union for Civil Liberties (Karnataka) [tbc]

Immediate Background:

Member of Parliament P. Rajeeve has introduced a motion in the Rajya Sabha calling for the Internet censorship law passed last year ("Intermediary Guidelines Rules") to be annulled.  This motion will be taken up once the Budget Session 2012 reconvenes, and will need the support of the majority of both Houses to be passed.  Apart from this, we have seen multiple cases in the past few months of flagrant abuse of the speech laws, especially the Information Technology Act, including the removal of CartoonsAgainstCorruption.com, the arrest of M. Karthik, a 20-year-old atheist from Hyderabad, and of Prof. Ambikesh Mahapatra from Kolkata for 'defamatory' cartoons of Mamata Banerjee, both under s.66A of the Information Technology Act.  We need to develop strategies to combat this over-eagerness by authorities to abuse speech laws.


More Detailed Background:

Internet censorship has been in India ever since VSNL brought internet connectivity to Indians in the mid-1990s, when websites were blocked through executive fiat.  In 2000 the Information Technology Act was passed, and while it had a provision on electronic publication of obscene materials, it did not contain any provisions for blocking of websites.  Still, Rules were made under the Act under which the government blocked numerous websites. 

In 2008 the Act was amended, bringing more transparency to the censorship regime.  Unfortunately, cases like the CartoonsAgainstCorruption.com and the disparity between censorship statistics published by Google and the official statistics revealed under RTI by the Department of Information Technology show a large amount of extra-legal censorship happening.

In February 2011, the DIT published draft rules that were severely criticised by many MPs, including Rajeev Chandrashekar, P. Rajeeve, Mahendra Mohan, and Kumar Deepak Das, organizations including CIS, Software Freedom Law Centre, IAMAI, and companies like Google India.  Many MPs, including Rajeev Chandrashekar and P. Rajeeve, raised concerns about the draft.  In April 2011 disregarding all these concerns, the government pressed ahead with the Rules.  These rules allowed any person to get content removed from the Internet by writing to any 'intermediary' (like Rediff, BSNL, Google, Facebook, etc.) within 36 hours, with no questions asked, and no intimation to the content owner (hence no question of challenge), and once again made internet censorship as unaccountable as it was pre-2008, only with the power to censor in the hands of every citizen, rather than just a few government officials.

In May 2011, due to the backlash in the media, with negative editorials in prominent newspapers, Mr. Kapil Sibal indicated in an interview that the rules would be revisited.  From August 2011 onwards there was a crackdown on several web companies, including Indiatimes, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Facebook, with the government asking them to proactively monitor online content and remove what it deemed objectionable material.  Since then, a number of egregious cases of censorship through filing of intimidatory FIRs and lawsuits have been happening.


The Organisers

FMP

The Foundation for Media Professionals is an independent, not-for-profit organisation, set up in April 2008, by a group of Indian journalists with diverse media backgrounds and work experiences. Though we are traditionally referred to as journalists, we have decided to call ourselves differently to emphasise the importance we place on professionalism, so that we can be true to our vocation as watchdogs of society.

This is not a forum for the media executive who might be into marketing, management or space selling.  Nor is membership open to amateurs, for whom journalism is a hobby and not the main source of income. As journalists we cannot be politically neutral. Ours is not a sterile craft that seeks merely to entertain or inform. We confess to just one prejudice: liberty. In pursuing that principle, the Foundation shall be non-partisan, while welcoming members of all political persuasions.

Our intention is to strive towards the nobility of our calling and its high-minded purpose. We will try to inculcate and amplify best practices. We will debate issues impinging on our profession. We shall recognise and reward excellence.

CIS

The Centre for Internet and Society was registered as a society in Bangalore in 2008. As an independent, non-profit research organisation, it runs different research programmes on topics such as Accessibility, Access to Knowledge, Openness, Internet Governance, Telecom, Digital Natives and Digital Humanities.

The programmes have resulted in research outputs: monographs such as Re: Wiring Bodies, Porn: Law, Video, Technology, Internet, Society and Space in Indian Cities, Archives and Access and the Last Cultural Mile; reports such as Digital Natives with a Cause? A Report, Digital Natives with a Cause? Thinkathon: Position PapersOpen Government Data Study, and Online Video Environment in India; analyses such as WIPO Treaty for the Print Disabled, WIPO Broadcast Treaty, and Copyright Amendment Bill; books such as Digital AlterNatives with a Cause? and e-Accessibility Handbook for Persons with Disabilities; a reader on the Wikipedia titled Critical Point of View; other outputs such as Banking, Telecommunications, Consumer Protection, IT Act, Limitations, Copyright, Internet Protocol, Media, Sexual Minorities and UID.

We have participated in forums like WIPO, FICCI, IGF, and gave policy submissions to various ministries and departments of the Government of India including the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Department of Information Technology, and Department of Telecom on policies like NIA Bill, IT Act, National Policy on Electronics, Cyber Café Rules, Security Practices Rules, Intermediary Due Diligence Rules, and Interoperability Framework for e-Governance.

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