Internet Censorship in India: Is India going the China way?

Since the past few days, I have been thinking deeply about the latest internet censorships that the Indian Government under Mr. Modi has implemented and what it might mean for the future of the country.

A few of the concerns that I have planned to put of as a part of an RTI are roughly drafted below:
  • What can the Indian Government block on the internet with respect to the latest and previous laws in the country and who oversees the legitimacy of such blockings, as regards whether they come under the laws or not?
  • What laws govern the blocking and what is the procedure to get a particular url blocked?
  • What ensures the competency of the body that decides it all and who has the final say on it.
  • How can a URL or content be unblocked?
  • What is the procedure for the same?
  • What function does the Indian Court play towards the matter.
  • Where and how are disputes decided and heard, between a content provider on the internet and the blocking authority.
  • What's the percentage of error till date regarding blocking perfectly legal content by mistake or as an act of error. 
  • What are the specific regulations to ensure that a url or content blocking is not based on a personal motive or a motive inspired by personal tastes, likes, dislikes or a personal enmity?
  • What charges can be pressed against the body or the individual who is found to have indulged in such personally motivated decisions? 
  • What are the legal consequences for the same? 

For example, on most banned urls in India, a message appears regarding the consequences of viewing the material in the said url, which includes the words:

“This URL has been blocked under instructions of a competent Government Authority or in compliance with the orders of a Court of competent jurisdiction. Infringing or abetting infringement of copyright-protected content including under this URL is an offence in law. Ss. 63, 63-A, 65 and 65-A of the Copyright Act, 1957, read with Section 51, prescribe penalties of a prison term of upto 3 years and a fine of upto Rs.3 lakhs."

Is there a similar penalty in place for the officials who indulge in wrongful actions that ends up banning a url or content without any legal claims in support of the same as per the laws of the country? If yes, what is it, and if not, then why not?

Moreover, how come is it, that due to a single copyright violation on a single page of a website with thousands of pages of legitimate lawful content, an entire website is being banned and blocked? Does the government lack the skills and technology to ban individual copyright violation contents on the specific pages? Or is it intentional?

There are various sites that do not create content but it's users do. Most of those sites function like the way facebook or youtube does, which is, if a user posts copyrighted content without permission from the copyright holder, and someone complains using a dedicated button regarding the violation, the sites routinely go through the complaints and removes the said content within a specific time predecided by the company within which it can humanly manage to go through the list of complaints and verify it's legitimacy. How are these websites treated by the Indian laws? Are they treated like the usual websites or are there specific rules and regulations under which a certain violation has to be taken care of, before it is blocked from the internet? How are these cases tackled and what qualifications do the members of the body have to be able to actually understand the difference between a site that creates content and a site that merely acts as a platform where the users create the content? What is the technical skill level of the officials that ensures a fair judgement?

And in case, such platforms that do not create content and have their own legal copyright terms and policies as well as a feature to report the unauthorized content; aren't treated as separate, then what is the reason for such and such. In this scenario, sites like youtube, facebook and wordpress could soon be banned, which means the country's internet will become nothing less than crippled, what does the government have to say about this? As a democratic country, if that happens, it will be a violation of the right to freedom of expression and the right to access of perfectly legal information as a consequence of such flawed practices. How does the authority and the Government plan to deal with the denial of certain fundamental rights of the citizens of the republic of India?

Another serious issue is the BJP Government and Mr Narendra Modi's intolerance towards anything that they do not like on the internet. In the past couple of years, people have been locked up in jails for stuffs like tweeting, re-tweeting or liking on facebook. I have been an admirer of Mr Modi's philosophy of Development and having lived in Gujarat for a decade, I have known the kind of work that he is capable of doing. But, Mr Modi's (and BJP's) outlook towards the internet is outrageous, to say the least. And, sure there have been more than a dozen things that the Government has done or tried their best to do, which would make the overall internet experience far worse than ever before. Take the recent blocking of Adult Content websites, which although was taken back after a huge public outcry, but was enough to show that Mr. Modi wants the internet in India to resemble the Chinese.

About the AuthorAnimesh Mishra@AMishra
Animesh Mishra is the Co-Founder, CEO & Hacker- Magical Clouds Inc.

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