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Online privacy should not come at the cost of security: Sunil Abraham

by Prasad Krishna last modified Nov 02, 2014 02:27 AM
Sunil Abraham, Centre for Internet and Society’s executive director, on privacy laws and Internet penetration.

Anirban Sen's article was published in LiveMint on May 19, 2013. Sunil Abraham is quoted.


The Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), a research thinktank that primarily focuses on issues of Internet governance, is pushing to revise the provisions of the Information Technology (IT) Act and make a stronger case for privacy laws and free speech in India, an issue that has caused widespread concern after the government tried to restrict access to more than a 100 websites last year with little justification.

“We want to revise the IT Act...that’s the toughest one and that’s not going to happen very soon because the government is treating it like an ego battle now. They no longer listen to the others,” said Sunil Abraham, executive director of CIS.

The IT Act has been at the centre of debate, with some of its provisions such as Section 66A, which criminalizes “causing annoyance or inconvenience” online or electronically, coming under criticism from rights advocates for being too vague and subject to interpretation.

CIS, which will complete five years on Monday and is organizing a four-day event focusing on issues such as cyber security, surveillance in India and privacy, said it also was working towards creating a privacy law for India within the next 3-4 years. India, which is estimated to have Internet penetration of just 10%, is the third-largest Internet market in the world.

“We’re getting closer and closer to that (privacy law),” said Abraham, adding that privacy should not come at the cost of security.

Over the past five years, Bangalore-based CIS has also been part of some government committees such as the Justice AP Shah Committee, which focused on privacy laws in India, and is also currently working on the country’s telecom policy. The non-government organization, which receives grants from international bodies such as the Wikimedia Foundation, has also worked on policies for the government of Iraq and is currently also doing policy work for the government of Burma.

“Five years ago we were making noise from outside the room, we were not inside any policy making space. That has also changed. From an organization that was mostly outside the room, we’re increasingly being trusted by our own government,” said Abraham, who was one of the most vocal critics of the government’s unique identification (UID) project when it was first launched. Abraham had raised concerns over its overtly broad scope and issues over privacy in the project.

For CIS, one of the biggest achievements over the past five years was being part of the policy framework for the government of India’s draft national policy on open standards for e-governance, said Abraham, adding that the organization was working towards increasing Internet penetration in the country, especially in rural areas.

“We’re hoping that every single mobile phone user in the country will become an Internet user. We’re planning for that future,” he said.

The CIS event starting on Monday will include speakers such as legal researcher and advocate Lawrence Liang and Vibodh Parthasarathi, an associate professor at the Centre for Culture, Media and Governance at the Jamia Millia Islamia university. Both Liang and Parthasarathi are members of the board at CIS.

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