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India Cracks Down on Internet Free Speech

by Prasad Krishna last modified May 23, 2011 09:57 AM
Government officials quietly released new rules restricting content on the Internet. The country is now getting backlash from free speech advocates protesting the new regulations, according to media reports. This article by Erin Harrison was published by TechZone360.com on April 28, 2011.

"Critics of the new rules say the restrictions could severely curtail debate and discussion on the Internet, whose use has been growing fast in India," according to an April 27 New York Times report.

"The list of objectionable content is sweeping and includes anything that "threatens the unity, integrity, defense, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states or public order," the Times said.

The new rules, released by the Department of Information Technology on April 11, allow officials and private citizens to demand that Internet sites and service providers remove content they consider objectionable.

As the Times reported, Sunil Abraham, the executive director for the Center for Internet and Society, said India’s rules require Internet "intermediaries" — "an all-encompassing group that includes sites like YouTube and Facebook and companies that host Web sites or provide Internet connections — to respond to any demand to take down offensive content within 36 hours. The rules do not provide a way for content producers to defend their work or appeal a decision to take content down."

In addition to new content regulations, the government also issued regulations pertaining to data security, Internet cafes and the electronic provision of government services. As an example, part of the regulations stipulate that cyber cafes be registered with a unique registration number with an agency called as registration agency "as notified by the appropriate government in this regard."

Although fewer than 10 percent of Indians have access to the Internet, that number has been growing fast, the Times reported, especially on mobile devices, adding that there are more than 700 million cell phone accounts in India.

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