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Prometheus bound and gagged

by Prasad Krishna last modified Feb 14, 2012 04:47 AM
Funny how a healthy person like me can collapse one day and end up in the hospital. The doctor who made me go through every lab test available, finally diagnosed the cause after a chat with me. Apparently, I collapsed because I’m getting angry, increasing my blood pressure. The only solution he said is to stop reading newspapers, as I’m getting agitated by headlines like ‘India can go the China way and block sites’, or by how the government says there’s no Internet censorship while all it’s actions point the other way.

The article by Adarsh Matham was published in the New Indian Express on 20 January 2012. Pranesh Prakash is quoted in this article.

Censorship is a word that is particularly abhorrent for someone like me, who grew up listening to tales of how people like Ramnath Goenka fought the censors during the Emergency. And to say that we’ll start blocking websites in India like China is doing, the most heart wrenching moment I’ve ever heard. While researching for this piece, I came across some information that is out in the open on the Internet, but which is not generating the level of debate it deserves. We seem to be immersed in discussing Kolaveri, while slowly sliding into an Orwellian nightmare. As an example, I didn’t know there are rules called ‘Intermediary Guidelines’ and ‘Cyber cafe rules’, and I bet you didn’t either. As Pranesh Prakash of Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) has pointed out in a blog post, these two rules alone, made up by the Department of IT in April 2011, give the government and citizens of India great powers at censoring the web by allowing them to get Internet firms to remove content that is ‘disparaging’, ‘doesn’t have rights to’, etc.

Killing freedom of speech is only the first crime of these rules as proved by the good people at CIS. To test these rules, they complained against some frivolous content to ISPs and Internet companies, which resulted in six out of seven listings being removed without informing posters or users. More alarmingly, of the 358 items the Government of India (and some states) has requested Google to remove, only eight were for hate speech, one for national security, and an astounding 255 for ‘government criticism’.

Since introducing these draconian rules, the tale only gets murkier. Not content with asking Internet firms to self-regulate, Kapil Sibal has introduced an amendment to the Copyright Act, which introduces section 52(1)(C ), that allows anyone to send a notice complaining about infringement of his copyright. While this sounds normal, the catch is that ‘the Internet company has to remove the content immediately without question, even if the notice is false or malicious’. This amendment is before Rajya Sabha, and considering how our Parliament passes bills without a debate, it’ll become a law very soon.

Baleful rules and people behind them fail to realise that such efforts will lead to the Streisand effect, whereby attempts to hide any information will lead to it being publicised more widely. Yes more widely, because you can take out some content, but India’s youth will re-post it in a million places within minutes, like they do with pirated movies. We play a lot of cunning games just to live peacefully in India already. Please don’t let us play them online too.

The writer is a tech geek.
Email: [email protected]


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