India's Information Technology Rules 2011 Has Many Fuming

Pic by penn-olson.com

Is India following China's lead when it comes to user generated content online? Many will answer yes, following newly released Information Technology Rules 2011.

The Economic Times reports that the rules are

“…evoking the ire of internet community in India and chiefly from the largest search engine firm Google, which calls the rules as censorship of internet in the country.

The new set of rules will impact all internet firms which accept user-generated content such as Google, Microsoft, Rediff, Indiatimes, Yahoo, Facebook , among others. The new rules are set to regulate reader's comments on articles, user-posted videos, blogs, photos and comments on wall posts on online social networks.”

Ratri Adityarani at technology blog Penn Olson says that the rules

“..states that websites shall inform users not to publish any material that is “blasphemous, would incite hatred, is ethnically objectionable, would infringe on patents, or threaten India’s unity or public order.”

Compelling websites to monitor user generated content is a step closer to encouraging self-censorship. The definition of what constitutes an objectionable material is open to variety of interpretation. Lack of clarity and fear of prosecution will force many users to hold back. It may work in preventing some objectionable content, but it will also stifle user expression.

Although India does look like an oddity in trying to monitor and control online content considering its vital IT industry and position in the international market as a technology hub, it has company. Neighbouring Nepal's Electronic Transactions Act of 2005 also echos similar sentiments, although it does not specifically direct the website operators with the duty to monitor content.

“Publication of illegal materials in electronic form: (1) If any person publishes or displays any material in the electronic media including computer, internet which are prohibited to publish or display by the law in force or which may be contrary to the public morality or decent behavior or any types of materials which may spread hate or jealousy against anyone or which may jeopardize the harmonious relations subsisting among the peoples of various castes, tribes and communities shall be liable to the punishment with the fine not exceeding one hundred thousand Rupees or with the imprisonment not exceeding five years or with both.”

Gaurav Sharma commented on the new rules and also under reported incidents of blogs  being censored in India. It seems that India's decision to exercise some control over user generated content online is based more on the fear of the great unknown. If the government is really concerned about online content and its impact on national security and patent rights of businesses, it would have introduced a realistic cyber security policy and not rely on website operators to monitor content.

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