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Internet blocks, freedom of expression and reasonable restrictions

 

Four points I made yesterday at the FICCI organized meeting with the IT Secretary R. Chandrashekhar and CERT-in Head Gulshan Rai on IT Rules, Internet blocks, freedom of expression and reasonable restrictions  (from my scribbled notes):
1. I’m concerned about the broad phrases included in the IT Rules which make illegi

timate censorship of content on the web legitimate, and bring in the scope for unreasonable restrictions. There needs to be specificity in the IT Rules and the broad phrases which allow intermediariesto block content on the web need to be changed/revisited because they create the medium for abuse of the rules as and when the government/a regulator wants.2. Lack of transparency leads to lack of trust. People need to know what has been blocked, why it has been blocked, who has taken the decision to block it, and what is the process of getting the block removed (if it is my page). When citizens visit a blocked page, there should be all of this information for that specific page. Transparency will ensure accountability. (In my haste, a point I’ve made before but forgot to make here – there needs to be a public list of blocked sites maintained by the government).

3. Recourse needs to be established. If my page is blocked, there needs to be adequate protection for me, as a creator of content, a citizen and a business. It’s not possible for me to go to court in each instance, to get a block removed. Let the complainant go to court to validate his complaint within a specified time period, for which the block remains active. If not, the block should be removed. (Someone also mentioned a counter notice mechanism, which I think is fair).

4. Limitations need to be put on the actions of intermediaries when it comes to blocking. The state’s job is to not just prevent malicious content, but also to protect the rights of citizens, in terms of freedom of expression. After Anonymous India hacked into the servers of one (ISP/Telco), it was revealed that several of the links blocked had not been mandated by courts or the government, but were those critical of the . This means that ISPs are themselves potentially curtailing freedom of expression online, and this needs to be looked into.

One of the key points I remember being made was about the government also sticking to the rules, because it appears that in the recent blocks, they haven’t followed due process, even though Mr Rai repeatedly claimed that they have, (alarmingly) even with respect to the blocking of some media reports like that on Al Jazeera.

 

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