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Campaign against curbs on websites gathers steam

by Prasad Krishna last modified Apr 25, 2012 11:19 AM
For political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi and his blogger-cum-journalist friend Alok Dixit, who both ran a website against corruption, a tryst with the blind side of law triggered their mission against “gagging” of the new-age Indian Internet user.

The blog post by Arpan Daniel Varghese was published by IBN Live on April 23, 2012.

It all started when they were in Mumbai, taking part in the first public protest seeking a strong Lokpal led by social activist Anna Hazare. “During the course of the protest, we got word that our website had been taken off,” recalls Alok.

The Mumbai Police had banned the website without any prior notice, apparently after a complaint was filed by a Congress leader that some content on the site, CartoonsAgainstCorruption, was objectionable, he says.

“We then contacted Bigrocks, the domain provider, but they did not divulge the exact procedure to restore our website,” he adds.

Kerala High Court lawyer P Jacob, who has a masters in cyber law and is a researcher in the field, clarifies. “Let’s say that you are a website, blog or domain owner... As per the intermediary rules incorporated into the IT laws, introduced through an amendment in 2011, if a third person sends a complaint, be it a frivolous one, to you (the intermediary ) about some objectionable content, you will have to take off the said content within 36 hours.”

This could happen to any one and could be quite dangerous, points out Sunil Abraham, the executive director of The Centre for Internet and Society (CIS-India).� “If a company wants to target your organization’s social media network, they can keep sending fraudulent emails to you and you will have to keep deleting it unless you are ready to face litigation or government action. And then there is no penalty for abusing the provision. There is no transparency, the people who comment will not be told,” says Sunil.

It was this realization that drove Alok, who then quit his job as a reporter, and Aseem Trivedi to start a movement against such blind curbs. ‘Save Your Voice’ was thus born.

A research conducted by the CIS gave further credence to their fears that it was very “easy to ban any website in India.”

“We call it a policy sting operation,” details Sunil. “We sent out fraudulent take- down notices (or complaints) to seven of the largest intermediaries in India. They gladly over-complied and promptly took off the material in question. You can try this. You could look at a legitimate comment and complain that this is blasphemous, offensive or plain annoying. And without questioning your locus standi, the intermediary sites will have to take it off.”

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