Centre for Internet & Society

Free speech and spirited public debate will be the casualties of new rules issued by India restricting Internet content. This news was published in Watertown Daily Times on May 2, 2011.

The regulations from the country's Department of Information Technology go beyond government censorship to individual censorship of material that might be offensive. According to the New York Times, even private citizens can demand that a service provider remove content that is "disparaging," "harassing" or "blasphemous."

The terms, though, are not defined. They are vague and subject to personal interpretation. Enforcement by the government or individuals will be arbitrary.

A rule against content that "threatens the unity, integrity, defense, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states or public order" could be used by the government to block Internet debate over foreign policy or disagreement with the government's diplomatic relations with another country.

They are also subject to abuse by those who want to silence those they dislike or oppose.

India has a history of banning books and other materials considered objectionable, but the new rules go much further than a specific ban. They also require "intermediaries" such as Facebook and YouTube to remove offensive content within 36 hours of a complaint from anyone. No provisions are made for challenging the complaint.

"These rules favor those who want to clamp down on freedom of expression," said Sunil Abraham, executive director for the Center for Internet and Society.

Such rules are not surprising in countries with repressive regimes, but they are intolerable in a nation like India that considers itself democratic.

Read the original here

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