Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Websites Blocking In India Is Mainly A Judicial Act

Blocking of websites in India is governed by the cyber law of India that is incorporated in the Information Technology Act 2000 (IT Act 2000). The Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009 prescribe the manner of blocking of websites in India.

In exercise of the powers conferred by sub-section (1) of Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (21 of 2000) read with rule 3 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009, the Central Government has authorised and designated the Group Coordinator (being an officer of the Central Government not below the rank of Joint Secretary), Cyber Law Division in the Department of Information Technology (DIT), Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), Government of India, Electronics Niketan,6, Central Government Offices Complex, New Delhi-110003, as the Designated Officer for the purposes of the said rules.

A notification numbered S.0.117 (E), dated 20th January, 2010 has been issued in this regard. Dr. Gulshan Rai is the present Group Coordinator for the Cyber Law and E-Security Division of DIT. He is also the Director General of Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In).

In a media interview, Dr. Gulshan Rai has revealed that websites blocking in India has been so far a judicial act and DIT has not blocked a single site without a court order. This is a good attitude that shows that freedom of speech and expression is respected in India. This is also setting a bad precedent as it would encourage websites and foreign websites to violate and defy Indian laws, especially intellectual property laws and cyber law.

In fact, judicial orders for blocking of websites in India are not always very sound. In fact, India judiciary, cyber law and websites blocking in India is still far from perfect. In such situations, the responsibility of Designated Officer Dr. Gulshan Rai becomes even more demanding and pro active.

The way companies like Google are deliberately avoiding compliances with Indian laws, it becomes very important for DIT in general and Dr. Gulshan Rai in particular to safeguard the interests of Indian individuals and companies. There is no doubt that companies like Google and Facebook must comply with Indian laws and Google and Facebook can be blocked in India.

We recently filed a DMCA complaint with Google Incorporation and a legal notice to Google India. However, both Google Incorporation and Google India are openly denying compliance with Indian laws. If DIT/CERT-In does not change its soft attitude towards companies like Google, Facebook, etc, and keep on insisting upon court cases and judicial orders, it would increase an unnecessary pressure upon Indian courts that are already overburdened.

Cyber litigations against foreign websites are going to increase in India. Even Google has anticipated this situation and Google’s blogspot platform has started giving country specific results for blogspot blogs. Clearly, hints of non compliance with Indian laws are visible but India is not doing enough in this regard. The least Indian can do in this regard is to develop alternative mechanisms to filing of DMCA complaints to Google, Facebook, Wordpress, etc each time offending contents appear on their websites.

Companies like Google, Facebook, etc are already facing a criminal trail in India for non removal of objectionable contents. A trial court has also asked the representatives of the parent companies like Google, Facebook, etc to appear before it and face the trial. If these companies continue to flout Indian laws, Indian government can and should block the websites of such companies in India.

While the Indian government is armed with discretionary powers to block any website carrying malicious or offensive content, it has never exercised these powers so far. This is giving a bad signal to Internet intermediaries and something must be done in this regard.

What is more surprising is the revelation of Dr. Gulshan Rai that if the police find a problem, they come to CERT-In/DIT and ask to block some websites; CERT-In/DIT tells them that it/they cannot do this and ask them to go to court and get an order. This is abdication of duties by CERT-In/DIT that they are duty bound to follow. By insisting upon blocking of an offending website with a court order alone, both CERT-In and DIT are violating the provisions of IT Act 2000 and various Rules under the same.

So far CERT-In/DIT has blocked some 20-25 websites after taking orders from the court but CERT-In/DIT have not used their discretionary power to block an offending website in a single case. In fact, they have refused to use their discretionary power. Clearly not exercising the discretionary power even where there is a clear case for the exercise of the same is violating the mandates of IT Act 2000 and corresponding Rules.

It is not the case that a website should be blocked at the drop of a hat. But when a clear case is made out, insisting upon a court order to block the offending website is definitely a bad policy and erroneous exercise of discretion. It is high time to think seriously about this issue.

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