Indian bloggers are rightfully indignant at the rules that are being sought to be notified (by the ministry of information technology) to the Information Technology (Amendment) Act of 2009.

As if the government of India has cracked all the problems confronting this vast and wonderful nation, the terms “blogs” and “blogger” have been defined. And the rules framed have all the hallmarks of control freaks who were behind censorship during Emergency in 1975 and the defamation bill in 1988.

There is an over-emphasis on the activities of blogs and bloggers; vast and vague reasons for blogs to be blocked or shut down; and above all, there is a specific rule on ‘due diligence on intermediaries’, which, in the context of the internet, can include readers who post comments.

Id est, you.

According to the website Kafila, the new rules, if notified, amount to little less than a Indian Bloggers’ Control Act.

The rules, which would really amount to shutting down the internet if it does not suit governments, institutions and individuals, reveal a near-complete disdain for such a thing as freedom of expression, and even less regard for those who appreciate it and aspire for it in the age of corporate media.

The Hindu has an editorial on the topic:

“The blocking of a blogging website, even if only for a short period, raises the disturbing question of curbs imposed on free speech in India through executive fiat. There is a clear pattern of Internet censorship that is inconsistent with constitutional guarantees on freedom of expression. It is also at odds with citizen aspirations in the age of new media.

“What is worrying is that the rules governing online publication are being tinkered with periodically to facilitate such filtering. The rules specifically mark bloggers for scrutiny, and require intermediaries such as service providers not to themselves host or publish any information. Evidently, this can be interpreted to cover blogs and other websites.

“What is worse, the rules propose to authorise the intermediaries to remove access to ‘infringing’ material if they themselves have actual knowledge or are asked to do so by a mandated authority. These are retrogressive provisions that weaken constitutional freedoms and the parent law.

“As it stands, the IT Act merely requires the intermediary to exercise due diligence and does not talk of not hosting or publishing information. Ideally, the only criterion online publications should have to meet is compliance with the general laws of the land.

“For instance, draft rule 3(2)(a) for intermediaries requires the user not to publish or display information that belongs to another person. Potentially, secret documents ferreted out by investigative journalists or whistleblowers in the public interest may be interpreted to belong to a third party — and blocked from the public domain.

“It is inconceivable that such a restriction could be applied to traditional media, which have a robust record of exposing corruption in high places. What all this makes clear is the need for wide public debate on any move to impose restrictions on online publishing.”

Image: courtesy Freedom of Speech

Read the full editorial: Blocking out bloggers

Read the Kafila coverage: India’s blogger control Act