Monday, December 5, 2011

Internet Intermediaries In India Asked To Pre Screen Contents

When information technology act 2000, the sole cyber law of India, was amended through the information technology amendment act 2008, very few people opposed the same. The provisions of the proposed IT Act 2008 were draconian and without constitutional and procedural safeguards. This is the reason why self defense mechanisms against state were also advocated to counter illegal and unconstitutional e-surveillance and internet censorship.

However, commercial enterprises and internet intermediaries silently accepted the amendments without realising its far reaching consequences. Now e-surveillance in India has become a big nuisance for intermediaries like internet service providers (ISPs), e-commerce sites, search engines, e-mail providers, etc. The liability of Internet intermediaries for copyright violations would also create problem for intermediaries in India.

Intermediaries liability for cyber law due diligence in India has become very stringent after the IT Act 2008. The IT Act 2000 now carries many e-surveillance, websites blocking and Internet censorship provisions and Indian government is openly using these provisions without following the constitutional requirements.

Recently, through a petition, Yahoo has raised questions regarding the right to privacy of a company that stores sensitive data of its customers and users and to what extent authorities can coerce it to part with the information considered necessary to either track terror perpetrators or thwart future attacks.

The matter must also be looked from another angle. Human rights protections in cyberspace in India are not safeguarded at all. Even at the international level United Nations has not shown much interest in protecting civil liberties in cyberspace. The data privacy laws in India are also missing. In short, there is complete negation of human rights in cyberspace in the Indian context.

Now the Indian government has asked Internet companies like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and social media sites like Facebook to prescreen user content from India and to remove disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory content before it goes online. Top officials from the Indian units of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook have met with Kapil Sibal in this regard.

Kapil Sibal has told them that he expected them to use human beings to screen content instead of the automated technology. However, these companies believe that his demand is impossible to fulfill keeping in mind the nature of internet and user generated contents. Let us see how things would take shape in this regard.

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