Do you remember how three years ago Indian ISPs had all of a sudden started blocking random websites (including all blogspot blogs)? Remember how it felt to have your website banned all of a sudden and without any explanation? Well guess what, if the proposed amendments for the Information Technology Act of 2008 gets passed in it’s current form then such incidents may become a regular occurrence.
The new amendment arms the government with unprecedented powers that allows the blocking of any website without the right to be heard. Your website may be blocked under any of the following pretenses:
Interest of sovereignty or integrity of India
Defence of India
Security of the State
Friendly relations with foreign States
For preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence relating to above
A new committee called Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) will be formed that will be responsible for monitoring the web. The one sidedness of the affairs is what makes it so terrible. The CERT is not required to get in touch with your before blocking you. And once your website is banned there isn’t much you can do. Not only that, the new amendment permits the government to spy on its citizens in relation with any offense. The authorities can intercept your telephone calls, monitor your sms, read your email and any other online activity. And they can do this for any offence including non-criminal transgressions! And even worse there isn’t any time bound, so they can continue to do this for as long as they want. Be careful about what you have on your computer too. Any inspector can raid and haul off a computer user for questioning — and without a warrant.
The proposed amendment is flirting with danger. It only specifies what the Government can do and not what it can’t do. It doesn’t provide any checks on the government and is simply inviting misuse.
The previous misadventure was a result of knee-jerk reaction to July 11 Mumbai Blast. The new amendments come in the wake of last years terrorist attack on Mumbai. Knee-jerk reactions like these can never be the solution. While the law may severely undermine the right to freedom of speech, its effectiveness in countering terrorism and other threats remains questionable. Does India even have the infrastructure in place to effectively monitor the entire internet? Does it have the level of sophisticated technology and experts required to monitor such huge volumes of data and sniff out the relevant bits?
With every right comes responsibility. The right to freedom of speech can’t be absolute. I am not against sensible censorship. But, the web is not like conventional media. Is it even possible to censor the web? There are billions of websites with thousands being created every day. You can take a website down and within days it will find a new host, you can block a domain and it will simply switch to a new domain. Not only that there are plenty of techniques to bypass censorship at users ends. Proxies perhaps are the most basic and easiest of them. I don’t want India to become China. Neither do I want it to become like Iran – where the political establishment is using censorship to curb freedom of expression and prevent opposition to the government. Unfortunately, with no safeguards in place there is no guarantee that the political parties in power wont misuse the laws. You can find more information on the proposed amendments here. If you don’t want to live in fear of the Big Brother, if you care for your freedom of speech, voice your opinion. Spread the word. Send you suggetions to Dr. Gulshan Rai at email@example.com.