In the age of internet-fuelled information explosion, the
government's new rule allowing telecom companies and blogging
sites, among others, to remove "objectionable" content from the
web without informing users is a violation of the right to freedom
of speech, say netizens and cyber law experts.
The Information Technology (Due Diligence Observed by
Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011, say that intermediaries -
which include telecommunication companies, internet service
providers (ISP), blogging sites, search engines, as well as cyber
cafes - can remove "objectionable" content without notifying the
The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology
announced the rules last month.
Pavan Duggal, cyber law expert and Supreme Court advocate, said:
"It (the new rules) is in direct violation to the freedom of
speech, which is a fundamental right and mentioned in article 19
of the constitution."
"The new rules say that intermediaries should remove such kind of
objectionable items within 36 hours without informing the users.
They have the right to remove any post on a blog or site, work
with the user to correct the post or disable access to their
services altogether," Duggal told IANS.
According to InternetWorldStat.com, India stands fourth in the
world in internet surfing with 8.5 percent of the country's
population using the internet.
Nishant Shah, director (research) of the Centre for Internet and
Society, Bangalore, said the government should recognise blogging
as the right of the people and that the new rule is "against the
fundamental right of freedom of speech".
Pushkar Raj, general secretary of the People's Union for Civil
Liberties (PUCL), plans to knock the door of the Supreme Court in
a week's time on the issue.
"The biggest problem of this rule is that it gives a lot of power
to lower-ranking police officials without any kind of supervision.
In this era of information flow, it is very hard to define the
term 'intermediaries'," Raj told IANS.
The rules also say that the intermediaries will preserve such kind
of information and maintain records for at least 90 days for
Taha Sahil, a management student in Amity University, said the
internet was the only weapon to spread the truth and these rules
would curb that.
"It's like snatching away our freedom of speech. We all know that
the media is biased and blogs and other web portals are the only
unbiased source through which people can write and spread the
truth. Moreover, this rule does not give any opportunity to the
user to defend his work or even appeal," Sahil said.
The new IT rule specifies that the intermediaries should not
display, upload, modify or publish any information that is
"harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, blasphemous,
defamatory, pornographic, libellous, invasive of another's
privacy, hateful, disparaging, racially, ethnically or otherwise
objectionable, relating to money laundering or gambling".
Bloggers say the new rule is too tedious and will discourage them
Shivam Vij, a Delhi-based journalist and blogger, said: "This rule
is so vast that it causes confusion and annoyance. Who defines
that the content is objectionable and how?"
The new rule also gives the government easier access to content
from the intermediaries. The intermediaries will be required to
provide information to authorised government agencies for
investigation and cyber security.
Ghulam Muhammed, a Mumbai-based blogger, is one of the net users
who partly agreed with the reasons behind the government's
"The government's control on internet is in essence a draconian
measure. But on the good side, it will control things like the
spread of pornography," Muhammad said.
Internet service providers argue that the rules are transparent
enough and it was high time such legislation was put in place as
people had suffered in the past because of malicious content being
posted against them.
"There are sets of words defined and most of them are illegal
under the law, though there are a few loose words which need to be
taken care of," said Subho Ray, president, Internet and Mobile
Association of India.
"If the user has a problem with his content being removed, he can
move court and if the court agrees to his appeal his content can
be put back again," he added.
(Abu Zafar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)