Let’s Kill the Internet



In my last column, I was lamenting about how Bangalore seemed to falling out
of favor with the IT industry because of its lack of focus on some core physical
infrastructure requirements. This story is also about Bangalore, or rather, more
generally, Karnataka. I am surprised at how this government seems to be taking
decisions that seem calculated only to create public outcry and confusion.

Very soon cybercafé visitors will have to go through a range of security
checks before they can log on. They will need to provide names, addresses and
photo IDs (a passport, or a driving license, or a credit card, or a PAN card). I
am sure that most of the people who visit cybercafés won’t have these
documents. And the ones that have these documents also have Internet access at
home.

IBRAHIM AHMAD

The police seems to be still living in a never-land, where it is still possible, if only in theory, to reduce cybercrime by keeping a record of cybercafé visitors

The story does not end here. If the cybercafé visitor does not have these
documents, the manager will have to click his photo for the records. Obviously,
life of the cybercafé owner will also become hassled. I would not be surprised
if business gets affected and many of them decide to close shop. Obviously,
again, this bleak scenario is contingent upon the condition that the government
is able to ensure that all these security checks are carried out by cybercafé
owners.

It was not so very long ago that the Indian government said it would monitor
all the people who go to STD/ISD booths to make calls-they did not ask for the
ID cards of each caller, but wanted other details like names, addresses, and so
on. We know what happened to that.

For the first few weeks, callers had to fill in their personal details in a
register, and after that everybody forgot about it. I do not even know if that
policy still exists, if the government has forgotten about it, or if it has been
scrapped.

Unless and until we have a foolproof citizen ID system, and unless and until
we have an honest and sincere police force, this kind of a rule will only create
new problems rather than solve old ones. For instance, there are a lot of young
lovebirds chatting to each other, who will get scared and run away.
Incidentally, they also form a big chunk of the ISPs revenue contributors. Then,
there is a whole lot of people, again, in the young generation section of the
society, especially girls, who do not have any of these ID cards. They would
never want to get photographed on a web camera either. In fact, come to think of
it, not too many boys will be open to the idea either.

Effectively, the new rule will create a situation that will take these young
boys and girls away from Internet. This young generation, we must remember, is
the generation that has driven Internet usage everywhere in the world. Besides
this, the police will now harass so many of the cybercafé owners. In fact, this
rule is likely to be misused more often than used, and that too by the police
force itself.

If the news about government’s plans to bring this rule to other places
like Delhi and Mumbai too is correct, then the problem will not just remain
confined to Karnataka. It will, instead, become a national problem. Even as, on
the one hand, the industry is trying to find ways and means to improve Internet
subscriber numbers, the government and its law enforcement agencies seem to be
living in a never-land, where it is still possible, if only in theory, to reduce
cybercrime by keeping a record of cybercafé visitors.

These rules, if implemented, can only drive people away from the 200,000-odd
cybercafés in the country. Besides, it raises vital questions about a number of
things: are there any safeguards envisaged for protecting the delicate
information the cybercafés user will be forced to hand out, and which could
well end up in the wrong hands?

My sincere advice to other state governments would be to not blindly follow
Karnataka, but to discuss the matter with the Internet service providers and
experts, and figure out better, more imaginative ways to control cybercrime.

The author is Editor of Dataquest IBRAHIM
AHMAD

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