Dont censor the Net

Written by Kirtika Suneja | Updated: Dec 17 2012, 06:00am hrs
Internet has never been governed and it is a hotbed of innovation even today

Section 66 (A) of the Information Technology (IT) Act, which has been in news for being vague and inconsistent, may be another scam in making as it gives too much discretionary power to the police. While legal experts call it ultra vires the Constitution, Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar plans to file a public interest litigation (PIL) against the section to give a direction to the government to re-frame the law which very precisely and objectively defines the crime, the safeguards and the punishment. Right now, he feels that the wordings of the law are very vague and interpretation is at the hands of the police, which is not well equipped to understand its intricacies.

This is not the way laws are made and I plan to file a PIL in the Supreme Court as the violation of this section is similar to other scams. Moreover, the way things stand today most issues finally get decided through courts. In fact, the government should be reviewing this Act as its utmost priority but it is not doing so. If the government does not do it then we need a courts intervention, Chandrasekhar told FE in the course of an interview.

The section provides for imprisonment for sending information which is menacing in character, used to cause inconvenience, hatred and annoyance and imprisonment up to three years and fine for sending spam or unsolicited e-mail messages through computer resource or communication device. This is the reason why it has faced the ire of cyber experts who say that it is misused and misinterpreted because it defines offenses which are open to any interpretation. What may be annoyance for me may not be for someone else. How can things be defined so loosely in law, asked Chandrasekhar.

This misuse was seen recently in several cases for instance where the West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjees government got a professor arrested for maligning her over a cartoon on the internet. Karti Chidambarams complaint that an industrialist posted offensive posts against him on Twitter had the latter arrested and subsequently released on bail. The most recent case was of two girls who were arrested for posting comments on the Facebook related to the demise of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, which was seen as offensive.

The government woke up to the need of a change in law and spoke to this effect but what it finally did was precious little which Chandrasekhar calls a band aid solution. It merely said that from now on officers no less than the rank of inspector general (IG) of police or deputy commissioner of police (DCP) would be eligible to permit registration of a case under Section 66 (A) of the Information Technology Act which provides for punishment of imprisonment up to three years and fine for sending spam or unsolicited e-mail messages through computer resource or communication device. This means that while a police inspector or a sub-inspector is fit to register other kinds of cases, in matters of cyber crimes the wisdom of his seniors would prevail. Meaning the subjectivity element and loose wordings which are the main cause of the problem have not been touched upon.

If the government wants to reform the law all it has to do is get into 30-40 days consultation process with all the stakeholders concerned and make amendments. One needs safeguards which are precisely worded against three thingsobscenity and filth, incitement and defamation. Annoyance is no crime under the Indian Penal Code, he added.

Analysts estimate that 8 out of 10 cases of violation of the section are of legitimate speech or people voicing legitimate opinions which is not illegal.

On internet governance, the Rajya Sabha MP said that Indias role should be of thought leadership and position itself as a visionary in internet related issues in this new world. Internet is the freest form of media and government has no business in governing or controlling it. It should just act as the custodian of vision, which should be providing the thought leadership, Chandrasekhar said.

Instead, we gave a bland bureaucratic response which aimed at making us closer to Syria and China. Indiawhich is otherwise differentwill look as if it is in the same league as these countries. Indias USP should be in soft skills and a model of internet which is free, fair and encourages openness, he explained.

India has submitted a proposal for establishment of a new institutional mechanism for global internet governance by way of the United Nations Committee on Internet Related Policy (UN-CIRP). The UN-CIRPs mandate will include tasks such as developing and establishing international public policies relating to global issues of internet, coordinating and overseeing bodies responsible for the technical and operational functioning of the internet, facilitating negotiation of treaties, conventions and agreements on internet related public policy, address developmental issues, promote and protect human rights, including the right to development, undertake arbitration and dispute resolution where necessary and crisis management.

Indias position reflects a narrow view. Taking the administration of the internet away from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and handing over to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is not the right approach because latter is a standardisation body and has got nothing to do with internet, said Chandrasekhar.

He revealed that no discussions took place at the stakeholder level earlier and the issues coming up with internet governance are actually a solution in search of a problem. "Why is the government getting into this Just because internet as a form of media is free, the government wants to bring manageability in it. The ITUs objective is different. It is merely a technical body, he says.

On governments role, Chandrasekhar emphasised that internet has never been governed and it came about because of cooperation between people all around the world and it is a hotbed of innovation even today.