GAGAN KRISHNADAS writes from Bangalore: With the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 in place, internet censorship has gone high and degree of criminality has fallen down. Be it Kapil Sibal or Mamata Banerjee, the people at the helm of power are trying to gain a control over internet.
The effect of existing law: To put it in simple terms, if anybody finds a particular post on this blog illegal, he/she may bring it to the notice of the owners of this blog. If the blog owner does not take any action within 36 hours, the liability on the content immediately shifts to the owner of the blog.
If at all there are about 200 ‘take down’ requests in a day, the blog owner surely cannot ascertain the legality of the content within 36 hours. Surely, the owner will find it convenient to remove the content instead of contesting the claim.
Resistance: The resistance for the said rules was not strong until recently when Kapil Sibal became vocal on pre-censorship on internet.
On April 21, there was a press conference in New Delhi by Knowledge Commons, Software Freedom Law Center, Delhi Science Forum, Save Your Voice Campaigm, Internet Democracy Project, Center for Internet and Society, Free Software Movement India, IT for Change, and Alternative Law Forum.
Two events were organised in Bangalore on the same day to voice against Internet Censorship. Let me juxtapose how media professionals and Free Software Movement people respond on the issue.
Senior Journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurtha said: “This is a matter of considerable concern. It is known to a relatively small section because; ordinary people do not understand the intricacies. It is a matter of freedom of speech and hence it concerns not just the netizen, but every citizen. At the legal and larger philosophy, Article 19 lays down reasonable restrictions like public order, national security and so on. But who decides these reasonable restrictions on the internet?”
Mahesh Murthy, went a step ahead to declare: “I feel there should be no censorship of any kind of information, be it Savitha Bhabi or pornography or a hate speech. All such information already exists in the society. By censoring them, you are not achieving any results. The Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s alleged sex video was removed from Youtube just within 5 hours, but if someone hosts it on Piratebay, it’s almost impossible to censor.”
Na Vijayashankar said that the internet cannot be left unregulated and at the same time the regulation should not take away the basic rights of the citizens. He recalled that right from the initial days of the internet, he advocated for an internet law made by the netizens themselves, because the lawmakers hardly understand the technology.
Soon after the meeting, I moved to the town hall to participate in a protest convened by the representatives of Free Software Movement of Karnataka (FSMK) along with Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC). The crowd predominantly comprised of Engineers and Engineering students.
I was surprised that the Engineers also had acquired a good understanding of the rules which are in detriment of their interest. While the group of media persons was more worried about censorship and freedom of speech, the ambit of concerns was larger with the Freedom Software advocates.
Senthil from the Free Software Movement of Karnataka was skeptical about similar laws being passed in other jurisdictions. Recently, USA was on its way for passing the controversial SOPA/PIPA legislations which was halted due to public pressure.
People have used internet to question the established governments, be it wikileaks, networking during the Egypt revolution or Lokpal movement. Senthil feels that the intermediary guidelines would be a hindrance in taking technology to the people.
Member of Parliament, P. Rajeeve has introduced a motion in the Rajya Sabha calling for the Internet censorship law passed last year (“Intermediary Guidelines Rules”) to be annulled. This motion will be taken up once the Budget Session 2012 reconvenes, and will need the support of the majority of both Houses to be passed.
Until the Parliament meets again, we the netizens and citizens need to ask our MPs to support the motion when it is introduced.
(Gagan Krishnadas is a post-graduate student at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore)
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