Saturday, January 03, 2009

A simpleguide to Internet and Cyber Laws in India

Make a law, and people will follow. As we all looked away, the Information Technology Act's amendment bill 2006 was passed in the Parliament without much debate and scrutiny and is awaiting ascent of the President and formal notification.

The new additions to the IT Act make it clear that the terrorists have succeeded - they have run circles around ignorant, afraid, lazy and (help! I am running out of adjectives here) clueless people who we have entrusted to look after this country of ours.

A list of things you cannot do online after this Act comes into effect:
- Do not tell a joke or forward a joke.
- Do not surf content that corrupts your mind (legal speak: any material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect is such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons)
- Do not watch porn (earlier, only people dealing in pornography were targeted)
- Do not steal or ‘misuse’ information. If found guilty, you can get up to three years in prison and a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh.

A list of things the government can do if it thinks you are violating the law:
- Even a local Police Inspector can investigate complaints against you. Earlier only an officer of the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police or higher could do that.
- The government can intercept messages from your mobile phones, computers and other communication devices.
– The government can block websites in the interest of national security.

Meant to tackle cyber crime including fraud, phishing, cyber- terrorism, the IT ACT 2006 now sports around 45 amendments following recommendations made by the Parliamentary Standing Committee.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 429 persons were arrested in India in 2007 for Cyber-Crimes under the Indian Penal Code. 63 per cent of the offenders were in the age group 18–30 years (97 out of 154) and 29.9 per cent of the offenders were in the age group 30–45 years (46 out of 154). 99 cases, 46% of all cyber-crime cases, involved pornography.

Things actually good in the IT Act:
- The government will set up Cyber Appellate Tribunals.
- The government will be more serious about phishing and online frauds.
- Under section 67 of the IT ACT, the new law does not extend to any book, pamphlet, paper, writing, drawing, painting, representation or figure in electronic form, provided it is in the interest of science, literature, art or learning or religion. Moreover, photos and videos are not considered art.

Things that the IT Act does not cover:
- As a founder of a Citizen Journalism site, I am more concerned about “Safe Harbor’ provisions. In the United States, under the DMCA Act, sites are saved from liability arising from users who upload infringing content.
- Who is liable in cases of transfer of copyrighted data(films, music etc.) using P2P (Bittorrent etc.) - the person downloading, uploading or both?

Un-encouraging Government History
- In 2004, Avnish Bajaj, then CEO of, was arrested because a MMS Video involving schoolkids from the Delhi Public School was put on sale on his website. He was later released on bail.

- In 2006, owing to government pressures, ISPs went ahead and blocked access to all Blogspot blogs just because a blog had some ‘inflammatory’ material.

The Trend of Government Over-Activism around the world
The amended IT Act is just another disturbing instance of ham handed legislation by governments around the world gaining sweeping new powers, sacrificing citizens' privacy in the process.

In the United States, they recently passed the US Real ID legislation without much debate. Australia is going to spend US$30.7 dollars to supposedly filter the Internet.

Andy Burnham, a minister in the U.K. government is advocating for a age-wise rating of internet websites, like the movies have.

The Chinese government has perfected the art of internet monitoring using an army of paid people and unpaid volunteers numbering in tens of thousands.

Countries in the Middle East Asia and others like Indonesia and Malaysia have worse laws dealing with the Internet. For example, here.

Coming next: The National ID Card Project
The Government of India is soon going ahead with The National Identity Card Project. As if, the driving license, the electoral voter identity card, the PAN card were not enough. After all, they are only too eager to give more business to the private IT firms. Trials runs are already on in several states across the country.

The United Kingdom government is also going ahead with an expensive (IT firms, rejoice) National ID Card project amidst protests from citizens. The government’s argument got a jolt after it was found out that there was just one person responsible for the safety of revenue department details and he had accidentally lost a CD containing personal information of 25 million people, including their bank records and addresses.

Here’s what an IT Security expert says:

1. Police would end up relying on automated ID checks instead of using their own judgment and intelligence.

2. People with the same or a similar name to people on terrorist and security watch-lists have been put on 'no-fly' lists and had their ability to travel freely restricted.
And the clincher,

3. If we take a cursory glance at Israel you can't argue that an Israeli citizen is safer today than they were 30 years ago. When people are willing to die all the bets are off and no security measures will work.

So, are we indeed sleepwalking into a Surveillance society?

1. Do we let a few people what we view or do online? I tried to find who the members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee but I have so far. I wanted to check the expertise of our M.P.s – for example, how many of them have an online presence? What is their online diet? There are so many I wanted answers for.

2. How indeed are laws made in my country? What influences do lobbyists have? Why isn’t there more information about legislatures online? Why don’t they set up referendums for important laws?

3. Do we let a Police State take over our lives? How do I know the sub-inspector who has come to my house indeed can tell what crime is and what it is not? Does he have the knowledge and training? According to the NCRB, the strength of police personnel per unit area in the country i.e., per 100 Sq. Kms. in 2004 was 42.2. The strength of police personnel per 1,000 population in the country was observed to be at 1.2.

4. Are we making sure that important laws, such as the IT ACT are made clear to the Public in General? All we have at present is this web page about Cyber laws about India maintained by a ‘Cyber law expert’.

5. Do we have to accept government failures on reforming the police? For how long will the police have to work ‘for’ politicians? In September 2006, the Supreme Court of India laid down principles for Police reforms in the country. So far, few states have done anything about it.

6. One reason the government gives out for the National ID card project is the influx of migrants, especially from Bangladesh. But, our politicians have encouraged these migrants to settle in metropolitan cities, in exchange for guaranteed votes for quite some time now.

7. Will things come to a pass and even this writer will have to think twice about posting such ‘inflammatory’ article online?

Will governments around the world succeed in muzzling voices of citizens using dumb-ass laws, monitoring panels and what not?

I sure hope not. Voices are all we have.


8. Where is the Lawrence Lessig of India? The world sure needs some Lawrence Lessigs in its Parliaments.

Related links:
The IT Act 2006 (PDF)

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At 12:13 PM , Anonymous e4c5 said...

Very few people in parliament anywhere in the world really understand all the issues. They just rely on what their advisors and even worst lobbyists tell them and end up creating messes like this.

People have to suffer and their right to access of information and freedom of expression gets restricted.

At 10:26 AM , Blogger rahul said...

Whatever you said is very true, but actually we should applaud the govt. as it has made a start of some sort with regard to anti-phishing/cyber laws in the country, but the right to express/free media cannot be compromised at any cost!!!

At 11:42 AM , Anonymous Shayam said...

Very informative article. You have both insight as well as courage to say the right thing in a proper manner. You may call it a coincidence but we also thought about the same thing. Any way, i wish to share with you a remarkable development in the field of cyber law in India.

Mr. Praveen Dalal, Managing Partner of Perry4Law has successfully come out with a “Dedicated Resource” on cyber law in India. The same is titled “Legal Enablement Of ICT Systems in India” ( is the exclusive, most comprehensive and holistic web resource in India dealing with Techno-Legal ICT Laws and Regulations in India.

All the cyber law observers can now access information about cyber law in India and the changes that are proposed or actually made from time to time. The resource is very futuristic and promising in nature and it would be good idea if the Government of India (GOI) consults the same while making, amending or reformulating techno-legal laws in India.

At 8:47 AM , Blogger Nikhil Pahwa said...

Pramit: just thought I'd let you know. The IT Act is yet to be notified, and my sources tell me that there are changes being made to it. So it isn't applicable yet.


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