Centre for Internet & Society

The blog post by Prachi Shrivastava was published in Legally India on April 23, 2012.

Rajya Sabha’s member of parliament (MP) from Kerala, P Rajeeve, whose statutory motion to annul the IT (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules 2011 is slated for discussion in Parliament tomorrow, aims to convene a meeting of MPs, internet societies, and bloggers in the first week of May to create awareness against the draconian effect of the rules.

“Most of the MPs need to know about this,” Rajeeve told Legally India, explaining that statutory motions are generally not easy to pass. “Actually we are trying to create awareness by organizing a session. The issue will be the IT Rules 2011 and how it is against the constitution, how it is against natural justice, how it is against due process of law.”

“The motion has been accepted. The committee has allotted time for discussion on the twenty fourth. Thereafter it will come to the house. In this part of the session I am trying to coordinate other MPs to get support”, he said.

Rajeeve’s motion of 23 March 2012, as first reported by CIS-India, was not his first attempt at bringing the IT rules into the spotlight. When the rules were in draft stage, he had made a zero hour mention against them for being in violation of freedom of speech and expression, by over-scrutinising bloggers, over-authorising intermediaries, and letting the government, individuals and institutions by-pass the due process of law.

Rajeeve was one of the nine panelists in the open discussion on “Resisting Internet Censorship”, organised by the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) and Foundation for Media Professionals, in Bangalore on Saturday, 21 April. The discussion, addressing an audience of 40, was moderated by veteran journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta.

Other panelists included Mahesh Murthy, founder of digital marketing website Pinstorm, Sudhir Krishnaswamy, founding member of Centre for Law and Policy Research, Na Vijayashankar, director of Cyber Law College, and Siddharth Narain from the Alternative Law Forum.

Also on the panel were Rishabh Dara, Google policy fellow who conducted a study last year on intermediary liability in India and its chilling effects on free expression, BG Mahesh, founder of Oneindia.com, Ram Bhat, co-founder of community media collective Maraa, and Pranesh Prakash, programme manager at CIS.

Prakash said that the discussion brought together different perspectives, even those of the entrepreneur, like BG Mahesh and Mahesh Murthy. “Transparency in the terms of censorship is good. We are not saying all censorship is bad, but that it should be transparent.”

Prakash told Legally India about the various experiences shared by panelists, of the lack of transparency in the present system of censorship. While one faced harassment by the police over trivial procedural compliances, there was complaint for defamation against an article syndicated by another from a different publication’s press release. “And we read the article over and over and over again but couldn’t find anything which was remotely defamatory.”

Legal experts on the panel, Kirshnaswamy and Vijayashankar, spoke about the constitutionalism behind free speech provisions. Narain shed light on the fact that while excessive energy has been expended on highlighting which content should not be banned, little has been spent on examining the operative procedures behind censorship.

Dara spoke about his research and how it not only revealed that content was being frivolously removed on complaints to intermediaries, but also that the people whose content was being removed were not being informed of the same. There was no public notice of the removal.

Bhat’s discourse drew attention to the history of censorship in India and elicited the fact that the Indian press has in fact been censored in an upsetting manner even since the revolt of 1857.

Murthy made the observation that statistically speaking, in India the number of internet users exceeds television watchers, which has made social media unfathomably important while the internet is no longer elitist.

A number of related Indian initiatives have been gathering momentum in recent months, such as  signature campaigns for internet freedom, and offline protests such as the Free Software Movement in Karnataka and the Save your Voice in Delhi, are the order of the day. Other actions include writing to MPs, asking them to vote in favor of Rajeeve’s statutory motion for annulment of the IT rules.

Kerala-based advocate Shojan Jacob filed the first ever writ challenging the rules in the Kerala High Court last month.

The rules enable any individual or public or private institution to get content removed from websites, in most cases simply by notifying the website owners or intermediaries such as Google, Yahoo and others.

Takedown requests can be based on any of 15 vaguely drafted parameters, without stating any reasons or requiring any judicial or quasi-judicial order in support. 

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