"Information Technology (Electronic Service Delivery) Rules, 2011" [pdf] went quietly into effect last month in India. These rules, possessing the force of law, practically guarantees that no user of electronic communications in one of the world's largest countries will ever be completely safe from persecution again.An innocuous-sounding set of rules called the
Under the new rules, anyone who objects to content online will be able to effect that content's immediate removal. The justifications for removal are so extensive and so vague that virtually anything will qualify for removal.
"Won't someone please think about the children!?"
Here are the many, many grounds upon which a disgruntled person may now compel the censorship of online content in India.
(a) belongs to another person and to which the user does not have any right to; (b) is grossly harmful, harassing, blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, libellous, invasive of another's privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically objectionable, disparaging, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise unlawful in any manner whatever; (c) harm minors in any way; (d) infringes any patent, trademark, copyright or other proprietary rights; (e) violates any law for the time being in force; (f) deceives or misleads the addressee about the origin of such messages or communicates any information which is grossly offensive or menacing in nature; (g) impersonate another person; (h) contains software viruses or any other computer code, files or programs designed to interrupt, destroy or limit the functionality of any computer resource; 13 (i) threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states, or or public order or causes incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence or prevents investigation of any offence or is insulting any other nation.
My favorite is "harm minors in any way." In any way, mind you.
Some are more equal than others.
This law will allow anyone - let's be reasonable, anyone with money or power - to shut down any critic, journalist, blogger, satirist, religious or ethnic minority, woman, gay person, union member, attorney, activist, loud-mouthed poor person or smart aleck.
Theoretically, the law is open to anyone. In other words, a poor farmer could demand a rich software CEO take down a blog post. That, of course, won't happen. However, should the farmer start a blog criticizing the CEO for riding around on an American software tycoon's cigarette boat while his employees go without health care, that executive could demand the blog be censored because it interferes with "friendly relations with foreign states."
"Intermediaries," such as ISPs and Internet cafes, are also liable for any such criminal act. So, the small Internet cafe our farmer uses would also be charged with breaking the law.
This sort of "law" is common in highly repressive, authoritarian, non-democractic countries. India deserves better.
This law is, plain and simple, a tool of control, one that doesn't belong in a democracy. Of course, given India's authoritarian decisions regarding everything from the Blackberry to national ID cards, the term "democracy" in this context seems a little inexact.