Bloggers call content regulation a gag on freedomI'm furious. Since when has India started aping China? And considering what I posted yesterday, will my blog be banned?
BANGALORE: A proposed government move to regulate content on blogs has ignited a firestorm of protest from the blogging community which is accusing the government of restricting free speech and acting like the guardians of a police state.
At the heart of the issue is the Indian IT Act which was amended in 2008 to incorporate the much-needed changes to clarify the legal position of intermediaries or those who provide web-hosting services, internet service providers and online auction sites.
However, the term intermediaries, for some reason, was also broadened to include blogs, though they neither provide the same kind of services like the ISPs nor have large-scale commercial interests. The law stated that the government should clarify the rules under which the intermediaries should function and the list of prohibitions applicable to them.
The list was published sometime last month and comments were invited from members of the public, bloggers and other members of the intermediaries group. 'Intermediaries' include web hosting providers which would include companies like Amazon , cyber-cafes, payment sites like Paypal , online auction sites, internet service providers like BSNL , Airtel etc.
Blogs also fall in this category as networked service providers. The due diligence specifies that the intermediaries should not display, upload, modify or publish any information that is 'harmful', 'threatening', 'abusive', 'harassing', 'blasphemous', 'objectionable', 'defamatory', 'vulgar', 'obscene', 'pornographic', 'paedophilic', 'libellous', 'invasive of another's privacy', 'hateful', 'disparaging', 'racially , ethnically or otherwise objectionable, 'relating to money laundering or gambling'.
"It's a fundamentally flawed exercise. One has to keep in mind the nuanced role of bloggers. The government needs to understand the power of the blogging community," said Pavan Duggal , senior advocate, Supreme Court and cyber law expert. "The blogosphere has to align themselves to the changes in the norm," he said. "But since the term 'intermediaries' is vaguely and loosely used, the bloggers are right when they express agitation," he added.
A senior government official defended the government's response. "We are in the process of finalising it. We welcome positive feedback and constructive criticism. We might have made a mistake in understanding the public aspect. The public could have a different view point," said a senior government official.
Bloggers fear that the government will use these omnibus terms to charge the writers with almost anything. On Twitter , online users expressed their anger and frustration in equal measure.
"We cannot let the government to play the judge, jury and the executioner in this. Our entire audience is Indian. If our site is blocked, we are gone. I am a small player, everything we have built goes away in one shot," said Nikhil Pahwa, founder and editor of Medianama, a digital business news site.
The penalty under this law are of two kinds. Under the civil penalty, the intermediary could be sued for damage by compensation up to Rs 5 crore per contravention. The criminal penalty is imprisonment for three years to life imprisonment for the top management of the intermediary if it is a company. There are no exceptions to the due diligence.
Mar 10, 2011
I was involved in a FaceBook status message thread about the Chinese Government imposing sanctions on journalists, when my friend linked me up to this article on Economic Times.