The Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) has welcomed the report by the Standing Committee on Subordinate Legislation, in which it has lambasted the government for the IT Rules it passed in April 2011 under Section 79 of the IT Act, and has recommended that the government amend them.
On the report, Pranesh Prakash, policy director at CIS, states in a release, “These rules have been termed unconstitutional by many, including CIS, Software Freedom Law Centre, and Society for Knowledge Commons, and many eminent lawyers.”
“The Standing Committee has asked the government to make changes to the Rules to ensure that the fundamental rights to freedom of speech and privacy are safeguarded, and that the principles of natural justice are respected when a person’s freedom of speech or privacy are legitimately curtailed,” Sunil Abraham, executive director at CIS, observes.
Ambiguous and over-reaching language
The Standing Committee has taken note “of the inherent ambiguity of words like ‘blasphemy’, ‘disparaging’, etc., which are used in the Intermediary Guidelines Rules, and has pointed out that unclear language can lead to harassment of people as has happened with Section 66A of the IT Act, and can lead to legitimate speech being removed. Importantly, the Standing Committee recognizes that many categories of speech prohibited by the Intermediary Guidelines Rules are not prohibited by any statute, and hence, cannot be prohibited by the government through these Rules,” says Prakash, adding, “Accordingly, the Standing Committee has asked the government to ensure ‘no new category of crimes or offences is created’ by these Rules.”
Mandatory or advisory?
According to Prakash, “The government’s Janus-faced stance on the issue of the mandatory nature of these rules has been unmasked by the Standing Committee. It has highlighted the discrepancy in the government’s stand that the Intermediary Guidelines Rules are not mandatory, and are only ‘of advisory nature and self-regulation’, and that ‘it is not mandatory for the Intermediary to disable the information, the rule does not lead to any kind of censorship’. The Standing Committee points out the flaw in this, and observes that the language used in the rules is mandatory language (‘shall act’ within 36 hours). Thus, it rightly states that there is a ‘need for clarity on the aforesaid contradiction’. Further, it also notes that there is ‘there should be safeguards to protect against any abuse’, since this is a form of private censorship by intermediaries.”
Evidence needed against foreign websites
The government has told the Standing Committee that “foreign websites repeatedly refused to honour our laws”, however, Prakash says, “It has not provided any proof for this assertion.” He requested the government to make public all evidence that foreign Web services are refusing to honour Indian laws, and to encourage a public debate on how we should tackle this problem in light of the global nature of the Internet.
Apart from these, the CIS has also stood by the stance of the Standing Committee on cyber cafe rules and policy formulation.
The story was first in CIOL